Pueblos Blancos (white villages) in Andalusia
In October, our London based daughter, Olivia, visited and so we hired a car to head inland to explore some of the famous pueblos blancos (white towns) of Andalusia.
The towns are situated on hills and mountainsides or in gorges. They were "frontier villages" in the 15th century secular struggle between Moors and Christians which explains a profusion of castles and the Muslim influence in the towns.
The houses are painted with lime-wash and that together with the narrow streets they are sited on, help keep the houses cool inside during the sizzling Andalusian summers.
Conil de la Frontera
On the first day, we headed south of Cadiz to the coastal town of Conil de la Frontera, our first close-up of a white town, not counting Cadiz City of course! We were impressed by the 14 kilometres of sandy beaches that Conil is well known for.
Conil is a small, holiday town which attracts mainly Spanish tourists. When we arrived at around 10 on a Wednesday morning, there were very few people about as most of the summer tourists had departed and Andalusia was on alert for the second wave of the Covid 19 virus. So we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the small, narrow streets, admiring the way the white buildings and plazas contrasted beautifully with the stunning blue sky. We stopped for coffee and tostada with olive oil and tomato (a popular Spanish breakfast), and a quick walk along the beautiful sandy beach by the town, before heading into the hills.
Conil is also well known for the strong winds that blow along the coast and is therefore popular with both surfers and wind surfers. We experienced the wind first hand while walking along the fine sand beach, the playa Los Bateles, when we received some minor sandblasting.
(hover mouse over pictures for captions)
Vejer de la Frontera
The next town on our itinerary was the very beautiful hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera. Lonely Planet accurately describes it as...
“Vejer – the jaw drops, the eyes blink, the eloquent adjectives dry up. Looming moodily atop a rocky hill… this serene, compact white town is something very special...there’s a labyrinth of twisting old-town streets plus some serendipitous viewpoints, a ruined castle, a surprisingly elaborate culinary scene, a smattering of exquisitely dreamy hotels and a tangible Moorish influence. But Vejer has something else: an air of magic and mystery, an imperceptible touch of duende (spirit).”
With its hilltop location the town has had a defensive position since Phoenician times (circa 300BC) when it served to defend the nearby Phoenician ports and fishing boats from Iberian marauders.
The name Vejer De La Frontera is interesting, in that the De la Frontera means “of the frontier”, and was the name given to the outposts that were on the border between the Moors and the Christians during the reconquest in the fifteenth century. (Conil de la Frontera above, is one of a number of towns that are similarly named)
As suggested by Eva, our banker in Cadiz, we parked the car half way up the hill and continued on foot - the streets of Vejer are cobbled, narrow, winding and steep which would have made driving challenging and parking almost impossible!
We spent several hours in Vejer exploring the older part of the town by wandering along the streets, going up and down the steps, gasping in awe as each stunning vista revealed itself as we rounded a corner or reached the top of a flight of steps. From intimate courtyards with whitewashed buildings against the bluest of blue sky with bright pink Bougainvillea tumbling over the walls, to panoramas of the castle on the top of the hill with the whitewashed houses tumbling down from it - so many beautiful sights!
We enjoyed lunch in the shade of a tree in a very cute plaza where we could see flowerpots hanging on the building facades. After lunch we continued to explore the town and Olivia and I may have popped into one or two of the cute shops to look at some art, some interesting clothing, Moroccan homewares and some gorgeous locally made jewellery.
On a cloudy day two we explored three more pueblos blancos (white towns). The cloud meant that rather than contrasting with the blue sky, the towns tended to stand out in the yellow/green landscapes. The views from each of the towns were spectacular! We started the day with a another steep uphill walk and then had breakfast, taking in an exquisite vista from the top of Arcos de la Frontera; lunch was in Zahara de la Sierra and then we finished the day with a quick trip to Ronda which is a town in Malaga province, that is surrounded by lush river valleys and sits above a deep gorge.
Arcos de la Frontera
A town that sits atop tall vertical cliffs and overlooks the Guadalete River. After the brilliant white buildings in Conil and Vejer, Arcos seemed a little tired and many buildings seemed in need of a fresh coat of lime-wash.
At the top of the village was a beautiful church - the tower of which looked beyond the plaza carpark (strange to have the carpark there given the historical importance of the church) at its base and out to a spectacular view of the countryside. The former house of the local magistrate is now the hotel Parador de Arcos de la Frontera is on one side of the plaza in front of the church, and we stopped there for coffee on the terrace where we took in spectacular views of the town and countryside. The public areas of the hotel were rather nice too!
Also in the village is a quite remarkable statute at the entrance to the old town - a monument to Holy Week as it is observed in Spain. It shows three Nazarenes in procession with a semicircular arch behind them.
