The Song of the South

Andalucia is classic, clichéd Spain, and a visit there is so full of contrasts that you sometimes wonder whether you're in heaven or in hell.

Rolling olive groves, orange trees and baking British bodies by monster hotels on the Costa del Sol and the bustling beachlife and palm trees of Málaga are well-known to tourists.

But let's not forget the dramatic Moorish architecture of Córdoba and Granada. The off the cuff humour, and smell of fried fish of collapsing, colonial Cádiz. The Marbella jet-set. The famous jamon of Huelva. And Andalucía's capital - Sevilla – the setting for Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro.

In Andalucia, Spain’s most enduring stereotypes are true - gypsy passion, bullfighting, flamenco, extravagant Catholicism and truly dreadful driving are all there and all in your face.

One of my favourite guides to Andalucia Lonely Planet Guide to Andalucia - it's very comprehensive and will give you all the essentials province by province in a well-informed and well-organised format.

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Diversity is Not the Word

Andalucia is made up of the eight provinces of Huelva, Sevilla, Cádiz, Cordoba, Málaga, Jaén, Granada and Almería and as each has it's own story to tell, this introduction can only hint at the incredible diversity of Spain's second largest autonomous community - over 87,000 square kilometres in size with a population of more than 8 million.

The region has 500 miles of coastline, most of which is sandy beaches. The Mediterranean seaboard is graced by the Costa de Almería, the Costa Tropical and the glamorous, cosmopolitan Costa del Sol, while the Costa de la Luz lies along the Atlantic shore to the west of Gibraltar.

As well as Andalucia´s fascinating cities and dazzling shores, the region is sprinkled with tiny unspoiled villages and whitewashed towns - the famous 'pueblos blancos' - which tourists would be unwise to overlook.

Andalucía, then, is a region of startling contrasts and great charm. Yet, this mysterious corner of Europe is easy to reach, with hundreds of charter flights arriving each week at Malaga´s Pablo Picasso International Airport, which lies midway between Málaga, the main city on the Costa del Sol, and Torremolinos, one of the region´s best-known resorts.

Andalucía's Moorish Past

Perhaps the most unique feature of this enchanting region are the remnants of its Moorish past. The Moors were a mixture of Berbers and Arabs who crossed into Spain from North Africa in 711 and within a mere four years they virtually conquered the whole of the Iberian Peninsula.

Under the Muslims, the name Al-Andalus was applied to a much larger area than the present Spanish region, and at some periods it referred to nearly the entire Iberian peninsula; it survived, however, as the name of the area where Muslim rule and culture persisted the longest.

Andalusian culture is deeply influenced by more than seven centuries of Muslim rule, which lasted from the Middle Ages until the Renaissance. Córdoba became the largest and richest city in Western Europe and the Moors established universities in Andalusia, cultivated scholarship, and brought together the greatest achievements of all of the civilizations they had encountered - Moorish and Jewish scholars played a major part in reviving and contributing to Western astronomy, medicine, philosophy and mathematics.

Each of the Andalusian capitals boasts spectacular remains of Moorish monuments, the most unforgettable of which is, undoubtedly, Granada's mesmerising Alhambra palace.

The Arabic Influence Survives

Andalucía is where Africa meets Europe, both geographically and culturally, and is still the most 'typically Spanish' region of Spain.

The Andalusians are a warm high-spirited people, whose love of life contrasts sharply with the more reserved attitude of people from both the north of Spain and the rest of Europe and their exuberance, warmth and hospitality are reflected in the region's slogan 'Andalucía por sí, para España y la humanidad' - 'Andalucía for itself, for Spain and for humanity' – and can be experienced first-hand at the regions countless ferias and romerías.

Andalucía's African connection is most evident in its stunning flamenco music, which grew out of the unique interplay of native Arabic, Sephardic and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia prior to and after the Reconquest.

Flamenco's sad lament is also a call to fiesta and a traditional tablado with its singing, dancing, hand-clapping and extraordinary guitar-playing is a musical and cultural experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

One of the Spanish film directors who best evokes the mood of Andalucía is Carlos Saura. His Flamenco Trilogy (Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo) is quite simply stunning but if like me it's the music that you love, discover the artistic struggle, the suffering, the blues of some of flamenco's most talented performers in his simply titled masterpiece Flamenco. It will simply blow you away.

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On Its Way Up in the World

Andalucía's music and love of life is also a song of poverty and hardship.

Once Spain´s poorest region, Andalucía's economy is traditionally agricultural, but this is changing. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the region's tourism, retail and construction sectors are booming - the Costa del Sol based around Málaga, the historical and architectural gems to be found in Granada and the urban hub of Sevilla all add to a new Andalusian reality.

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística the GDP per capita of Andalucia is still the second lowest in Spain, but the economic growth rate for the 2000-2006 period was amongst the highest in the country. So even in times of crisis, Andalucía remains a good option for property investment and this, combined with excellent weather all year round, make it home to large expat populations.

Football in Andalucía

For the 2008-09 season, Andalucia has a total of five clubs in the Primera Liga – the two Seville sides - Sevilla and Betis, two Costa clubs - Málaga and Almería, and the grand old man of Spanish football - Recreativo de Huelva.

In Segunda A, Xerez are a hot tip for promotion to Primera this season and Córdoba and Sevilla´s B team - Sevilla Atlético - could well get relegated to Segunda B Group 4, where the majority of the clubs are Andalusian – Antequera CF, Real Betis B, Cádiz CF, Écija Balompié, Poli Ejido, Granada CF, Granada 74 CF, Real Jaén, CD Linares, RB Linense, Lucena CF, UD Marbella, RC Portuense, CD Roquetas, and CD San Fernando all play in Segunda B so there's no shortage of quality football wherever you are.

Professional football is rounded off by Groups 9 of Tercera División, which corresponds to Eastern Andalucía with Melilla and Group 10 for Western Andalucía with Ceuta. Further down there are a whole host of regional divisions where, with so many International Supporters Clubs, it's easy to get involved either as a supporter or a player.

Almeria Province | Cadiz Province | Cordoba Province | Granada Province | Huelva Province | Malaga Province | Seville Province

Almeria Airport | Granada Airport | Jerez Airport | Malaga Airport | Seville Airport

Football Clubs:
UD Almeria | Malaga CF | Sevilla FC | Xerez CD
Betis Balompie | Córdoba CF

Books and Guides to Andalucia:
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