Southern Spain’s Cádiz province is renowned for its sunny beaches and elegant coastal cities. Yet venture just a short drive inland and you’ll encounter the White Villages of Andalucía which are commonly known as the ‘Pueblos Blancos’. These White Villages offer a magical glimpse of traditional Andalusian life with their whitewashed houses, cobbled streets, sleepy plazas and ancient castles overlooking the valleys below.
This road trip through the Pueblos Blancos is a suggested itinerary beginning in the hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera and travelling as far as Setenil de las Bodegas which is a white village carved into a rock. You should use this route as a starting point when planning your journey as there are plenty other white villages in Cádiz which you might like to add to your itinerary.
Top 7 White Villages of Andalucía (Pueblos Blancos)
Vejer de la Frontera
Begin your Pueblos Blancos itinerary in Vejer de la Frontera, an exquisitely preserved medieval town just 10 km from the coast. Vejer stands on a lofty hilltop, its whitewashed houses ringed by ancient walls and watched over by a Moorish castle. Getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow lanes is a delight, with surprises around every corner like flower-decked plazas, tiny chapels and artisan workshops.
Climb the castle ramparts for expansive views over the surrounding countryside and coastline. From the shady Plaza de España, steps ascend through arched alleyways past hidden patios overflowing with blossoms. You should also make time to sample Vejer’s excellent local cuisine such as chocos fritos (fried cuttlefish) and fresh tuna dishes.
Head north from Vejer to reach Medina-Sidonia, a town perched on the Cerro del Castillo hill gazing out across the Bay of Cádiz. Medina-Sidonia claims to be one of the oldest towns in Spain, with its historic roots reaching back to Phoenician and Roman times. Exploring the medieval quarters transports you back centuries, especially once you pass through the grand ceremonial arches and enter the old city walls. Winding lanes lined by whitewashed houses with wrought-iron grilles on the windows slope up to the vast castle dominating the skyline.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Africa from this lofty viewpoint. The area around Medina Sidonia is also home to some large bull breeding farms where visitors can see these magnificent beasts in their natural environment.
Arcos de la Frontera
The most spectacular location of all the White Villages of Andalucía is Arcos de la Frontera which stands on a sheer sandstone ridge on top of cliffs which plummet down to the Guadalete River. The village’s historic centre (Casco Antiguo) is home to many historic buildings and a network of winding alleys which lively plazas. For the most breathtaking views, head to the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera’s clifftop terrace or take the path from Plaza Boticas to Mirador Portichuelo which overlooks the river gorge far below. Another attraction is the impressive Santa María de la Asunción church which is built right into the old castle walls.
If you’re in Arcos de la Frontera at lunchtime you’ll find a number of bars serving local specialities on their menú del día. Typical local dishes include ajoblanco (almond and garlic soup) or porra antequerana (a thick soup with tomato, bread and garlic).
Historical Note: Many towns in the area are called “de la Frontera” which results from the period of the Reconquest when the border between the Christians and the Moors was constantly changing as the battle for territory took place.
Tucked away amongst the limestone peaks of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, the white village of Grazalema is a charming place with red-tiled roofs and flower-filled balconies surrounded by mountains. Grazalema is the rainiest place in Spain which accounts for the region’s cascading waterfalls and lush forests teeming with biodiversity. The tiny cobblestone centre is lined with traditional architecture and whitewashed facades.
A number of hiking trails lead from Grazalema into the surrounding protected wilderness which is filled with rare wildlife and unique flora. An outstanding detour is the drive up to Zaframagón Cliff where Europe’s largest colony of griffon vultures nest.
Zahara de la Sierra
Zahara de la Sierra is a picture postcard Pueblo Blanco, with a tiny white village huddled beneath the towering battlements of a medieval Moorish fortress. The town cascades down a steep hillside to the waters of the Zahara-El Gastor Reservoir. For the most scenic views, take the path from the village centre up to the pine-shaded viewpoint at the cemetery.
The peaceful atmosphere of Zahara de la Sierra is more engaging than any key sights although a visit to the 18th century El Pósito chapel is well worthwhile. You should also make a point of sampling Zahara’s acclaimed olive oil – the town has grown olive groves since Phoenician times.
In the town of Olvera, stark cliffs and deep gorges carved by the Guadalporcún River surround a panorama of endless olive groves, creating a landscape of great natural beauty. Olvera’s is also home to some impressive historic architecture including a Moorish castle which overlooks the neoclassical Church of Encarnación in the Plaza de la Iglesia below.
Outdoor enthusiasts might plan to hike or cycle the 36km Vía Verde from Olvera which travels through the pine forests of the Sierra de Olvera Nature Reserve. This is another of the white villages where you must sample the local olive oil which has been produced here since Roman times.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Our final Pueblo Blanco on this suggested itinerary is Setenil de las Bodegas where the white houses have been built right into the rocky outcrops above the Rio Trejo gorge. Setenil’s sun-bleached facades and winding lanes blend seamlessly into the cliffs making it look like the village was carved right out of the stone. For the best views take the path up to the ruins of Setenil’s Moorish castle on the village’s highest point. You can walk down into the gorge along the river to see Setenil’s unique cave houses, some of which are still occupied today.
More White Villages of Andalucía
Here are a few more recommended Pueblos Blancos that could be added to expand this road trip itinerary through the white villages of Cádiz:
Ubrique – This hilltop village is known for its high quality leather goods and craftsmanship. The historic centre has picturesque whitewashed houses along steep winding streets.
Benaocaz – Situated right in the heart of the Grazalema Natural Park, Benaocaz is a breathtaking mountain village with stunning views. It’s a great base for hiking with many trails starting right in town.
Villaluenga del Rosario – This tranquil village has a large 15th century fortress complex and castle ruins overlooking olive groves and rolling hills. Its charming plaza is lined with tapas bars and cafés.
El Bosque – Deep in the hills between Grazalema and Ubrique, El Bosque charms with its flower-filled balconies and peaceful plazas. The 19th century parish church has an intricately carved wood altarpiece.
Prado del Rey – Surrounded by mountains, this village has a scenic location overlooked by a 14th century Mudéjar castle. Whitewashed houses with wrought-iron balconies line cobbled streets.
Algodonales – Sitting on the edge of the Zahara reservoir, this village offers great water sports and fishing. Its Plaza de España is filled with vibrant local life and excellent tapas bars.
El Gastor – This unspoiled pueblo blanco near the Zahara reservoir has amazing views. It’s known for handicrafts like ironwork, leather and esparto grass weaving.