ANDALUCÍAN ADVENTURES – Summer staycations across the border

I don’t know about you, but these sweltering, sunny, summer weekends have got me pondering over some serious mini-break ideas. As much as I love the fight for the sombrilla tables at Quarry, and lying on Caleta until I’m medium-rare, there is an exciting list of things at our fingertips to fill our weekends with – and the best part? It’s all on our doorstep.

Andalucía, characterised by its endless rolling hills, rivers and farmlands was under Moorish rule from the 8th to the 15th century, and this is reflected heavily in its architecture; the Alcázar castle in Seville, Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral and Granada’s Alhambra palace. Hidden within this quietly vibrant region is a wealth of experiences just waiting to be had. Calling all wine aficionados, foodies, adventurers and adrenaline junkies: This is Andalucía.

Cable skiing in Marbella

This ought to get your heart pumping faster than a long-awaited Gilbert’s at four in the morning. Situated on a stunning natural lake in Guadalmina Alta in San Pedro de Alcantara (just five minutes from Puerto Banús) is the ‘Wakeboard Center’ (formerly Cable Ski Marbella). On offer here is water skiing, mono-skiing, wakeboarding and kneeboarding while attached to a series of electronically-driven pulleys that whizz you around the lake as though you were a puppy on a leash in the hands of an overzealous toddler (in a fun way). Cables can be adjusted according to age and ability, and there are instructors on hand should you need an extra push. Also on offer is a varied Mediterranean menu and a selection of delicious alcoholic cocktails at Redwoods bar, where you can appreciate extreme sports from the extreme comfort of your Balinese bed or hammock. Just be careful about which order you do this in; skiing face-first is somewhat frowned upon. As the sun sets, the sky is ablaze with a fiery glow, punctuated by surfers’ silhouettes as they cause ripples over the glassy surface of the lake.

Charter a boat straight from Gibraltar

Be royalty for a day and enjoy being whisked across the bay to a destination of your choice. The Hire-U-Shop in Gibraltar offers day trips for just £160 per person (the minimum number in a party is six, with a maximum of ten). Longer multi-day charters are also available, arranged and quoted for on a one-to-one basis. Your level of involvement in crewing the ship is up to you; either bask in the Mediterranean sun as your captain ferries you around, or have a go at sailing the boat yourself! If you opt for on-board catering, you’ll anchor off for a cool dip in the refreshing sea and recharge your batteries with a delicious meal. Another favourite trip is to the autonomous Spanish city of Ceuta that borders Morocco, where you’ll stop off at the fantastic Oasis restaurant for some authentic Moroccan food prepared with fresh ingredients before exploring the city itself. Check out the Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo; a 55,000m² leisure complex containing three artificial lakes filtered directly from the sea, as well as gardens, ornamental waterfalls, concerts, casinos and a nightclub.

Paragliding activities in Algodonales

Perched in the foothills of the protected limestone peaks of the Sierra de Líjar mountain range is a little village known as Algodonales. This Neolithic village is on the edge of the province of Cádiz (just two hours from Gibraltar) and home to the largest hang gliding school in Andalucía (as well as the renowned Valeriano Bernal guitar factory). Be at one with the griffon vultures and experience Andalucía from a bird’s-eye-view with FlySpain as you glide through the sky – don’t worry, you’ll be attached to one of the most experienced tandem pilots in Europe. As you soar into the sky, so will your confidence, which might inspire you to work towards getting your ‘EP’ (Elementary Pilot) qualification. On a day whose wind threatens to blow you clean out of the sky, kayaking at the local lake is also one for the bucket list.

The town of Algodonales is worth a visit in its own right; its uniquely stunning scenery offers endless opportunities for hiking trips, and it is right on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, a popular spot for those with a keen interest in mountaineering, potholing, canyoning, caving and rock climbing.

Andalucían cookery courses and retreats in Aracena

One of the best ways to experience a region is by tasting it. For a homely mini-holiday that will remain in your memory long after it leaves your belly, sign up for one of Finca Buenvino’s cookery courses. Small groups of four to eight people will be given the privilege of learning about and trying their hand at Andalucían and Catalan dishes. Finca Buenvino also offers writing retreats, photography workshops, fitness retreats and spring walks to view the wildflowers and birdlife. It is nestled in the Sierra de Aracena Nature Park near Seville and is comprised of 40 hectares of forest, vegetable plots, saltwater infinity pool, two self-catering cottages and shared with its neighbouring animals.

Roman for a day in Manilva

Somewhat squirreled away in the Hedionda Valley behind Manilva (in the municipality of Casares) are Los Baños Romano, the Roman Baths, which date back to the 1st century BC. The story goes that during his time served as governor of the Roman province of Spain, Julius Caesar and his troops regularly eased their epidermal ailments (and supposedly rid him of a liver complaint) in these healing sulphuric waters. (Pros: reap widely-accepted medicinal benefits. Cons: smell of rotten eggs from the bowels of Satan.) The original Roman structures are still plain to see; four chambers within an arched bathing complex beneath a rather unsightly concrete canopy (a modern addition, built to preserve the original Roman brickwork). Head towards the river and slightly upstream and, using a rock, scrape some mud off a nearby cliff wall for your very own alluvial DIY face pack.

Casares is said to be named after Caesar himself. This picturesque ‘pueblo blanco’ is like something straight off the cover of a holiday postcard. Follow the whitewashed buildings up to the castle ruins for some unrivalled clifftop views complete with eagles and vultures. This spot is said to be one of Andalucía’s most widely-photographed villages, and indeed, wound its way onto the cover of one of the Lonely Planet’s guides to Andalucía.

Found within alluring Andalucía is something to appease everyone in the family over the summer months. Being in such close proximity, we may forget that it is one of the most diverse regions in the Iberian Peninsula, but delve in and you’re sure to be in for a pleasant surprise. Absorbing activities, captivating culture, vibrant views… and of course, fabulous food. If you don’t see me in my usual spot under my sombrilla this weekend, you know where I’ll be. (But don’t even think about taking my spot.)