Andalucia’s Pueblos Blancos are a series of little white towns scattered throughout the Sierra de Cadiz hills, with dense pine groves and cork tree forests giving way to fortified villages and beautiful castles that long ago were scattered across the frontier of the Christian and Moor conflict. Today, the villages still exist in all their beauty, and are wonderful day-trip excursions. The most outstanding follow.
Jimena de la Frontera
This is a unique village built inside a castle and surrounded by Los Alcornocales Natural Park. The entrance to the village, officially declared a historical feature, is a three-arched gateway, and the Andalucian architecture within is being preserved carefully. It is a delight of narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed homes. If you want to visit an unspoiled village among the Pueblos Blancos, Jimena is a great choice.
The best way to enjoy Jimena is by walking, first taking the hike up to the castle enclosure at the top of the hill, enjoying the view, and then visiting one of the many fine restaurants this town has to offer. Consider the Chantarella, a wild mushroom, or the Pinonate, a dessert of olive oil, honey, almonds, cinnamon, and orange peel.
Like all the towns in Andalucia, Jimena enjoys frequent festivals, including February’s Carnival, the village fair in August, and an annual music festival in the second week of July. There are several game preserves locally as well as rich forests and hikeable mountains.
San roque is one of the largest of the Pueblos Blancos, with the village as well as eight suburbs, and makes excellent use of its position on the coast to develop its beaches. In San Roque, you can enjoy six golf courses, water sports, rock climbing, polo, and many other activities. Sotogrande, a sports and residential development, is well-known among those who enjoy living an athletic life.
If you prefer walking in the woods, you can always stroll through Pinar del Rey, a lovely forest. Despite its proximity to so much development, the village of San Roque remains very Andalucian and traditional, with wrought iron grilles on windows and balconies, plants and flowers everywhere, and steep narrow alleys. It’s a trip in itself, with a variety of museums and churches to visit, and an active night life filled with bars and restaurants. And the San Roque bullring is the fourth oldest in Andalucia.
Be certain to see the Chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Visitacion, with its hospital for the poor. The Ermita de San Roque is built in neoclassical style and houses the image of San Roque. You’ll find three different museums in the Palacio de los Gobernadores in the Plaza de la Iglesia: the Monographic Museum of Carteia, Pictures of Castilla Zurita and Cruz Herrera, and the Luis Ortega Bru Museum.
July and August are the most festive months, and if you visit at this time you’ll find lots of activity. You can also visit one of the many beaches here, and the excellent marina at Sotogrande.
Benalup is in the odd position of being a young town with an ancient history. Cave paintings have been discovered in many natural caves and grottos nearby (especially look for Tajo de las Sidonia and Vejer de la Frontera), dolmens still stand, a roman road stretches nearby, and the town’s name was taken from a castle built during the time of Muslim rule. Yet the town itself hasn’t been occupied in recorded history until recently.
Today, besides the ruins, Benalup is one of the Pueblos Blancos with an excellent golf course. And you’ll find the Fairplay Golf Hotel, a five-star hotel, nearby.
Vejer de la Frontera
This village — the whole thing — has been declared a Historical Artistic Monument of National Importance. The Plaza de Espana is just outside the village, and its palm-tree shade, ancient frog-bedecked fountain, and view make it one of the loveliest village squares in Spain. From the plaza, the Arco de la Villa leads into the castellated town, with mazelike cobbled alleyways wandering throughout hidden corners and pretty homes. Very little is here that will distract you from enjoying the atmosphere of Old Andalucia.
Have lunch at one of the cafes near the Plaza de Espana, and visit some of the wonderful historical treasures of the town: the Casa Marquez de Tamaron (now the town library), the Casa de Mayorazgo, and the Church of El Divino Salvador. Pay attention to the city walls; they are intact and at several points you can climb up onto them.
An excellent place to stay is the Hotel La Califa, where a maze of rooms and halls leads to the terrace overlooking some of the beautiful Andalusian scenery.
Alcala de los Gazules
If you speak Spanish well, this unspoilt town is a wonderful stop. It’s remained mostly unchanged, and it also has Historic-Artistic status. It’s not as tourist-friendly as many of the Pueblo Blancos, but that’s part of its charm. The town has fewer bars and restaurants than most towns in Andalucia, and the hotels are more of the two and three star variety, but it’s also a very Spanish town, no matter what time of year you visit. Hikes will take you out into the local game preserves and nature parks, and it might also take you to the Qualat at Yazula, the old Moorish castle ruin nearby. The Fuente de la Salada is a Roman spring that still gushes water.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Named for its old wineries, Setenil is unique in that its homes are built into natural caves, rather than on cliffs and mountains. Many houses have rock roofs as well as walls and interiors, and you’ll even see olive groves on the roofs of some homes. There may be no hotels here at all, so be prepared for that if you visit. You may, however, be able to arrange lodging through the tourism office at some of the cave houses in town.
Other Towns of the Pueblos Blancos
There are over a dozen other important villages, and each has its own charm. The Arcos de la Frontera is a perfect place to stop for lunch and enjoy the dizzying, breathtaking view from Plaza al Cabildo. El Bosque is the gateway to the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, one of the top parks in Spain and known for both unspoiled nature and the rich hunting and fishing available (most visitors here camp). Grazalema has its own microclimate making it the wettest village in Spain; its main export, not surprisingly, is blankets. Castellar de la Frontera owns cave drawings and many historical treasures. If you’re driving through the Pueblos Blancos, you’ll soon find that each has its own personality, and its own charm.