The first holiday my now-husband and I took together was to the Costa Tropical in Andalusia. His parents’ friends owned a villa by La Herradura’s curving bay and we grabbed the chance to stay there for a week in high summer, sitting beneath lemon trees at sundown and strolling through bougainvillea-filled gardens for seafront dinners of fresh fish.
That year we were students without the means to choose our destination. But perhaps Andalusia chose us, for we returned, inexorably, to this most quintessentially Spanish region, finding ourselves next in sultry Seville, quaffing red wine and burrowing down narrow streets in search of the best tapas bars. Later we were dazzled by the sensual Moorish architecture of Granada’s Alhambra, and gawped at Cordoba’s Mezquita, its striped arches forever etched in our minds.
Spain’s southern charmer has further unveiled its treasures to us over the years, and no two trips are ever the same. How could they be, when Andalusia is larger than the island of Ireland and has both mainland Spain’s highest peaks (the Sierra Nevada) and its best-known beaches, on the Costa del Sol?
Many visitors stick to coastal resorts — Marbella, Estepona, Nerja — but the hinterland above and behind these has olive and almond groves, wildflower meadows and sleepy villages. There’s marvellous hiking, and appealing hotels hide in valleys.
This is Andalusia’s other great strength. About 12 million people visited in 2019 and they can be a discerning bunch. Some of Spain’s best lodgings are thus found here, especially in Seville and Marbella, and hip bolt holes now tempt you to stay awhile even in previously overlooked Malaga, home to Andalusia’s busiest airport – the one generally most useful to Brits.
1. Ikos Andalusia, Estepona
When, in 2021, “ultra all-inclusive” Ikos opened its first property beyond Greece, there was excitement about the arrival of its slick service and Michelin-star-standard dining in southern Spain. In a field packed with superb hotels — it’s roughly halfway between Marbella and Estepona — Ikos stands out from the competition with beach childcare, a day’s car hire and 24-hour room service all thrown in. There’s full-on style in the cool white decor too, while the restaurants serve high-end dishes ranging from gyoza to Iberico pork
Details Seven nights’ all-inclusive from £1,737pp, including flights (olympicholidays.com)
Hospes Palacio de los Patos, Granada
2. Hospes Palacio de los Patos, Granada
The Spanish boutique-hotel brand Hospes loves to take on a project, and in Granada it has excelled itself, turning a 19th-century sugar magnate’s mansion into the city’s most stylish hotel. The central marble staircase sets the tone for what is a quietly grand five-star, decked out in muted ivory and gunmetal shades, and there’s a small indoor pool in the spa. The best rooms are the ones in the old palace, facing the gardens. They are quiet and spacious with high ceilings, marble floors and ornate plasterwork.
Details Four nights’ B&B from £1,899pp, including flights and private transfers (abercrombiekent.co.uk)
Las Casas de la Juderia, Seville
3. Las Casas de la Juderia, Seville
This labyrinthine hotel runs through 27 traditional Sevillian houses connected by passageways and patios, in the heart of the city’s Jewish quarter. Expect to get pleasantly lost among the fountains and bougainvillea as you wander to breakfast from your traditional room (wooden floors, beamed ceilings), or from the rooftop pool to the piano bar. Allow yourself spa time to bathe amid Roman-style mosaics. Seville’s main attractions (cathedral, Alcazar, tapas bars) are less than a ten-minute walk from the front door.
Details Three nights’ B&B from £229pp, including flights (britishairways.com)
Anantara Villa Padierna Palace, Marbella
4. Anantara Villa Padierna Palace, Marbella
With the dimensions and pizzazz of a palace, it’s no surprise this opulent hotel attracted Michelle Obama in 2010. Now it has a suite named after her — the two-bedroom, three-storey Villa Obama. The resort goes big on facilities, among them a cypress-shaded pool, a racket club, three golf courses and a spa. The design is bold: every corner is adorned with statues and artwork, while every patio burbles with fountains and blooms with flowers. The beach club may be relaxed but that doesn’t stop it from serving caviar and lobster.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,299pp, including flights and private transfers (sovereign.com)
The Mezquita in Cordoba
5. Hospes Palacio del Bailio, Cordoba
Most visitors just take a quick spin around the Mezquita but there’s far more to Cordoba, including Moorish patios bedecked with pot plants, steamy hammams and welcoming tabernas. Stay a while at this chic hotel where the city’s Roman history is on display — see the villa remains beneath the restaurant and sample the muscle-softening baths down in the spa. The outdoor pool cuts an elegant dash and rooms are a blend of imposing stone arches with warm velvets and leather.
