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Road-Tripping from Spain’s Andalusian Coast to Gibraltar

by Deirdre Frost

Taking a road trip to explore and savor the rich culture and history of the Andalusian region in Spain and Gibraltar is an exciting adventure through a colorful panoply of cultures.

I set off this fall to explore this part of the Mediterranean Coast and experience some of its most exciting areas and resort destinations. Just a mere 87-mile journey included a beautiful mosaic of landscapes ranging from rugged mountains to golden, sandy beaches. Andalusia is a road-tripper’s paradise. With only one day to take this journey, these distinct areas are well worth returning to for additional exploring and experiences.

My journey starts with a visit to the cultural city of Malaga, then onto the luxurious resort area of Marbella before reaching spectacular Gibraltar. This adventure is an introduction to the rich cultural blend of Spanish, Moorish and Middle East influences along with other vibrant identities that make Andalusia so interesting. A real delight is the balmy climate that can turn fiery hot in some parts, but the sunny conditions outweigh any real concern. The fine weather makes travel enjoyable and a perfect getaway from the chilly conditions of northern climes.

This whirlwind tour was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the area’s culture, history, and people. Whether the opportunity arises to take a quick break from parenting or go solo, this type of adventure is a chance to make connections with the local scene and experience what it is like living on the Mediterranean Sea in Spain. Taking this road trip is a perfect way to experience the carefree, laid-back Spanish lifestyle in a stunning setting.

Malaga – Ancient Ruins, Palaces and Art

Malaga’s Bishop Palace shows the splendor of 18th century baroque architecture.

Driving a rental car, I visited the cultural and historical city of Malaga, which was settled around 770 BC by seafaring Phoenicians. There I took a walking tour through the old town that showed ruins of an ancient Phoenician city. The main attraction is The Alcazaba that includes a spectacular Moorish fortress and Roman amphitheatre near the Gibralfaro Castle, overlooking the city. Close by is the old 18th century Customs House for the port of the city that is now the Malaga Museum.

As an international arts center, Malaga is the home of many famous artists, including Pablo Picasso, who was born in Malaga. On the Plaza de la Merced, I locate the museum of Picasso’s birthplace, which still remains much the same as it did when he lived there. A few minutes away is the Picasso Museum located in the Buenavista Palace, which houses a fine collection of his works.

This vibrant and exciting city is full of architectural masterpieces featuring a variety of Gothic and Moorish styles from different historical periods. One of the most extraordinary structures is the towering Cathedral that was constructed starting during the Gothic period (16th century) with the old mosque in the Arabian city  Looking at the various architectural styles, the Cathedral is currently in the Renaissance style and is still unfinished. Near the Cathedral is the stunning baroque architecture of the Bishop’Palace.

Before leaving, I head to Malaga’s public beach, Playa de la Malagueta, to look for any celebrities who might be sunbathing and enjoying the pleasures of the sea.

Marbella – Style, Fashion, and Luxury

Marbella is a marvelous luxury destination with the magnificent Sierra Bianca Mountains as a backdrop.

Next destination is within an hour (slight plus) drive to visit the beautiful coastal city of Marbella with the magnificent Sierra Bianca Mountains as a backdrop. Noted for its seventeen miles of sandy beaches, this resort city is full of villas, hotels, and golf courses that are a playground for the rich and famous. Heading west of the city, the Golden Mile has some most exclusive nightclubs and coastal estates that lead to a marina filled with luxury yachts.

In Marbella, it’s possible to blend into the culture and assume the Spanish way of life to live life to the fullest. Its heady mix of relaxing beaches and sophisticated beach culture makes it very desirable to take part in the local scene. There you can stroll the streets and experience the elegant restaurants and shops that lead down to the beach. Feeling like a local, I take a leisurely walk on the promenade along the beach to watch the pounding surf and look out at a few fishermen catching fish.

One of the major highlights is experiencing the gastronomy near the waterfront. Beachside restaurants, seafood snacks, and trendy beach clubs feature cocktail brunches to late-night parties.  These choices allow people to dine and to be seen while other fashionable people saunter by.

The regional fare is paired with wonderful seaside views. Local specialties include Espetos de sardinas (sardines) that are cooked and prepared in the traditional way by being skewered and then roasted over an open flame. It is surprising to find that this dish is often prepared in an old fishing boat-turned barbeque on the beach. Another favorite is Boquerones (anchovies) which are so tasty as tapas or as an appetizer. Before they are cooked, they are usually marinated in vinegar and olive oil, and seasoned with garlic, or deep-fried in a crispy batter. 

A typical method of cooking ‘espeto de sardinas’ in Andalusia is smoking the fish on a beach barbecue. A simple method, but incredibly tasty!

Before leaving Marbella, I had a quick dip in the ocean and then dined on the regional fare that was paired with beautiful views of the Mediterranean.

Gibraltar – Lands, Seas, and Cultures Converge 

Gibraltar is a spectacular and strategic destination where lands, seas, and cultures converge.

From Marbella, just over an hour’s drive southward brought me to the end of Spain at La Linea de la Concepcion. I pulled over to leave my car before crossing the border into the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. This requires walking on the tarmac of the international airport’s runway to get into the city. 

Dominating the landscape is the imposing Rock of Gibraltar that rises approximately 1,400 feet above sea level. In this spectacular and strategic place, I am about to enjoy a little bit of England with the formidable Rock of Gibraltar in sight. 

Gibraltar proved ideal terrain to explore and enjoy the expansive views of the Costa del Sol. As the Rock of Gibraltar is considered one of the two Pillars of Hercules, it is one of two peaks that seems to be reaching out, linking the land and sea and forming the Straits of Gibraltar. To view atop the Rock, it is possible to take a cable car to the summit or climb the Mediterranean Stairs and explore the caves and tunnels. A major spectacle is spotting the wild Barbary apes, which are found only in this enclave in Europe.

Alternatively, I choose a half-hour Rock guided tour by taxi to the midpoint of the Rock to view Europa Point Trinity Lighthouse. outdoor Sikorski Memorial and mosque that is now a school.  From the Rock, there are panoramic views of the Mediterranean and the Bay of Gibraltar leading to the Atlantic Ocean, along with sightings of Spain on one side and Morocco on the other side. Despite the strong crosswinds causing gusty winds across the rugged terrain, the Rock was breathtaking.

Our guide describes what it is like living in Gibraltar now and how in the past his grandfather presented the Gibraltarian flag to Jamaica when evacuating to this Caribbean Island during the Second World War.

My visit ended with some duty-free shopping and having dinner at the traditional English pub, Angry Friar, on Main Street. Seeing so much in such a short timeframe, it seems a perfect way to cap off the evening with traditional English fish and chips before heading back to Malaga.

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