“The best thing about living in a small village: when you are not sure what is going on in your own life…. someone in the village usually does!”
A southern province in Spain, Andalucía is famous for its pueblos blancos or ‘white villages’, standing out crisp and proud against the surrounding grey-green hills and mountains of the region. Traditionally whitewashed to keep the stone houses cool during the soaring temperatures of summer, the concept is cherished even today – there is not a soul who dares to step out of line and risk facing the wrath of a local abuela or grandmother!
A number of these villages have earned fame in their own right through agriculture and the production of the finest olive oils, cheeses, wines, produce and Jamón ibérico. Amongst delicious food and wine in local tapas bars, they also play host to numerous chartered hiking and walking routes. Villages further inland are popular with both national and international tourists looking to escape to cooler, hillier regions, whilst locals can usually be found heading to the coast for some fun at the beach during holidays.
I took this photograph just after I moved here, and it depicts a combination of what makes Ronda amazing: the stunning views, unique landscapes, and history that tourists flock to see.
Ronda has a population of just over 36,000 – a fair sized village by these standards – and is well mapped out, which means you could potentially see it all in a day if visiting from the coast. However, in only a day, what you’ll miss is the opportunity to experience it in depth. Horse riding, vineyard tours and tastings, local food, flamenco classes and hiking routes are all superb options if you stay a bit longer. Organic wine is gaining popularity in the region, and producers are going to great lengths to produce the finest wines here. While it may cost you a little more than usual, one sip is enough to make it worth your while! Ronda also hosts events through the year, such as its annual feria (fair) in September and the Ronda Romantica in May. Visit during the summer and you’ll see live music popping up near historic monuments, and a public swimming pool lets you lay out your towel and catch some sun even if you’re not coastside!
Setenil de las Bodegas
Close to Ronda, this is one of the smaller white villages and truly one of a kind. Rather than being built on a hilltop, Setenil almost seems to emerge from the rocks. The homes are connected to the hills, but it’s often hard to tell how far back they go as all you can see is the front wall and rock roof! Animals are raised and farmed in the surrounding hills, and the village is well known for the quality of its local chorizo and pork products. I visited Setenil one late September afternoon and although the climb up to some of the higher spots was a challenge in the heat, the views were completely worth it. Watching the sun set over wine and olive groves makes you realise just how much Andalucía has to offer. Every summer also sees a week-long feria that has the whole village out celebrating until the early hours of the morning!
Grazalema is roughly 45 minutes from Ronda and has a population of less than 3000. It is beautiful, well-kept and a popular starting point for many hiking routes, whose roads will generally lead you back to the main square for a well-deserved drink. Local cheeses and preserves are my favourite purchase whenever I visit and I have known one friend to go back more often than usual just because she cannot find what she loves anywhere else! The village as a traditional weekly market for delectable fresh fruits, vegetables, cloth and handicrafts. Visit during its summer feria and you’re likely to catch sight of the running of the bulls, still popular here; you’ll also have access to open-air movie screenings, local plays and musicians. Here is where you can truly experience life in a small Spanish village.
Perhaps my most recent discovery, Genalguacil sits at the end of a very long and winding road with numerous steep climbs and many scary hairpin bends. I’d advise travelers to take the drive slow and steady, which won’t be too tedious given the stunning vistas, cork tree orchards, and vast hills of chestnut trees. This village is a delight for art lovers and the offbeat: dotted all around it are art pieces, sculptures, paintings and statues, some which require a sharp eye to spot.
The art fair is a main event every year, when more pieces are displayed or installed. Artists are happy to converse and explain their works. Small bars and tapas can be found through the streets, offering a break from the walking. If Ronda is your base, definitely consider visiting Genalguacil – only an hour away – but be prepared with sturdy shoes and a camera!
Ardales is the village I always drive past but have yet to visit! On my regular route from Ronda to Malaga it sits quite uniquely in its own area. The bright, white houses stand against an ever-changing landscape – luscious greens through the autumn, winter and early spring before the land starts to dry under the heat of the sun and everything turns a different shade of gold and brown. It has the famous Caminito del Rey on its borders as well as amazing reservoirs for camping, kayaking, swimming and walking. However, it is not without its own history – the church was once a Moorish mosque and there are deep caves to be explored with well-preserved drawings and paintings. Don’t be shocked if you thought you had a good grasp of Spanish, because the strength of the Andaluce accent here will take you back to basics (though the locals will still appreciate your attempts)
by Alima Rehman