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Sick of the Costa del Sol? Get drunk on culture in Seville and Cordoba instead

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If you want a real Spanish adventure, swap playgrounds like Marbella and Malaga for the real Andalusia one summer and enjoy a holiday you might actually remember.

The perks of Spanish beach resorts (pick some three-letter words starting with ‘s’) hardly need description. After spending four-days visiting Seville and Cordoba, I’m afraid it’s almost an insult – to Spain, to Andalusia, to BBC Three documentaries – that the Costa del Sol remains one of Spain’s hottest student travel destinations.

Why not take a year out – or even just a few days – from what is basically a warmer Blackpool and travel two hours north to Seville? There party strips fade into medieval streets, pub crawls become cathedral crawls and ‘the religion’ is genuinely 'religion'.

Ambling about Spain’s fourth city, high on history, I felt immersed in its imperial culture. You could have sworn that the age of bullfighting and flamenco, flourishing architecture and agriculture (stone mixes with shrubbery in the myriad plazas) was still alive.

La Plaza de Espana in Seville

Seville, after all, is the Andalusian capital; the centre of the soul of Spain. Passion is the operative word in a region with more churches than clubs – although, boasting the hottest summers in Europe, it offers plenty for worshippers of the sun and the Son.

The city is sprawled around La Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, the largest cathedral in the world and a serious must-see. It isn’t just the size, but what they have done with it; 80 chapels each practically glowing with exquisite quirks in a testament to the wealth of fifteenth-century Spain (super-coloniser Christopher Columbus is buried there).

Conquer the 33 storeys of Seville Cathedral’s Giralda bell tower for a panorama of the city’s baroque buildings, adorned with roof gardens, and the intricate alleys making up the old town. Alternatively, I preferred the view at the modern, mushroom-shaped Metropol Parasol platform: go there at night to see the cathedral lit up from a distance, plus there’s a lift.

The rest is less compulsory, but leave enough time to explore Barrio Santa Cruz and see the rich detail of red, yellow and cappuccino-coloured houses. Whilst there’s a fine line between shabby chic and plain shabby, Seville’s old Jewish quarter is pristine.

I was equally impressed by the Alcázar palace, home of the alarmingly-named King Pedro the Cruel in the 1360s – perfect for fans of gold ceilings and Game of Thrones (filmed there in Season Five) – as well as the monumental arches of the Plaza de España.

Continue along the River Guadalquivir to Cordoba – a more petite, maybe prettier, unofficial sister city to Seville – and be instantly struck by one of Andalusia’s most famous sights. Not the spectacle of Brits misbehaving in ‘Marbs’, but the imposing cathedral.

Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral from the the Puerta del Puente

Formerly the Cordoba Mosque, every speck of the 24,000-square metre landmark is a masterpiece as Muslim and Catholic designs converge: the forest of marble columns, the sea of red and white arches, flawless Byzantine mosaics and mahogany carvings, the list goes on. I visited once during the day and again to witness it at night – it’s really that good.

Crossing the cobbled streets of Cordoba’s historical centre, you get the purest impression of southern Spain’s quadruple-coated history. Roman relics like the Puerta del Puente bridge are nestled around the river, not far from the Calahorra Tower and Museum which illustrates how Moorish and Christian cultures cohabited in medieval days.

For a taste of Andalusia’s more recent past, the equestrian show at the Royal Stables was another highlight. It felt as if I was watching War Horse, except with actual horses, as riders masterfully controlled their huge stallions like macho Mister Geppettos.

Compared to the Costa del Sol, there are several things that Seville and Cordoba won’t give you (and I don’t just mean a headache), yet a memorable cultural experience clearly isn’t one. If you really want to get into the Spanish spirit, the choice is obvious.

Where to stay

Consider the location carefully when choosing your accommodation.

Rooms are fairly affordable in the old towns of both cities, so you can find an authentic Andalusian setting while scrimping on transport. I used Booking.com and their new Booking Now app, which provides a real-time list of available places tailored to your preferred area.

In Seville, it found me a great deal for Hotel Don Paco near Barrio Santa Cruz and, in Cordoba, Hotel Boutique Caireles was just 10 metres from the cathedral. Both had sensational air-conditioning, I might add.

Where to eat

Going on the restaurant menus, Andalusians practically live off tapas and tortillas – but I’m not complaining. La Bartola in Seville served the tastiest bites for the cheapest prices, including local delicacies gazpacho and fried fish.

In Cordoba, the Mercado Victoria – an exotic version of the food hall at Westfield – wins for the variety of dishes and free drinks.

Daniel Wittenberg is touring southern Spain and the spine of France courtesy of Booking.com.

With thanks to Tourism of Cordoba, Las Caballerizas Reales, City Sightseeing of Cordoba and ‘Mosque-Cathedral: The Soul of Cordoba’.

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