Essential Things to Do in Madrid in a Day

Madrid is an eclectic, cosmopolitan city where tradition meets modernity. From bars and cafés where abuelitas make croquetas by hand, to some of the finest gastronomic delicacies in the world; underground art exhibits to renowned European collections; incredible green spaces to awe-inspiring architecture… So, where to start? Madrid in a day is a challenge—there’s so much to see. But we’ve compiled the best of the best to take you on one of our favourite routes through the city. Take a look at the most essential things to see, do, and eat in Madrid in a day.

In the morning…

Breakfast

9:00am

Cafe de Oriente, Madrid

Start your day off in the warm glow of the Spanish sun with the Royal Palace smiling down on you. Have a traditional Spanish breakfast at Café de Oriente like a real madrileño with a café con leche, freshly squeezed orange juice, and toast with tomato purée and Iberian ham. On nice days sit out on the terrace for spectacular views of the palace.

Address: Plaza de Oriente, 2, 28013 Madrid; Telephone: +34 91 541 39 74; Cafedeoriente.es

Start strolling, take in the sights

10:00am

Royal Palace Madrid

After a tasty breakfast, stroll through the Plaza de Oriente to arrive at the gates of the Royal Palace. Gaze up at the incredible Baroque architecture, or take a peek inside. Although the Spanish royal family no longer live here, the palace offers an insight into Spain’s royal history.

Open every day October-March 10am-6pm (tickets on sale until 5pm); April-September 10am-8pm (tickets on sale until 7pm)

Address: Calle de Bailén, Madrid 28071, Spain; Telephone: +34 902 044 454; Patrimonionacional.es

11:00am

Plaza Major Madrid

After you’ve marvelled up at where the royals live, wander through the streets to get a taste of old Madrid. Take Calle Mayor straight from the Palace to Plaza Mayor (walk there in about 10 minutes). Enter the large square through one of its beautiful arches. Sit for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (it’s never too early for a glass of wine in Madrid) on one of the terrace bars and take in the stunning architecture that surrounds you. Then stroll through the plaza’s traditional shops, which offer authentic Spanish products like mantoncillos.

Address: Plaza Mayor, 28012 Madrid

At midday…

A bite to eat, and a little art

12:00pm

Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid

If you’re looking for a little snack to hold you over until lunch (Spanish lunchtime is traditionally from about 2.00-3.00pm), wander over to Mercado de San Miguel for a little Madrid-style showmanship and some tasty treats. This pretty, iron-and-glass market originally built in 1916 offers fresh products and tasty tapas everywhere you look. Its central location—right next to Plaza Mayor—makes it a great place to stop for a quick bite between sightseeing.

Address: Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid; Telephone: +34 915 42 49 36; Mercadodesanmiguel.es

1:00pm

Prado Museum, Madrid

After refuelling at the market, take a walk through Madrid’s old town toward the world-famous Prado—don’t miss a stop in Puerta de Sol, the heart of the city, to watch the masses flood by on your way. No trip to Madrid would be complete without a visit to the Prado. You could easily spend an entire day exploring what is known as the best collection of European art in the world. But if you feel like popping in just to see the big names, don’t miss Velázquez—especially Las Meninas—and Goya’s Black Paintings.

Open Monday-Saturday 10am-8pm; Sundays and bank holidays 10am-7 pm

Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid; Telephone: +34 913 30 28 00; Museodelprado.es

Lunch and siesta

2:30pm

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Spain. Book your table at Michelin-star restaurant Ramón Freixa Madrid for a taste of innovative cuisine with Mediterranean roots from Catalan chef Ramón Freixa. Grab a car or taxi from the Prado, and arrive in 10 minutes. Make sure to order by 2.45pm to be able to enjoy the tasting menus (otherwise order á la carte). You’ll find yourself right in Madrid’s “Golden Mile” in the ritzy district of Salamanca; so after enjoying the chef’s deftly crafted plates mixing Spanish tradition and innovation, head out for a little shopping on Calle de Serrano.

Address: C/ Claudio Coello, 67, 28001 Madrid; Telephone: +34 91 781 82 62; Ramonfreixamadrid.com

4:30pm

Retiro Park, Madrid

Not many Spaniards still take a siesta, but it is true that after an indulgent lunch, it’s nice to take a little rest. Retiro Park, a beautifully manicured oasis in the middle of the thumping metropolis, is the perfect place to lounge after lunch. Stroll down Calle de Serrano from restaurant Ramón Freixa and stop to smell the roses in Madrid’s most spectacular green space (about a 10-15 minute walk). Find the statue of the fallen angel, rest by the Crystal Palace (or see an exhibit there) or row a boat in the park’s lake while gazing up at the Monument to Alfonso XII.

In the late afternoon…

A drink and a culture trip

6:00pm

Azotea Restaurant, Madrid

After a rest in the Retiro, stroll down Paseo del Prado toward Plaza de Cibeles to marvel up at the city hall, neoclassical sculptures and fountains in marble. Then continue on to Tartán Roof for the best views of the city and a glass of wine or a simple cocktail on a lovely rooftop terrace.

Address: Calle del Marqués de Casa Riera, 2, 28014 Madrid.  Azoteadelcirculo.com

7:00pm

Come down from up above and you’ll be in the perfect place to wander through Madrid’s hippest districts, Chueca and Alonso Martínez. Head through Chueca toward Calle de Fernando VI and the small streets in the area for boutique shopping in clothes, jewellery and design. If you’re feeling like something sweet for Spanish-style merienda (late afternoon snack) pop into Mamá Framboise or La Duquesita for a treat.

Address: Mamá Framboise. Calle de Fernando VI, 23, 28004 Madrid. Telephone: +34 913 91 43 64; Mamaframboise.com

Address: La Duquesita, Calle de Fernando VI, 2, 28004 Madrid. Telephone: +34 913 08 02 31; Laduquesita.es

Nightcap

Dinner and a show

9:00pm

When it’s time for dinner make sure you’ve booked well in advance to participate in the extravagant world of “Dabiz” Muñoz at DiverXO (especially for dinner). Dining here is more than just eating a meal at a restaurant—it’s a comprehensive gastronomic experience. As one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, DiverXO is a stop in Madrid well worth making.

Address: Calle Padre Damián, 23, 28036 Madrid; Telephone: +34 915 70 07 66; Diverxo.com

If you can’t make it to DiverXO, or want a top chef experience with a little less planning, try StreetXO for a casual taste of what Muñoz has to offer. Make sure to arrive early (before opening) or late (after 9.30pm) if you don’t want to wait in line to get in; they don’t take reservations.

Address: Calle de Serrano, 52, 28001 Madrid; Telephone: +34 915 31 98 84; Streetxo.com

11:00pm

Cardamomo Flamenco, Madrid

Madrid is a city that doesn’t sleep. If you wanted, you could easily stay out until 7 o’clock in the morning. For a more relaxing experience, seeing a flamenco show is a great way to end your night. There are plenty of shows to catch in the capital, but sometimes the best way to go is to see Spain’s most famous art form at a tablao. Cardamomo and the rest of the tablaos in Madrid mainly cater to tourists, but you’re guaranteed a fantastic show any day of the week. You’ll find multiple sessions at Cardamomo, with the last starting at 11.30pm.

Address: Calle Echegaray, 15, 28014 Madrid; Telephone: +34 691 022 117  or   +34 918 05 10 38; Cardamomo.com

Before you pack your bags, keep these top tips in mind:

  1. Get ready to walk. You’re in sunny Spain! If you’re here in spring or autumn, it will be the most comfortable time for walking, so put on those trainers and get ready to discover hidden treasures around every corner.
  2. Madrid is an incredibly safe city, but while in touristic areas (Puerta de Sol or Plaza Mayor, for example) or the metro, be sure to watch out for pickpockets and keep track of your valuables.
  3. Keep in mind that gratuity is not customary in most situations in Spain, although at higher-end restaurants it wouldn’t be out of line to show your appreciation with a 10-15% tip.

Still looking for other places to visit while in central Spain? Have a look at the best towns to see around Madrid and if you need accommodation and want something very special, then Hacienda Sofia is ideal.

Your Guide to Sotogrande

Sotogrande has friends in high places. From musicians and A-list movie stars to former UK prime ministers – and even a royal polo fan or two – it’s been the luxury resort of choice for some of the world’s more discrete rich and famous types for many years now.

It’s an unusual place, too. It’s not a ‘town’ in the strictest sense of the word, but is actually a privately owned, and rather exclusive residential complex. As a result, it keeps itself to itself a bit, and can be just a little hard to get to know.

From golf to gastronomy via polo and playas, in our Sotogrande guide we’ve tried to lift the lid on some of its best bits – so you can really get the most out of your next visit.

Location & Getting There

sotogrande waterways

First things first: where is Sotogrande? It’s about an hour’s drive from Malaga airport – if you take the Autopista rather than crawling along the old N340, that is. Gibraltar International Airport is even nearer at about 25 minutes by car. Driving from Sotogrande to Marbella only takes about 35 minutes.

Golf

la reserva golf club sotogrande1

Golf is always going to be one of the main draws for many visitors to Sotogrande. Which is hardly surprising given that there are no fewer than five golf courses to choose from in the immediate vicinity, and a couple of those are amongst the very best in Spain.

