When it comes to European road trips, there are few more exhilarating than the journey south through the enchanting regions of Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia from the capital, Madrid, to Malaga, a vibrant city nestling idyllically on Spain’s sun-baked Mediterranean coast.
Spain has been running neck-and-neck with France on the holiday arrivals list for the past few years (notwithstanding the global dip during the pandemic), and a large slice of its increasing popularity can be attributed to the authenticity and value for money travellers enjoy when they get there, especially those lucky enough to be exploring the country on four wheels.
When it comes to car hire, no one does it better than Auto Europe, a name that’s been at the forefront of the international vehicle rental business since 1954. Today, the company offers a vast choice of cars – from low-cost to high-end, from small and manoeuvrable to large and sumptuous – at more than 24,000 conveniently located pick-up points in over 180 popular destinations worldwide, including Spain. Auto Europe also specialises in one-way car rental itineraries, meaning that you can collect your vehicle in Madrid and drop it off in Malaga a week or two later, for instance.
As Ernest Hemingway once wrote: ‘Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night’, and a couple of days (and nights) spent in one of the world’s most vibrant capital cities is certainly an excellent way to become socially acclimatised before embarking on a leisurely drive south.
Modern Madrid pulsates with culture and has increased its popularity of late with a plethora of new attractions that have further enhanced the city’s already immense appeal in recent years.
But it’s the long-established museums such as the Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza that remain the city’s must-see tourist sights and continue to draw millions of visitors from all over the world.
Situated close to Spain’s geographical centre, Madrid is also the hub of the country’s extensive road network and therefore the ideal starting out point for travellers planning a fun-filled road-trip with friends or family members through the heart of the Spanish hinterland.
Taking the customary route out of Madrid to the delightful city of Toledo normally means an hour’s motorway drive at the most, but there are plenty of potential diversions to enjoy along the way, such as the ancient fossil sites of Cerro de los Batallones and Parque Warner, one of the best theme parks in southern Europe.
The city itself is awash with tourist interest, most notably its well-preserved historic centre (Casco Histórico) and La Catedral de Toledo, a magnificent structure built between the 13th and 15th centuries that today ranks highly amongst the world’s greatest Gothic cathedrals.
Toledo is also an art-lover’s dream come true, and just a few steps away hangs El Greco’s most famous painting – The Burial of Count Orgaz – in the nearby Church of St Thomas, with more of his paintings on display in the cathedral’s sacristy, as well as works by Morales, Velázquez, Borgoña, Tristán, Van Dyck, Goya (The Arrest of Christ) and Bassano the Younger, among others.
Stopping Over in Córdoba
For many, the highlight of any road trip through southern Spain is the chance to spend time in the incredible city of Córdoba, once the most illustrious place in Europe.
Its period of glory started in the early 8th century following the Moorish conquest when more than 300 mosques and numerous palaces were built to rival the many splendours to be found in Baghdad, Damascus and Constantinople at that time. Chief among these was the Mezquita, southern Europe’s greatest mosque and a breath-taking example of Spanish Muslim architecture.
In its heyday, La Mezquita was rivalled only by the mosque in Mecca and today’s visitors can marvel at its interior (now a cathedral) and enjoy head-spinning city views from the top of the Moorish-style minaret-turned-church-spire.
Córdoba isn’t only about La Mezquita though, the city is blessed with some of Spain’s most historic treasures, such as the 16-arched Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) built after Caesar’s victory over Pompey the Great and the former Caliphal Palace (Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos) which is notable for its Hall of the Mosaics.
The Appeal of Seville
South-west of Córdoba (and less than 90 minutes away by car) lies another of the country’s top tourist destinations – Seville. Exquisite at any time of the year, particularly in springtime, this charming city of authentic flamenco and traditional tapas is perfectly placed for travellers entering the final stage of their road trip from Madrid to Malaga.
Seville’s many tourist attractions need little introduction. The city’s cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of its historic centre, while the Museo de Bellas Artes (housed in a 17th-century convent) is a fine arts museum par excellence featuring numerous masterpieces by many of Spain’s most renowned artists.
Offering some of the most spectacular scenery in southern Spain, the country roads that criss-cross southern Spain between Seville and Malaga are certainly not to be hurried. Travellers with extra time on their hands are encouraged to stop for a relaxing picnic in Sierra de las Nieves National Park where many wonderful hiking trails await.
Enjoy the trip!