Details Four nights’ B&B from £1,699pp, including flights and private transfers (abercrombiekent.co.uk)
Hotel Gran Melia Sancti Petri, Sancti Petri
6. Hotel Gran Melia Sancti Petri, Sancti Petri
Playa de la Barrosa is one of the best beaches in Andalusia, with the sort of powdery sand you dream of on cold, wet days in Britain. You’re a mere flip-flop’s throw away at this laid-back resort. Divide your days between the beach and the generous pool — unless you’ve booked a Red Level room, which has a private garden for seclusion, as well as a Balinese bed. There are five restaurants, of which the best for dinner is Alevante, home to a seafood-based tasting menu 17 dishes long. And for an evening out? Make it Cadiz, a 30-minute drive away. Its back streets are busy with restaurants and upbeat bars.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £879pp, including flights and transfers (tui.co.uk)
7. Finca Cortesin, Estepona
With its whitewashed courtyards, arched walkways and mature gardens, Finca Cortesin feels like a time-honoured Andalusian finca — so it’s hard to believe the place only opened in 2009. The spa is one of the finest in Spain, with Thai massages, a 25m heated saltwater pool and a snow cave that’s handy for the hottest days. It’s also a world leader in golf (the course is set to host the 2023 Solheim Cup). Suites (67 in all) have high ceilings and are understated, which makes them feel even roomier. There are also four swimming pools — as well as a beach club served by courtesy shuttle — for when you want to step out in your Alaïa swimwear.
Details B&B doubles from £581 (fincacortesin.com). Fly to Malaga
El Geco Verde, Altiplano de Granada
8. El Geco Verde, Altiplano de Granada
Under-fives go free at this friendly rural hotel — and the family who run it are always keen to recruit eager little volunteers to help with olive and almond picking, egg collecting and ice-cream making. This local produce appears at dinner and breakfast, while packed lunches can be provided to see you through a day’s exploration in the surrounding Altiplano de Granada — there’s walking, biking, horse riding and kayaking in the vicinity. Rooms (sleeping up to five) are en suite and guests get use of the open-air pool as well as a cosy living room with fireplace, should the weather turn nasty.
Details B&B doubles from £46 (responsibletravel.com). Fly to Granada
La Bobadilla, a Royal Hideaway Hotel, Sierra de Loja
9. La Bobadilla, a Royal Hideaway Hotel, Sierra de Loja
Tucked among the olive groves, La Bobadilla certainly lives up to its “hideaway” tag. The bedrooms are airy and are decorated with terracotta-tiled floors and dark wooden beams. Large windows and views of slender Mudejar (Moorish-style) columns tempt you outside into the grounds. You might take a plunge in the pool, or amble around the gardens and groves. Guided treks on horseback can be arranged (from £18pp).
Details B&B doubles from £237 (barcelo.com). Fly to Granada or Malaga
Hotel Colon Gran Melia, Seville
10. Hotel Colon Gran Melia, Seville
This prestigious address in the heart of Seville is about as grand as they come. Even checking in is a lavish affair as you’re seated on a red velvet sofa beneath an art nouveau stained-glass dome. Rooms are glamorous with gold headboards, glossy black bathrooms and — in some — balconies with whirlpool tubs. There are family rooms with either two double beds, or two separate bedrooms. There’s a small pool on the rooftop and a Clarins spa. Downstairs, the Burladero restaurant serves traditional and modern tapas — an incentive to stay in.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £820pp, including flights and transfers (tui.com)
Hospederia La Era, Subbetica
11. Hospederia La Era, Subbetica
Rustic need not mean plain and this well-tended guesthouse is the proof. You will find painted ceilings in cerulean and peach, coloured armchairs and ornate tiling. The passion of the owners, Raul and Davinia, is evident throughout, especially in the food, which is often from the kitchen garden — think tomato salad with fresh herbs and fish cooked in olive oil. There’s an inviting pool and sink-into sofas on the terrace, but you will want to explore too. You’re in the charming town of Almedinilla in the soporific Subbetica region, which means walks and wineries.
