Andalucía: a place where the sounds of guitar and flamenco still resonate, a region where the corrida (bull fighting) agitates the spirits and where the numerous religious fiestas and the Semana Santa celebrations create a never ending vibrant atmosphere.
But behind these clichés lies a lesser known Andalucía. In the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga, deep within the valleys or high perched on a mountain top lie the numerous white villages of Andalucía, hidden from the madness of the coast! This is the Andalucía I love, the place I return to over and over again! This is the place where I decided to study Spanish and the place that I chose to volunteer at a boutique hotel. I have visited most of these villages on several occasions, but there are a few that hold a special place in my heart!
1. Zahara de la Sierra
Perched on a 511m high hill with on one side the green “Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park” and on the other side the turquoise waters of the big lake-reservoir. Like most of the white villages in Andalucia, Zahara de la Sierra was an important Moorish outpost. The most famous landmark is without doubt the 13th century Nasrid Castle and lookout tower – the Torre del Homenaje. It is well worth the walk up there, to enjoy the ruins and the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
In the evening, the whole village gathers in Cervecería El Gallo, on the village square. This is the place for very cheap, but tasty homemade tapas and a few beers in a local atmosphere. If you’re lucky, they’ll even throw in a free drink, like they did for us!
A picture-perfect village in the most stunning surroundings!
Grazalema is the highest village of the region and the one that experiences the most rainfall. The paved white streets don’t seem to have changed much since medieval times. Grazalema is fairly quiet, but the place comes alive around lunch time in the bars in and around the village squares. You can easily spend half a day here, simply watching village life go by.
Between Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra, you can walk through the gorge of the “Garganta Verde”, situated in the green “Sierra de Grazalema”. Griffon vultures circle above the mountains and rocky walls. Walking through the gorge is an unforgettable experience, with steep cliffs on either side that rise up to over 400m. The path gets progressively narrower and narrower, until you start having to walk in the river, criss-crossing crystal clear pools.
3.Arcos de la Frontera
Probably my favourite “pueblo blanco”! The inner town of Arcos is absolutely stunning! Narrow, white alleyways are perched on the immense cliffs over the Guadelete river. From the Plaza de Cabildo you get an amazing view over the surroundings! Getting lost in the little side streets, with arches spanning over some of the churches, listening to a flamenco show behind the closed doors of the theatre, admiring the numerous beautiful portals… plenty to do to keep you busy! Arcos is one of the more famous villages, so it can get crowded at times on the main square. Staying overnight will allow you to join its treasures in a more relaxed way.
4.Vejer de la Frontera
Once again, difficult to find more charming! The village is only 10km away from the coast, but couldn’t be further away from it in atmosphere! It still bears traces of its ancient past with the old Moorish walls, the winding streets and the hidden little patio’s. Until the end of the 19th century, women still wore a long black veil (cobajado), a reminder of the muslim heritage. Enter the various “puertas” (old entry gates) and loose yourself in the narrow alleys. The Plaza de España is a good place for a drink in the midst of village life.
Gaucín easily wins the prize for the village with the best views! At a height of 626m above sea level, all around and even inside the village you will find “miradors” or view points. From these miradors you can admire the valley of the Genal river, the imposing Sierra del Hacho mountain, the Mediterranean and in a distance Gibraltar and Morocco! It’s not uncommon to spot eagles either.
Take the path that climbs up towards the Castillo del Aguila, the Moorish castle on top of the village, for even better views! Magical!
6. Setenil de las Bodegas
Setenil is definitely the odd one out! Where most white villages in Andalucía are built on protective rocks, the lower part of Setenil has been built underneath the rock! The calle Cuevas del Sol has plenty of tapas bars to soak up the remarkable atmosphere along the river Guadalporcún. The rocks provide great protection from the scorching Andalusian sun too.
Surrounded by olive trees and perched on top of a hill, Olvera is another white village with a strong Moorish influence. Two buildings stand out by their height and size: one is the old Arab castle; the other is the splendid neoclassical church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación . Both make up the classic view of Olvera. The town is very hilly, so you might want to visit early morning or late in the afternoon to avoid climbing in the heat.
Technically not a village. Ronda is a small city of 35.000 inhabitants, but appears big compared to the much smaller villages of the area. The oldest part of town, known as “La Ciudad”, dates back to the Moorish period with little squares and narrow cobbled streets. But THE highlight and the reason why thousands of people flock to Ronda every day is the gorge that separates the old town from the new part, by means of the Puente Nuevo (“new bridge”) At the side of the gorge, there is a pathway where you can walk right down to the bottom of the gorge and see the bridge from its base.
Ronda and the area around it used to be famous for “bandoleros” or “smugglers”. The Museum del Bandolero is a quirky and interesting museum dedicated to them.
The “pueblos blancos” with their unique atmosphere, their stunning surroundings and their friendly villagers hold a very special place in my heart. I know the region pretty well, but can’t wait to return to check out what other hidden beauties lie beyond the green valleys and towering mountains!
Have you visited the white villages of Andalucia? Which ones are your favourites?