For most of the year Córdoba hides a secret behind closed doors…
But if you find yourself in Córdoba in May you might wonder about the lines of people outside average looking apartment buildings. What are they are waiting for? Well, they’re after a glimpse of the secret gardens of Córdoba, revealed during a festival in the first two weeks of the month called Los Patios de Córdoba, or ‘The Patios of Córdoba”.
Córdoba is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit at any time of year, but visiting in May is just a little more special. So much so that I’ve waited an entire year to write this post, just in time for the month of festivals in May, when you can have an insight into the Spanish culture and the lives of the residents of Córdoba.
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Where is Córdoba and why should you go?
Córdoba sits in the middle of Andalucía, within easy travelling distance of Seville, Malaga and Granada. It’s inland position lends itself to chilly winters and boiling summers, so May is actually the perfect time to visit Córdoba, after the freeze and before and heat hits!
Córdoba is history, upon history, upon history, literally. It was once the capital of a Roman province and estimated as the most populated city in the world. It’s one of those places that’s changed hands many times. Each group has left behind elements of their time in the city, making Córdoba the eclectic city it is today.
Córdoba has the second oldest Old Town in Europe, and if you’ve travelled in Europe you’ll know that almost every place has an Old Town, so that’s saying something!
There are so many great things to see and do in Córdoba and it’s a wonderful destination to visit at any time of year, but Los Patios makes May a particularly great time to visit.
What is Los Patios de Córdoba?
Los Patios began in 1918, but to understand it you need to know something of the history and architecture of Córdoba. Dating back to the Roman times, houses in Córdoba were built with a central courtyard. These were often filled with water features and plants to keep the homes cool in the heat of the summer and over time these secret gardens have become more and more elaborate. Often the houses will pass down through generations or group houses will have multiple gardeners working on them. Except all of this is behind closed doors, unseen from the concrete and stone streets.
Once a year the citizens of Córdoba open their doors and invite everyone in to see the beauty of these hidden gems. And seriously, these gardens in Córdoba are like works of art. It’s not just flowers, but mosaics, water features, trees and wells too. Honestly, my photos don’t even do them justice, not least because I didn’t have my camera at the time!
Los Patios usually happens in the first to weeks of May, across 2 weekends. This year (2017) Los Patios is from 2-14 May.
There are around 50 patios to see, and you can download a map or pick one up from the tourist office. The map groups the patios together to guide you in different directions but you could seriously spend days seeing them all! Especially since the most popular patios will usually have a line outside.
Our strategy for seeing the patios was to pick the ones we really wanted to see and were prepared to wait for, and pop into any others along the way where we didn’t need to wait in line.
Of course, this is the south of Spain, and so all but a few patios are closed during siesta time, which runs from about 2pm until 5 or 6pm. This is the perfect time to pause for some tapas!
Los Patios de Córdoba is a free festival, but often homeowners will leave out a tray where you can leave a tip if you enjoyed the patio. The upkeep of these beautiful gardens can’t be cheap!
While the weather in Córdoba in May is warmer it did rain when I visited, but this didn’t detract from any of the gardens. Just make sure you have an umbrella in case you need to wait outside in a line!
Where to stay in Córdoba during Los Patios Festival
Córdoba in May is a busy time with all the festivals going on. There are festivals running all through the month, and accommodation can book up in advance. If you’re planning to visit Córdoba during May then definitely book ahead, however that doesn’t mean you can’t make a last minute trip. If you have a car (or hire one) then you don’t need to stay in Córdoba itself. I stayed in accommodation outside of Córdoba, in a campground that had self contained cabins. Each morning we travelled into the city and parked for free near one of the shopping malls, spent the day exploring and drove back after dinner.
Of course if you’re travelling solo then check out hostels which will allow you to stay in the city at a cheaper rate, and experience more of the nightlife!
Other top things to do in Córdoba
I didn’t know much about the Mezquita, or Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, but it quickly became one of my favourite attractions in Spain. It was orginally a mosque, built when Córdoba had one of the largest populations in the world and was a very advanced city. After it came under Spanish rule again in 1236 the population of the city dropped from almost a million to only 20,000. In the 20th century Córdoba began to grow again and during this time the Mezquita was changed to have a cathedral in the centre, creating this one of a kind structure.
City walls of Córdoba
The city walls of Córdoba used to separate the Arab and Jewish quarters. There are some great places to eat just inside and outside of them today! Don’t forget to try the speciality Córdoba tapa of ox tail, or Salmorejo, which is like a very thick gazpacho you can eat with bread or crackers.
Near the centre of Córdoba is the Roman Bridge, built over the shallow Guadalquivir River. It was once the main crossing over the river and helped to secure Córdoba’s importance in the region. You can wander across for a view back to the city and climb a tower for views along the river.
Córdoba sometimes flies under the radar, coming after Seville, Granada and Malaga as the top places to go in Andalucía. However, it’s well worth the visit at any time, if only to see the Mezquita. But if you happen to visit in May, then you’ll see the best of what Córdoba has to offer with the added addition of a glimpse behind closed doors, and the secret world of Córdoba’s stunning patios.
Do you plan your holidays to line up with local festivals?
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