La Cañada and La Almenara are both excellent and suitable for high to mid-handicappers, while La Reserva, the Real Club de Golf  and world-famous championship course, Valderrama, are really best left for only the most accomplished golfers.

(For more golf inspiration, see our pick of the best Costa del Sol golf courses.)

Beaches

torreguadiaro beach sotogrande

As the name suggests Playa de Sotogrande is the main beach, stretching away directly from the estate itself. For ease, comfort and a range of facilities, this is the place to head. It’s also home to the ultra-stylish and adults-only Trocadero Beach Club, which if you book in advance makes for a great base camp for the day.

On the other side of the port, Torreguardiaro is another good bet for a nearby strip of sand to stretch out on for the afternoon. Here, too, there’s a good beach club – Chambao – to try.

Ever so slightly further afield, Playa Guadalquiton is a wilder choice, and one of the quieter, less developed and more attractive stretches of sand you’ll find between Malaga and Gibraltar.

For something a little different – and a whole lot luxe-ier – the La Reserva resort (Lareservaclubsotogrande.com) is home to Spain’s first, and to date only, private beach. A manmade sandy lagoon in the hills above Sotogrande, it’s a spectacular spot (see the video below to get a flavour) that’s packed with facilities including paddleboards and kayaks if you fancy getting a bit of exercise.

With warm, shallow waters and shady chill out areas, La Reserva’s inland beach is ideal for families (although there’s also an adults-only pool) and it comes with a full complement of restaurant, bar and even a rather nifty beach boutique.

Sotogrande is at the far westernmost end of the Costa del Sol, and unlike most of the rest of the region, is in Cadiz rather than Malaga province. As a result, the beaches of the Costa de la Luz – which are some of the most beautiful in the whole of Spain – are just over the other side of the Rock.

Restaurants & Bars

restaurants in the sotogrande marina

In the heart of the port, Belgian-owned Mytilus (Plaza de Los Naranjos, 8) is one of the best restaurants in Sotogrande. In amongst a heavy meat offering (we can heartily recommend the Chateaubriand) delicious Belgian dishes like moules frites make an appearance.

Next door to the polo ground, La Cancha II (Haciendas de San Enrique, s/n, 11312 San Enrique de Guadiaro) is another of the area’s best places to eat, specialising in the finest Argentine beef in a gorgeous setting next to lush, green polo fields.

For something more relaxed, Inboca Gastrobar, PuraTapa (both of which are on the Avenida del Mar) and its sister bar down in the Marina, Bokana, are a few of the best places to head for tapas.

A little outside the resort, just up the road towards San Roque, La Finca (Ctra. Nacional 340, Km 127) offers some excellent Thai fusion cuisine in a pleasant courtyard setting.

Nightlife

trocadero beach club sotogrande

In the summer, Sotogrande after dark is all about the beach clubs. The coolest hang-out of the moment is definitely the Trocadero Beach Club (pictured – Grupotrocadero.com). With loungers, large Moroccan lanterns, rugs, cushions and parasols set against a backdrop of seafront palms swaying in the breeze, it may well be the most Instagrammable spot in Sotogrande.

There are a few other options worth dropping into if you want to make the most of the cool sea air in the evenings. El Octogono (Paseo del Río, 0, 11310 Torreguadiaro) doubles up as a great place to play padel or tennis; Bunker Beach Club (Paseo del Parque, S/N) at the easternmost end of Guadalquiton is a lovely spot and often has live music on in the evenings; finally, up the other end of the resort on Torreguadiaro beach, Chambao (Playa Torreguadiaro, s/n) is another attractive place for drinks and sea views.

A couple of relaxed bars in the port worth checking out are The Hairy Lemon and Ké bar. A couple of real Sotogrande nightlife institutions – which are practically next door to one another in the heart of the port, handily enough – they’ve been the meeting place of choice for a quick bite, a drink and a spot of people watching for the sizeable expat community for years now.

Shopping

de gruyter interiors shop, sotogrande

From Monaco to Puerto Banus, where there are yachts there’s luxury shopping. And Sotogrande’s no different, with plenty of choice for a bit of light retail therapy.

The pedestrianised Blue Sotogrande shopping quarter is the place to start. Here, Itsomi (Local 14, Ribera del Marlin) does a lovely line in beachwear, jewellery and accessories, Patricia Darch (Local 32-33, Ribera del Marlin) is an interior design showroom and De Gruyter (Ribera del Marlin 35) is an ultra-chic furniture store.

El Mercado de Levante is a fab Sunday market of artisan stalls and interesting pop-up shops, which in the summer months also opens up on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

There are also a couple of nearby shopping centres to choose from in Mar y Sol and SotoMarket.

Other Things to Do

View of the White Village of Casares

Golf, shopping and dining aside, Sotogrande itself is not exactly overflowing with things to do in the sightseeing sense of the word. Which is kind of understandable – it’s a luxury resort where people are supposed to come to kick back and relax, after all.

The surrounding area itself, though, is absolutely packed with sights and attractions. If you don’t fancy another day’s sunbathing, there are countless great day trip options right on the doorstep,  from Gibraltar, Marbella old town or Ronda (see the day trip provided by tour company Tomaandcoe.com) or one of the beautiful nearby white villages like Casares (pictured above), Jimena de la Frontera or Gaucin.

A fishing trip is also a brilliant day out. You’re right at the mouth of the Mediterranean, where it meets the Atlantic, and the variety of fish you can catch ranges from swordfish and tuna to mackerel and even conger eel. Dean’s Charter Fishing (Deansfishingholidaysinspain.com) runs a tight ship and conforms to the required ‘catch and release’ regulations.

If that seems a little bit too much like hard work, you can charter a yacht for the day with Yachting Sotogrande (Yachtingsotogrande.com).

The absolute best way to see the Sotogrande resort is by a Mini Moke beach buggy. There’s a great company called The Jolly Mile (Thejollymile.com) where you can hire a cooler-than-cool Mini Moke and drive around visiting all the hot spots.

When to Go

buggy on a sotogrande golf course

As with the rest of the Costa del Sol, while it may be at its liveliest during the summer months Sotogrande’s very much a year-round destination. The weather is superb, with an average of +300 days of sunshine per year and winter temperatures that rarely drop much below the high teens or early twenties celsius.

A couple of dates do stand out, though. First: the polo. Sotogrande’s ‘other’ sport after golf is a big deal. The polo season runs from June to early September and takes place at the exclusive Santa Maria Polo Club adding a real dash of international glamour to the high summer months. (You can find out more with our Sotogrande polo guide.)

Another great time to be in Sotogrande is when the Sunset Valley Weekend festival (Sunsetvalleyweekend.com) is on. Taking place from 10-12 August in the Santa Maria Polo Club, the line-up tends to be 80s Spanish old favourites and 60-70s retro classics.

Where to Stay

pool at villa karima, sotogrande

There are undoubtedly some decent Sotogrande hotels to stay at. But we’re the Luxury Villa Collection, and we’re going to stick our neck out here and say that they’re not a patch on our handpicked selection of villas.

Villa Artea is a sleek, modern design villa that’s all clean lines, white-on-white minimalism and chic open-plan living spaces. Villa Karima (pictured above) is something else. A 16-bedroom pleasure palace of staggering proportions and a dizzying list of facilities, it’s more like its own self-contained luxury resort than anything resembling a standard ‘villa’.

Estepona Restaurants You Can’t Miss

From high-class Asian fusion to simple Andalucian classics, we’ve picked out a few of the very best Estepona restaurants.

Baltazar Bar & Grill

baltazar bar grill poolside tables

Set in the Kempinski Hotel this steakhouse and grill has positioned itself nicely: it’s both a laid-back alternative to the coast’s fine dining restaurants and a step up from the more rustic and lively tapas bars. The spacious dining room is like a breath of fresh air with forest greens, natural materials and a touch of North Africa, while tables spill out onto a terrace next to the hotel pool for alfresco dining during the summer.

Start with one of their signature cocktails – our favourite: Germano Papito. Food-wise, it’s a question of plate after plate of perfectly grilled meats, fish and vegetables. There are tapas to share as well as the main menu and plenty of sauces and sides to compile your perfect plate. The whole seabass cooked in the tandoor oven is an absolute must-order as well as the tuna belly with watermelon, macadamia nuts and mint.

Address: Carretera de Cadiz km 159, Playa El Padron, Estepona. Telephone: 952 80 95 58; Baltazarmarbella.es.

Kabuki Raw

 kabuki raw table setting

Simply the best Asian food in Malaga province and the owner of a well-deserved Michelin star. Kabuki Raw is in Finca Cortesin, and as you’d expect from a five-star hotel the service is just sublime. The dining room strikes that perfect balance between welcoming comfort and refined elegance: first and foremost, it’s just a very pleasant place to be – but it’s also, of course, ultra-stylish and smartly formal.

Take the tasting menu and chef Luis Olarra will lead you on a gastronomic journey by skillfully pairing Mediterranean and Japanese cultures – try to reserve the table opposite the kitchen to get the full experience. Balanced, tasteful, never showy and always delicious, this is Asian fusion food at its very best.

Another lovely touch is the valet parking – always a welcome way to start and end any meal.

