Absorb the tranquillity as you meander through the narrow, charismatic streets and open squares, noting the blend of Arabic layout and design with eighteenth century grandeur and ornamentation. The White villages of the Sierra de Grazalema natural park are waiting to be explored.
This guide offers you a choice of 3 short tours passing from village to village through stunning surroundings of lush Mediterranean woodlands and high mountain passes, with each white-washed population cluster separated by stunning Andalusian scenery.
The mountains of Western Andalucia
Encompassing the north east of Cádiz and north west of Málaga provinces, this area is saturated in history with palaeolithic cave paintings, neolithic dolmens, bronze and copper age remains, Roman roads, Visigoth fountains and Moorish towers.
For the most part, this tour takes us through towns created during almost 800 years of Muslim settlement. Berber tribes arrived here in around 714, coming from similar mountainous terrain in Morocco. They chose easily defended sites and built watch towers as an early warning system against attack. All of which was needed as this area was a lasting frontier between the Muslim and Christian kingdoms. The Moors were killed, expelled or converted to Christianity in this area in around 1483-5 under the command of Don Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marquis of Cádiz.
This part of Andalucía has seen many fluctuations, with a steep population decline during a Black Death epidemic ‘Epidemia de peste’ in the 12th C, the French invasion ‘Guerra de la Independencia’ 1808-1814 and an economical boom and growth in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A time when Bandits ‘Bandeleros’ lived in hiding and stole from the wealthy, often attacking travellers in the mountains and forests.
The ‘Pueblos Blancos’ or White Villages of Andalusia preserve a cultural heritage. And whilst each village displays its individual history and continues to pass on artisan crafts through the generations, they also embrace modern living and offer the visitor many modern day conveniences. For example, wifi internet connection is available in almost all bars and restaurants and certainly all hotels.
Local Produce and basis of the cuisine:
Olive Oil, Iberian cured ham and cold meat cuts, cured – spicy sausages, trout, wild boar, rabbit, venison Cured and fresh cheeses from sheep, goat and cow’s milk. Soups, stews, wild asparagus, spanish oyster thistle, quince jelly, sweet pastries, liquors, wines
Crafts: Woollen textiles, ceramics, leather goods, woven esparto grass, carved wood, basketry, cork furniture, cosmetics,
Route 1: Grazalema-Benamahoma-El Bosque-Zahara-Grazalema
This route begins and ends with spectacular mountain scenery, the mirador at Puerto de Boyar gives a panoramic view of the plains and later takes you up to the highest road pass in the Sierra de Grazalema “Puerta de las Palomas” giving you an almost birds eye view of the sierras and beyond.
Route 2: Grazalema-Acinipo-Setenil-Ronda-Grazalema
Visit the Roman theatre of Acinipo, and from this vantage point look back across the sierras, Setenil has a unique river setting and is well known for its excellent cuisine and cave restaurants. In Ronda, park the car and head for The tajo gorge which divides Ronda in two halves joined by the world renowned “Puente Nuevo” bridge. Check this walking tour of Ronda.
Route 3: Grazalema-Villaluenga-Ubrique-El Bosque-Benamahoma-Grazalema
Villaluenga is the smallest and highest of the villages, Ubrique the largest, with many historic monuments, El Bosque boasts a botanic garden of plants from the sierras.
Benaocaz: population 751 (2011), 793 m above sea level
This village lies in a fold of the Sierra del Caíllo, it was created by the Muslims, and traces back to 715. You can step back in time with a walk along the Roman road which crosses from Villaluenga to Ubrique
- Ermita de San Blas 1716
- Ermita del Calvario 18th C
- San Pedro Apóstol 16th C.
- The Eco-Museum takes you from prehistory to modern day in the area.
Benamahoma: population 429, 500m above sea level
Built in the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar, it lies within the municipality of Grazalema and comes under its jurisdiction.
