Andalusia is a region rich in culture, history and tradition, including the iconic flamenco (Photo: Getty Images)

In Andalusia, flamenco is as much a part of life across the region as the sun. Beyond song and dance, Andalusia has a certain X factor: the force known as duende. Whether listening to a herder sing to his goats, or a star on a theatre stage, flamenco has the power to stir the soul and was recognised by UNESCO as a phenomenon of Intangible Cultural World Heritage in 2010.

See horses canter to a flamenco beat in Cordoba

Spanish Horseman riding through Córdoba, Spain

Even the pure-bred Andalusian horses canter to a flamenco beat during performances at Cordoba's Royal Stables (Photo: Getty Images)

Andalusia’s fusion of cultures is displayed in spectacular fashion in Cordoba where the Mezquita, the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs and the Jewish Quarter (Judería) stand side by side, close to the Roman Bridge. 

The city’s flamenco tradition emerged during hot nights of song and dance in the rowdy 15th century taverns of the Judería. The taverns have gone but the flamenco is still here, and 18th-century Patio de la Judería, where you can eat, drink, and enjoy a show, preserves some of the flavour. 

When interest in flamenco boomed, tablaos appeared, places where audiences could sit around a wooden stage and watch artists perform. Still setting the standard 200 years on, and traditionally featuring two guitarists, a singer and dancer, the up-close seating makes for an intense experience. Of the many in Cordoba, Tablao Flamenco El Cardenal, in a 17th-century palace patio, is among the best. 

Every Andalusian province has its own palos (song forms). Listen out in Cordoba for fandangos, and local versions of the sad soléa and joyous alegría made famous by the city’s revered singer, Antonio Fernández Díaz (a.k.a ‘Fosforito’).

Fosforito (now in his 90s) founded an interactive museum: the Flamenco Centre Fosforito. It’s a top place to learn about song types, beats, and rhythmic hand-claps (palmas), as well as about the stars of flamenco cordobés – from Persian-born court musician Ziryab to twentieth century superstars, Paco Peña and Joaquín Cortes, and contemporary guitarist Vicente Amigo.

If you’re lucky, the Flamenco Centre Fosforito will be hosting an outdoor evening performance – though in the Judería, there is music everywhere. Even the pure-bred Andalusian horses canter to a flamenco beat during performances at the Royal Stables. 

Just a 10-minute scenic stroll from the jostling crowds, AC Hotel Cordoba provides calm sanctuary, its spacious lounge ideal for planning the next day’s activities over a glass of Montilla-Moriles wine. 

Experience the fire of flamenco in Granada

Alhambra, Granada, Spain, flamenco

Granada's world-famous flamenco scene is steeped in fascinating history and forms an integral part of local culture – with stunning views of the Alhambra in the distance, be sure to enjoy performances at the Mirador de San Nicolás (Photo: Getty Images)

Both Arabs and gypsies were banished from Granada after it was reconquered by the Christians in 1492. They settled outside the city walls on the hill facing the Alhambra, in the Albaicin and Sacromonte. United in exile, the communities mixed and created music together – most famously, zambra, still one of the fieriest forms of flamenco. Danced barefoot, with castanets, a hint of belly dancing, and skirts designed to fly up, zambra was denounced as ‘indecent’ and banned by the Spanish inquisition.

This only made the form more popular and, by the 19th century, people were travelling halfway round the world to seek it out. Granada’s flamenco scene flourished and new song forms were invented – including the granaína, fandango de Granada, and later, the lorqueña, named after poet-playwright Federico Lorca who arranged and recorded an album of songs. Casas cantantes – 'houses of singers', where people from outside of the flamenco community could watch performances early on – and their successors, tablaos, spread through Plaza Nueva and the old town. 

When in Granada, be sure to time your walk up the steep streets of the Albaicin to catch sunset views of the Alhambra from Mirador de San Nicolás. The area is dense with buskers, small theatres and tablaos and, further up, in Sacromonte, shows are performed in cave houses. Do visit Zambra María La Canastera, a cave that was the home of María La Canastera, the most celebrated zambra dancer in the world until her death in 1966. Not only are the live shows here exceptional, but the small space is festooned with dangling pots and pans, and photos of visiting celebrities, from Ingrid Bergman and Hemingway, to Telly Savalas and the Duke of Windsor.

Sacromonte is also home to 12 artisan guitar workshops, and the Habichuela dynasty of guitarists – if you are lucky, you might catch Juan Habichuela Nieto, talented representative of generation no.5, playing locally. 

The Hotel Palacio de Santa Paula, Autograph Collection, a former convent with cloistered courtyard at the foot of the Albaicin and close to the Alhambra, couldn’t be better located as a base for exploring – although the hotel's superb summer flamenco concerts, and its destination restaurant El Claustro, means you may choose not to start straight away.

Dance on the steps of the Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain

The beauty and splendour Seville's magnificent plaza, the Plaza de España, provides the perfect backdrop for dancers and their accompanying guitarists as they perform for passing crowds (Photo: Getty Images) 

The April Seville Fair is the most wildly exuberant of all Spain’s flamenco ferías, but Sevillanos don’t require a special occasion to sing and dance. 

On the steps of the Plaza de España, it’s usual to come across a small crowd murmuring encouraging ‘Eso!’s and ‘Guapa!’s (‘That’s it!’ and ‘Beautiful!’), as a dancer, twists and turns, arms upstretched to the accompaniment of a guitar. 

The magnificent plaza and elaborate pavilions framing Parque Maria Luisa beside it, were built to impress the world for the 1929 Expo. Stay at the AC Hotel Ciudad de Sevilla and you’ll enjoy the splendour and location first hand, since it occupies a pavilion – albeit a luxuriously updated one with rooftop pool.

Across the park, the horses and carriages wait at the Alcazar, Cathedral and Giralda. From the waiting carriage drivers, or the dark interior of a bar, you’ll often hear a burst of a flamenco sung a cappella – one of Seville’s ancient tonás.

Close to the Cathedral, the Museo del Baile Flamenco offers information on locally born artist considered the best of all time, including La Niña de los Peines (‘Girl of the Combs’) born 1890; and the purist, Antonio Mairena (1909), as well as short classes and live shows.

Packed full of theatres, tablaos, and with more flamenco schools than any other city, Seville boasts many of the top contemporary artists. Catch performances by female singers Lole Montoya, La Yiya, or Remedios Amaya, if you can. 

From the museum, pass shops selling flamenco dresses to Plaza de la Encarnación for a double spectacle: the city at sunset from the top of Las Setas, the largest free-standing wooden structure in the world; and a show at Tablao Flamenco las Setas, located inside it. If you can’t sleep afterwards, cross the Guadalquivir to the colourful bars of Triana, where guitarists play and Sevillanos dance until the early hours.  

All aspects of Seville are embraced at Hotel Querencia de Sevilla, Autograph Collection. Stylish, with contemporary nods to Andalusian culture, its Mirador rooftop terrace looks over the heart of the historic city. If you listen you’ll catch the sound of cheery, upbeat flamenco, the eternal sound of the Andalusian streets.

Published: September 08, 2023

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