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Ubrique. Turismo Cádiz
The unmissable route through the white villages of southern Spain's Cadiz province, as recommended by National Geographic
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The unmissable route through the white villages of southern Spain's Cadiz province, as recommended by National Geographic

The prestigious travel publication proposes this 'slow tourism' itinerary through some of the most charming small towns and villages of the area in the Andalucía region ·

A.T.

Seville

Tuesday, 18 June 2024, 18:44

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In the heart of Cadiz province, in the midst of her mountains, lies a route that fascinates those in search of landscapes to die for, plus bags of history and culture: the Route of the White Villages. Recommended by National Geographic, this route takes in some 20 whitewashed villages that look like something out of a fairytale. Here we present a selection of some of the most noteworthy, with a short rundown of what each has to offer so that you can immerse yourself in their charm as you explore them.

Setenil de las Bodegas

Setenil de las Bodegas. ABC

Under an impressive rocky outcrop, Setenil de las Bodegas is distinguished by its houses embedded in natural caves. This peculiar village, of Nasrid origin, has taken advantage of its geography to protect itself, both from past invasions and the sun, by using the caves in the cliffs that border the river Trejo. Strolling through Setenil means discovering surprising views and charming nooks and crannies in streets such as Herrerías and Cuevas del Sol. Today these spaces, once used for defence, are home to bars, restaurants and hotels that attract visitors from all over the world.

The Torre del Homenaje (a castle keep), part of an ancient fortress from the Almohad dynasty, and the 15th century church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación are historical landmarks in the village.

The Casa de la Damita, which houses a museum collection, is renowned for the piece known as La Damita de Setenil, a 5,000-year-old idol of Venus that bears witness to human occupation of these caves since prehistoric times.

Medina Sidonia

Medina Sidonia. Turismo Cádiz

With a rich history dating back to Roman times, Medina Sidonia is today the capital of the area of La Janda. This town, perched on the hill of El Castillo, has a layout of labyrinthine streets and whitewashed façades so typical of the white villages of Cadiz. Remnants of its past include the remains of a Roman fortress, an Almoravid fortress and a 15th century medieval castle.

The Arco de Belén (Bethlehem Arch) is the entranceway to the historic centre, where you can find cultural treasures such as the church of Santa María la Mayor, with its mixture of Renaissance and Gothic-Mudejar styles, and the Archaeological Museum.

Olvera

Olvera. Turismo Cádiz

Situated in the north-east of the Sierra mountains of Cadiz province, Olvera sits on a rocky hill dominated by its medieval fortress and the church of La Encarnación. This 12th century fortress of Nasrid origin offers impressive panoramic views from its keep.

The labyrinth of whitewashed streets that wind their way up to the castle is one of Olvera's most charming features. This small town, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest , was a stronghold of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada until the Christian Reconquest. Its layout and monuments reflect its rich history and the strategic importance it held for centuries.

Benamahoma

Benamahoma. Turismo Cádiz

This small village, located in the western peaks of the Cadiz mountains, is a paradise for nature lovers. Nestled in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park , Benamahoma is surrounded by lush vegetation.

The Ecomuseum of Water, housed in an old mill, is one of the main attractions of the village. Here you can see how watermills were put to many uses - to make oil and flour, or even as a fulling mill (to wash woven textiles) and to power bread ovens. All were done by harnessing the power of the Majaceite river.

 The Moors and Christians festival held in August is another big attraction, filling the streets with colour and tradition.

Arcos de la Frontera

Arcos de la Frontera. Turismo Cádiz

Considered the gateway to the Route of the White Villages, Arcos de la Frontera sits on the yellowish rock of La Peña. The castle of Arcos, atop the rocky outcrop, offers spectacular views of the town and the surrounding plains, as well as of the Guadalete riverbed and Arcos reservoir.

