Anyone that's been to Malaga - the birthplace of Pablo Picasso - will regale in its bustling atmosphere, impressive museums, art galleries and endless swathes of swanky bars and tapas tavernas.
All well and good but that aside, there is certainly more to this darling of the Costa Del Sol than meets the eye; in just a short car journey you can transport yourself to what feels like almost an entirely new dimension away from the hustle bustle and high rise hotels. As the landscape becomes more tranquil and calm, you might just forget you're only a stone's throw from the provincial capital! Here are our picks of some of our favourite spots to visit off the beaten track:>
Júzcar, the Smurf village of Andalucia
If you thought the little blue people hunted by Gargamel and his cat lived only in your imaginations, think again! The Smurf village is real, and its located in the brightly-painted village of Júzcar in the Genal valley, close to the beautiful Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park.
How did a sleepy Andalucian village come to be painted blue? Sony Pictures chose Júzcar for the premiere of The Smurfs movie in 2011 because of the areas long association with mushrooms (as youll already know if youre a Smurfs fan, the little blue creatures live in mushroom houses) and made over the traditional whitewashed houses in bright Smurf blue, with Smurf-themed murals and large models of the film characters. The newly-blue village attracted so many tourists that the locals decided not to paint their houses white again, and Smurf fans of all ages still flock to the village today.
Júzcar is an easy two-hour drive from Malaga along the AP-7 through Torremolinos and Marbella, then up onto the A-397. The AP-7 is a partial toll road, so expect to pay around 8-10 Euros to drive this way, or you can take the inland A-357 followed by the A-367. Once youve enjoyed the Smurfing sights, why not take a gentle woodland walk up towards the dramatic Los Riscos cliffs with views over the stunning Genal valley? More adventurous travellers will enjoy the more challenging climbing and abseiling at Sima Diablo. And if you want to enjoy the best of Júzcars mushroom crop, be sure to visit in the autumn when the valley is at its picturesque best. Perfect for a smurfing holiday.
Montes des Malaga Natural Park
Lying on the balmy Costa del Sol, Malaga may be synonymous with sun, sea and sand but just one hour away to the north is a Spanish natural beauty of a very different kind. The Montes des Malaga Natural Park is home to rolling valleys covered in dense, scented pines; tranquil rivers and dramatic waterfalls, and many birds and animals. The park is a very popular weekend destination for local families and a lovely place for a change of pace from big city living.
There are five signposted walks around the park, ranging from 2.5 to 7km in length, taking walkers along forest tracks through woodland areas and past traditional houses and working buildings. There are several viewpoints scattered through the park with spectacular views back over Malaga and the Mediterranean Sea. Hikers and cyclists are well catered for with marked trails; more gentle strolls are also quite possible, or you can simply take along a delicious Andalucian picnic and take in the views. (Dont try to take a barbeque with you, however, following a forest fire in 1989, open fires are not permitted in the park).
To get to the Montes des Malaga Natural Park, the simplest route is the A-7000 north out of the city, which hugs the edge of the park all the way to the main entrance and is an attractive drive in itself. If this route is unavailable, you can also take the A-45 over the top of the park and back down in a little under an hour. Both routes are toll-free. On your way, look out for birds and wildlife including eagles, storks, skylarks, boars and if youre very sharp-eyed chameleons!
Wine touring in Ronda
Its very pleasant to enjoy a glass of chilled albariño over lunch; its an even better experience to visit the gorgeous countryside your lunchtime tipple came from. Wine-lovers from all over the world come to the town of Ronda, and the special route through vineyards and bodegas known as the Serranía de Ronda, to take in the magnificent landscapes and sample the local produce to their hearts content.
Forget mass-produced wine labels: small, family-produced wineries are what Ronda is all about, and you can take guided tours of 21 local wineries along the Serrania route. Explore vineyards, learn about viticulture, find out how the latest winemaking technologies come together with centuries-old tradition to produce some of Europes most exciting wines, and enjoy guided tastings of the wine produced on-site. If you can still stand up, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in the area including canoeing, hiking, cycling and even potholing.
The historical city centre of Ronda is also well worth a visit, with its winding streets and pretty whitewashed houses. Archaeology fans will enjoy visiting the ruins of a medieval hammam, or spa, and the nearby Roman town of Acinipo with its well-kept amphitheatre. September, during the wine harvest, is a particularly popular time to visit (so be sure to book your winery tours if you plan to arrive in the autumn), but the beauty of the surrounding hills makes Ronda a lovely place to visit year-round.
To get to Ronda from Malaga, drive west along the A-357 and A-367; this route is free. You also have the option to take drive south-west the A-7 toll road via Marbella and then up the A-397, which may be a quieter route. The drive should take around 90 minutes depending on traffic. If you're planning to do a lot of wine tasting, dont forget to book accommodation overnight!
Holiday Extras provides car hire in Malaga and you can find out more about it here.Top