Address: Hotel Finca Cortesin, Casares. Telephone: 952 93 78 00; Restaurantekabuki.com.

Felix Restaurant

brasserie felix tables

Chef Manuel Camisuli creates Mediterranean food with a firm nod to Asia. You really feel that every little thing has been considered when you dine at Felix: the dining room (within the Healthouse Las Dunas Hotel) is a triumph of peacock blues and greens; the lighting is perfect, and there’s plenty of space and comfortable seats.

On the food front, every dish that comes out of the kitchen is as good to look at as it is to eat. There’s a commitment to local Mediterranean cuisine and an excellent wine list (the hotel’s restaurant conforms to the ethos of the hotel’s wellness regime and no alcohol is served) and attentive service.

Address: Urbanización Boladilla Baja, Crta. Cadiz km 163,500, 29689 Estepona.

La Alcaria de Ramos

la alcaria de ramos facade

On the edge of El Paraíso golf course this traditionally styled townhouse is a real mainstay of the Estepona restaurant scene. Haute it may not be, but if you’re looking for hearty, homely cooking then you’re in the right place.

In terms of standouts on the menu, on our last visit we swooned over the stuffed mussels with cream of mushroom sauce and the turbot in the clam sauce. It feels (and is) a family-owned restaurant where everyone you deal with is fully invested in delivering good food and a great atmosphere.

Address: Calle Vista al Mar Diseminado 1, 29680, Estepona. Telephone: 952 88 61 78; Laalcariaderamos.es.

Restaurante Taberna Miguel

food taberna miguel 

In the centre of Estepona town, Taberna Miguel is a long-standing favourite with locals and visitors. With a huge terrace and courtyard as well as an indoor dining room it’s a good option for a large group at any time of the year.

Traditional Andaluz food – from plates of Jamon Iberico to revuelto (scrambled eggs) – is very much the order of the day here, but it’s done with a fair amount of finesse. During the summer months it gets full to bursting as the cool courtyard and terrace seating are filled with in-the-know regulars.

Address: Calle Caridad 30, 29680, Estepona. Telephone: 952 79 25 38;  Restaurantetabernamiguel.com.

La Bulla Gastrobar

la bulla gastrobar estepona 

Opposite the beach this is less fine dining and more casual eating. The food is good, though, and the service and atmosphere follows suit. The reason La Bulla Gastobar made our Estepona restaurants list is because it’s open all day – an important point if you’re visiting the area in summer.

Inside, plants hang from the ceiling and it has a lovely, healthy breakfast offering as well as a cocktail list for evening drinks. Aside from the breakfasts, it’s ideal for a quick, relaxed bite, with the beef churrasco with BBQ sauce and scallops with spinach pesto the pick of the bunch on our last visit.

Address: Avenida Espana 38, Plazoleta Ortiz, 29680, Estepona. Telephone: 952 80 65 75;  Facebook Page.

Claro! Restaurant & Beach Club

claro table setting

Another decent casual place to eat in Estepona is Claro! Leaving aside the superfluous punctuation points in the name, it makes for a very agreeable summer lunch or dinner with its mix of high and low tables and soft and hard seating, all under a Balinese hut-style cover on the beach.

Their traditional Malagueño BBQ cooked fish is the absolute highlight of the menu – particularly the espeto de sardinas (sardines cooked on a BBQ). The ‘beach club’ bit refers to the sunbeds and parasols next to the restaurant on the beach – they’re absolutely perfect for after lunch lazing and there’s a great cocktail list from which to enjoy a sundowner or two, should afternoon wind its way into evening…

Address: Laguna Village, Carret. Cadiz, Km 159, Exit 160 – “Cambio de sentido”, 29680 Estepona. Telephone: 952 800 873;  Clarobeachclub.com.

Like our pick of Estepona restaurants and looking for more local dining recommendations? Check out a few of our favourite places to eat in Benahavis.

And if you’d like to stay as close to the action as possible on your next trip, have a look at our collection of nearby luxury villas.

Beautiful Towns in Central Spain

Central Spain is filled with castles straight out of Don Quixote, never-ending fields of sunflowers blowing in the breeze, steep snowy peaks, and hot desert landscapes. It goes without saying that Madrid is a must-see city, but some of the small towns around the capital are where you’ll find Spain’s true hidden treasures.

 Segovia

Segovia

Wander around this medieval city and feel like Cinderella and Hercules all at once. Segovia’s ancient Roman aqueduct stands dramatically in the centre of the city, whilst the fairytale castle is just as breathtaking.

The half-a-mile-long, nearly 29-metre-high aqueduct will make you wonder how the arches’ 250,000 granite blocks have stayed together since the 1st century. The Alcázar, its clean lines rising out of a rocky crag, could be plucked straight from a Disney film. Walk through the city’s cobbled Plaza Mayor for charming shops, traditional restaurants and, of course, the Segovia Cathedral.

Segovia is famous for cochinillo asado, roasted suckling pig, and ponche segoviano, a sweet treat from the region. Try family-run José María Restaurante, just outside Plaza Mayor, for an authentic meal in an impressive setting, or Mesón Don Jimeno for some local fare.

Mesón Don Jimeno, Calle Daoiz, 15 40003 Segovia. Tel: 921 46 63 50

José María Restaurante, Calle Cronista Lecea 11, 40001 Segovia. Tel: 921 461 111. Restaurantejosemaria.com

Cuenca

Cuenca

The famous hanging houses are the main draw of this UNESCO World Heritage Site city. But behind the fortress walls lies an entire city that’s full of well-preserved, medieval buildings waiting to be explored.

The casas colgadas, clinging to cliffs since the 15th century, have been turned into restaurants and a modern art museum. The Museo de Arte Abstracto Español has an unexpected art collection well worth a visit. Cross the Saint Paul bridge over the gorge of the River Huécar and take in the best views of the hanging houses. When you’re back in the city, Gothic-style Cuenca Cathedral is a must-see.

At lunchtime, peek inside a hanging house and taste one of the city’s specialities, roasted lamb, at Mesón Casas Colgadas. Then wander around the Plaza Mayor and sample some Cuenca treats from bakeries like Marisol. Don’t miss alajú, a traditional pastry made with almonds and honey.

Mesón Casas Colgadas, Calle Canonigos 3, 16001 Cuenca, Spain. Tel: 696 21 29 83

Marisol, Calle Diego Jiménez, 4 – bajo, 16004 Cuenca, Spain. Tel: 969 226 559

Toledo

Toledo

Toledo is a magnificent melting pot of culture and history. In medieval times, Arab, Jewish and Christian cultures coexisted and came together to make up this stunning city overlooking the River Tajo.

Visit one of the most impressive examples of Gothic architecture and history at the Catedral de Toledo. Get lost in the city’s beautiful winding streets and stumble into the El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum in the Jewish Quarter. Then head across the street to the El Greco Museum to celebrate Spain’s Golden Age artist.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, try Restaurante Adolfo for a little finesse in a 12th-century Jewish house. Or make your way a little outside the city to El Carmen de Montesión for the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Toledo.

Restaurante Adolfo, Calle Hombre de Palo, 7, 45001 Toledo. Tel: 925 227 321. Adolforestaurante.com

El Carmen de Montesión, Urbanización Montesión, Calle Montesión, 107 Toledo, 45004. Tel: 925 22 36 74. Elcarmendemontesion.com

Salamanca

Salamanca

Salamanca is famous for being home to the oldest university in Spain, the 13th-century University of Salamanca. The mixture of architectural styles, along with the city’s special Castilian glow, make the city magical.

Start in the centre of the Plaza Mayor to get a feel for the city’s grandeur. By night, its beaming Baroque architecture lights up and glows down on the people gathered in the square. Be sure to see the Old Cathedral and the New, and don’t miss the Casa de las Conchas and the Convento de San Esteban.

When it’s time to eat, try Victor Gutiérrez in the centre of the city where international cuisine is served in an intimate setting. And don’t forget to try some of Salamanca’s famous jamón ibérico de bellota, ham from pigs fed exclusively on acorns; it’s the best in Spain.

Víctor Gutiérrez, Calle Empedrada 4, 37007 Salamanca. Tel: 923 26 29 73. Restaurantevictorgutierrez.com

Ávila

Avila

Walk through the impressive walls of Ávila and it’s as though you’ve taken a time machine to the 16th century. When the walls are illuminated at night, you’ll feel like you’re in a dream.

The Cathedral of Ávila, the Basilica of San Vicente, and the city’s Plaza Mayor are absolute must-sees. But make sure to take some time to explore the Convento de Santa Teresa and its small museum to understand the city’s religious heritage and connection to the saint.

As you meander through the old city, make sure to peek into pastry shop windows to find yemas de Santa Teresa, a traditional sweet made with egg yolk (you can’t go wrong at La Flor de Castilla). For the best views in town, try El Almacén — especially for dinner when the city’s wall is glowing in the distance. Or try Cinco in the city centre where you’ll find creative dishes as well as the traditional chuletones.

