Spain’s sun-drenched southern coast is packed with natural beauty and cultural interest, offering superb facilities for cruise passengers
Exploring Andalucia by sea is pure pleasure. The coastline, incorporating both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, extends over 1,000km. With 16 commercial ports and two river ports, cruise lines from all over the world visit Andalucia, taking advantage of modern facilities, a rich cultural and artistic heritage, the exceptional climate and astonishing natural beauty. Andalucia is rich in maritime tradition and it’s not difficult to imagine a valiant Columbus setting out from here to discover new worlds, or the pirate Barbarossa attacking the coast around Cadiz. The main commercial ports are Huelva, Seville and Cádiz on the Atlantic coast, and busy Algeciras, Málaga, Motril and Almería on the Mediterranean. All of them are important international holiday destinations with a well developed infrastructure for cruise tourism.
Huelva was originally a Roman colony, later occupied by the Moors. A vast statue of Christopher Columbus marks his famous voyage, which commenced in the nearby village of Palos de la Frontera. Huelva is conveniently located for the virgin beaches of the Doñana National Park, the wooded hills of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Parks and the spectacular Caves of Maravillas. What’s more, the region is known for its wines and the famous Jamón Ibérico ham.
The Puerto de la Bahía de Cádiz occupies a strategic position guarding the Straits of Gibraltar; it’s often featured on itineraries either as part of an Iberia cruise or as a stop on transatlantic voyages. Cádiz itself is a wonderfully atmospheric old sea port with cobbled streets, pretty squares and a magnificent cathedral. Seville and Jerez are both within easy reach.
Algeciras is one of the principal ports serving ships sailing between southern europe and north Africa. The port is overlooked by the imposing Rock of Gibraltar and is close to the beautiful Parque Natural de los Alcornocales and the Parque Natural del estrecho. World-class golf at Sotogrande, Valderrama, La Cañada and La Alcaidesa is available and some lines also offer excursions from the port to the legendary surf beaches around Tarifa.
Málaga is one of the best-located ports in Andalucia, and in fact, the second busiest in terms of cruise passenger calls. The proximity of the airport means it can be used as a turnaround port. Attractions in the vicinity include the Gibralfaro castle, towering above the city, and the Moorish Alcazaba fortress. The old city is pleasant to walk around and bears the legacy of Pablo Picasso, who was born here. Málaga is also an easy starting point for the city of Granada and its14th century Alhambra’s Palace; and the mountain town of Ronda, surrounded by dramatic scenery and the pretty ‘white towns’ that characterise this region.
The Port of Almería lies at the sundrenched eastern end of Andalucia and is a popular port of call for cruises sailing the western Mediterranean from Gibraltar, Palma de Mallorca or Valencia. Historic Almería, which still today has a Moorish feel, with its whitewashed houses, offers sandy beaches, Arabic castles and a unique fortified cathedral. The city is the gateway to amazing desert scenery; indeed, several spaghetti Westerns were filmed here.
Setting of Bizet’s Carmen, the Andalucian capital has an unrivalled artistic and musical heritage; it is, after all, the home of flamenco. The port is situated on the estuary of the Guadalquivir River. Smaller ships can navigate the Guadalquivir’s canal system and dock in the heart of the city, with easy access to the stunning gothic Cathedral, the Golden Tower, the Alcazar and the many famed tapas bars and bodegas. The sightseeing is unrivalled here but simply wandering elegant streets lined with orange trees, or enjoying a coffee in a pretty square is just as pleasurable.
The modern Puerto de Motril is 2.5km from the centre of Motril, a bustling beach resort some 60km from Granada, where the Alhambra’s Palace is one of the region’s biggest attractions. Motril itself has golden beaches and beautiful architecture, not least Carchuna Fortress and the 16th century Casa de la Palma.
Aiming high: more cruise calls and increased turnarounds are among Andalucía’s goals
Andalucía has a long-standing maritime tradition. All its major cities have modern ports that are ideally suited for cruise tourism. As such, the Ports Authorities and Agencia Pública de Puertos de Andalucía have created the association Suncruise Andalucía to promote Andalucía, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, as a destination of cruise vessels. Suncruise Andalucía aims to fulfil two objectives: first, to promote Andalucía as a destination for holiday cruisers; and second, to find out and evaluate the needs of cruise customers in order to improve and adapt the infrastructure and services. “There is continued growth across the region’s ports – overall 15% up on 2014 and total cruise visitors for 2015 are estimated to be one million,” says Manuel Muñoz, managing director of Andalucía Tourism.
“Cadiz alone showed a 29% increase in cruise visitors for 2015.” The tourist board is confident that there will be continued growth, for two key reasons. Muñoz says: “First, an already efficient regional rail structure is being upgraded to high speed trains to take visitors to key towns. Already, Seville is accessible from the ports of Cadiz and Huelva in an hour and Granada from Motril and Almería in the same time. Cordoba, recognised as Spain’s gastronomic centre, also can be reached in the same time from smaller ships accessing Seville via the Guadalquivir river.”
The second, he continues, is the blend of gastronomy, the cultural legacy and mild winter temperatures. “These factors will encourage the move to year-round Mediterranean cruising. There are other attractions, too, like the riding schools in Cordoba and Jerez. Suncruise Andalucía’s ports are already talking to a major UK cruise line about visiting the region for the first time with a possible 80,000 additional passengers calling.” The next step, Muñoz says, is to develop Andalucía’s ports for turnarounds. “Malaga, as an example, is an excellent candidate for this,” he points out. “In the long term, we are seeking to create a cruise destination that ranks in the world’s top ten.”