susan on the beach
Self Driving tour of Southern Spain
Updated: Jan 12
Self guided white village Andalusia tour at your own pace, alternate days on the beach and excursions to the countryside
We've spent 10 years discovering the hidden corners of Andalucia, let us share our insider secrets with you! Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, the jewels of Andalusia, are the most visited and most touristic - you will see many foreign tourists and after a few days, it all just seems the same! Try something different. This tour takes you off the beaten track between Malaga and the atlantic coast, to discover the sunniest southernmost tip of Europe. The Costa del Sol is the underrated, authentic sunny corner of Europe where you can still find hidden treasures off the beaten track. Beaches, mountains, unspoilt nature, culture, great food, all short flight from every European airport. What could be better: alternate days at the beach with beautiful excursions to the culturally rich and still authentic white towns and villages of southern Andalusia. Staying at your own cozy home-base, one of our gorgeous apartments in Marbella.
This area is perfect for alternating days at the beach with touring days. Enjoy a little farniente in between two days of touring, lazy beach lunches and DJ concerts in a beach club are also part of the experience! . A short drive from the coast takes you another world; mountains and countryside, olive groves and family farms, avocado, clementine, pomegranate and lemon orchards, white villages and bustling towns off the beaten path. Many parts of Andalucia are still unspoilt by mass tourism and retain their authentic character, modest prices, and friendly locals. Southern Spain has more to offer than just beautiful beaches and fancy shopping. This self driving tour uses our Airbnb in Marbella as a home base to discover the white villages of Spain's southern coast. Alternate driving tour days with beach days, be back home in time for cocktails at sunset on our terrace.
Take a week to discover Andalucia white villages, countryside and coast, staying comfortably in one spot.
We'll help plan your self-guided driving holiday from centrally located in Marbella with easy day trips to surrounding attractions.
Staying in one place for the week has advantages, you can settle in and make yourself at home. Unpack and discover the neighborhood. Alternate beach days with excursion days.
Stay in one place, so you can change your day-plans for the week depending on the weather, or your whims once you arrive!
How to get there
Fly to Malaga airport and hire a car. We are an easy 40 minute drive on the A7 highway. We'll meet you with the keys and a comprehensive guidebook for you to make the most of your stay.
What to see in 1 week?
This self-guided holiday week takes you to the following attractions; stay longer so you can alternate rest days on the beach with longer excursions, or drive and visit every day if you prefer to enjoy the beach and sea views in the late afternoon when you return home.
Day 1: Ronda Day 2: Casares and Istan Day 3: Mijas Pueblo and Olive Oil tasting Day 4: Atlantic coast villages: Tarifa and Vejer Day 5: El Chorro and the Conde Gualdalhorce lakes Day 6: Ronda countryside caves and rivers, Grazalema national park
Stay longer? Our house guide, for guests only, will give you enough ideas to stay a month!
Day 1: Ronda
This day trip takes you to Ronda where you can park and visit the town for 2-5 hours, depending on whether you want to enter the museums, churches, the Casa del Rey Moro and go down the 300 steps of the water mine under the Moorish King's house. If time allows you can loop back to the apartment via the Alozaina valley, a lush countryside full of fruit trees and olive groves, family fincas and rural hostals. This drive will give you a good overview of the beautiful back country behind the bling of the costa del sol.
Ronda is a 1 hour drive from Marbella, but the ride up the mountains into the countryside takes you to another universe within minutes. Ronda has a magnificently preserved old quarter, sitting on spectacular cliffs in the middle of gorgeous rural countryside. Ronda's vertiginous cliffs are joined together by amazing Roman bridges, the highest one towers 120 meters above the river that supplies the town with water. Looking over the side is not for the faint of heart!
If you'd like to tour Ronda see our self-guided walking tour blog post listing the main points of interest of this city, including the "water mine" you can still visit. One way to see the main sights efficiently is to take a horse carriage ride through the streets of the old town; You will find horse-drawn carriages in the old town, waiting near the bullring on the Plaza Blas Infante or near the town hall and main square on Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. While in Ronda if you stop for lunch be sure to order the goat, lamb or rabbit, or other seasonal game. The woodlands around the city are rife with wildlife and hunting is a favorite country passtime. Ronda is especially festive during their "Feria" weeks, where you will see women in traditional costume parading through the streets, concerts, dancing and festivities all around town. This festival is centered around a traditional bullfight, an controversial but still essential cultural reference point in this part of Spain.