El Almacén, Carretera Salamanca 6, 05002 Avila. Tel: 920 25 44 55

Cinco, Plaza Mosén Rubi, 5, 05001 Ávila. Tel: 920 25 21 04

El Escorial

El Escorial

El Escorial is an elegant town in the mountains of the Madrid region. It’s filled with pretty plazas and charming shops, but the main attraction is the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

This incredible complex is mostly known for being a monastery, but the massive building has also served as a basilica, royal palace, college, royal pantheon and tomb, library and museum. You can tour the incredible library, eerie tombs, monastery and gardens from Tuesday to Sunday, or just wander around the outside of the awe-inspiring building before heading to lunch.

Try Charoles for a traditional lunch at a classic El Escorial restaurant. Or Amet Studio for an innovative take on local dishes, open during autumn and winter. If you’re looking for regional cuisine any time of year, try Montia.

Charoles, Calle Floridablanca 24, 28200, San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Tel: 91 890 59 75. Charolesrestaurante.com

Amet Studio, Calle Pablo Picasso, 4 – local 3, Urb. Felipe II, 28200. Tel: 664 436 863. Ametstudio.com

Montia, Calle Calvario 4 – San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 28200 Madrid. Tel: 911 33 69 88. Montia.es

Aranjuez

Royal Palace Aranjuez

Aranjuez is known as the destination of choice for the Spanish royals during their spring and summer holidays. King Felipe II commissioned the Royal Palace and its incredible gardens (over 300 hectares of impeccably planned and manicured green space) in the second half of the 16th century.

You can take a guided tour of the palace to see the royal boudoirs, or marvel at the incredible building, the main square, and the seemingly never-ending gardens from the outside. Find your way to Estanque de los Chinescos inside the Jardín del Príncipe.

Have a picnic of local strawberries and asparagus (the region’s specialties) in the city’s beautiful green spaces or wide open plazas. Or have lunch in a converted villa at Casa José for an elegant meal with a focus on local cuisine.

Casa José, Calle Abastos 32, 28300, Aranjuez. Tel: 91 891 14 88. Casajose.es

Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares

This picturesque town is known for its historic university, being the birthplace of Miguel Cervantes, and serving up large portions of tapas alongside the beers (or other drinks) you order.

Wander through the UNESCO World Heritage Site city centre and see the beautiful Plaza de Cervantes. Then visit Teatro Corral de Comedias for some history and a show at an incredibly well-preserved 16th-century theatre. Check out the stunning facade of the Universidad de Alcalá, or even take a guided tour.

If you’re looking for traditional tapas, try Indalo Tapas for an authentic Alcalá experience, or Restaurante Goya for a classic Mediterranean meal. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, have a rosquilla de Alcalá with your after-lunch coffee.

Indalo Tapas, Calle Libreros, 9, 28801 Alcalá de Henares. Tel: 918 82 44 15. Indalotapas.com

Restaurante Goya, Calle Goya 2, 28807 Alcalá de Henares. Tel: 91 882 60 34. Restaurantegoya.com

Chinchón

Chinchón is a quiet town in the southeast of Madrid. People come to try local specialties like chinchón (anisette, the city’s namesake), regional wines at the end of March, and the garlic harvest in October. The beautiful, circular Plaza Mayor turns into a traditional bullring during the town’s many festivals.

Take a walk through the pretty streets of the old town and buy some of Chinchón’s famous garlic. And when there are no celebrations taking place, the Plaza Mayor is a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee and eat a fresh pastry.

Try La Dulcería de Chinchón for a freshly made, cream-filled donut. For lunch, La Recua del Pelicano is an unassuming place to have a quiet, traditional meal. Drink a shot of local chinchón to digest.

La Dulcería de Chinchón, Plaza Mayor, 1, 28370 Chinchón. Tel: 918 93 52 93

La Recua del Pelicano, Cuesta de Quiñones, 2, 28370 Chinchón. Tel: 918 32 01 29

Manzanares el Real

Castle in Manzanares el Real

Found right at the bottom of the rocky, looming Sierra de Guadarrama, Manzanares el Real is the perfect place to start if you want to explore the mountains of the Madrid region. It’s a nice town to visit in its own right too, with the 15th-century New Castle of Manzanares el Real, and the Santillana Reservoir to stroll around.

However, most people come here to access La Pedriza, part of the Sierra de Guadarrama with its incredible finger-like boulders and cliffs to climb, and an enchanting river with beautiful natural pools, like the Charca Verde. Explore other awe-inducing natural rock formations, like Elephant Rock (El Elefante) and Chicken Bridge (El Puente de los Pollos). Visit La Pedriza’s visitors’ centre for more information about hiking trails.

Manzanares el Real Scenery

For a simple Spanish meal on a peaceful terrace by the reservoir, try Mesón Los Morales. But your best bet in Manzanares is to pack a picnic, jump in the car and head to La Pedriza for lunch.

Mesón Los Morales, Av. de Madrid, 24, 28410, Manzanares El Real. Tel: 918 53 06 41

Want to experience the beauty of central Spain? Our two chosen villas are Hacienda Sofia and Finca del Rey.

Best Santander Beaches

Santander city on the Northern coast of Spain is home to 13 beaches – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg as the region of Cantabria boasts another 80 and each is prettier than the last. We’ve shortlisted 14 beaches to whet your appetite for the golden sand and refreshing waves amidst the green countryside that is so sought after by Spanish holidaymakers!

1. Los Peligros Beach in Santander

The closest Santander beach to city centre makes for a great stroll from Puertochico’s bars and restaurants. Take the Maritime Walkway beside Centro Botin and walk past Gamazo’s viewing platform to the beach. This stretch of water is wave-free and there’s a safe swim area protected by a floating platform and barrier which is perfect for young swimmers. Views of the bay and the Puntal sand bank are wonderful. You’ll also find a Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) activity centre nearby. Ample parking. Retire for a drink and food to the modern Caseta de Bombas Bar & Restaurant at Gamazo.

Caseta de Bombas Restaurant, Calle Gamazo, 39004 Santander, Cantabria. Tel: 942 74 26 68. Lacasetadebombas.es

2. Magdalena Beach in Santander

Magdalena Beach, Santander

Fabulous white sandy Santander beach that’s reached from Los Peligros beach or a slip-road by the Royal Tennis Club. Excellent views of the bay and the modernist sailing school on Isla de la Torre. Parking nearby.

3. Los Bikinis Beach in Santander

Inside the grounds of Magdalena Palace – the former Spanish royal summer residence – you’ll find a charming beach with wonderful views of the mountains and the bay, plus extensive parkland for picnics and strolls. There’s an excellent playground with a slide down onto the beach. Handy snacks and drinks at the Caballerizas Café which was the stables for the Royal Palace. Ample parking at the entrance to the Palace.

4. Camello Beach in Santander

Playa Camellos, Santander

Named after a rock formation in the shape of a camel which has been partially eroded over time, this stretch of Santander’s coastline is very popular with families who enjoy exploring rock-pools. Views here are of the open sea and the Magdalena mini-zoo. Here is where you’ll get to see and hear a traditional game of ‘palas’ being played by 2-3 players using wooden racquets. Parking by the beach.

5. La Concha Beach in Santander

Right alongside the Sardinero Beach, the Concha is popular with swimmers all year long. You’ll find great views of the Sardinero beaches and the open sea. After your swim, retreat to the BNS bar with its year-round outdoor terrace for tapas and adjoining Balneario restaurant for more substantial meals and amazing panoramic views behind glass. Use the carparking by Playa del Camello.

Balneario de la Concha Restaurant, Av de la Reina Victoria, 46, 39004 Santander, Cantabria. Tel: 942 29 09 19. Balneariodelaconcha.es

6. The First Sardinero Beach in Santander

The most fashionable Santander beach during the 19th and 20th centuries as evidenced by the grandeur of the Casino and many belle-epoque buildings. Great views of the bay and the elegant Piquio Gardens. Dozens of bars and cafes in this area and long lines of people waiting for the eternally popular Regma ice-cream kiosk. You’ll find lockers, deck chairs, parasols and surf gear for hire. Parking in the area. After your swim, try a vermouth with local squid at the outdoor terrace run by Atalaya de Mayte behind the Gran Hotel Sardinero. For something more formal, jump in a cab or walk uphill along Calle Duque Santo Mauro to Restaurante Deluz.

Atalaya de Mayte Restaurant, Av. los Infantes, 95, 39005 Santander, Cantabria. Tel:942 50 39 06. Laatalayademayte.es

Deluz Restaurant, Calle Ramón y Cajal, 18, 39005 Santander, Cantabria. Tel:942 29 06 06. Deluz.es

Sardinero Beach, Santander

7. The Second Sardinero Beach in Santander

The choppier of the two Sardinero beaches – you’ll find plenty of teenagers with surfboards and body boards and on quieter days kite-surfers too. There’s a playground and you’ll find lots of beach volleyball on the go also. Great views of Mouro Lighthouse. On the other end of the beach, you can talk a cliffside walk around the peninsula with amazing views back down onto the Sardinero also. (Take the steps from behind Cafeteria Coronna on Calle Gregorio Maranon, 1.) Lots of bars and cafes service this Santander beach including a few informal restaurants built right on the edge of the beach – perfect for seafood platters served with garden-fresh salads and a refreshing beer or glass of red, white or rosé.

8. Molinucos Beach in Santander

A favourite for the best views of Mouro Island and lighthouse is the very charming Molinucos Beach. Park or walk to Mataleñas Park and take the steps down to this Santander beach. It’s a tiny cove so do go early to enjoy the place to yourself.

