Spanish summertime, done differently: the slow sizzle and theatrical snap of Subbética – Andalucia’s most seductive region

May 5, 2022 | Sunvil Holidays




Spanish summertime, done differently: the slow sizzle and theatrical snap of Subbética – Andalucia’s most seductive region

When you think of Spain during the summer perhaps sophisticated, exclusive – unseen, even – isn’t what comes to mind. A morning walk or bike ride to make the most of the cool; a hill-top setting for a lingering lunch, shaded from the scorch; local produce at its finest in summer, including gazpacho made from the freshest tomatoes; lazing by a pool, a downy peach in one hand and an absorbing read in the other; an early evening bike ride in the golden hour glow; and a home-cooked al fresco dinner beneath the stars, with the exhilarating clack of live flamenco and the balm of a mountain breeze.

It is hard to believe that in Andalucía, one of southernmost Spain’s most-loved and most-visited destinations, there is a region that is little known. But deeply rural, olive-strewn Subbética – situated midway between Córdoba and Granada, with Málaga an hour’s drive south and Seville two hours to the west – remains blissfully tourist-lite, an alluring taste of untamed Spain with lakeside beach-lounging, activities galore, colourful festivals, exceptional cuisine, wonderful wine, and the most exquisite olive oil you have ever tasted.

Where to stay?  Intimate, owner-managed, rural eco hotels, carefully and sustainably restored, are plentiful; there’s also a good range of charming country villas and traditional townhouses if you prefer to self-cater in part; the tempting tapas bars and restaurants will, of course, seduce you into sampling their wares!

SUMMER PLEASURES & PASTIMES

From early June to late September, the sun-soaked province of Subbética offers a wealth of fun, cultural and foodie outdoor experiences, including:

WATERSPORTS
Despite its lack of coastline, Subbética offers many watersports courtesy of a huge reservoir , Iznájar – known as the Lake of Andalucia – which is well set-up for water activities of all kinds, from wild swimming to stand-up paddleboarding, to river rafting, sailing, kayaking, canyoning and even windsurfing; perfect during the hot summer months.  Follow the locals’ lead – get up early to enjoy the cool of the morning, take a siesta in the shade over the midday hours, and get active again in the late afternoon/early evening.

LAND PURSUITS
Now skilfully converted for cyclists, hikers and wheelchair-users to enjoy, the Vía Verde de la Subbética is a disused railway line that tracks across 128km of olive-covered countryside in Córdoba and Jaén provinces. With 13 19th century, French-built viaducts  (designed by disciples of Gustave Eiffel), sweeping views and train stations repurposed as bars and bike shops, it’s a wonderful experience, well worth getting up early for, to beat the heat.

WHITE VILLAGES
The Parque Natural Sierras Subbéticas is a massive 320 sq km and is dotted with delightful white villages which are a joy to visit. Lesser-known than the famous white villages of nearby Cádiz, Córdoba’s charming pueblos blancos revolve around crumbling Moorish-era castles, glinting Baroque churches and narrow sloping alleys bursting with vibrant geraniums. Many of them sit on the once-turbulent frontier between ancient Christian and Islamic Spain, which you can now explore by following the Ruta del Califato (Route of the Caliphate), stopping at eco-friendly rural hotels and local-produce restaurants along the way. From Zuheros (recently voted one of the prettiest towns in Spain) and Luque, to Carcabuey, Zagrilla, Almedinilla, Priego de Córdoba and Instagrammer-favourite Iznájar, these Córdoba white towns are rich and satisfying in cultural and architectural history.

FOOD
Olive oil is at the heart of the Subbética’s gastronomy, naturally – it is incorporated into many dishes, from goat’s cheese to local desserts. The Romans cultivated olives in Andalucia, much as they are cultivated to this day – Gold Award-winning (on the world stage), quality-certified organic olive oil is produced from ancient olive groves dating back centuries.   There are fascinating olive oil tours and tastings to enjoy courtesy of local family olive oil producers who work in traditional ways. Subbética, especially in summer, offers a holiday of healthy eating in a very natural, very low-food-miles way. Summer fruit grown locally includes seasonal figs, melon, watermelon, peaches and apricots, plus plentiful fresh vegetables.