If you have time after your tour a country lunch and tour in Ronda, you can take the scenic loop home past Alozaina valley.. The hill country in the behind the costa del sol is a veritable garden of eden with family farms providing avocadoes, oranges, clementines, lemons, pomegranates, almonds, apricots, figs.. Any country inn ("Venta") along this route will provide a home cooked lunch with local ingredients. Shown below, tomatoes and views at the Venta Rivita in Jorox... a very (!) simple country village auberge, with a view over Jorox valley. No menu! (Not - no menu in English. No menu, period!) No website! No ice cubes for your diet Coke! Maybe no diet Coke! Ask the host what they have that day... probably a simple tomato salad, may a bit of fish or cutlet of pork served with home-made french fries. Whatever vegetables or fruit they pulled out of the garden that morning. Very basic, this is authentic Andalucia.
Day 2: Casares and Istan
Several white villages are just a stone's throw from our Airbnbs in Marbella. You can make a quick morning excursion, have a hearty country lunch on a white village square, and be back to spend the afternoon sunning and swimming on the beach! The prettiest and closest destinations to put in your GPS are: Ojen, Istan, Casares, Benhavis, and Mijas.
For a short day out we propose heading to Casares in the morning, a short 35 minute drive. Look for signs along the way saying "Mirador", meaning viewpoint - usually worth getting out of the car and having a look! If you approach town from the west look for the Caravan parking and the birdwatching viewpoint, where you can observe an endangered species, the incredible local vultures, from above and below as they circle their territory. To visit the town you can park along the national road that runs along the top of the village, the MA 8300. Enter the village on foot through the narrow winding roads that head down hill. It's nice to stop for a coffee and maybe pan tomate or even lunch, around the village fountain at the end of Calle de la Fuente (of course). This fountain has potable water from a source, you will see the villagers coming to fill their water bottles. The village butcher is next to the square, you will see homemakers buying their lunch and if you stay until early afternoon, you can watch the school children coming home for mid-day break and siesta.
Another curiosity to visit near Casares are the arab sulfur baths... you can park here and walk along the river until you get to the roman ruins called Banos de la Hedionda around the warm sulfur source. Warm means... tepid, not hot... and sulfer means... egg smell... so these healing waters are an acquired taste! We have not yet dared to take the plunge, will you?
If you want to continue the route and discover another village, we suggest visiting Istan which is remarkable for the beautiful source that runs through the streets and feeds the public fountains in this hilltop white village. It is surrounded by fincas producing avocados and clementines. The rio verde runs through the surrounding area and there are many hikes along the water. The river valleys in this area are true gardens of eden with beautiful clear water and hidden rock pools. The river forms natural pools for swimming and you can hike out to see waterfalls. Ask us for more details if you want to spend a day river-hiking in this gorgeous valley.
There are several hikes around the town and outlying farmland, you can walk down to the reservoir lake. It is possible to hire kayaks and spend a morning or afternoon on the lake.
Benahavis is a nearby white village known for it's golf courses, culinary school, gastronomic restaurants, specializing in suckling pig. This is also a great place to stop for lunch in the sunny pedestrian square and eat amazingly well for a fraction of what you would pay at the coast. The Rio Guadalmina runs through Benahavis, with it's beautiful aqueduc hike starting at the pedestrian bridge over the river, and the now-famous river canyoning swim-hike that you can do on your own or with a tour guide.
A nice half-day trip from our apartments would be a morning hike along the Los Abanicos aqueducs and then lunch in the center of Benahavis, back by 3pm for sunning by the pool or on the beach.
Day 3: Mijas Pueblo and Olive Oil tasting in Alhaurin
Day 3 takes us to the east of Marbella, to visit an Olive Oil mill that has a great program/museum with lots of activities including olive oil tasting that you can book online. After learning all about the liquid gold produced in this area for export around the entire world, you can hop on a donkey and let him do the work up and down the narrow steep streets and stairways of this traditional white village.
Aceites Molisur in Alhaurin has an olive oil museum, it is a working olive oil mill and offers activities such as "farmer for a day" (from September to December when olives are ripe), or a 90 minute guided tour with olive oil tasting, open all year.
Next stop, nearby Mijas Pueblo on the way back to Marbella. Mijas is famous for it's donkey taxis. Complete with a donkey-taxi parking lot where you can easily find a ride. These friendly animals with colorful saddles and bridles patiently take tourists for a walk up and around this hilly town. Mijas is a favorite day-trip destination and you will see more English and European tourists here than the prior 2 day visits. The village is immaculate and beautiful flowers decorate the whitewashed walls. Views out over the coast on a clear day are stunning.