It contains the ‘Fuente de Nacimiento’ a natural spring that gives rise to the river Majaceite that flows towards El Bosque. On its banks is the Water Museum ‘Eco-museum del Agua’ which demonstrates how important water power has been in the growth of this area. Creating olive oil and flour are the most obvious, but water powered mills were also used in making dough for bread, in carpentry and processing (fulling) wool for the textile industry.
El Bosque: population 2,117 (2011), 298 m above sea level
A more modern town, as the area was a gift from the Catholic Monarchs to Don Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marquis of Cádiz. After taking control of the Sierras de Cádiz from the Muslims he went on to be commander in chief of the war at Granada. With the Marquis came a large entourage which required extra accommodation, and so the hamlet grew. In 1815 King Ferdinand VII granted them the title of a town, due to the heroic behaviour of the population during the French occupation.
The Rio Majaciete runs beside the village, making use of this fresh torrent of water is the most southern trout farm in Europe and the Molino de Abajo; a water powered flour mill and bakery museum.
- Hermita del Calvario, 18th C
- Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, 18th C
- Jardin Botanico: a botanic garden which holds a large, well marked, selection of local plant-life amidst natural surroundings.
Grazalema: population 2,206 (2011), 812m above sea level.
Situated in a mountain cleft below the impressive peak named Peñon Grande. The original part of the village was built during the Muslim era, with the upper parts extending during the economical growth of the 18th and 19th centuries. This village gives its name to the surrounding natural park, Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, the heart of which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977 to protect the wealth of fauna and flora, especially the endemic Spanish Fir tree (Abies pinsapo) and a larger area was designated as Natural Park in 1984 by the Junta de Andalucía.
- Ermita del Calvario 18th C (Ruins on the hillside)
- Nuestra Señora de la Aurora 17th C
- Iglesia de San Juan 18th C
- Parroquial de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación 17th C
- Iglesia de San José on the site of a former 17th C Carmelite Convent.
Prado del Rey: population 5,941 (2011), 440 m above sea level
Located on the outer edge of the mountain range this village was created in the 18th c as a way to increase the population of this area in Andalucía. Land was given to families in the locality and later to those from the north to consolidate the re-population. There were Neolithic and bronze age artefacts showing signs of earlier settlements, although the most famous is the nearby Roman town of Iptuci, which is not open to visitors.
The design of the town layout reflects its more recent creation with a grid of streets laid around a central square. It grew economically through wine production in the 19th c and more recently by making leather wear and furniture.
Ronda: population 36,793 (2011), 723 m above sea level.
Ronda is a modern city, compared with the small white villages. It contains important cultural heritage, as well as a natural beauty being perched on vertical cliffs over a narrow river gorge.
An easily defended high point, positioned on an important trade route, this plateaux saw many changes in control before the arrival of the Muslims in 713. As with many other towns in the area it was taken by the Catholic Monarchs in 1485. In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic invasion and the subsequent Peninsular War caused much suffering in Ronda, whose inhabitants were greatly reduced.
- Puente Nuevo 18th C
- Baños árabes 13th and 14th centuries
- Murallas y Puertas Islámicas
- Iglesia del Espíritu Santo: construction began in 1485
- Palacio de Mondragón: historical and archaeological museum
Setenil de las Bodegas: population 2,951 (2011), 640 m above sea level
The original castle was built in the 12th c by the Muslims. It is situated on a bluff above this unusual village. Whereas most villages here are built on the mountainside, much of Setenil is built literally into the curves of a river gorge. Many of the houses take advantage of an overhanging rock ledge, simply building a front wall which encloses the natural caverns behind.
This site was considered strategic in the war to over-throw the Muslim power. The first attempt in 1407 failed and it is said that the origin of the town’s name reflects seven failed attacks ‘septem nihil’. Finally being taken by the Catholic Monarchs in 1484, practically destroying the castle to gain control. ‘Bodegas’ refers to wineries but the infamous phylloxera virus devastated vines in the Cádiz and Málaga area around the 1870’s.
- Castillo Fortaleza 12th-13th C.
- Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación 16th C.
- Antigua Casa Consistorial 16th C.