SUMMER EVENTS – AND SUGGESTED STAYS

Throughout the summer months there are cultural festivals and fiestas – music, dance, theatre and more – taking place across the Subbética. Here are some of the region’s top events:

13 June – 10 July: Granada International Festival of Music and Dance
With events taking place at some of Granada’s most emblematic and spectacular venues – including the Alhambra gardens and King Carlos V Palace – it is hard to imagine more mesmerising settings for lovers of music and dance. The whole city comes alive with not only the sound of Spanish guitars, castanets, and flamenco stamping and swooshing, but also with music and movement from across the globe.
Pura Aventura’s 10-night self-drive Around Andalucía: Drive & Explore Holiday, taking in Seville, the Costa de la Luz, the Subbética, Cordoba and Granada, costs from £1,795 pp (based on two sharing). This includes breakfast daily, one tapas lunch and two dinners, car hire, private guiding including Alhambra and Mezquita, a flamenco show and self-guided walks. International flights are extra. Book with Pura Aventura (www.pura-aventura.com).

18 June: All-night Flamenco Fiesta in Cordoba
Arguably the biggest single flamenco event in the world, the extraordinary all-night Noche Blanca de Flamenco (white night of flamenco) takes place in Cordoba on 18 June. With 24 hours of world-class performances (free entry), it permeates the city´s streets, plazas and historic sites including the Mezquita courtyard and Alcazar gardens.
Combine three nights in Cordoba staying at the four-star, centrally located Las Casas de la Juderia, with four nights winding down in the nearby Subbética region staying at Casa Olea, a charming country hotel with stunning pool and views across olive groves and sierras. A seven-night trip costs from £1,010 pp (based on two sharing). This includes direct flights from Gatwick to Malaga, breakfast daily, and car hire for the duration. Call Sunvil on 020 8568 4499 or visit www.sunvil.co.uk.

1 – 9 July: Cordoba Guitar Festival
The International Festival de la Guitarra is one of Cordoba’s cultural highlights over the summer period. Attracting some of the greatest names across the world’s genre board – both artists and teachers – the event offers courses in guitar-making, ancient guitar, classical guitar and flamenco guitar, as well as classes in musical composition for the guitar, flamenco dance and flamenco singing.
Pura Aventura’s nine-night self-guided Córdoba to Granada Inn to Inn Walking Holiday, visiting Cordoba, the Subbética and Granada, costs from £1,830 pp (based on two sharing). This includes breakfast daily, most lunches and most dinners, private transfers, luggage transfers, self-guided walks with detailed notes and GPS, private-guided visits to Alhambra and Mezquita, plus flamenco tickets. International flights are extra. Book with Pura Aventura (www.pura-aventura.com).

Mid-July: Flamenco Festival in Zambra
In the tiny village of Zambra, near Rute, the Noche de Flamenco (Flamenco Night) attracts some of the biggest names in this dramatic dance form. With roots in Indian, Arab and Spanish culture, flamenco dance is known for its sweeping arm movements and rhythmic foot stomping.
Stay four nights at Caserío de Iznájar, a charming owner-managed hotel situated on the edge of Lake Iznajar, an enormous reservoir perfect for fun in the water. The property has a large pool and dining terraces with stunning views of the shimmering lake. Ideal for families, the beach and its watersports centre are just a short walk away, where you’ll find all sorts of activities. Iznajar is also a white village, complete with Moorish castle. Triple rooms are available. Combine this with three nights at Casa Olea, as detailed previously. A seven-night trip costs from £953 pp (based on two sharing). This includes direct flights from Gatwick to Malaga, breakfast daily, and car hire for the duration. Call Sunvil on 020 8568 4499 or visit www.sunvil.co.uk.

