Exploring Andalucía, we experience the quintessence of Spanish culture. Starting up high, in Spain's whitewashed hill towns, we roll down to the coast to enjoy the windsurfing mecca of Tarifa. Then we catch a bit of Britain on the Rock of Gibraltar, and sail to Africa for a Moroccan finale in Tangier.
Jerez's Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art
If you're into horses, this is a must. Even if you're not, this is art like you've never seen. The school's Horse Symphony show is an equestrian ballet with choreography, purely Spanish music, and costumes from the 19th century. Training sessions on non-performance days offer the public a sneak preview. After the training session, you can take a guided tour of the stables, horses, multimedia and carriage museums, tack room, gardens, and horse health center. Sip sherry in the arena's bar to complete this Jerez experience (tel. 956-318-008, www.realescuela.org).
A tour at the Sandeman Winery in Jerez is the aficionado's choice for its knowledgeable guides and their quality explanations of the process. Each stage is explained in detail, with visual examples of flor (the yeast crust) in backlit barrels, graphs of how different blends are made, and a quick walk-through of the bottling plant (tel. 956-151-700, www.sandeman.com).
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is home to wildflowers, wild ibex (mountain goats), and Europe's largest colony of griffon vultures. The park's plant poster child is the pinsapo, a fir tree left over from the last Ice Age. Drivers will get an eyeful of scenery just passing through the park on their way to sights in Zahara, Grazalema, and the Pileta Cave, all of which fall within the park boundaries. To more fully experience the park — by hiking, caving, canoeing, kayaking, or horseback riding — consider a tour with Zahara Catur (in Zahara, www.zaharacatur.com) or Horizon (in Grazalema, www.horizonaventura.com). To hike on your own you'll need a permit, available in the park office in El Bosque (Avenida de la Diputación, tel. 956-727-029, email@example.com).
Hotel San Gabriel
Hotel San Gabriel has 21 pleasant rooms, a kind staff, public rooms filled with art books, a cozy wine cellar, and a fine garden terrace. If you're a cinephile, kick back in the charming TV room — with seats from Ronda's old theater and a collection of DVD classics — then head to the breakfast room to check out photos of big movie stars who have stayed here (tel. 952-190-392, fax 952-190-117, www.hotelsangabriel.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, family-run by José Manuel and Ana).
Tragatapas, the accessible little brother of the acclaimed gourmet Restaurante Tragabuches, serves super-creative and always tasty tapas in a stainless-steel minimalist bar. There's just a handful of tall tiny tables and stools, and an enticing blackboard of the day's specials. If you want to sample Andalusian gourmet (such as asparagus on a stick sprinkled with manchego cheese grated coconut-style) without going broke, this is the place to do it (Calle Nueva 4, tel. 952-877-209).
Ronda's bullring and museum are Spain's most interesting to tour (even better than Sevilla's). You'll see the ring, stables, chapel, and museum, all described by an excellent audioguide. The bullfighters' chapel is where every matador would stop to pray for safety. The museum has exhibits on bullfighting, horse gear, and weapons, with plenty of stuffed bull heads, photos, artwork posters, and costumes. Take advantage of the opportunity to walk in the actual two-tiered arena, with plenty of time to play toro, surrounded by 5,000 empty seats. Bullfights are scheduled only for the first weekend of September during the feria (fair) and occur rarely in the spring (tel. 952-874-132).
Fast Boat from Tarifa to Tangier, Morocco
While the trip from Spain to Tangier can be made from three different ports, only the ferry from Tarifa takes you to Tangier's city-center port (boats from Algeciras or Gibraltar dock at Tangier MED, about 25 miles east of the city center). Ferry tickets are sold at the port, through your Tarifa hotel, or from a local travel agency. There is only one ferry company — FRS — and prices should be the same everywhere (FRS Maroc at Tarifa's dock: tel. 956-684-847, www.frs.es).
Aziz Begdouri is a great local guide who will show you around his hometown and enjoys teaching about Moroccan society and culture. Aziz can also arrange ferry tickets from Tarifa in advance. If you don't want to do any shopping, make it very clear to him (easier to reach him from Spain on his Spanish mobile — tel. 607-897-967 — than his Moroccan mobile, tel. 00-212-6-6163-9332 from Spain, email@example.com).