Nothing says Spain more than the swanky resorts of the Costa del Sol and the sprinkling of pretty white mountain villages set behind it. And no trip to Spain is complete without a visit to one of the away-from-it all charming pueblos blancos (which literally means white towns). For a cultural high, take a wander along the narrow streets of one of the pueblos blancos. It’s a sublime Spanish experience you shouldn’t miss out on. The fabulous Moorish architecture and a plethora of fortified mansions and exquisite churches have everything from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque for an impressive historical narrative.
Here, Dakota Murphey shares her absolute favorites and a bit about them in a project with Marbella’s longest established real estate agency, Panorama. You’ll soon see just why she loves them so much.
Sitting in the Serranía de Ronda, dissected dramatically by the El Tajo canyon, this mountaintop town in Malaga province is one of the most lovely and historical places to visit in Andalusia. The El Tajo gorge separates the ancient Moorish quarter from the city’s 15th-century counterpart. Joined by the 18th-century Puente Nuevo “new” bridge, which straddles a 100m chasm, it’s a must for tourists. Offering unparalleled views over the Serranía de Ronda mountain range, it’s a view that will literally take your breath away. The bridge is an amazing engineering feat of its time. It took 42 years to build.
There are many cultural treats to see in Ronda. Home to modern day bullfighting, the 18th-century Plaza de Toros de Ronda is one of the oldest in Spain. It’s home to the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, Spain’s oldest and most noble order of horsemanship, with its heritage going back to 1485. The bullring boasts the biggest sand circle in the world.
Located in the old Arab quarter of the city, the 13th-century Arab baths in Ronda are the best preserved in Spain. Vents in the roof were based on designs at the famous bathhouse of the Alhambra Palace. The Moorish Mondragon palace is also well worth a visit for its museum and beautiful, tranquil gardens. The old city walls and gates provide a glimpse into Ronda’s past and is testament to the impregnability of this city in olden times.
The Balcón del Coño viewpoint shouldn’t be missed. The views of the gorge and surrounding countryside from this point are truly spectacular. Ronda’s most picturesque square with the Gothic and Renaissance Santa Maria del Mayor church is definitely worth a gander. When you’re done with the sightseeing, if you fancy a swim to cool off, the Cueva del Gato (cat’s cave) is just a 20-minute drive away. It’s an unbeatable spot, and it’s on Andalusia’s list of natural monuments.
Set in the northeast of the province of Cádiz, in the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar mountain range, is the charming white village of Grazalema. Surrounded by limestone mountains, Grazalema has a unique microclimate and is one of the rainiest places in Spain. The high levels of rainfall account for the huge range of flora in the area, including the rare Spanish fir (pinsapo).
Whitewashed houses adorned with hanging pots full of colorful flowers line the steep cobbled streets of this ancient Moorish village. The village is a typical postcard-picture jumble of narrow alleys and tranquil squares. The Plaza de España is the village’s main square and is lined with bars and restaurants. Here you’ll see the lovely 18th-century church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Aurora. Grazalema also has a 17th-century parish church and a textile museum.
Sitting high on a mountain ridge overlooking the sea, Frigiliana is definitely worth a visit. It was voted the “prettiest village in Andalusía” by the Spanish tourism authority, and it is Spain’s answer to Greece’s Island of Santorini. Best explored by foot, the tangle of pretty cobbled streets and small plazas with shady village bars provide hours of meandering opportunities.
Historically relevant, the hill above the village was the scene of the bloody defeat of the Moors of La Axarquía in their 1569 rebellion. Just 7km from the popular coastal town of Nerja, this village is an absolute must if you’re in the area and fancy a retreat away from the tourist crowds of the Costa del Sol.
Arcos de la Frontera
More of a town than a village, this impressive pueblo blanco is perched high on a rocky limestone ridge. Full of echoing narrow streets and lots of nooks and crannies, this Andalusian gem has an interesting and dark history. An 11th-century Moorish stronghold, it was captured by the Christians in 1250 and became a focal point of defense in Medieval times between the caliphates and the crusaders.
There are plenty of historical landmarks to see. The impressive 16th-century Iglesia de San Pedro church is perched in a precarious position at the edge of a sheer cliff. Opposite is the grand Palacio del Mayorazgo, one of Arcos’ finest Renaissance buildings. Topped by an ornate 18th-century Baroque belfry, the 16th-century church of Santa María de la Asunción is even more exquisite on the inside than it is on the exterior. There’s also the 11th-century castle, Castillo de los Arcos, and the 16th-century Convento de la Encarnación, a convent with a remarkable doorway.
Alhama de Granada
Perched on the ridges of a steep gorge, this pretty ancient spa town is surrounded by rolling countryside and olive plantations. Renowned for its thermal springs, where its name is derived from (al-hammah are thermal baths in Arabic), the town of Alhama de Granada looks out over some of Spain’s most spectacular scenery. In winter, majestic views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range are breathtaking. The hot springs are situated a few kilometers outside of the town. The Balneario spa (part of a hotel) dates back to Roman times.
Situated approximately 50km from the center of Grenada, this beautiful and traditional town should definitely be on your list of places to visit. The town has a North African feel to it. There are plenty of fantastic little shops selling rugs, lamps, mirrors, and furniture, as well as jewelry and clothes. You’ll be spoiled for choice with many cafes and tapas bars too.
For historical interest, there’s the 16th-century church of Santa Ana whose bell tower is a converted minaret. For fantastic views and great photo opportunities of the town and surrounding area, Plaza San Nicolas is the place to go. Many people gather here in the evenings as the sun is setting. The soft orange light is magical.