On the Costa Tropical of Granada, crowned by a castle and with a gorgeous blue sea, sits Salobreña, a small Andalusian town worth discovering.
“A blue so blue, it is both dark and bright. A blue so blue, it is always just right.”
-Jean Fraçois Dumont
Have you ever seen a sapphire up close? Or maybe a blueberry when it’s just ripe? That was the blue of the sea in Salobreña. I didn’t know it was possible for the sea to be that color, but looking out from the car window as we drove into town, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the coast. Of course, the sea is just the most obvious reason to visit Salobreña. The town itself is full of history with a Moorish castle dating back to the 10th century sitting at the highest point. The castle appears to be literally “on a cloud,” surrounded by so many white buildings. Salobreña is a magical place. In the words of poet Angeles Asencio, “Salobreña seems unreal to me.” Unreal in the best kind of way.
An Andalusian Dream
The first thing we did after leaving our bags at the hotel was take a walk through the historic streets of Salobreña. It was a steep climb from the tourist office up through winding streets and stairways in the heat of the summer sun. It’s easy to understand why the Andalusian towns all chose to paint their buildings white. The narrow streets with their long reaching shadows are a delicious respite from the unrelenting midday heat. Many of the neighbors in Salobreña decorated the walls of their homes with hand painted plates in blue and green, and brightly colored flowers. At some turns you could look straight down the street all the way to the sea below. It was exactly what you’d imagine a small Andalusian town to be and I couldn’t stop from snapping photos at every turn. These are the places that make you sigh and say, “Ohhh, I could just LIVE here!”
Once upon a time…
At the top of Salobreña, visible for miles around, sits the Castle of Salobreña. This Moorish stronghold dates back to the 10th century and, as you can imagine, has stellar views. There is even a legend to go along with the castle; and quite honestly, who doesn’t love a good story about a castle? This one begins during the Nazari reign when the castle was a place with gorgeous gardens and every luxury imaginable as a home for the most important Nazari royal families.
One of the kings, Muhammed IX, had three daughters who he loved very much, although he would have preferred to have sons. King Muhammed decided to ask an astrologer about the future of his three beloved daughters and what the astrologer predicted was very worrisome. The king was told to keep a close watch on his daughters because when they came of age, they would be kidnapped. So when they daughters reached a certain age, he sent them to live in the castle of Salobreña to keep them safe.
Of course, the three girls had everything that they could wish for, but they were also curious and one day the girls saw a boat full of Christian soldiers embark on the coast of Salobreña. They saw three soldiers who were especially handsome and it was love at first sight. Of course, this love was impossible because the girls were Muslim and the soldiers Christian. So one day, two of the sisters decided to escape. The third sister, Zoraida, decided she could not disobey her father and stayed in the castle. Soon after she realized her error and within a year died of a broken heart. It is said that Zoraida’s spirit roams the castle still pining for her lost love.
Sail away to England Baby, Maybe to Spain
If the sea in Salobreña is beautiful from high up on the hillside, it is even more stunning up close. So when given the opportunity to kayak to some of the coves along the coast, we jumped at the chance. With our life vests fastened, sunscreen applied and paddles at the ready we shoved off in a yellow kayak across the bright turquoise waves. Pedro and I are far from experts at kayaking (we’ve only done it once before in Bar Harbor, Maine), but we loved the experience. Seeing the cliffs and the stunning shoreline through crystal clear water made it obvious why so many people have chosen to spend their holidays on the Tropical Coast of Granada over the years. Did you know you can even go fishing in a kayak in this area? I’m not sure I’d catch anything; but we’re always up for an adventure!
One of the things that surprised me in Salobreña were the little art galleries that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. We visited one gallery with furniture and art that had a stunning rooftop view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the sea. The gallery, La Conca El Casino Arts Gallery was run by a few expat women who were more than willing to share a story and a glass of wine. I’m all about this kind of art experience, but who knew it would be found in a small Granada coastal town. Another art gallery and studio was tucked into the Albaicin neighborhood where a German artist painted stylized landscapes and scenes from his life in Salobreña. It was inspiring to see how he worked, doors open, happy to share his art with the community and travelers alike. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Connecting with people through art.