When you arrive in Mijas you can park near the donkey-taxi parking lot that has been created at the foot of the town across from the tourist office. From there, take a donkey or use your own 2 feet to explore the white village.
Mijas tourist office publishes this walking tour of the town, it's a small city despite the ups-and-downs you should be able to see it all in a leisurely stroll of about 90 minutes.
Day 4: Atlantic coast villages: Tarifa and Vejer
Day 4 takes us to the Atlantic coast to see the gorgeous hilltop village of Vejer and explore the Moorish old-town of Tarifa. The Moroccan coasts are a short distance away, on a clear day it feels like you can reach out and touch Africa. Take a photo on the promenade out to the "southernmost tip of Europe" and enjoy the awesome panorama of the two seas converging, Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Look for fresh red tuna on the menus of restaurants here, caught directly on the Gibraltar straights.
First stop is Vejer la Frontera, a hilltop village on the Atlantic coast plains. Park at the communal parking lot down the hill and walk up to visit the main square and castle. Beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. I never tire of strolling through the narrow, steep streets of these picturesque villages and imagining what life must be like for the inhabitants. Take a picture through the Monks Ark (Arca de Monjas), one of the most loved sites for painters and photographers alike. Vejer is enclosed by 2km of city walls dating from the 15th century. The Vejer tourist office has published a guide to the various arches that you can find on your stroll around down. The Divino Salvador church is beautiful to observe, reigning high above the whitewashed walls of the town.
After discovering Vejer, time to head to Tarifa. Tarifa occupies a stunning site at the joining of two seas - the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. With Atlantic coast climate, Tarifa is a favorite spot for wind and kite surfers. With a very rich and ancient history, this Moorish city is a gem to stroll around for a few hours. See our separate blog post dedicated to "A Perfect Day in Tarifa", for walking tours and ideas of what to see! Highlights are the Moorish gate and whitewashed old town with surfer-cool vibes; coffee shops and creative boutiques will draw you in. Make sure you visit the path to the "southernmost tip of Europe", the Mirador Africa for views over to Morocco, the Guzman castle and the beach. Many whale watching tours start from here, plan ahead if you want to spend a few hours on a boat, seeing dolphins is virtually guaranteed; if you want to see whales make sure you are visiting in the right months for whale migration to have the best chance of seeing one. If you are stopping for lunch be sure to order the fresh red tuna, caught directly off the shores of the town in the Gibraltar straights.
From Tarifa an easy 90 minute drive along the Mediterranean coast on the A7 highway brings you back to Marbella and your cozy apartment.
Day 5: El Chorro and the Conde Guadalhorce lakes
Today we go to a place of natural beauty and engineering marvels. Turquoise lakes and breathtaking canyons. The white village of El Chorro has a distinct atmosphere from it's history as an important outpost at this strategic passage between the coast and Seville.
The main attraction is not the village, but the hiking and rock climbing trails in the natural park. The Caminito del Rey is the famous suspended boardwalk trail that you can hike on, see below. If you did not get reservations in advance, or if you are afraid of heights, it is still nice to take a day trip out to the area to see the lakes and countryside, maybe hire a kayak or go for a swim in the pristine turquoise waters. See our blog post about "a day in El Chorro lakes" for ideas of where to park and where to go.
If you want to walk the Caminito del Rey, reservations are necessary! And a bit of advance preparation as well. If you are staying with us, we will help you organize a fool-proof itinerary to "do it yourself". Otherwise, we recommend to book a tour guide through a tour guide (find one on Tripadvisor, like this one), more expensive but surer and much easier. The main issue is the shuttle bus and so this day is much more comfortable if you can afford a private tour, or if you are staying with us and we will give you tips how to make it a success on your own.
The Caminito del Rey is an aerial trail built in the walls of the Gaitanes gorge. It is a hanging wooden boardwalk path built onto the gorge with a length of 3km in long sections and a width of barely 1 metre. The trail begins in the municipality of Ardales, goes through Antequera, and ends in El Chorro (Álora).
This path is hanging on the vertical gorge walls around 100 metres above the river.
