December 2016 – Andalucia, Spain
We’ve been crazy fortunate to spend a good deal of time traveling around Spain over the last decade and have developed a deep appreciation for the country’s distinctive regions. From food and drink to dialect and architecture, traveling from one to the next can often feel more like visiting a neighboring country than merely province hopping.
Andalucia is the favorite of sun seekers the world over, including us. But there’s so much more to the area than well-known beaches and ritzy resorts. Topping Andalucia’s bounty of beauties are Pueblos Blancos (White Villages.) These two dozen or so Moorish settlements dramatically cap mountains throughout the southern Sierra Nevada region.
Whitewashed houses stack together along twisting narrow alleys branching from a central calle (street.) Typically, a main plaza or series of plazas punctuate the town’s heart leading to once-vital defensive fortifications. Each village serves as a living testament to the brilliance of Arab design, drawing the community together in protection while feeling expansive and welcoming.
Ronda is the most famous and one of our favorites, but the bustling town is no stranger to visitors. Smaller villages dotting the valley including Gaucin and Grazalema offer the opportunity to step off the beaten path and experience southern Spain at a slower pace. This week, we immersed in Casares, believed to be named in Roman times by Julius Caesar, who was grateful for the curative sulphur springs, (as was his liver.)
Casares’ castle was constructed by the Moors in 13th century. The walls (Murallla Arabe,) offer knock out views on a clear day — all the way to Gibraltor and across to Africa.
With a population of around 3,000, the square is lively, especially during lunch (almuerzo), and dinner (cena,) but completely tranquil (i.e. eerily silent,) during afternoon siesta (approx. 2 – 5 p.m.)
If your idea of action is hiking steep cobblestone streets for a sweeping view, contemplating glory days while checking out half-crumbling castle walls, then chasing down garlic-smothered shrimp (gambas) with a glass of white wine so smooth it’s like water, while watching generations of villagers exchange greetings in the central plaza, then Casares is a grand excursion.
For visitors so inclined, grab a balcony seat at La Bodeguita de en Medio on the main plaza de Espana. And, don’t miss the opportunity to climb up to the former castle, along the way looking for a monument dedicated to favorite son Blas Infante Perez de Vargas, celebrated as the father of Andalusia. Infante was executed by Franco’s troops, but his poetic words live on strong, much like the village itself:
“My people are there, at the end of the southern slope, nestled like a hawk on top of a protruding rock. Facing Africa’s scarps, across the Straits. Perceiving in its sides the inland sea’s drive; bellowing sweetly on calm days, roaring, and making it cloudy when its back is lashed.”
For more information about Casares and other Pueblos Blancos, the official visitor website of Andalusia is a step above most regional tourism resources. And, for a more physically-demanding visit, check out these guides to trekking the Europe’s famous GR7 pathway through Andalusia.
Next up in this 3-month Spanish immersion: We visit the under-rated coastal village of Estepona.
If you have suggestions, tips, or questions about Spain, give us an e-jingle!