9. Mataleñas Beach in Santander

The jewel in the crown for many Santanderinos who rate this as their favourite Santander beach. You’ll need to walk down some steep steps so this isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you are driving, follow signs for Forestal Park (a zipline activity centre great for kids and teenagers) and park when you see the ice-cream van. Climb down to steps and dive into the secluded turquoise waters. If you’re looking for refreshments there are a few restaurants nearby and the views from the lighthouse café are wonderful, especially at sunset.

Ready to leave the city of Santander? Here are 5 more great beaches in the Ribamontan area closeby the Villa Bahia.

10. Somo Beach in Ribamontan al Mar

Playa Somo, Santander

Huge long strand with high waves that are great for surfing and bodyboarding. You’ll find a real surfing vibe in the entire Ribamontan area but especially here in Somo with plenty surf shops and atmospheric bars, diners and restaurants. The Surf Café in Somo on the waterfront is great for drinks and light snacks. Drive to Magnolia in Suesa for meals and more.

Magnolia Suesa Restaurant, Calle Calabazas, 26, 39150 Suesa, Cantabria. Tel: 942 50 43 06

11. El Puntal Beach in Ribamontan al Mar

El Puntal Beach, Santander

This sand bank offers wonderful views of the city, the Palace and the entire bay – without the crowds. You also have a wonderful vantage point of all the sailing action and get to witness the Brittany Ferries ferry navigate the very narrow channel beside the beach! Two open-air beach bars serve snacks, seafood, salads and lunches during the Summer months – El Puntal Tricio is the one nearest to the jetty. If you’re travelling by car, you can either drive into Santander and park at the Alfonso XIII carpark (by Centro Botin) before alighting on the passenger ferry or drive to Somo, park at the beach or by the pier and walk the 2km from Somo Beach out onto El Puntal itself.

El Puntal Tricio Beach Bar, Calle el Puntal, Tel: 619 109631. Chiringuitoelpuntal.tricio

12. Loredo Beach in Ribamontan al Mar

Wonderful views of the mountains and the city of Santander as well as the bay from this beach where a horse-racing derby has taken place on the sand every July since 1957. Surfing is very popular here also and you’ll find a few surf schools to hire boards or take a class. If you need a snack after catching a few waves (or a swim) you’ll find a few cafes in the town.

13. Langre Beach in Ribamontan al Mar

Great cliff walks and benches with views up over the beach where you’ll see many Camino de Santiago walkers take a break from their trek to admire the views. This is a quiet beach with very few facilities by the water – so drive onto Somo or Loredo for shops etc but the cliffside drama makes a visit here worthwhile. Make sure to walk to the viewing point on the western side of the beach. Parking at the top – which gets busy in high season so go early and avoid the crowds.

14. Galizano Beach in Ribamontan al Mar

Galizano Beach, Santander

More rustic and less built-up than many of its neighbouring beaches, Galizano is a charming cove with a beach bar operating in the Summer months. Choppy waves and open sea but lots of rock pools for the smaller members of the family to explore. Park in the nearby carpark and take the charming wooden platform bridges to the beach. The mini-market in Galizano village is handy for picnic essentials.

During the Summer season, Somo’s Curros&Co on Calle Isla de Mouro, 4 is a perfect place to pick up picnic treats for all the Ribamontan beaches. In Santander head for the delis such as Mantequerias Cantabras on Calle Joaquín Costa, 47 and Diferente on Calle Joaquín Costa, 28 (near the First Sardinero). Gastrobars in the city centre will also be able to organise tapas, wines and even Spanish paellas or tortillas to go with delivery options available.

Things to Do in Santander

Santander has long been a favourite with the Madrid-set in search of sandy beaches and great gastronomy. Increased air and sea connections mean the city is garnering international attention and it’s easy to see why. Wondering what to do when you get here?

1. See Centro Botin

This brand-new art centre designed by star architect Renzo Piano (who designed the Shard in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris with Richard Rogers) has already won its place in the hearts of the Santanderinos. Its clever design not only offers a stage for world-class art and celebrated musicians but it also opens up a dialogue between the city and the bay which shimmers and dazzles just like the building itself. Take the lift to the top where you have brilliant views of the city and the water. Great museum café looking onto the bay which is run by the two-Michelin starred chef Jesus Sanchez of El Cenador de Amos (located across the bay in Villaverde de Pontones.)

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-8pm (extended opening until 9pm from June through to September). Parking at Alfonso XIII carpark.

Centrobotin.org

2. Visit the Magdalena Palace

Palace Magdelena, Santander

King Alfonso 13th and Queen Victoria Eugenia (granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Albert) enjoyed the beaches, gardens and views of the bay and is said to have reminded the Queen Consort of her childhood summers on the Isle of Wight. It’s true the palace wouldn’t look out of place on the English coast – although it is the work of two local architects.

Tours of the palace interiors are available year-round in Spanish although access is limited when the International Menendez Pelayo University (UIMP) takes over the building every Summer. The best way to enjoy a tour in English is to hire a private licensed city guide who can reserve a slot with the palace.

Opening times for the Palace vary so phone 942 203 084 or email for details.
The grounds of the Palace are open from 8am to 10pm at night. Pedestrian access only. Parking just outside the palace grounds. Palaciomagdalena.com

3. Take a Snap of the Raqueros Sculptures

In contrast to the glamour and glitz of the palace and Centro Botin, seek out the wonderfully sculptured figures of the Raqueros beside the Club Maritimo that recall the young boys who used to jump into the water for coins throws by the well-heeled from their boats. These iconic life-like works by local sculptor Jose Cobo act as a reminder of the tough times experienced in Puertochico – the city’s historic fishing port.

Nearest carparking at Castelar Carpark & Alfonso XIII Carpark.

4. Check out the Beaches

Sardinero Beach, Santander

It’s simply not possible to spend time in the city and not experience the famous Sardinero beaches that were first in fashion in the 1850s. Residents dress up in period-costume for a week every year to remember the time when Santander first was in vogue – so if you see boater hats, parasols and demure swimming costumes as you stroll by or swim here, you know what’s going on. If you prefer a different view, a quieter cove or a rural beach, you’ve so much choice. Read about the many Santander Beaches here.

Lots of parking available in the streets near the beaches – although it does get busy in July and August.

5. Experience the Local Gastronomy

pintxos

If you’ve spent time in the North of Spain before, you’ll know that pintxos are earth-shatteringly good but there’s another way to dine out. When friends and family meet for a white wine or vermouth at weekends, they often order share platters of food called ‘raciones’ which nearly always feature the local rabas (calamari) and you’ll also find lots of mussels, clams, crabs, periwinkles, anchovies, prawns and octopus. Other specials include ‘bonito’ which is a Northern Spanish tuna or a slow-cooked melt in the mouth stew from the region. And yes, you will need a few garden salads, pimientos de Padron or char-grilled vegetables to dilute the protein! Finish up with a local creamy dessert or move on to the coffee and G&T. This is best experienced in the neighbourhoods of Puertchico or Tetuan but anywhere you go, you’ll find these dishes during the middle of the day.

When eating out in the evening, there’s so much choice but we’re always partial to El Riojano Restaurant and Canadio Restaurant which are smart casual (rather than Michelin-star formal) but they execute all the classic Cantabrian dishes with class and style. Both serve tapas and ‘raciones’ at the bar if you’re not able to get a table inside the restaurant.

El Riojano Restaurant, Calle Río de la Pila, 5. Tel 942 216 750. Bodegadelriojano.com
Canadio Restaurant, Calle Gomez Orena, 15. Tel 942 314 149. Restaurantecanadio.com

6 Get Out Onto The Bay

Santander Coast

Fresh air beckons and where better than on a boat? If you haven’t brought your own, you can board the tours of the bay departing from the Palacete del Embarcadero (beside Centro Botin) or Gamazo Dock.

During the Summer months you can also hop on the boats going to the Puntal Beach in the middle of the bay where you’ll gain a lovely perspective of the city. For more information Losreginas.com or Santanderbahiatours.com

7. Visit a Museum or Two (or Three)

MUPAC

MUPAC is the name for Santander’s Prehistory Museum – a great space to learn about Cantabria’s amazing caves and its cave art. The subterranean museum space on Calle Bailen is right beside the Mercado del Este marketplace where you can grab a coffee and a snack before or after.

The Maritime Museum complete with aquarium, a 40m long skeleton of the blue whale plus lots of other water creatures and marine body parts in jam-jars too. Great café views and outdoor terrace looking out over the bay.

If you are looking to drive out to a museum in the region, the town of Comillas is just the ticket. It boasts extraordinary architecture featuring one of the few works of Gaudi outside Catalonia. Take a tour of the Capricho de Gaudi in English and visit Sobrellano Palace designed by Joan Martorell plus Camposanto cemetery that is home to a wonderfully carved angel designed by Josep Llimona. The town is like a who’s who of Catalan architecture – and the beach is spectacular also. Continue on to San Vicente de la Barquera for some excellent views of the Picos de Europa and Michelin-star cuisine.