Ubrique: population 16, 873 (2011), 330 m above sea level
Settlement in the Ubrique area has been traced back to the Palaeolithic times and there is also evidence of Ibero or pre-Roman settlement. The Roman road still visible today would have connected Ubrique with Acinipo. Along with many other mountain villages, Ubrique was conquered by the soldiers of the Catholic Monarchs in 1485.
In the early 19th century, the villagers fought valiantly against the French occupation lead by Napoleon and many of their names are still remembered by local historians. During this time much of the area’s finest architecture was burned along with archives dating back to the 15th century.
It was in the 17th century that the first leather factories were set up, a craft for which the village has gained world fame.
- Convento de Capuchinos 17th C
- El Castillo de Fátima o Cardela 12th – 13th C
- Ocurris 4th c BC Iberian-Roman
Villaluenga del Rosario: population 485 (2011), 858 m above sea level, making it the highest in the province of Cádiz .
Founded by the Muslims in 716 and taken by the Christian Monarchs in 1485. It is built on the rugged slopes of an enclosed valley and dominated by the vertical cliffs of Sierra del Caillo. The bullring was built in the 18th C and is the oldest in the province. It is an unusual design, being polygonal rather than circular in shape and the seating is made from the local stone.
The ‘Sima de Villaluenga’ is a sink hole just below the village. There is a sign-posted walk to this rocky, vertical cavern. The initial drop is 60m, and water travelling through the cave system surfaces at Ubrique. This valley is popular with cavers.
- Iglesia de San Miguel, 16th C.
- Iglesia del Salvador, was burnt down during the Peninsular War against France and is now used as a cemetery.
- Calzada Medieval, Roman road towards Benaocaz
Zahara de la Sierra: population 1,522 (2011), 500 m above sea level
The castle was built in the 13th Century by the Muslims and rebuilt in the 14th Century. It played a vital role in the conquests and reconquests which took place between 1407 and 1483. It is perched on a hill in a strategic position between Seville and Ronda, on what was the western border of the last Muslim Kingdom in the Peninsula. The views out from the tower are a worthwhile and spectacular reward after a fairly steep ascent.
On the rock above the village, inside the interpretation centre, are the remains from an Iberian cistern, a Roman cistern, a Christian church from the first conquest in 1407, which was replaced by a Mosque and on top of all of those a Christian church which fell into disrepair.
- Capilla de San Juan de Letrán (1958)
- Torre del Reloj (clock tower) 16th c.
- Iglesia de Santa María de la Mesa 17th c.
- El Vinculo, an antique olive oil press on the road to Grazalema.
Acinipo: (This is not one of the white villages)
Ronda La Vieja or Acinipo was originally an Iberian settlement which came under Roman rule at the end of the Second Punic War around 202 BC with the defeat of General Hannibal and Carthage. Acinipo, as it was known to the Romans, is thought to mean “Amongst the vineyards”. Whilst most of the architectural sights to be seen are from the Roman age, there are also important prehistoric habitation remains with the oldest dating from the Neolithic period of around 4000 years ago through the Copper and Bronze ages.
It is located on a high, easily defensible hill of 999 metres in the Serranía de Ronda. It contains the remarkable remains of the Roman theatre built in the 1st century that include the lower seating levels carved from the very bedrock and much of the original main wall is intact apart from some rather ugly concrete reparation work carried out during the 1980’s.
The tiered seating was sufficient for 2000 people and separate entrances kept the classes apart whilst the main wall would have been adorned with the statues of gods and emperors, the all powerful benefactors that controlled the lives of the citizens.
Acinipo was abandoned in the sixth century after many years of decline starting from the third century. A once powerful city that minted its own coinage and had its own magistrates was left to ruin with the centre of power switching to what is now the town of Ronda. The coins were stamped with a triple bunch of grapes on one side and the word “Acinipo” between ears of wheat on the other side and it is believed the coinage was produced from 56 to 53 BC.
Entry times Tuesday to Saturday: 10.00 to 16.00 (Gates locked at 17.00):
Sunday: 09.00 to 13.00 (Gates locked at 14.00).