I will write more about this and the Easter Holy Week in Spain (known as Semana Santa) in a later post. But very briefly, to give some context to these intriguing statues...
Semana Santa is a time of the year when Catholic processions flood cities and towns in Spain with a mixture of religion and tradition. One of the characteristic images of the processions is the Nazarenes who wear long robes and cover their heads with pointed hoods. The origins of this attire go back to the end of the 15th century and the Spanish Inquisition when those condemned for not following the official dogmas were punished by having to wear a cloth garment to cover their chest and back and a cardboard cone as a sign of penance.
1-4 Spectacular views of the countryside from the top of the town.
5 An amazing place to have desayuno - Spanish breakfast!
6-8 Interiors of the hotel Parador de Arcos de la Frontera
9-11 Santa María Minor Basilica
12 Spectacular doors
13 Alan and Olivia by the doors of the Hospital De San Juan de Dios
14 A splash of red to brighten up the town
15-18 Very narrow streets in Arcos de la Frontera
19 Nazarene statues
Zahara de la Sierra
The town of Zahara de la Sierra is located in the centre of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, at the foot of the Sierra del Jaral. Its setting is quite extraordinary - it is perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking a valley and a man-made lake and in the shadow of the remains of a 13th century Moorish castle and watch tower.
As with so many of the white towns, the streets are steep and narrow and so we parked at the foot of the town and walked/climbed/scaled ( I have attempted to show how steep the streets are in some of the photos) up to the Plaza Mayor, where we found the pretty Church of Santa María de la Meza (completed in 1755), the Town Hall, an iron street light in the middle of a fountain, and a viewing platform where we enjoyed views over the lake and countryside and of another white town in the distance (Olvera).
Even though the castle and the watch tower promised sensational views of the town and surrounding countryside, the thought of undertaking another steep climb was too much and so we decided to admire the castle from the town plaza and the views from that level did not disappoint. (Perhaps we will go back…)
1 The view from the viewing platform in the Plaza Mayor
2 View of the castle as it sits above the town - taken as we approached the town
3 The white houses from halfway up the hill
4 The Santa María de la Mesa Church with the street lamp in the middle of the fountain
5-6 Buildings in the Plaza Mayor
7 The beautiful square of San Juan de Dios Letrán - the pretty Plaza de San Juan where
we stopped for lunch. At the top of the photo is the 19th century Chapel of San
Juan de Letrán. The chapel is dedicated to the invocation of Our Lady of
Dolores, the patron saint of Zahara de la Sierra. .
8 16th century Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) - behind the San Juan de Letran Chapel
9 Peeking in a doorway
10 -17 Various street scenes
Ronda is a white town surrounded by the high peaks of the nearby Sierras in the Malaga province of Andalusia (just outside of Cadiz province). The town is divided in two and is perched on the top of the cliffs of the 100-plus-meter-deep El Tajo gorge.
Crossing the divide are three bridges one of which, the Puente Nuevo ('New Bridge'), is so spectacular it is one of Spain’s most photographed locations. Having seen many pictures of the Puente Nuevo and its stunning location, it had to be our first stop when we arrived!
The name Nuevo (new) is a complete misnomer, as the building of this bridge commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete!! The Puente Nuevo spans the gorge at its highest point, 120 m (390 ft) above the floor of the gorge.
1 The Puente Nuevo looking south towards the old town.
2 Another shot of the Puente Nuevo looking south but showing the depth of the gorge
3 Looking East from the Puente Nuevo.
4-5 The canyon on the east side of the Puente Nuevo - fabulous place to dine!
6 Spanish flags line the bridge
7-10 Looking south to some of the houses of the the old Moorish town - we need to go back
to explore this part of the city.....
11 Just north of the bridge, is the former Town Hall building which is now the beautiful
Parador de Ronda
12 Looking west from the bridge is the Mirador de Ronda from which you can see vistas of
the gorge, mountains and the Puente Nuevo.
13-14 Looking west from the bridge at the beautiful greenery at the bottom of the gorge
15-16 The 'Corrida Goyesca' is a historical bullfight that takes place once a year in Ronda in
the Plaza de toros de Ronda. The bullfighting ring was built in 1784 in the
Neoclassical style by the architect José Martin de Aldehuela, who also designed the
Puente Nuevo. and is apparantly the oldest bullfightingring in Spain.
17-18 Plaza del Socorro is the modern political centre of Ronda. The parish church of Socorro
(Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Socorro) was only built in 1956 but the ground on
which the church stands was the location of a parish chapel, a hospital, and before
that a Muslim chapel. The sun finally came out and pushed the cloud away, so we
stopped for coffee and churros in this plaza and next to the church of Socorro to fortify
ourselves for the journey home.