MUPAC

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10-2pm and 5pm to 7.30pm (opening extended until 8pm on Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays and every day from May to September). Closed Monday. Park in Pombo Carpark or Alfonso XIII Carpark. Museosdecantabria.es

Maritime Museum

Museo de Maritimo, Santander

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm (opening extended until 7.30pm from May to September). Closed Monday. Public parking in the area. Museosdecantabria.es/Maritimo

El Capricho de Gaudi

Open Monday to Sunday from 10:30am to 5:30pm. Extended opening until 8pm from March to June and in October. From July to September closing time is further extended until 9pm. No parking at the Capricho but ample public parking in the centre of Comillas. Elcaprichodegaudi.com

8. Shop at the City’s Food Market

Located right behind the Town Hall (Casa Consistorial) the market structure itself is a joy – dating back to 1904. You could almost call it a living museum as so many of the stallholders enjoy sharing tales of Santander’s past and present as you purchase your fish, meat, bread, cheeses and fruit. During the school calendar you’ll find local schoolchildren on market tours purchasing ingredients for a meal they prepare inside the museum – with the help of some of the city’s top chefs.

The most dazzling array of fresh fish and seafood is on show (and for sale) in the market’s basement which opens in the mornings from 8am to 2pm. Upstairs you’ll find wonderful cured meats and cheeses plus the butchers, bakers and more – this space opens from 8am-2pm and again from 5pm to 7.30pm.

If you want to make a visit to this municipal market extra special, why not shop with one of the city’s local chefs who can prepare a meal for you with your ingredients? If you’d like to see and participate in the preparation of your meal, great – if you just want to watch as you sip on a glass of wine, that’s perfect too.

Parking for the Food Market at the Plaza de la Esperanza Carpark.
As you can tell, everything about this elegant city oozes ‘quality of life’. It really is Northern Spain at its best with so few international visitors that you’ll feel like you are carving out your very own little slice of Spain.

When To Visit Santander

Santander

The last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August are when the city is truly bustling with holidaymakers. Restaurants and bars are busy and the beaches are too – with the city full to capacity for a week of partying around the 25 July which is known as the Semana Grande. If you prefer to visit the city when it’s less busy, travel in June or September. Because this is Northern Spain, the climate is a lot cooler than in the rest of Spain. Temperatures rarely surpass 30 degrees Celsius (86 in Fahrenheit) in Summer and you may encounter some rain during your time here. Winters are cold with the temperature ranging from 5-12 degrees Celsius in January – that’s 41-54 degrees in Fahrenheit.

Best Neighbourhoods in Santander

Santander, Spaim

Puertochico is the best neighbourhood for eating out – with nearby Tetuan also a good choice for fish restaurants. The best shopping is between Puertochico and the Town Hall where you’ll be tempted by the many local independent stores and the main brands dotted around Calle Hernan Cortes, Juan de Herrera and Isabel II. The beaches run all the way from Gamazo towards the Magdalena Peninsula, along the Sardinero and finish up by the neighbourhood of Mataleñas where you’ll enjoy a scenic cliffside walkway, the Golf Club and Cabo Mayor lighthouse.

Insider Tip for Santander

Because an overwhelming percentage of visitors to Santander are Spanish, you will struggle to find authentic eateries serving meals outside Spanish mealtimes. Sit down to lunch from 2-4pm and dine at night after 8.30pm when the best places are open. Otherwise you’ll be limited for choice. If you are peckish between meals, purchase fresh fruit some a one of the great fruterias, head to one of the many gourmet ice-cream parlours or enjoy fresh churros from the many churro food trucks or churrerias.

Our choosen place to stay when visiting Santander is Villa Bahia. Want to know more about a trip Santander? Contact us to plan your break in the north of Spain.

Villas with Last-Minute Availability this June

Villa Karima Sotogrande pool

Still not booked your summer villa break yet? Thankfully, we still have some incredible properties in southern Spain with late June availability.

So if you’re looking for a quick last-minute escape, you should find some inspiration in our pick of the best last-minute villas Spain has to offer this summer.

Family Favourites with 4 or More Bedrooms

Villa Monterey – 6 Bedrooms

Beautiful Marbella Villa for Rent

Stay at Villa Monterey from 30th June for 14 nights from £2571 per night.

Find out more and book.

Villa Artea – 6 Bedrooms

Villa Artea - Luxury Villa in Sotogrande

Stay at Villa Artea from 9th June for 14 nights from £794 per night.

Find out more and book.

Villa Diamante, 6+1 Bedrooms

villa diamante private pool

Stay at Villa Diamante for 8 nights starting from 29th June from £1243 per night.

Find out more and book.

Smaller Villas for a Quick Couples’ Getaway

Villa Blanco – 4 Bedrooms

villa-blanco-pool

Stay at Villa Blanco for 12 nights from 9th June, or from 28th June for 9 nights, from £579 per night.

Find out more and book.

Villa Solise – 4 Bedrooms

Villa Solise lap pool

Stay at Villa Solise for 14 nights from 23rd June from £887 per night.

Find out more and book.

Large Villas for a Last-minute Escape

Hacienda Madronal 1 – 10 Bedrooms

Pool at Madronal Villa

Stay at Hacienda Madronal for 7 to 14 nights, starting between 9th and 16th June from £1665 per night.

Find out more and book.

Villa Karima – 16 Bedrooms

Villa Karima Sotogrande luxury pool

Stay at Villa Karima for 7 to 35 nights, starting between 9th June and 7th July, from £2654 per night.

Find out more and book.

Tempted by these last-minute luxury villas in Spain, but haven’t found the dates you’re after? To check alternative availability or ask us about last-minute discounts for June arrivals, just get in touch.

Five Cities in Southern Spain You Absolutely Must Visit

Each country has its beautiful cities, but in Spain they blend historic appeal, modern vivacity and a distinctly exotic quality like few others. Which can mean that when choosing which city in Spain to visit you’re often forced to cut favourites out of shortlists, such is the depth of the country’s appeal.

Thank goodness, then, for Andalucia. Spain’s southernmost region is packed with some of the country’s most fascinating cities – and here are just a few of our favourites.

Malaga

Malaga Cathedral

Once an earthy Mediterranean port city, Malaga now has it all: culture, history, architecture, shopping, dining, nightlife and sandy Mediterranean beaches. Indeed, this is a place where you can shop, dine, visit museums and lay on the beach all in the same day.

Geographically the city is dominated by the Gibralfaro hill on which stands the Alcazaba, a fortified Moorish palace from the 11th century. A little further up, on the crest of the hill, a 14th-century castle overlooks the city and its bay amidst spectacular panoramic views.

The foot of the Gibralfaro, where a Roman amphitheatre meets the city centre, forms the point at which past and present come together. Cross the street and you enter the old town, a wonderful maze of squares, streets and pedestrian shopping areas lined with elegant buildings. Crowning this area are the cathedral, built in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, and the Picasso Museum, home to the works of Malaga’s most famous son.

A little further along is the Carmen Thyssen Museum, along with the Centre Pompidou at the stylish Muelle Uno portside shopping and entertainment area, just two of many fascinating spots in what is fast becoming one of Europe’s cultural gems. Situated between the centre and the port is a stylish boulevard flanked on both sides by a tree-lined promenade. Here stately buildings alternate with the greenery of botanical gardens, an area that gradually gives way to beaches and the ‘La Malagueta’ suburb.

Granada

La Alhambra, Granada

Another jewel in the Andalucian crown is Granada. Settled within a broad, fertile floodplain known as the Vega, this ancient city is above all known for its association with Moorish Spain, of which the legendary Alhambra palace-fortress remains the most tangible legacy. Surrounded by fragrant gardens, the latter encompasses an entire hilltop complex.

Though most views in Granada are characterised by this hilltop sentinel framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada rising up behind it, the Alhambra itself looks out over the Albaicín – a charming maze of streets, squares and houses that still retains much of its medieval feel. Here you find stylish Arab-style baths and spas, Moroccan-inspired tetería tearooms and also houses whose private gardens, courtyards and rooftop terraces recall the days when this was the last Moorish capital of Andalucia.

From the rich ambience of the Albaicín, the city of Granada spreads out into an elegant baroque historic centre full of grand churches, imposing public buildings and beautiful monuments. In many ways a typically lively and impressive southern Spanish city, Granada is also the official birthplace of the tapa. So, expect many an opportunity to enjoy this very social way of dining across the many tapas bars and small restaurants that dot one of Spain’s most visited historic centres.

Cordoba

La Mezquita Cordoba

Straddling a curve on the Guadalquivir River, Cordoba is the embodiment of Andalucia’s glorious past. The city owes its prominent role in Spanish history primarily to its strategic location at the entrance to Andalucia. Famous leaders as diverse as Julius Caesar, Abd al-Rahman III and Ferdinand and Isabella fought to control the city at one time or another, so it’s not surprising that Cordoba has been destroyed and rebuilt more times than any other in Andalucia.

Though founded in pre-Roman times, Cordoba is above all famous for its magnificent Grand Mosque, the monumental structure that has become the symbol of the city. Surrounded by the tightly packed houses of the medieval Judería, or Jewish quarter, the mosque is one of the many architectural wonders within this corner of southern Spain, to which can be added later baroque edifices such as the Reyes Alcazares palace and the 14th-century Torre de Calahorra, which stands guard over the ancient river.

