Words by Bella Charlton
Photography by Elena Koyunseven
Córdoba is famed for its enchanting history that binds together stories and tales from two continents into a complex yet beautiful city. Simply meander through the multitude of characterful white-washed lanes, and you’ll come to fall in love with the fascinating concoction of Moorish spices, ancient Arab baths, Spanish tapas bars and Roman ruins in this UNESCO-protected city.
With an enviable location in the heart of southern Spain’s Andalusia region, Córdoba bathes in the sunshine almost all year round. The intense heat forces everything to move at a slightly slower pace, inviting you to also slow down and soak up the low-key atmosphere. Kids are usually still running around in the parks after 9 pm, as adults gather to meet and chat now that the temperatures have cooled off. A friendly and warm buzz hums throughout the evening as life starts up again. Unwinding all together is a staple part of the culture here, where you are quickly reminded that eating and drinking is best shared with friends and family over some good food and wine accompanied by spirited conversations that last into the night.
To get here, fly into Málaga and then catch the fast train that whisks through the desert-like Andalusian countryside with glimmers of olive groves and small clusters of terracotta-tiled roofs until you arrive at the oasis-like city of Córdoba. The best times to visit are in the spring and autumn months. In May, the Feria de Los Patios brings bursts of colour to the streets as people open up their flower-covered courtyards for visitors to wander around and take in the rich hues of reds, purples, greens and blues. T
he flower festival is a delightful spectacle that is unique to Córdoba, and therefore attracts people from all over the world who come to appreciate the works of art of individuals who all compete for the winning patio title. The patios are usually all found within the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter, which is the historic centre of Córdoba and home to winding streets filled with shops selling spices, homemade ceramics, leather and handmade goods and artisan produce including local olive oil and wines from the Montilla-Moriles region nearby.
Despite its popularity, Córdoba impressively manages to maintain its integrity and hardened personality that so many other places have lost to the needs and wants of tourists. What sets this town apart is that it holds its head up high above the crowds and teaches you to enjoy the little pleasures in life. Stop to notice the magic in people going about their daily lives here; big social gatherings on the weekends as people of all different ages come together and pull up a chair for lunch that lasts for hours. It truly captivates the spirit of togetherness, family time above all else and connection.
The city’s complex history is still alive through magnificent monuments and sites, and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (the Castle of the Christian Monarchs) is no exception. It’s one of the most impressive nods to Córdoba’s influential past; this royal palace was built in the 14th century on top of a derelict Moorish fort and at one point housed the largest library in the West. This entanglement of both Spanish and Moorish historic influence is probably more obviously witnessed at the Mezquita-Catedral, a lustrous Mosque-Cathedral that is one of Córdoba’s oldest structures and a beautiful demonstration of Islamic architecture. Head outside through the orange-tree patio and find yourself back in the streets of the Juderia, which houses some of the best food and tapas in the city.
Try a taste of Cordobese cuisine at its finest, including the classic Rabo de Toro (oxtail stew) and the much-loved cold-tomato soup Salmorejo, which is often referred to as Gazpacho’s creamier cousin. The flavours are still largely Spanish, however, the food also carries hints of flavours from its cultural past influences that keeps it exciting. For breakfast, don’t miss an overly-generous portion of the classic pan con tomate, best served at The Canadian near the main train station. Wind your way back to the historic centre around the Mezquita-Catedral and you’ll come across the Patio Romano restaurant in the old Jewish quarter that focuses on classic tapas dishes with small touches of elegance such as post-dinner liquor in the house.
Down by the river, discover a further array of restaurants and bars dotted along the riverfront that are primed for a true taste of Mediterranean al-fresco dining. Sojo Ribera is a popular choice for cocktails, with a terrace overlooking the famous Roman Bridge that is even more impressive to witness at nighttime. Before the Moors and Christians, Córdoba thrived under Roman rule. It was the birthplace of the famous Roman philosopher Seneca and remains, including both the bridge and Temple in the city centre, are beautiful examples of this prosperous time.
On the surface level, Córdoba pulls you in with its enriched, fascinating history that makes it feel rather unique, yet it’s not until you get here and walk around that you get a taste for its diversity and beauty.