Now let me say right off the bat that I'm not going to compare the whole of Andalusia with the whole of Murcia. They're big places which one could spend a lifetime getting to know completely. I'll be mainly focusing on the towns I've lived in and I am familiar with in each respective autonomous community.
I lived for seven years in Cehegin, Murcia which is inland, and about an hour and a half away from the coast by car. I've lived for nearly ten years in Olvera, Cadiz which is also inland and about an hour and a half away from the coast by car. Olvera has a population of just over 8000 and Cehegin has a population of 15,000. Both grew up around a hilltop and have an old town above and a newer part of town below. Both have a 'via verde' built on a disused railway track. Given these apparent similarities one would think that my experience of living in each one would be much the same. My job here today will be to assure you that is not the case.
It's worth mentioning for starters that we foreigners looking at Spain from a bit of a distance, perceive the country to be one homogeneous block painted with a yellow and red striped flag. As you delve into it though, this is anything but the case. Spain has been described as a plurinational state, i.e. one which is comprised of several nations combined into one. As Wikipedia puts it, "The identity of Spain rather accrues of an overlap of different territorial and ethnolinguistic identities than of a sole Spanish identity." I was quite surprised when I arrived in Alicante, to learn that the local language was Valenciano rather than Castilian Spanish, and that Valenciano is spoken in some parts of Murcia. I was even more surprised when I moved to Cadiz province to hear words that were completely alien to me as what forms part of a local dialect called Andaluz. The language in Spain is never easy! Both towns in which I've lived largely use Castilian Spanish, albeit spoken with somewhat different accents.
The most notable visual difference between the two towns is that Olvera is painted white by decree of the town hall. This makes an enormous difference, especially in the old towns. The occasional lick of paint maintains the charm and appearance of the old town in Olvera whereas much of the old town in Cehegin looks quite shabby, though this isn't necessarily reflected in the prices of houses. Perhaps the 'run down' look makes buyers think they're getting something more antique and authentic. Whatever it is, the property in the old town in Cehegin seems slightly better at holding its value.
One thing I found more ingrained in the culture of the North West of Murcia is bullfighting. Cehegin has a permanent bullring as do many of the towns in the area, and those that don't will all have temporary bullrings setup for feria. Most also have bull-runs through the streets. It is much more common to walk into a bar in Murcia and see bullfighting on the TV - I've never seen that in Olvera. Also, several bars had bullfighting memorabilia on display, one with the heads of famous bulls in plaques on the wall! From what I've seen in Andalusia, bullfighting is seen as more a throwback to a bygone age. It didn't exist in Olvera when I first came to live in the town, but then a few years ago a new mayor resurrected it and so the past couple of ferias have had a temporary bullring much to the anger of animal lovers, of whom there are many. In attitude then, bullfighting in Murcia seemed part of the way of life, where as in Olvera it feels alien and unwanted.
Shortage of water and irrigation is a big difference between the two areas. As in the UK, wet weather comes in from Atlantic systems, hitting Wales and the West of the country first, then depleting as it moves East, so that parts of Essex and Suffolk are often quite dry. It is much the same in the Iberian peninsula. Cities like Sevilla, Malaga and Jerez get over 500mm of rainfall each year, where as Murcia gets around 300. Shortages of water are therefore more common in Murcia, and a campaign 'Agua para todos' was raging when I lived there, with the goal of increasing the community's water supply. This has been a political football for decades with the PP having a plan to divert water from the Ebro that the PSOE cancelled, preferring instead to build desalination plants. As fast as they could be constructed though, the more golf courses were built to siphon off the water being created. The campaign flags no longer fly, and although the development of golf resorts pretty much came to a halt after the 2008 crash, the political wrangling still has not produced a satisfactory solution to the area's water shortage.
Anyway, the relative scarcity of water has been different for centuries and some of the ingenious solutions I saw implemented in Murcia I have not seen here in Andalusia. They may well exist in other areas but not where I am. Murcia has a large network of Acequias, irrigation channels which are overseen by a local office who determine who has water rights and assign days and times when the irrigation water can be accessed. The irrigation channels are in turn connected to many reservoirs and water is pumped around a circuit. It's much cheaper than tap water as it is completely undrinkable, though I've known people fill their pools with it and shock treat it with chlorine.
If you have any hope of growing anything in the arid climate in Murcia you need acequia rights in your property's escritura. Depending on where you are and what time of year it is, the acequia may be full of water all day, or it may only come on for an hour on say, Tuesday evening at 10pm, in which case you'll have to make sure to be out there opening the sluice-gates at just the right time to take advantage of your allocation. Another common practice I don't see so much in Andalucia is that of digging wells around trees to capture the irrigation water. There is a bit of an art to this. One will often see a farmer has dug a series of channels and wells from his sluice-gate in such away as to allow the water into wells around each tree, leaving much of the rest of the land dry. When the gate is opened and the water flows in it is mesmerising to watch the water slosh along its assigned track, like watching a big domino toppling event!
Turning to food, I'm surprised seafood isn't such a big thing in my part of Andalucia. Nearly every bar in Cehegin of a Saturday or Sunday lunch time would reek of prawns, sepia, octopus and many other fruits of the sea. Don't get me wrong, we get all these in Olvera too, but kind of part of a balanced diet. In Murcia it seemed much more of a ritual that folk would spend an hour in the bar for their seafood hit before heading on home for comida! I've long wondered if perhaps this was Mediterranean thing, that the people of Olvera see themselves as Atlantic people, but that argument falls flat on its face when one experiences that wonderful seafood served on the coast in places like Malaga!
Finally let me address the nature of the people in both places I've lived. Neither have been much impressed by my efforts to tempt them with either English or Asian food. They are very happy with themselves in their own respective cultures. Those cultures are slightly different in ethnic roots. Far less moorish influence is apparent in Murcia. Perhaps because the moors were chased out of Murcia much earlier, there is less evidence in terms of place names, food and architecture. In Andalusia one is more likely to stumble across Visigothic arches, or dishes with spices like cumin which are non-existent in Murcia. Also the influence of the Gitano people is in evidence in all the towns I've visited in Seville, Cadiz and Malaga. I didn't realise until researching this article that the Gitano only arrived in the 16th but there influence in Andalusia is great and manifests itself through the music, dance and clothing of flamenco.
I recall during the Cehegin feria, one night is always themed as Seville night where folk would dress up in flamenco outfits and dance to Sevillana music, a sort of watered down flamenco. The flamenco outfits were generally off-the-peg, elasticated to fit a range of sizes. It wasn't until I went to a feria in Olvera that I realised how different it was to see a fitted flamenco dress worn by a girl whose mother had probably spent six months making it, dancing to real flamenco music. The traditional folk music, dancing and folk dress in Murcia is very different indeed, more like something from Eastern Europe. Without wishing to diminish it's value, I got the impression the people of Murcia, although proud of their own folk roots, are rather envious of flamenco culture and see it as we foreigners do, as the real Spain!