Seville

Alcazar, Seville

Sevilla, as it’s known locally, is the bustling capital of Andalucia, a sprawling old city full of life and sights. The city, and in particular the old quarter on the east bank of the Guadalquivir river, contains some of the finest buildings and monuments anywhere in Spain. They are the legacy of the centuries during which the riches of Central and South America flowed into Spain through the city, which at the time was not only the country’s main port but also one of the richest cities in Europe.

When you visit Seville you’re in the very heart of Andalucía, for it’s here that quintessentially Andalucian traditions such as bullfighting, flamenco music and vivacious street life come together. Bordered by the Guadalquivir river and guarded by the mighty 13th-century Torre de Oro, one of Seville’s most famous monuments and now a maritime museum, El Arenal used to be the bustling port area of the town, a district of munitions stores, artillery headquarters and shipyards. Today the quarter is dominated by the dazzling white bullring, the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, where bullfights, or corridas, have been held for the past two centuries.

Just beyond here lies one of the largest historic centres in Europe, an area that encompasses not only elegant shopping promenades but also the more tightly woven streets of an older area. Here you find the Moorish-style baths and teahouses, the stunning cathedral and its famous Giralda tower, the Reales Alcazares palatial complex and a host of quaint tapas bars and restaurants that form the heart of a lively Andalucian social scene.

Though newer, a part of Seville not to be missed is the Parque María Luisa, an architectural wonderland designed for the Ibero American World Trade Exposition of 1929. Today its magnificently creative buildings house embassies, museums, military headquarters and cultural and educational institutions. The grand five-star Hotel Alfonso XIII and crescent-shaped Plaza de España are the most striking features, but in summer the terraces of the old exposition pavilions come alive with street performers and live dance music that goes on until the early morning.

Cadiz

Cadiz Rooftops

At Cadiz we’ve reached the Andalucian shore again – albeit on the Atlantic this time. Situated on a peninsula that juts out into the sea, and attached to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, Cadiz is surrounded by water on three sides. The port is in many ways different from other cities in southern Spain, its pastel-coloured houses flanking a yellow tiled cathedral that actually seems more at home in Cuba than in Spain.

The city’s position, dominating the entrance to the Mediterranean, has made it a place of great strategic importance since classical times. In fact, Cadiz is the oldest living city in Europe and a veritable archaeological treasure house. Its museums contain findings ranging from 2,500 year-old Phoenician sarcophagi to Roman statues and Moorish artefacts.

Favoured by its location, the city was long the port of call for ships returning with riches from the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Developing apace with the maritime commerce of Cadiz were the watchtowers that were built onto the flat roofs of merchants’ houses. Such was the competition among them that they employed teams of watchmen to look out for incoming ships. Numbers peaked at a little over 160 towers, 126 of which remain today. The most famous tower, the Torre de Tavira, became the official watchtower of the city in 1778, and today offers visitors a spectacular view of the entire city and its surroundings from its rooftop and its camera obscura.

From here, Cadiz is a sea of flat roofs strongly reminiscent of a North African city that seems to float in the deep blue water like a giant ship. It adds yet another dimension to the myriad sights and experiences offered up by Andalucian cities rich in history, culture, mystery and above all, life.

Inspired by our pick of the best cities to visit in southern Spain? Check out our guides to when to visit the region and what to see when you’re there.

Festive Things to Do in Malaga Over Christmas

Christmas Lights in Malaga

Malaga is a great city to visit all year round – and Christmas is absolutely no exception. Here are just a few things that the LVC team will be doing in the city over the festive period.

Ooh and Aah at the Christmas Lights

Every year at Christmastime (until 6th January), the whole of Calle Larios is turned into a cathedral of lights. Malaga Christmas lights are the best in Spain and, with a light display with music usually around 18.30hrs and at 21.00hrs, they make for a great evening experience.

Shop ’til You Drop

Malaga is a great place to do some Christmas shopping. The high street is almost taken over by Spanish brands throughout Europe so it’s good to visit Zara, Maximo Dutti, Bimba y Lola and Cortefiel on their home turf.

Malaga city centre is small enough to wander round on foot. The main shopping streets branch off Plaza de la Constitucion with most international brands represented. There are also Christmas markets held at different locations throughout December, the biggest being on Muelle Uno where you’ll find local produce, crafts and clothing stalls.

Book a Festive Theatre Night

Swan Lake

There’s nothing like a festive trip to the theatre to get you into the Christmas spirit. See Swan Lake at Teatro Cervantes on 13th December. (For more information and to book: Teatrocervantes.com.)

Take in the Views at El Corte Ingles

Every Christmas, the main department store, El Corte Ingles, always has a winter wonderland with ice skating, snow slides, carousels and fun festive activities to do with children. The store itself is decked out and great for a browse in the warm. If you fancy a bite to eat or a drink, head up to the top floor to the Gourmet Experience where there are gorgeous views of the twinkling lights of the city.

Experience an Authentic Zambombá

A Zambomba

The zambombá is a typical southern Spanish Christmas tradition. Direct translation of this word is actually a specific percussion instrument (see above) but a zambombá is also a sort of Andalucian equivalent to Christmas carols with flamenco at its roots. Traditionally anis is drunk, and mantecados or polvorones (soft, crumbly shortbread sweets) are passed around. Not to be missed during a break in Malaga over Christmas. (For more information and to book: Teatroechegaray.com.)

Visit a Nativity Scene

Malaga has more than its fair share of nativity scenes. The two we like best, though, are Malaga Cathedral’s – a huge nativity scene from 4th December to 8th January – and The Glass Museum (Museovidrioycristalmalaga.com) where they have a whole nativity scene made from porcelain figures, known as Lladro, running from 13th December to 8th January.

Pay a Visit to Father Christmas

Father Christmas

The big man himself, Father Christmas, is ready for visitors at Muelle Uno (near the Pompidou Centre) between 12 and 14.00hrs and 17 to 20.00hrs – on the 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, and strangely 26 to 30 December, and from 2 to 4 January. There’s also a snow machine and a Christmas market.

Try a Roscón de Reyes

The bakeries are full of Roscón de Reyes, a special cream cake in the shape of a crown, traditionally eaten at Christmastime. Look out for the surprise inside.

Spend an Afternoon on the Beach

Promenade in Malaga

Malaga has the best year-round climate of pretty much anywhere in Europe, and during December daytime temperatures can reach the late teens. With clear blue skies and sun on your face more or less guaranteed, the city beaches are great for running around with the kids, going for a walk or simply kicking back and chilling out.

Visit the Gibralfaro at Night

Perched high above the city looking out to sea, Malaga’s castle is an interesting place to visit any time. However, they offer evening tours, and at Christmas with the city all lit up it’s a beautiful spectacle.

Have a Warming Drink

Sweet Malaga Wine Bar

Visit the longest running bar in Malaga, Antigua Casa de Guardia, on the corner of Alameda Principal. Have a glass of sweet local wine – ideal as the nip of the evening sets in and a perfect foodie gift for friends back home.

Catch Some Verdiales

Pastorales

An annual competition of Verdiales, traditional folk dance and music, takes place on 28th December just outside Malaga. The costumes are colourful and the atmosphere is always upbeat. (Address: Recinto Ferial del Puerto de la Torre, Calle Pirita, 29190.)

Chuckle Your Way through ‘Day of the Innocents’

The 28th December is all about tricks and giggles in Spain. So play a joke on someone for the Spanish equivalent of April Fools’ Day.

Make a Date with the Three Kings

Three Kings Parade, Spain

On the night of the 5th January – at 17.30hrs, to be precise – there’s a huge parade around the historic centre of the city with music and dancers. The Reyes Magos or Three Kings (from whom children traditionally receive their Christmas presents) and their helpers throw tonnes of sweets into the crowds for children to collect.

Take a Tapas Tour

One of the best ways to see a city and learn more about its culture is through its food. Toma & Coe do a fantastic tapas tour (Tomaandcoe.com) that explores the best places to eat and drink over the course of a hugely fun night out.

Coming to Malaga this festive season and looking for a great place for a Christmas meal or to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Check out our pick of the best.

Six Epic Andalucian Cycling Routes

If you enjoy getting out on the bike, Andalucia is the perfect holiday destination. With year-round sunshine and plenty of undulating coastal roads, challenging mountain climbs, city tours and family-friendly cycle paths, Andalucia has something for everyone of the two-wheeled inclination.

The region is a magnet for cyclists so you won’t be alone. There’s plenty of evidence of other cyclists online – on Strava.com, Mapmyride.com and Endomondo.com. And as well as giving you an idea of the best routes in your area, some have details of local cycling groups – perfect if you don’t fancy riding solo.

To whet your wheels, we’ve pulled together our favourite cycling routes in Andalucia. As well as a family route, there are some more challenging road biking rides – all showcasing this region at its finest. You will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts. And you’ll no doubt want to come back and do them again and again.

Via Verde de la Sierra

 Family Rides on the Via Verde

Distance – 35.6km

Elevation – 473m

Strava.com

‘Via Verdes’ are unused Spanish railways lines, which have been transformed into car-free routes for cycling, hiking and other leisure pursuits. Surrounded by breath-taking scenery and, for the most part, flat, they’re ideal for family or group rides with less confident cyclists. If you want to do this as a day trip with your family, Toma & Coe can organise it all for you.