The path was built to facilitate access between the two ‘leaps of water’ to facilitate crossing of maintenance operatives as well as materials’ transport and vigilance. Walking the Caminito requires parking at one end and taking a bus back to your car. In the morning you can easily park near El Kiosko restaurant to walk 20 minutes through the well indicated tunnel to the beginning of the trail. The shuttle bus runs all day at 30 minute intervals but you might have to wait at the end of the trail for a free seat. We have insider tips to avoid this, or book a private guide.
After your Caminito hike, a good place to have lunch at the end of the trail is the scenic view terrace of the Garganta restaurant. This rural auberge has basic rooms, a gorgeous mountain view pool and sunny restaurant terrace with spectacular views. Enjoy a drink here while waiting for the shuttle bus or before you start your drive home. Our proposed loop takes you back home through the natural park and country roads to the village of Carratraca - a typical, authentic agricultural village with one landmark, the Casa Pepa restaurant. Over 2000 five star reviews on google, for this minuscule hole in the wall in a tiny farming town. An incredible place almost like sitting in your Grandma's front room... Don't expect obsequious service, if you can muster some polite words in Spanish you'll be rewarded by a smile, enjoy Grandma's hearty country food with amazingly generous portions for amazingly little money.
Day 6: Ronda countryside, Caves and rivers, Grazalema national park
Day 6 takes us back in the direction of Ronda, for a tour around the white villages in the oak-forest hills of the Sierra Bermeja national park. Instead of heading into down-town Ronda we'll stay in the countryside and see a few interesting things. The countryside west of Ronda gets more than average rainfall for the region and has steep hills and valleys cloaked in oak trees. It creates a completely different atmosphere than the pine forests found in other areas of the coast. The leaves turn red in autumn and are beautiful to see. This loop takes you past Ronda without going into the city walls, to the natural river pool of Cueva del Gato, and then a long winding drive through the white villages of There are many curiosities, river hikes, and waterfalls to discover in the area, here we will name just a few.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Setenil is a beautiful white village along a river canyon with interesting cave-houses built under the massive rock overhanging some of the streets. It's worth stopping and walking around the two "cuevas" streets, and it's a really nice place to have lunch. Hearty and simple Spanish country fare for very cheap price - home grown tomatoes and lemons, lovely Payoyo cheese and artisanal meats from the nearby farms including lamb cutlets and pork.
Prehistoric caves: Cueva de la Pileta
First is the Cueva de la Pileta, with amazingly well preserved prehistoric drawings on the walls. This cave was found by a farmer in 1905 and still sits on the family's property. The family still organize visits themselves - bring a jacket and sturdy shoes for the wet and slippery path. You can book ahead on their website and then plan today's drive around your visit time. CUEVAS DE LA PILETA 29370 Benaoján, Málaga, Benaoján, 29370
Cueva del Gato
Next we head to a crystal clear river with waterfalls and natural pools... Cueva del Gato is a source of pure cold water and the rock face looks like a cat face to some, hence the name.
Another way to cool off in the area is to jump into a river... The countryside behind the Costa del Sol is full of beautiful rivers, waterfalls, natural rock pools.. But you have to know where to look. And sometimes hike a bit off the beaten path to reach your swimming hole. Cueva del Gato, near Ronda, has the advantage of being easy to find, easy to park, and easy
access from the highway. Put the Hotel Cueva del Gato in your GPS and find the public parking along the main road. The water comes from an underground source and is freezing cold and turquoise blue. You can see a lovely waterfall if you swim out in the direction of the "cueva" (cave). Access to the beach area around the pool might be paying, depending on the time of year. There might be lots of people on a hot week-end afternoon, but mornings are usually pleasant and quiet. A perfect half-day trip for us is a ride out to the Cueva and dip in the cold water in the morning, then a country lunch at any one of the hotels or inns that you will find along this stretch of the road.
Travel again in 2022! This spring and summer, it will be possible. Make our 5 star airbnb Marbella apartments your home base for this trip
These day trips are just a short drive from our fabulous beach properties. You can stay with us on the beach and do this wonderful day trip in between days of relaxation and sun. If you are staying in Sunny Corner, Marbella center next to the beach, you can take the easy bus shuttle to Malaga from the Marbella bus station. Coaches leave at least every hour and cost about 6 euros to the bus station in Malaga center. If you are staying in Paradise Beach Elviria, our 3 bedroom with panoramic sea views- you are just a short 45 minute drive from downtown Malaga by car. Book your Costa del Sol holiday with us now! We'll help to make it happen!