The southern-most peninsular autonomous territory of Spain is Andalucía and it has a lot more to offer than just the popular cities like Seville, Málaga, Cádiz, Córdoba and Granada.
The small hill-side villages of Andalucía are less-traveled and most of them are known for their white-washed houses with a cathedral and a castle perched up the hills overlooking the villages. A drive along these villages is a must-do experience for any traveler.
Although you can visit all these town in a day by driving, we highly recommend staying in Ronda (or making Ronda as the base) and taking it easy visiting each of these villages. Ronda is a fairly big town compared to the rest of the villages giving you more options in terms of hotels and restaurants.
Map and Itinerary
We rented a car for our trip to Southern Spain and started by driving from Seville and ending it in Ronda. Here are all the villages we visited during this trip:
- Arcos de La Frontera
- Zahara de la Sierra
- Setenil de Las Bodegas
Arcos de La Frontera
About 88kms (55 miles) south from Seville is the first village we stopped by in the Andalucía mountains. A thrilling strategic clifftop location with whitewashed arches soaring above twisting alleys makes this village one of the best pueblo blanco.
All the beautiful sights to see in this village are located, mostly, around Plaza del Cabildo:
Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción – This Gothic baroque church is one of the most intriguing and built over several centuries on the site of a mosque. The ornate gold-leaf altarpiece and the striking painting of San Cristobal are not to be missed. The original bell tower was toppled in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and its neoclassical replacement remains incomplete.
Castillo de los Duques – This was closed to the public at the time of our visit, but a walk along the outer walls gives spectacular views of Arcos.
Iglesia de San Pedro – A 16th century main altarpiece of this church is said to be the oldest in Cadiz province. This Gothic baroque church has one of the most beautiful small-church interiors.
Zahara de La Sierra
About 55 kms (34 miles) east from Arcos lies this rugged village strung around the foot of Grazalema mountains. On your way there, stop over the road A-2300 at coordinates 36.8551553,-5.3913742 for the most spectacular view of this village (see image 1 below). For over 150 years in the 14th and 15th centuries, Zahara stood on the old medieval frontier facing off the Christian Olvera.
Zahara village offers the two main churches – Church of Santa María de la Mesa around a small plaza from where you can also get the best views of the village from the top. And Capilla de San Juan de Letrán which is the smaller church with a Moorish-origin clock tower. Just walking around the narrow streets of this sleepy village will keep you in awe.
Another 29 kms (18 miles) from Zahara lies this whitewashed town well-known for its Olive oil. Castillo Arabe and Iglesia Parroquial Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación are the two main sights of this quaint village. Castillo Arabe, perched up on a hill, is the 12th century Arabic castle; and the church is a neoclassical commissioned by the Duques de Osuna and completed in 1840s.
Setenil de Las Bodegas
Just 15 km (9 miles) south of Olvera lies this magnificent village of Setenil de Las Bodegas. While most whitewashed town sought protection atop lofty crags, the people of Setenil burrowed into the dark caves beneath the steep cliffs of the Rio Trejo. Here you’ll find houses “buried” under massive rock boulders, also known as cave houses. While many of the original cave houses remain, some converted to bars and restaurants.
The two famous streets for best pictures are Calle Cuevas del Sol and Calle Cuevas de la Sombra. Another best place to see the cave houses (and perhaps experience one of them from inside) are Calle Jaboneria and Calle Herreria.
Built astride a huge gash in the mountains carved out by Rio Guadalevin, Ronda has a dramatic and brawny history littered with outlaws, bandits, guerrilla warriors and rebels. Ronda feels more like a small city than a village or a town. Modern bull-fighting was practically invented here in the 18th century. La Ciudad is the old town on the southern side, but the main sights of interest are located in the newer town.
Plaza de Toros is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain and the site of the most important events in bullfighting history. A tour of this magnum ring is a must-see.
Baños Arabes are the Arab Baths with horseshoe arches and clearly designated divisions between hot and cold thermal areas. Similar to the design perfected by the Romans, except that steam was used to sweat out pollutants from the body rather than soaking in hot water as the Romans used.
Puente Nuevo de Ronda is the most photographed site in this town, and perhaps in Spain. This is the newest and largest of three bridges that spanned the 120-metre-deep (390 ft). There are several view points located in the gorge, and around the bridge for the best pictures. You can visit the inside of the bridge for 2.50€.
Some other sights include Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor, Casa Del Rey Moro and Puerta de Almocabar.
Last but not the least on the trip is this tiny village that stands out from the rest because it’s blue in color, as opposed to the other whitewashed villages. In spring 2011, Sony España painted the buildings in the village (including the church) blue to celebrate the premiere of the Smurfs movie. While the original agreement was to paint the village white after its promotional ended, the villagers voted to keep it blue!
Referred to as “La Aldea Azul” or the blue village, this village attracts tourists for this one purpose.
What did you think of all the villages and towns in this article? Have you visited any of these, or any others? Send your feedback and tips in comments below.