Andalucia: The essence of Spain in all its glory

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March 18, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

flamenco.jpg
Nothing says Andalucia quite as clearly as Flamenco
Ronda one of Andalucias historic Pueblos Blancos was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway.jpg
Ronda, one of Andalucia's historic Pueblos Blancos, was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway
granada.jpg
Granada and the amazing Alhambra must be included on any trip to Andalucia
Cordoba's  Mezquita is considered one of the world's great architectural wonders.jpg
Cordoba's Mezquita is considered one of the world's great architectural wonders.
jerez.jpg
Jerez de la Frontera is never more colorful than every May during the annual horse fair.
Arcos de la Frontera is one of the most interesting Pueblos Blancos - so is the drive to reach it.jpg
Arcos de la Frontera is one of the most interesting Pueblos Blancos - so is the drive to reach it.
seville.jpg
Next stop Seville - Andalucia's charming capital that captures everyone's heart.
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A few years ago, when Delta Airlines started flying directly from New York's JFK Airport to the sunny South of Spain and the Mediterranean port city of Malaga, the door was opened to perhaps the most intriguing region of the entire country -- Andalucia.

Spain has always been a favorite vacation spot for American travelers and for good reason - perhaps no other country has quite as much to offer visitors. From its rich history and enthralling culture, to the best food and wines of Europe, to shopping and exploring fascinating ancient cities and medieval villages, untouched by time. Spain has something for everyone, including golfers, with the most impressive collection of top-class golf courses to be found in Europe.

Nowhere are Spain's many glories as much in evidence as in Andalucia, the heart and soul of the country. This is the birthplace of flamenco, the home of sherry and scene of some of the most spectacular festivals and fiestas in a country renowned for such things. It's a land of white horses, black bulls and proud old cities overflowing with history - Seville, Granada and Cordoba are only the beginning of the wealth of Andalucia's inspiring towns, cities and villages, all calling out to be explored.

Discover the fortressed mountain villages, unique to Andalucia, where Arcos de la Frontera and Ronda are two of the most remarkable Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) that have stood here for centuries. Go sherry tasting in the sherry capital of Jerez de la Frontera and while you are here, be sure to include a visit to the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Arts and the amazing display of horsemanship presented at several, very special shows each week. Horse lover or not, this astounding exhibition of coordination between horse and rider, never fails to impress.

But this is only the beginning of the Andalucia story. This enchanting region, blessed with an idyllic, year round climate, is also Europe's golf Mecca and home to Spain's heaviest concentration of world-class golf courses. Andalucia boasts more than 120 courses in all, but more important than quantity is the astoundingly high caliber of golf that sets this corner of Spain apart from the rest of Europe.

Since golf was first introduced here almost a century ago, the most highly respected golf architects from across Europe and around the globe, have been drawn to Andalucia, all eager to leave their own mark on what was clearly destined to become one of the world's most outstanding centers of the game. The result is a very special collection of golf excellence, with many courses earning a place on Europe's Cream of the Crop rankings.

Led by the now fabled, Valderrama, venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup; host to The European Tour's most prestigious events for the past 18 years and ranked as Continental Europe's very best for just as long, the standard set by this remarkable Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, has been Andalucia's golfing inspiration.

For more than a quarter century the bar has been raised to a level that simply demands excellence. Existing courses falling short of the mark have been fine tuned and improved, new course development has been restricted to only the very best - Andalucia has delivered on that early promise in grand style and is now home to Europe's primary assembly of golf excellence.

From the profusion of championship courses scattered along Andalucia's southern coastline, to the historic cities of Seville, Granada, Malaga and Jerez, even to the fortressed village of Arcos de la Frontera, golf is always close by. The opportunity to combine golf with fascinating sight-seeing, shopping, museum visits, or just relaxing on a beautiful beach, washed by the warm Mediterranean Sea, couldn't be more convenient. And for the gourmet lurking inside us all -- a wealth of restaurants, cafes and tapas bars, ranging from Michelin rated, haute cuisine establishments to informal bistros and cafes, specialized in delectable regional dishes, the dining choices are endless.

Spend a few nights on the Costa del Sol (the Mediterranean coastline, running from the British outpost of Gibraltar, some 80 miles eastward to the city of Malaga) and you will have your pick of more than 60 courses that surround you. Dubbed the Costa del Golf, this is where you will find some of Andalucia's finest golf courses, including Valderrama, Sotogrande, San Roque, Finca Cortesin and La Cala.

There is no more convenient location than the chic, resort town of Marbella, with its impressive selection of hotels, restaurants, shopping and a really vibrant nightlife, including a casino. Most of the Costa del Sol's golf courses will be within a half hour drive and it's very convenient for a day excursion to the ancient mountain town of Ronda, a half day visit to Malaga, Picasso's birthplace, or even closer, Marbella's charming Old Town.

Venture a little further and one of Andalucia's most enchanting cities, Granada, can be visited on a day excursion from Marbella. The Alhambra with its amazing Moorish architecture, gardens, fountains and pure tranquility, never fails to captivate any visitor. Make this a longer day excursion and detour through Cordoba on the return trip, to wonder at this city's world-renowned, Islamic architectural treasure, the Mezquita.

You could spend a month in Marbella and still not have enough time to play all the courses that should be played, nor see all of the sights that should be seen, but other parts of Andalucia are calling. None calls louder than Seville, which combines beautifully with the Costa del Sol as part of a two-stop vacation.

The direct drive to Seville from the coast takes little more than two hours, but there are some intriguing diversions along the way that shouldn't be missed, so take them as a bonus and make this a full day, sightseeing/transfer.

Jerez de la Frontera is a must see stopover en route and tasting visits to a few of the sherry bodegas in town is a mandatory, but beyond sherry, this is also Andalucia's horse capital as well as home to a Roma community that is one of the hot-beds of flamenco.....this is the Spain of your dreams!

The old town is a fascinating place to explore and if time permits, stop by the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre and experience a horse show like no other. Spend a night or two in Jerez and you could squeeze in a round of golf. Sherry Golf Jerez is the closest to town and great fun, but if you are looking for a more challenging layout, past Volvo Masters venue, Montecatillo is a tough Jack Nicklaus layout that sits just a few miles from Jerez.

Continuing in the direction of Seville, take the opportunity to visit one of the prettiest Pueblos Blancos, Arcos de la Frontera. The drive once you leave the highway takes you along frighteningly steep, narrow, winding, cobblestone streets and alleys to reach the town center, it can be a little harrowing, but well worth it once you reach the top and experience the breath-taking views. And if golf is still on your mind, the stunning layout at Arcos Gardens is only 10 minutes away. Otherwise, enjoy a leisurely but thoroughly delectable lunch on the terrace of the Parador Hotel, taking in the panoramic views, then explore this centuries old town on foot, before tackling the drive back down the hill and continuing to Seville.

Andalucia's capital manages to capture the hearts of all who visit and quickly becomes everyone's favorite Spanish city. Seville is a magical place, overflowing with both charm and a history that pre-dates its occupation by the Romans. This is unquestionably, one of the world's most pleasurable cities and in an effort to do justice to this very special place and its many attractions, there will be a future column devoted to Seville and her golf.

In the meantime, to learn more about the many wonders of Andalucia and her golf, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389 or, click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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