The pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalucía, nestled in valleys and perched on hilltops, are stunning. Here are 5 of the best, as well as blue one and an easy way to visit them.
The pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalucía are a dreamy reminder of a time gone by. Narrow cobbled lanes winding in and out of whitewashed homes connect tiny squares and centuries-old churches. The quiet of these rural villages is broken only by church bells, the low murmur of voices or the faint sound of Spanish shoes on uneven stones. Amongst the sea of white, fragrant orange trees break the monochrome in perfectly shaped green.
But it’s not just the towns themselves that are beautiful. An enviable location sets them apart from villages you might find elsewhere. Perched on hilltops or cosily nestled in valleys, they look out over the undulating scenery of Southern Spain. A region that still bears the hallmarks of Islamic and Christian conflict.
Some of the best white villages in Andalucía lie conveniently close to one another; connecting them via a road trip is an excellent way to see them. If you have little ones, take these printable travel games and enjoy a colourful trip through beautiful scenery.
Here are 5 of the best pueblos blancos in Andalucía, as well as a blue one and an easy way to visit them.
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1 – ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA
Arcos de la Frontera stands on top of a towering sandstone cliff around which the Guadalete river flows. As the name suggests, for years it sat on the frontier between warring Muslims and Christians. The former chose this strategic clifftop location to provide protection from attackers.
Today, this peaceful village belies a more dangerous past. Narrow lanes wind up and over the clifftop. With very few shops and cafes in the village, it maintains an ageless feel. Cabildo Square, at the top of the village, contains a 15th-century church built over the remains of a Moorish fortress; the town hall and – Arcos de la Frontera’s star attraction – sweeping views over the Andalucían landscape.
It doesn’t take long to stroll around the village and you can pick up a useful map and guide at the tourist office on the way up to the square.
The real reason Arcos de la Frontera makes our list is the view from the bottom. Standing by the meandering Guadalete river and craning your neck skywards, you can see the white facades of Arcos’s houses and churches barely peeking over the vertical cliff wall.
2 – GRAZALEMA
Grazalema is one of our favourite pueblos blancos, not because there’s much to see (there isn’t), or because it has excellent Spanish food (it definitely doesn’t). Grazalema makes the list for its enviable location.
Sat on a rocky ledge, deep in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, towering craggy mountains rise all around it, giving it a dwarfed feel that’s ideal for some classic pueblos blancos photography. There is no better way to savour the scene than by grabbing a seat in its main square, ordering a terrible coffee and staring in awe at the rocky monoliths that peer over white houses and their red-tiled roofs.
The other winning aspect of Grazalema is its central position in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. The park has excellent hiking trails through magnificent scenery. It’s famous for the Spanish Fir tree which is fiercely protected in the park, as a result, some areas required a permit to enter. If you have more time and you’re interested in hiking to the highest peak in the area, read about the climb up to El Torreón.
3 – ZAHARA DE LA SIERRA
Zahara is our favourite white village in Andalucía. Perched on the side of a hill in the northern part of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, it’s postcard-ready with magnificent views, a cute atmosphere, a little history, some interesting churches and good eating and sleeping options.
The town is overlooked by a 13th-century Moorish castle that sits on a rocky promontory. After all the driving on your pueblos blancos tour, the stroll up to the castle will get the heart pumping. Here for 150 years, during the 14th and 15th centuries, Muslims stood on this castle and stared across at the Christian white town of Olvera which you can still see in the distance today. The village also contains two churches (one of which is gaudy pink and red) and a maze of windy lanes and squares that dribble down the hill.
Unlike many other white villages, some decent food and accommodation options have found their place in Zahara. Some competition has even entered the equation with a number of tapas bars vying for attention from locals and tourists.
4 – SETENIL DE LAS BODEGAS
People live in some strange places and the inhabitants of Setenil de las Bodegas are literally living under a rock. The village lies along the gorge of Trejo river and the walls of this gorge contain many natural caves. Locals over the years built white facades over the cave entrances and created homes. Cheap to build and cool in summer, they were ideal for storing food pre-refrigeration. They have been dwellings ever since, accumulating in one of the most interesting pueblos blancos in the area.
The name of the town comes from the Latin words ‘septem nihil’ referring to the seven times the Catholic monarchs tried to recapture the town from the Moors. Bodegas reflect the vineyards that Christians introduced after they finally succeeded. In the 1860s an insect infestation destroyed the vines and they never recovered. Its heritage remains in name only.
It’s a great place to stroll the streets and explore the houses that are built into the rock, but like many of the pueblos blancos, it goes to bed early. It’s a very quiet place in the evening, with barely a restaurant open.
5 – RONDA
In the interests of full disclosure, Ronda is not really a village, it’s more of a town. But it is white and it is beautiful.
