A weekend in the White Villages of Cadiz
If you have a couple of days, Cadiz offers a great way to enjoy nature and explore its extraordinarily beautiful rural landscapes: the white villages set within its mountain areas. There are a total of 19 charming villages with small white houses located in the area around the Grazalema Nature Reserve. As we don't have much time, we'll be visiting just three of these villages: Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra.
Arcos de la Frontera
Considered by many to be the gateway to the area of the White Villages, Arcos de la Frontera makes the perfect starting point for our route. The town is easy to reach by car, and is about 40 kilometres from Jerez airport, and 70 km from the city of Cadiz. It also has a Parador (state-owned luxury hotel) which is a perfect place to spend the night.
It has the typical streets of all the White Villages: steep and narrow, with low whitewashed houses. We can start off the day with a hearty breakfast of toast with manteca colorá or manteca con zurrapa (types of pork pâté). There are eateries with outdoor terraces so we can have breakfast gazing out over the town. Then, a walk through the sloping streets will take us up to the top of the hill on which Arcos stands, where we will be rewarded by spectacular views over the Sierra de Cadiz mountains.
During our walk around Arcos we can stop off at points such as the Minor Basilica of Santa María, the church of San Pedro or the Andalusí Gardens (all open only in the morning). In the centre of the town there are also numerous crafts shops selling ceramics and pottery. At lunchtime, there are several bars and traditional restaurants in Arcos where you can sample first-rate tapas and all the typical mountain dishes in streets like Marqués de Torresoto, Maldonado or Josefa Moreno.
Grazalema is 47 kilometres from Arcos, and on our way we can see the high mountain road which is so uncommon in the south of Spain. As in Arcos, we can stroll around the centre of Grazalema enjoying the views of the white houses in their mountain setting, illuminated by the radiant sunlight to be found in this area of Andalusia. You will also notice several noble houses with attractive façades.
There are three viewing points which are obligatory stops on our walk around the town: one in the public car park; one in the Peñascos which offers a view of Grazalema itself; and one over the Tagus river, where we can see across the Sierra de Cadiz mountains. Also worthy of note are the churches of San José and San Juan, the old wash houses and the Museum of Traditional Blanket Manufacturing. These “Grazalema blankets”, made from pure wool, are among the town’s most typical hand-crafted products, in addition to the sweets and pastries, and cured meats and cheeses. What’s more, if you are visiting the town at the weekend you can try your hand at making this cheese yourself in the Granja Las Hazuelas farm.
In contact with nature
The natural resources you see all around you are among the main attractions of the White Villages of Cadiz. This is why we dedicate the morning of the second day to outdoor activities. We have a whole host of options: in Grazalema, for example, we can climb up to see the fir tree forest. This is a route which brings us into close contact with nature, and offers beautiful scenery and landscapes of Spanish pinsapos (a tree belonging to the fir family which is typically found in this area). The walk may take all morning, and can be organised by specialist companies. Afterwards we can go back to the town to have lunch or relax in the Grazalema Spa.
Zahara de la Sierra
Another option which will bring us into close contact with nature is Zahara de la Sierra, located 13 kilometres from Grazalema, which is reached by a rather difficult-to-navigate road with spectacular views. Horse-riding excursions can be arranged from Zahara through the fir forest and the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Reserve. Just before we reach Zahara we come to the Acebuches pass, which marks the start of a well-known route through the Sierra de Cadiz known as the Route of the Green Gorge. This may take us about four hours to complete, and although it is classified as being of medium difficulty, it is well worth the effort due to the scenic beauty of the route.
After an active morning around the Sierra, we come to the village of Zahara. This is a typical white Andalusian village crowned by the remains of a 13th century Nasrid castle. After lunch we can stroll around its narrow streets and visit the church of Santa María de la Mesa, and particularly the Nasrid settlement. This is the old town of Zahara and dates from the Middle Ages. You can still make out the walls built by the Romans and Arabs.
On our way out of Zahara, we can make a stop at the Manzanillo Mill (on the outskirts of the town) where the local olive oil is made, and take a route through the olive groves, stopping to sample different kinds of olive oil. It is advisable to arrange the visit beforehand by phone (+34 956139006).
Things to remember
The Route of the Green Gorge requires you to obtain a permit beforehand, as it runs through a protected area. This permit can be arranged through the Zahara Tourist Office.
The streets in the White Villages are often fairly steep, so comfortable footwear is recommended
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