The historic centre , declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, is yet another labyrinth of steep, narrow streets. Its key monuments include the minor basilica of Santa María de la Asunción and the Parador de Turismo, which stands in the Plaza del Cabildo. There is a legend that dragons are said to dwell in the bowels of La Peña, adding a mystical touch to the visit.

Grazalema

Grazalema. ABC

Nestled in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, this picturesque village is famous for its steep slopes dotted with whitewashed farmhouses. Grazalema is surrounded by forests that are home to the protected Spanish fir (pinsapo), making it an ideal destination for hikers and nature lovers.

The old part of the village preserves manor houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Calle Piedras. The church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación, rebuilt in the 17th century on top of the site of a Mudejar temple, and the church of San Juan de Letrán, from the 18th century, are some of its most outstanding buildings. You can also visit an ancient Roman fountain with eight sculpted lions' heads and a public washing place for laundry and kitchen items that operated until the end of the 19th century.

Villaluenga del Rosario

Villaluenga del Rosario. Turismo Cádiz

Villaluenga del Rosario, the highest of the white villages in Cadiz, lies in a remote valley between Grazalema and Benaocaz. At an altitude of 858 metres above sea level, it is also the smallest village in the province. Its Moorish foundation and its historical importance as the capital of the Siete Villas (the seven villages in the Sierra de Grazalema) are reflected in its monuments, such as the church of El Salvador and the church of San Miguel, both dating from the 16th century.

The village is known for making cheese, celebrated year-round with a cheese museum and also with an annual, very popular, springtime cheese fair. Visitors can taste and buy cheese at local workshops, experiencing this culinary tradition first hand.

Ubrique

Ubrique. Turismo Cádiz

The largest of the white villages of Cadiz, Ubrique lies at the bottom of a valley protected by cliffs where birds of prey nest. This town is famous for its leather industry, a tradition that dates back to Arab times and is still an economic driving force in the area today.

Among the monuments in Ubrique are the 16th-century church of Nuestra Señora de la O and the church of San Pedro, dating from 1801. The Plaza de las Verduras is the gateway to the historic quarter, from where an ancient Roman road leads to Benaocaz, passing the Salto del Moro and the remains of the Iberian and Roman settlement of Ocuri.

Zahara de la Sierra

Zahara de la Sierra. Turismo Cádiz

Surrounded by the highest peaks of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park and the reservoir of the same name, Zahara de la Sierra is a village that preserves the essence of inland Cadiz. Its castle, built from a rocky outcrop, dates from the 13th to 15th centuries, and offers an impressive view from its keep.

The village, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest , is characterised by its whitewashed houses and narrow streets that wind their way up to the fortress. The Muslim history of the area is reflected in the architecture and traditions that still survive in Zahara de la Sierra.

Torre Alháquime

Torre Alháquime. Turismo Cádiz

A few kilometres from Olvera and Setenil de las Bodegas, Torre Alháquime is a small white village with a rich Arab past. Founded by the Al-Haquim dynasty, its name means 'tower of the wise'. The strategic position of Torre Alháquime on the border between the kingdoms of Granada and Castile made it an important defensive bastion.

The remains of the Nasrid fortress and the medieval wall can still be seen in the village, along with the archway (Arco de la Villa) and the church of Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, built in 1755. In the 19th century, Torre Alháquime was also a refuge for bandits, adding a touch of mystery and intrigue to its history.

Alcalá de los Gazules

Alcalá de los Gazules. Tursimo Cádiz

Located in the Alcornocales Natural Park and overlooking Barbate river, Alcalá de los Gazules is distinguished by its white uniformity and labyrinthine layout. The old quarter of the town , within the walls of the old medieval citadel, preserves its historical essence, while the convents of Santo Domingo and La Victoria mark its expansion outside the walls from the 16th century onwards.

The church of San Jorge, located at the highest point of the village, stands on the site of the old Muslim mosque, symbolising the historical and cultural transformation of Alcalá de los Gazules over the centuries.

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