Adventure Travel Holidays in Spain’s Pueblos Blancos
Inland from Spain’s heavily developed southwestern coastal strip, the Pueblos Blancos sit loftily on Andaluc?ï¿½a’s hillsides. These charming “White Villages” acquire their name from their pristinely whitewashed buildings, resplendent and sparkling brightly against the dazzling sun. Perched high on the hills between the coast on the west and the Ronda Mountains on the east, these towns offer an escape into natural surroundings, a glimpse into traditional Spanish life and lots of active adventure. Settled by Berbers during the eight centuries of Moorish rule, these villages, which were under the constant threat of attack were easily defensible and served as the border between Moors and Christians.
Towards Arcos de la Frontera
Winding slowly east into the mountains, high peaks, jagged crags, gorges, chasms and caves, and an occasional goat grazing on the hillsides take the place of beaches and crowds, with breathtaking views at every bend. Heading inland, Arcos de La Frontera, one of the prettiest towns in Spain, comes into view. Situated near the Guadalate River, high above a precipitous gorge, the town was an important Moorish stronghold and boasts spectacular vistas of olive groves, vineyards and bull and horse farms. Possessing an old-world charm, this lovely village is packed with history.
The National Parks in the Region
Picturesque Zahara de la Sierra, a typical fortified White Village, straddles a hilltop overlooking the wide, blue waters of the Embalse de Zahara, a man-made reservoir more like a natural lake. The town lays claim to a Moorish castle sitting high above on a rocky crest, which overlooks a lovely baroque church. From Zahara de la Sierra, a narrow mountain road winds and twists its way up to Grazalema, an idyllically beautiful, well-kept small town. Renowned for its many bubbling fountains, Grazalema has a wetter climate than its neighbors, its reward being its setting in the heart of the verdant Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema. To the south and west of the Grazalema National Park, the National Park of Los Alcornocales, one of the world’s largest cork oak forests, forms the backdrop of an area of outstanding beauty and is home to rare species of Andalucian wildlife including mountain goats, red deer and wild boar.
Ronda’s Dramatic Setting
Snaking a way up past panoramic views of silvery green olive groves en route to Ronda, the small charming towns of Montijaque and Benaojan boast ancient caves with great Paleolithic cave drawings. Ronda, the largest of the Pueblos Blancos, sits on a limestone plateau, split by the El Tajo Gorge. Its dramatic setting above the enormous gorge, which drops over 100 m. below, made Ronda one of the last Moorish bastions to fall. Spanning the gorge are 3 exceptional bridges, the most spectacular of these being an 18th century construction standing on two massive pillars built at the bottom of the gorge.
On the edge of the crevice, dazzling white Moorish buildings with intricate window grilles of metal decorate Ronda’s Old Town. In this setting, the Palacio de Mondragon, used by kings as a palace and the most important building in town, features amazing views from its gardens. Located in the Mercadillo (“Little Market”) in the newer part of town, Ronda boasts one of Spain’s oldest bullrings, and the nearby Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, originally a mosque converted to church, is an interesting blend of Moor and Christian architecture. With its fascinating history, Ronda is a city well worth exploring.
In addition to a relaxed respite into local Spanish culture, this Andalucian region features a multitude of activities: Walking and hiking, horseback riding, caving, paragliding, wind and kite surfing are just some of the many adventures on offer. The countryside is stunning, the white cobbled towns charming, and the easy-going, warm and friendly locals mark the Andalucian character. Life’s leisurely pace is infectious here and is like a breath of cool, fresh air in Spain’s sizzling climate.