Pueblos Blancos – a trip through the Andalucian white villages

Andalucia is the home to ancient villages, endless rolling hills and national parks. Among the most spectacular villages are the pueblos blancos. A world of bleached beauty, hilltop history and crag top castles…classic white villages of Spain. These villages crown the dramatic landscapes that stretch away before you. This part of Andalucia impresses with historic sights and stunning views, centuries old bridges and just enjoying wandering cobblestoned streets.

Andalucian villages are epitomised by age old lofty crags above whitewashed homes tucked into green countryside. At every turn you are amazed at what unfolds before you as you drive the winding roads between hills. Our trip through Andalucia included Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera and Zahara de la Sierra.

So, let’s start at the best known pueblo blanco, Ronda, which is a destination in and of itself with monuments that pay homage to its history and sights that reveal its majesty. Whilst firmly on the tourist trail, Ronda has maintained much of its original charm. We spent half a day in the town, sufficient to experience its uniqueness amongst other Andalucian villages.

It is a place where you can feel overcome, if not by amazement at the scenery, then by the sheer height! Ronda is among the most spectacular and oldest town of the Andalucian hills.  It is set above a stunning deep gorge with one of the most photographed structures in Spain, the Puente Nuevo.

The New Bridge links the old town with the new high above the river. The river has carved a canyon over the centuries that is 100 metres deep, and half a kilometre long. Known for being one of Spain’s most photogenic spots, El Tajo Gorge is a deep and impressive ravine dividing the historic village of Ronda. This presents an incredible view, which looks out over a vast, impossibly beautiful mountain valley with olive and cypress trees into the distance.  Connecting the two halves of the village is the famed Puente Nuevo bridge.

Ernest Hemingway spent much time in Ronda, writing Death in the Afternoon. But you know you’re in an old city when its recent history dates back to the Roman era, during which Roman legions used it as a commercial centre. Later, the city fell to the Moors and became a minor Arab emirate.

This part of Andalucia is steeped in history, most notably being the birthplace of bullfighting and Ronda is famed for its bullring, the oldest one in all of Spain, to which Hemingway paid tribute. “There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda”. Like it or loathe it, bullfighting plays a big part in the tradition and history of Andalucia. With a visit to Plaza de Toros de Ronda, you get a small glimpse of what the sport meant not just for the town of Ronda, but the Spanish people. This bullring is part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of bullrings in Spain, along with Seville and Ventas (Madrid).

Ronda provides a perfect base from which to explore the diverse mountain ranges that surround it. Nearby is Zahara de la Sierra – a tiny town with a tingly setting under a Moorish castle and a spectacular view.

This is a small town laced around a castle topped spur at the foot of a mountain range. It has palm studded streets with bougainvillea draped streets. It was once a Moorish stronghold. The town has a beautiful 17 century baroque church, Santa Maria de la Mesa, standing out against the white houses with its pink facade.

A stand-out white village is Arcos de la Frontera. It is a dramatically positioned village, atop a rocky ridge. Its whitewashed houses appear to stop abruptly at the sheer cliff face. Arcos is considered the gateway to the white villages. Arcos can not hide its Arab past. At first glance, the most impressive is its location, on a vertiginous rock with views over the river.

Strolling through its narrow and steep streets, a sea of red roofed whitewashed houses, which tumble down the craggy ridge are evident across the town. Plaza del Cabildo has spectacular views over the river, with dramatic cliff-top panoramas. It is easy to get lost in the twisting narrow streets of this town.

The Plaza del Cabildo is the heart of Arcos old town and affords exquisite views over the river, Rio Guadalete, lined with olive and orange groves. The Basilica de Santa Maria de la Asuncion’s outer walls frame the classic Arcos views across the river valley below. The Parador next door is a nice venue for lunch as well. These buildings appear perched on the edge of Arcos’ cliff face.

Andalucian hills are scattered with white villages. They look and feel traditional, are picturesque and squashed-together old houses with narrow little streets. These villages mark the landscape, strongly contrasting against the stark hillsides and craggy mountains.

Though many of these villages and small towns are firmly-established on the tourist scene, you can still find a few which are not visited as much, like we did, with the benefit of independent travel.

Leave a Reply