Details Seven nights’ half-board from £1,105pp, including flights and car hire (sunvil.co.uk)
Hard Rock Hotel, Marbella
12. Hard Rock Hotel, Marbella
Hard Rock’s newest outpost has opened an easy 15-minute walk from the yachts of Puerto Banus. The celebrity crowd the marina attracts are sure to feel right at home at this eye-catching, adults-only affair. Rooms have a chic 1960s feel, all brushed-gold decor, luxury linens and proper coffee machines. There’s a pool on the roof and three bars, as well as regular events and DJ sets. This is a place that’s always up for a party.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £649pp, including flights (britishairways.com)
Hacienda de San Rafael, Las Cabezas de San Juan
13. Hacienda de San Rafael, Las Cabezas de San Juan
You’re midway between Seville and Jerez staying here but chances are you won’t end up visiting either. Getting up and going is no mean feat once you’ve settled in at this 18th-century olive estate with its lavender and jasmine-scented gardens, three swimming pools and numerous siesta spots. Our advice? Relax on the day bed in your casita, book a massage and take a patio table under the stars for dinner of fresh fish and a glass of dry manzanilla. Feeling restless? There’s yoga as well as padel tennis for good, clean, childish fun — although under-12s are not permitted.
Details Four nights’ B&B from £1,250pp, including flights and car hire (abercrombiekent.co.uk)
14. Corral del Rey, Seville
Enormous soft beds, billowing white drapes and a private plunge pool on your terrace — this romantic Seville bolt hole doesn’t make it easy for you to leave. But exit you must because you’re surrounded by the sights of Andalusia’s sultriest city. Immerse yourself in the maze of Barrio Alfalfa and seek out tapas bars and Moorish bath houses before returning to the hotel and heading to the rooftop for a glass or two and stonking views of the city with its dominating gothic cathedral. Breakfast is also served up here, and massages and chauffeur services to and from the airport can be arranged to complete the overall sense of luxury.
Details B&B doubles from £240 (furtherafield.com). Fly to Seville
Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville
15. Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville
A century ago, Alfonso XIII had designs on this as the grandest hotel in Europe, and it certainly has one of the most impressive hotel exteriors you’ll find anywhere. Its spiky turrets, arched windows and deep-blue tiling evoke the nearby Plaza de Espana. Within, the opulence continues with Moorish-meets-baroque extravagance. Rooms are more muted but retain a regal touch in their leather headboards and chandeliers, while the outdoor pool has monochrome-striped loungers and Restaurante San Fernando delights with tables around a courtyard fountain.
Details Four nights’ B&B from £1,499pp, including flights and private transfers (abercrombiekent.co.uk)
16. Magna, Marbella
Club Med returned to Spain this May with this family-focused resort in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca, a short hop from the beachfront in Marbella. It’s an honest-to-goodness all-inclusive. Absolutely everything is covered from breakfast to sundowner cocktails, and the fun includes a splash park, tennis courts, and even flying trapeze lessons. There are free kids’ clubs for over-fours, plus the Pyjama Club in the evenings so you can leave the little ones to it and do dinner in peace at one of the two restaurants. Alternatively, head to the Tierra Gourmet Lounge and get stuck into jamon iberico and lashings of Spanish wine.
Details Seven nights’ all-inclusive from £2,261pp, including flights and transfers (clubmed.co.uk)
17. La Zambra, Mijas
Something about this newly opened five-star makes it feel cocoon-like. There’s the comforting colour scheme of beige, tan and burnished gold, the natural fabrics and the smooth, curved lines of the standalone bathtubs and pebble-shaped light fittings. Just rolling up feels like an invitation to meditate, or at least to slow down and sit awhile — maybe on the jasmine-scented patio of the wellness area, over tapas in the Picador bar, or poolside at La Bartola. There are six restaurants and the manicured fairways of Mijas Golf International’s two 18-hole courses are just next door.
Details B&B doubles from £500 (lazambrahotel.com). Fly to Malaga
18. Palacio Solecio, Malaga
The architect and designer Antonio Obrador clearly adored restoring this 18th-century nobleman’s home, incorporating jazzy touches inspired by the eponymous Solecio’s work (he made Spain’s finest playing cards). There’s a hint of the harlequin in the geometric-print headboards and chequerboard restaurant flooring, while the building’s Andalusian flair lives on in its Moorish columns and courtyards. Malaga’s old town surrounds you — literally, if you book the Tower, the top suite. It’s the only room on the highest floor and has a private terrace delivering views of the cathedral. Stay in for dinner — tapas in a lovely light-filled, arcaded courtyard.