The award-winning Via Verde de la Sierra in Cadiz is 35.6km of spectacular cycling. Running from the village of Olvera through to Puerto Serrano, it’s truly a taste of authentic Andalucia. A total of thirty tunnels provide cooling interludes as you pedal across bridges and viaducts through valleys, meadows and riverbanks. And with points of ecological interest along the way, there’s plenty to see too.

Approximately halfway through the route, you’ll find the visitor’s centre for the Peñón de Zaframagón nature reserve, which houses one of Europe’s largest resting colonies of Griffon Vultures. And further on, just past Coripe station, is the Chaparro de la Vega – a 700-yr old holm oak with branches that spread over 28m.

Pitstops: With eateries either in Olvera or Puerto Serrano, it’s advisable to bring food, water and snacks. Bike hire is available in Olvera by companies including Sesca. And these will provide a taxi back from Puerto Serrano in case you’re not quite up to the gentle uphill back to Olvera. You’ll need to order in advance though.

Table Mountain & The Montes de Malaga

 Table Mountain Comares

Distance – 79.3km

Elevation – 1,524m

Strava.com

During the weekends, you’ll see numerous lycra-clad ciclistas climbing the A-7000 or A-7001 to reach the Montes de Malaga. This route goes further east, rewarding you with incredible views of the Almijaras, Sierra de Loja and Antequera as well as the Montes de Malaga. Heaven.

Starting in Rincon De La Victoria, warm up the legs for 20km along the N340 coastal road seafront before heading inland at Torre del Mar on the N340a.

On reaching Velez-Malaga, find the quieter A-725 and, just before Trapiche, turn left and cross the A-356 to reach the MA-3113. From here, you start a gentle ascent through the valley. Passing the quaint little pueblos of Triana, Benamargosa and Salto del Negro, you soon turn left onto the MA-3105. And from here, there’s a challenging climb to the Moorish village of Comares atop Table Mountain. Cycle up through the village walls and reward yourself with panoramic views from the Balcon de la Axarquia.

Getting back onto the MA-311 (where the MA-3105 ends), wind your way up the hill and drink in the views, before reaching a plateau where the Montes de Malaga come into sight.  After a delightful swoosh on top of the world, descend into the valley, taking care to turn left before Olias and right at Totalan to come back to Rincon de La Victoria at the end of the MA-3202.

Pitstops: There are plenty of chiringuitos for a cuppa, fuel or end of ride copa in Rincon de La Victoria and Benajarafe. For home-cooked Spanish cuisine en-route, try the restaurants near the Balcon de la Axarquia in Comares, or the well-known Table Mountain restaurant in Los Ventorros just past Comares.

Exploring Moorish Pueblos on the Ruta del Mudejar

 Road to Canillas de Aceituno

Distance – 73.1km

Elevation – 1,723m

Strava.com 

Starting in Caleta de Velez, spin the legs along the N340 coastal road before pedalling inland through Velez-Malaga and Trapiche. Past these, you ascend gently through the valley before turning right onto the Ruta de Mudejar – a tourist route celebrating five Moorish mountain pueblos in this part of the Axarquia.

From here, there’s a steady climb to Canillas de Aceituno. Then an undulating winding road takes you through the mountains to Sedella, Salares, Canillas de Albaida and finally Competa.  Then you descend into Torrox before making your way back to Caleta de Velez along the coastal road.

Along the way, you’re rewarded with incredible views – the Montes de Malaga and Antequera as you climb out of the valley. Once Canillas de Aceituno is in sight, the mighty Maroma comes into view. And as you descend towards Torrox, the eastern Sierra de Almijara crowd the skyline.

Pitstops: Stop for refreshment or something more substantial in the bustling villages of Canillas de Aceituno or Competa. And perhaps a celebratory cerveza and tapa on the beachfront promenade at Caleta de Velez.

Riding The Coastal Route to Cerro Gordo Natural Park

 La Herradura, Granada

Distance – 63.5km

Elevation – 1,170km

Strava.com

The N340 coastal road east of Malaga has some of the finest cycling in Europe. Sandwiched between the expansive Mediterranean and the Almijara mountain range, the views are truly awesome. And with the added bonus of a sea breeze, riding these undulating roads is a dream.

The stretch between Caleta de Velez and La Herradura passes tourism hotspots El Morche, Torrox Costa and Nerja before reaching the picturesque Cerro Gordo Natural Park. Here, the road becomes quieter, framed by dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches and rocky outcrops.

The Cerro Gordo turn-off is signposted, just before you enter a tunnel. Take this right and do the short but exhilarating climb to the viewpoint. From here, you can see Torre del Mar and, on a clear day, the mountains of Malaga. To the other side, you’ll see the secluded horseshoe bay of La Herradura – if you’re lucky with the Sierra Nevada peaking over the top.

Pitstops: The town roads are lined with bustling cafes and restaurants and you’ll find chiringuitos in Torrox Costa and just before Nerja. There is a lovely Mirador restaurant on Cerro Gordo, but don’t count on it being open.

Climbing the Rio Verde to Meson Los Prados

Cyclist in Spain

Distance – 65.1km

Elevation – 1,555m

Strava.com

Don’t be fooled by the length of this ride. Cyclists come from all over to cycle this route, which is in part categorised as HC (hard as nails) by Strava. But it’s not just about the challenge. The views are truly spectacular. And when you ride it, you’re likely to see plenty of other cyclists adding it to their ride portfolio.

It’s a ‘there and back’ on the old ‘main’ road between Almuñecar and Granada. It’s easy to find (once you’ve survived ‘death by roundabout’ in Almuñecar). You just find the A4050 for Jete and Otivar. Then you follow it to the top.

As you climb, the views change from lush avocado groves carpeting the valley, to dramatic mountains and rocky outcrops, to a shaded forest on the plateau at the top.

NB: Adding to this route’s exhilaration quotient, the road is vertiginous and hairpins sharp in parts. There are sometimes fallen rocks near the top. So take care when descending.

Pitstops: There are plenty of good restaurants and eateries in Jete and Otivar. There is also the well-located Meson Los Prados restaurant – frequented by cyclists – at the top.

Malaga to Cadiz: The Ronda – Grazalema Loop

Puente Nuevo in Ronda

Distance – 69.3km

Elevation – 1,467m

Strava.com

If you’re staying along the Costa del Sol, a trip to Ronda will be high on your wishlist. This ride starts and ends there, giving you a chance to wander around the historic town and check out the views from its jaw-dropping gorge. It also crosses into Cadiz, to the pretty village of Grazalema, which nestles in the foothills of the Sierra de Pinar. In fact, if you are staying in Cadiz province, you could even start and end from there.

After leaving Ronda, the ride climbs steadily on the A-374 – a reasonably busy road with good-sized hard shoulder. Then, after 10km, take the left fork onto the A-372 and follow this to Grazalema. This beautiful undulating road has cork forests, the occasional mountain goat and incredible views across the valley.

After taking a look (and perhaps refuelling) in Grazalema, take a left and then descend the valley on the CA-9123.  Shortly after, turn right on the A-2300* and make your way towards Montecorto. From here, you can get back onto the A-374 and make your way back to Ronda. Or you can bypass this for 6km on the more scenic MA-8404 before making your way back to the A-374 and climbing back to Ronda for a celebratory cerveza.

*Take a left here to make the ride a solid 100km, circling the delightful Zahara-El Gastor Reservoir Strava.com

Pitstops: There are lots of great places to dine or buy artisan delicacies in Ronda and Grazalema. Take the 100km option and you could fuel up while drinking in the dreamy views of the reservoir at El Mogote another place in Algodonales.

NB: If leaving from Ronda, be aware that the town adds 12km and a good 280m climb to the ride. So parking and starting on the outskirts near the A374 will give your legs a break.

Via Verde

Be Prepared..

Thanks to the abundance of cyclists, cars usually give you a wide berth with road signs on popular routes advising a healthy 1.5m clearance. But despite this, you should keep your wits about you. Gradients can be extreme – so take care when descending, particularly on hairpin bends. Also, it’s illegal to cycle more than two abreast and to run traffic lights. So follow the rules to avoid any hefty fines.

Before getting started, be aware that; although the sun shines (almost) daily, you’ll need to adapt your rides, clothes and gear according to the time of year.

When the sun is ‘hot n’ high’ in July and August, it’s best to go out on the bike earlier in the morning. Wear sun cream; carry plenty of water; and choose routes with lots of shade from forests and groves. Or cafes and restaurants…

It’s warm, sunny and perfect for cycling during April, May, June, September and October. Despite this, it’s still worth slapping on the sun cream and bringing plenty of water. In fact, it’s good to make sure there are water sources en-route too. Most towns and villages have fuentes (fountains), but not all of them. So fill your water bottle at every opportunity. And because you’re likely to sweat, bring electrolyte drinks or gels as well as snacks.

From November to March, the weather can be temperamental. Although it’s warm in the sun, the wind is chilly – particularly in the mountains. So make sure you bring lots of warm layers and a windproof mac. And check the weather forecast for rain. Because when it rains, it really does rain.

Do our cycling routes tempt you to try them? Our concierge can arrange guides, bike hire and support vehicles for your cycling holiday, contact us for more information.