The Alhambra in Granada; the Mezquita in Córdoba; the Alcazar and the Barrio de Santa Cruz in Seville... Andalucía certainly isn’t short of big-name sights. But beyond the cities (with their throngs of visitors) and crowning the dramatic landscapes that stretch away, lies another, just as appealing side: the stunning white villages of Andalucia.
The approach to Alhama de Granada, as you leave the coast from Malaga and head inland towards Granada, is a spectacular one. First you squeeze through the high Zafarraya Pass – a narrow crack in the mountains – before plateauing out and snaking through copses of holm oak and fields of waving corn.
As for the town itself: perched on the edge of a gorge, it gazes out across the rolling plains of the Sierra de Tejeda. Its ramshackle network of narrow streets hides some grand old houses, one or two interesting churches and a former Inquisition stronghold, La Casa de la Inquisición; just outside the town there’s an old Moorish bathhouse to explore – and even bathe in.
Recommended place to stay: La Seguiriya, Calle las Peñas, 12; a fantastic little boutique hotel with an excellent bar/restaurant.
While not quite as picturesquely situated as Arcos or Vejer de la Frontera, once you’re inside the hilltop village of Medina Sidonia there’s plenty to catch the eye. Pretty doesn’t quite cut it, though; faded grandeur is more the order of the day. Despite its size, it was once one of Spain’s most prestigious ducal seats, and before that, an important Moorish and Roman town.
And in its Moorish gates, some well-preserved Roman sewers and its handsome mansions, there’s still a sense of the weight of its long history. These days, though, it has a pleasingly sleepy, rather forgotten about feel; stray cats sleep in the shade, while old men noisily fill the bars out on stiflingly hot afternoons – leaving the town pretty much yours for the wandering…
Recommended place to stay: Casa Rural Los Balcones, Calle la Loba, 26; a well renovated 19th-century mansion.
It may seem a little strange not to include anywhere from the Alpujarras in a list of the most beautiful white villages of Andalucia. But in Montefrio, we’ve plumped for a Granada village, which, rising high above the mile after rolling mile of dusty olive groves, has a real sense of drama in its setting.
The village itself has a couple of fine churches – one of which, La Iglesia de la Villa, contains a museum dedicated to the reconquest and is surrounded by the ruins of the Moorish alcazaba (fortress). A short drive away, the important Neolithic site of Las Peñas de los Gitanos (which consists of caves and stone tombs), is also well worth a visit.
Recommended place to stay: Hotel la Enrea, Paraje la Enrea; a former watermill situated just outside the village in a river gorge.
A stone's throw from the high-rise developments of the costa is one of the most accessible of all the white villages of Andalucia: Casares. As you drive towards it, you see the usual sparkling white houses, stacked up like sugar lumps, one on top of another, clustered around the ever-present Moorish castle.
At close quarters, there’s little to do in the village but stroll around, admiring the views and stopping for the occasional coffee or cold beer. Although it could be quite easily seen in a day trip from Malaga, it’s a far better idea to stay the night and visit the nearby Roman sulphur baths – which were said to have attracted Caesar, and given the village its name.
Recommended place to stay: Hotel Casares, Calle Copera, 52; a selection of pleasant rooms, many with excellent views of the village and surrounding countryside.
Perched high on its impregnable rocky outcrop and visible for miles around, Arcos de la Frontera is perhaps the most impressive of all the white villages of Andalucia. In many respects, like Medina Sidonia, Arcos is more of a town than a village, and as a result it’s got more than its fair share of tempting tapas options to try out…
And once you’ve managed to pull yourself away from the bar, with its echoing cobbled streets, and tucked away nooks and crannies, Arcos has a mysterious quality to it. In fact, the town is said to have something of a dark history, with all sorts of whispers of witchcraft and madness. All of which, of course, simply adds to the romantic appeal of the place!
Recommended place to stay: Hotel los Olivos; Paseo de Boliches, 30; this attractive casa antigua with a cool, plant-filled patio makes for an atmospheric bed for the night.
Top image © Caron Badkin/Shutterstock