Details Room-only doubles from £153 (palaciosolecio.com). Fly to Malaga
19. Castillo de Monda, Monda
Gazing down on the Costa del Sol is the pretty pueblo blanco (white town) of Monda — and looking down over its terracotta roofs is this palatial 27-room hotel. It’s the sort of place that encourages loafing: beside the saltwater pool, perhaps, or in the gardens, where fountains tinkle and plants erupt from pots as glossy as emeralds. The hotel can organise car hire and you won’t regret having your own wheels: the Sierra de las Nieves nature reserve is on your doorstep, and it’s also an easy 20 minutes to Marbella for some bling-me sunshine.
Details Room-only doubles from £84 (furtherafield.com). Fly to Malaga
20. Casa Olea, Subbetica
There’s little to look at here besides olive trees by day and stars by night, and that’s the point — you come to Casa Olea to recharge. The casa was once a farmhouse; today it stands alone in a river valley. Its USP? Six simple bedrooms and the Sierras Subbeticas, one of Spain’s least known natural parks, so easy to explore. On hikes (or bikes) you’ll spot birds including griffon vultures and Bonelli’s eagles, plus carpets of wildflowers in spring. Move from an afternoon by the pool to dinner on the terrace beneath a sky full of stars.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £844pp, including flights and car hire (sunvil.co.uk)
21. Puente Romano, Marbella
Want all the services of a large hotel with the privacy and space that comes with a villa? Puente Romano is a best-of-both-worlds resort on the beach just beyond Marbella. Book a villa for multiple bedrooms (up to five), a private pool and a concierge, or stick with a suite — you’ll still get living space and a lovely terrace. You’ll also find Spain’s only Six Senses spa, as well as a hammam, a massage cabin on the beach, and 15 restaurants including a Nobu.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,359pp, including flights (britishairways.com)
Plaza 18, Vejer de la Frontera
22. Plaza 18, Vejer de la Frontera
Possibly Andalusia’s most inviting hotel occupies a 19th-century mansion, oozing grandeur yet also exuding the warmth of a stay with friends. From the monochrome lobby you sweep up marble stairs to your elegant room to lie beneath original beams, or sink into an armchair in the lounge for a tipple from the honesty drinks trolley. There are just six bedrooms, ensuring personal service, and as a guest you will have access to La Casa del Califa next door, including its new hammam. The photogenic pueblo blanco (white town) of Vejer is on your doorstep, while the beach is a 15-minute drive away when a refreshing dip in the sea calls.
Details B&B doubles from £136 (hotelplaza18.com). Fly to Jerez
Casa las Chimeneas, Mairena
23. Casa las Chimeneas, Mairena
The fertile foothills of the Sierra Nevada are dream hiking territory and located here is Casa las Chimeneas, a laid-back base. You’ll get route notes for a range of easy and moderate trails, several starting from the front door, along river valleys, through almond groves and into sleepy villages clustered around churches. The casa has nine rooms and a small pool, and your hosts, David and Emma, love to show guests around their organic farm where you can help harvest figs, pomegranates and olives.
Details Seven nights’ half-board from £790pp, including car hire but excluding flights (inntravel.co.uk). Fly to Granada, Almeria or Malaga
24. Marbella Club, Marbella
At first glance this illustrious five-star might not seem child-friendly but it’s actually home to one of Spain’s best kids’ clubs, with activities for ages four to 14. These range from tending the veggie plot to paddle-surfing and perfume-making. For the grown-ups, there’s a spa doing thalassotherapy, a tennis club, and water sports of every kind. The whole family will love digging into fresh seafood (salt-encrusted sea bass, black paella) at beachside MC Beach. There are eight further bars and restaurants, plus three pools and a range of suites and villas that feel like sanctuaries. In a nutshell: modish Marbella.
Details Four nights’ B&B from £1,475pp, including flights and private transfers (scottdunn.com)
25. Only YOU, Malaga
Formerly derided as a “gateway to the Costa del Sol” (fly in and get out fast), Malaga has been strutting its way upmarket for several years. Now it teems with art galleries, innovative restaurants and a select few super-stylish new hotels. Pick of the bunch is this cool customer, possessed of rooms in smooth, blond woods and fawn-coloured fabrics. Its rooftop pool is a standout: infinity-edged and looking out to the Mediterranean from a terrace strung with hammocks. Of the two restaurants, we favour Carmen, which serves fresh seafood from Malaga’s lonja (fish market).
Details B&B doubles from £234 (onlyyouhotels.com). Fly to Malaga