Hey farmer farmer, put away your DDT now
The idea of ecological farms isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s something that’s been around for generations. But after a long stint of using chemicals to create bigger, better, and less natural fruit and vegetables, it seems the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of farmers markets, organic produce and eating locally. We visited the Finca Matagallares, which has a privileged location in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with views of Salobreña, the sea and the castle. The farm has a stamp of being ecologically friendly and you can pay a small fee (we’re talking 6-12 euros) for a visit and a taste test of some of the delicious produce. Although, I’m not sure that taste test is sufficient to describe the generous spread that the folks at Matagallares served us after our visit. We enjoyed homemade lemonade, an avocado and papaya salad sprinkled with hot pepper and olive oil, banana bites and an avocado with homemade jam in the place where the pit was. Oh, and some fresh cherries and figs which were so good I had to stop myself from eating too many. All this under a little vine covered canopy with a friendly old dog snooping around, hoping that we dropped something on the ground!
Take a hike, lady!
I didn’t grow up enjoying outdoor activities. It’s something that I’ve come to enjoy as an adult, though. One of the things I enjoy most in Andalucía is being able to go on hikes and enjoy the natural landscape, which in the case of Salobreña is absolutely breathtaking. There are some easy hikes to take around town, starting up in the surrounding hills and making your way down the cliff to some of the smaller coves. I just couldn’t get over the black rocks jutting out of the sea at sharp angles. It’s easy to see how years ago the sea reached much farther inland all the way to the cliff where the castle stands. There are lots of other trails in the area, of course. If you are a more expert hiker there are miles and miles that you can enjoy. In fact, you can even combine a trip to the farm with a hike and make a whole morning of it! Come to think of it, maybe that’s what we’ll do next time!
Cheers to Salobreña!
You can’t go very far in Salobreña without hearing about the area’s past growing sugar cane. This was the star crop in Salobreña for decades because the land has a lot of water, so it’s hard to get a lot of things to grow. At this point most of the sugar factories have closed down, but there is a growing industry of rum production. You can even enjoy tasting different rums at area bodegas on the “rum trail.” We had the chance to visit the bodega of Ron El Mondero and we were surprised at how much care goes into the process, as well as the stronger taste of the artisan rum.
Feeling a bit hungry?
I’m not going to lie. We ate well in Salobreña. Our first meal was up at the top of the hill at a restaurant called Bar Pesetas with an amazing view of Salobreña all the way down to the sea. We lunched on salmorejo, ajo blanco and tortilla de patatas. A great start to our culinary visit to Salobreña. In fact, we enjoyed the food at Bar Pesetas so much that we returned to have tapas that night for dinner. (It might have been a great place to watch the soccer match on TV, as well). We highly recommend the fried fish and the eggplant drizzled with honey! The next day was filled with more delicious nibbles starting at a little bar by the beach called Bar Rufino. I’m mentioning this mainly due to the prime location on the beach right next to where we went kayaking, and also because of the huge beers served up ice cold with a delicious tapa of fried fish. It was the best thing you could ask for on the beach.
We also found the coolest little bakery, Los Tolinos, that makes flavored bread. We’re not talking about just any flavors, these are rolls made with squid ink, curry, or vegetables. Like perfect little multi colored balls, when we broke them in half, the little rolls were soft in the middle and bursting with flavor. We kept thinking of ideas to make little party sandwiches – the squid ink roll with calamari and a homemade aioli, the garden vegetable roll with a mini hamburger or the curry roll with grilled chicken and caramelized onion. The list goes on from here.
If you are looking for fried fish by the sea, we highly recommend Casa Emilio where we ate like kings and everything from the avocado salad to the mussels to the grilled calamari was absolutely delicious. Although the star of our lunch was definitely the tropical fruit salad. For dinner in the historic section, a great option is Restaurante La Traviesa. With choices like hummus or middle eastern style lamb, this is not your typical tapas restaurant. There is something for every palate and the day we visited there was live music. I can’t think of a better way to end an evening in Salobreña.
Rest and Relaxation
If you need a place to stay in Salobreña there are options for every family. A great choice if you are looking for a boutique hotel with stellar views, a delicious gourmet restaurant and impeccable interior design is Hotel Miba. If you want to be closer to the action in town, we suggest either Hostal San Juan or Hotel Avenida Tropical. Both are within walking distance from the tourist office, the municipal market and the historic center (although you’ll have an uphill climb). A fourth option is the Best Western Hotel Salobreña, which is a bit farther from Salobreña’s city center, but features a beautiful walking path down to the beach and a shuttle service for hotel guests wanting to visit the town.
We will definitely be back to visit Salobreña in the near future. It’s small town vibe and less built up coastline is certainly very appealing, but what I loved best were the people. It was clear that this was a true community and everyone was so happy to show off their town and the surrounding area. That’s what I always look for when I travel. Because after all, if the people who live there are proud of the town, it gives everything a special shine.