A weekend in the White Towns of Cadiz
Arcos de la Frontera
Zahara de la Sierra
A spare two days is all you need to explore a landscape of exceptional beauty on a tour of the famous “white towns” of Cadiz province. These are 19 charming small towns and villages of whitewashed houses in and around Grazalema Natural Park. With a short time to spend, we’ll choose three of them: Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra.
Arcos de la FronteraMany people regard Arcos de la Frontera as the gateway to the White Towns, and it’s certainly a good starting point for this mini-tour. The town is easy to reach by road because it’s just 40 kilometres from Jerez Airport and about 70 from the city of Cadiz. It also has a lovely Parador hotel if you would prefer to stay the night.Its streets are typical of the White Towns: steep and narrow, and lined with little whitewashed houses. To start the day, you could try the local traditional hearty breakfast of toast with “manteca colorá” - pork lard with paprika and other spices. There are even some inns with terraces where you can have breakfast with a view of the town. Next, climb the streets to the top of the crag that Arcos is perched on, to enjoy a lovely view of the mountains and countryside of Cadiz.As you walk around Arcos, stop for a closer look at the Minor Basilica of Santa María, the church of San Pedro, the castle, the palace of the Conde de Águila, the Convent of San Agustín, and the Town Hall. The town centre is full of craftwork shops where you can buy ceramics and pottery, among other handmade items. For lunch, there are several bars and restaurants where you can enjoy excellent tapas and traditional local dishes, on Calle Marqués de Torresoto, Calle Maldonado or Calle Josefa Moreno Segura, for example.GrazalemaGrazalema is 47 kilometres from Arcos, along a winding mountain road, which is quite unusual in southern Spain. As in Arcos, in Grazalema you can stroll around the village centre enjoying the scene of the white houses nestled among the mountains and glowing in the bright light of this area of Andalusia. There are several mansions with lovely façades.As you walk around, take a moment to enjoy the views from its three miradores or viewing points. There is one by the public car park, plus Mirador de los Peñascos, with a view over Grazalema itself, and Mirador del Tajo, looking out over the Sierra de Cádiz. The churches of San José and San Juan de Letrán, the old communal laundry places, and the Blanket Museum are also interesting. In fact “mantas de Grazalema”, woollen blankets, are among the handmade craft items traditionally made in the village. Others include pastries, chacinas (sausages) and Payoyo cheese. If you happen to be visiting the village at the weekend, you could even try your hand at making this cheese at Granja Las Hazuelas farm and guesthouse.
In contact with natureOne of the things that make the White Towns of Cadiz so attractive is their natural setting. To experience it to the full, we suggest outdoor activities on the morning of the second day. There are various options: in Grazalema, for example, you might like to hike the Pinsapar. This is a nature trail through some beautiful scenery featuring pinsapos or Spanish fir. There are companies offering walking tours, and it usually takes a whole morning. After that, you can come back to the town for lunch, or relax at the Grazalema spa.Zahara de la SierraAnother place to get close to nature is Zahara de la Sierra, about 15 kilometres from Grazalema along a winding mountain road with spectacular views. Zahara offers excursions on horseback through the Spanish fir forest and the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Reserve. Just before Zahara you'll come to the Acebuches pass, which marks the start of a well-known hiking trail through the Sierra de Cadiz, the Garganta Verde route. It takes about four hours to complete, and although of medium difficulty, it’s worth it for the beautiful scenery.After an active morning in the mountains, we come to the village of Zahara: a typical Andalusian white village, crowned by the ruins of a 13th century Nasrid castle. After lunch, you can stroll through the narrow streets of the village, stopping at the church of Santa María de la Mesa, and especially, in the Nasrid settlement. This is the oldest part of Zahara, dating from the Middle Ages. Here you can still see traces of the fortified Roman and Arab walls.When you leave Zahara, you could visit the Molino del Manzanillo (on the outskirts of the village), an olive mill which makes the local oil, and take a tour of the olive groves or an oil tasting. We recommend booking in advance.
You need prior permission to hike the Garganta Verde route, as it is officially a protected area. You can get a permit from the Zahara Tourist Office.Streets in the White Towns tend to be steep, so we recommend wearing comfortable shoes.
Have you found this information useful?