August: Priego Summer Music Festival
Home to southern Spain’s most dazzling collection of Baroque architecture, the white town of Priego de Córdoba hosts a fabulous music festival in the summer which includes both jazz and flamenco. Absorb soothing and exhilarating sounds as you wander geranium-studded streets between Baroque churches, mansions, convents and plazas.
Stay right in the heart of Priego de Córdoba at
Casa Baños de la Villa, a boutique B&B ideal for enjoying local terrace cafés and restaurants. The rooftop terrace and plunge pool are the place to be on the hottest days. A four-night stay, including breakfast and a session in the on-site Arab baths, costs from €436 (approx. £368).

Another option, only a ten-minute drive from Priego, is the enormous Rural Villa los Balcones, an exceptionally appealing self-catering property with five bedrooms. Surrounded by olive and quince groves, and close to the white village of Zagrilla, there is a huge pool with sunbeds and umbrellas, plus the pool area has its own fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, fridge/freezer, cool cabinets, television, barbeque and dining table. A seven-night self-catering stay costs from £1,073 pp (based on four sharing) including direct flights from Gatwick to Malaga, and car hire for the duration. Call Sunvil on 020 8568 4499 or visit www.sunvil.co.uk.

5-7 August: La Duquesa de Benamejí
The Duchess of Benameji is a 1932 Spanish play (later adapted into a film) written by brothers Antonio and Manuel Machado. It tells the love story between a beautiful and famous noble and a bandit in the village (as it once was) of Benamejí. Since 1932, every summer the town of Benameji hosts a large-scale theatre production involving the whole community.
Visit Benameji from nearby Lucena or Iznajar.

Mid-August: Ibero Roman Cultural Festival
Almedinilla is a riverside white town, home to a 1st to 7th century Roman villa – one of the largest ever found on the Iberian peninsula, complete with intriguing mosaics. The annual Festum Almedinilla is a week-long event offering an insight into the life and culture of our Roman ancestors. Activities – aimed at all ages – include pageants, theatre and music performances, exhibitions and Roman feasts.
Stay just four kilometres away, near to the pretty white village of Zagrilla, at the Huerta de las Palomas hotel. A lovely garden offers plenty of shade and a large pool, and the on-site restaurant serves tasty local dishes. A four-night stay with breakfast costs from €337 (approx. £285).

Late August: Wine and Flamenco Festival in Dona Mencia
The well-attended and lively Vendimia Flamenca in Dona Mencia is a festival celebrating the local wine harvest (fino – sherry-like wines) with the finest flamenco performances. Explore nearby Zuheros’ 9th century Moorish castle and ancient Luque – one of the Subbética’s oldest towns – which boasts a ruined castle from the Nasrid era, plus spectacular Neoclassical and Baroque Andalucian architecture, alongside Neolithic and Roman archaeological remains, coupled with views of hillsides draped with olive plantations in every direction.
The Mencia Subbética is a comfortable, good value, modern hotel situated in the charming town of Doña Mencía. There is lots of outdoor terrace space and a pool with uplifting views of the mountains. You’re only a short walk from the Vía Verde de la Subbética, making this the perfect place for those seeking a summer trip that combines cultural entertainment and cycling / walking. A four-night stay with breakfast costs from €439 (approx. £369) for a family room (two adults and two children sharing).

Last weekend in August: Toro de Cuerda in Carcabuey
Though the contemporary bull running festival is largely symbolic, its original purpose, dating back to the 13th century, was to allow herders and butchers to drive cattle from pens outside of the city to the bull ring in preparation for market days and bullfights. Carcabuey, one of the prettiest white towns in the Subbética, has two days of festivities and all the locals get involved. (NB: the bulls are put back out to graze in the fields after running through the village streets).
Stay nearby, close to the pretty white village of Zagrilla, at the Huerta de las Palomas hotel. A lovely garden offers plenty of shade and a large pool, and the on-site restaurant serves tasty local dishes. A four-night stay with breakfast costs from €337 (approx. £285).

Visit www.destinosubbetica.es/en/ for more information (in English and Spanish).