Sitting on a vertical-sided plateau the town is cut in half by the El Tajo river, which has carved a 100m deep canyon through the rock. A bridge spans the canyon joining the two halves of the town. It’s a stunning setting and no surprise it regularly features on European bucket lists.
The old town dates from Islamic times and signs of its Moorish past can still be seen today. The mosque is now a church, the Moorish palace a mansion, and Arab baths lie ruined in the shadows of the gorge. The town also has one of the finest bull rings in the country.
You can easily spend a day exploring all the buildings, hiking up and down the gorge and staring at the sweeping views. Those in the know grab lunch at Casa Maria just outside the southern walls of the town where Maria serves whatever is fresh that day.
6 – JÚZCAR
Before 2011 Júzcar was just another one of the many pueblos blancos perched over the Rio Genal. Life was slow and the odd visitor came to hike its verdant paths. But in spring of that year, the entire town was painted blue to celebrate the worldwide premiere of the Smurf movie, held in little old Júzcar.
The plan was to paint it white again after the premiere ended. But the blue village had created a mini-sensation and it is estimated 95,000 people had visited over the course of 6 months. The locals smurfed out an opportunity and decided to leave the town blue.
The joy of Júzcar is that, while a bit gimmicky, it’s actually a fun place set in a beautiful location. Large statues of Smurfs and colourful red mushrooms dot the town, murals and cartoons cover the walls, and cute road signs show you the way. Within an hour you will have explored every nook and cranny but what a fun hour it is.
WHITE VILLAGES DRIVING ITINERARY
Our selection of pueblos blancos are spread amongst the magnificent scenery of three of the finest regions in Andalucía: the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Park, the Sierra de las Nieves and the Genal Valley.
So not only is exploring the villages a joy, the drives between them are stunning. As an alternative to relaxing on stunning beaches, the white villages of Andalucía are one of the best things to do in Spain in winter.
Arcos // Start at Arcos de la Frontera and stroll the town in the morning. Hop in the car then stop by the river at the bottom of the cliff for excellent photo opportunities up to the town. Next, take the beautiful drive through El Bosque and on to Grazalema. Keep your eyes peeled for the ibex that live on the slopes.
Grazalema // Stop for a quick coffee in Grazalema’s main square, staring up at the craggy mountains rising above the village. Then take the CA-9104, a magnificent steep windy mountain road that ascends to the 1331-metre high mirador of Puerta de Palomas. Stop and survey the scene including the 400-metre-deep Garganta Verde canyon, before heading on to Zahara.
Zahara // The approach to Zahara offers a great view of the white village perched under the Moorish castle. Park the car and stroll the town, making sure you visit both the churches and if you have the energy the Moorish Castle at the top. For lunch, there is nowhere better than the tapas at Cerveceria El Gallo.
Sentenil // After lunch head to Setenil de Bodegas. It’s a short walk to visit the few locations where the dwelling’s roofs disappear into the rock. It’s interesting, but there’s not a lot to see, so after a quick stroll around, drive on to Ronda.
Ronda // The next day, spend the morning strolling the old city, the gorge and the bull ring. Grab lunch at Casa Maria and when you are finished exploring, hop in the car and head to the blue village of Júzcar.
Júzcar // After a beautiful drive from Ronda, stroll around Júzcar for an hour or so, collecting photos of this unique blue village to complete your tour of the best white villages in Andalucía. And a blue one.
PUEBLOS BLANCOS (WHITE VILLAGES) DRIVING ROUTE
50 km in 55 minutes
17 km in 30 minutes
ZAHARA DE LA SIERRA TO SETENIL DE LAS BODEGAS
40 km in 45 minutes
18 km in 30 minutes
24 km in 35 minutes
WHERE TO STAY TO VISIT THE PUEBLOS BLANCOS OF ANDALUCÍA
For this tour of the white villages, we recommend staying in Ronda with is a great option for both backpacking in Spain, or indulging in a local atmospheric townhouse. It’s a fantastic destination with an impressive view, some interesting history and the pick of the food options in the area. It’s definitely the place you’ll appreciate spending a bit longer exploring.
HOW TO GET TO THE PUEBLOS BLANCOS OF ANDALUCÍA
The Pueblos Blancos are located in southwestern Spain. The closest international airports for this itinerary are Seville (1 hour from Arcos de la Frontera) or Malaga (2 hours from Júzcar).
Both cities are easily worth visiting in their own right, in particular, we had a great 3 days in Seville.
For a hire car while visiting the villages, we recommend rentalcars.com. They provide a cost comparison across all the major can rental companies making it easy to see the best rates.
MORE READING FOR YOUR SPAIN TRIP
Andalucía is one of our favourite areas in Spain. With an excellent climate, world-class cities and beautiful nature parks, it’s a fantastic southern European destination. Here are more of our guides from the area.
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