The rugged hills known as the Sierra de Cádiz are densely wooded with pine trees and cork oaks. Here, clinging precariously to the edges of deep river gorges or perched on rocky cliffs, are a series of fascinating fortified towns known simply as “los pueblos blancos” the white villages.
Every year the villagers white wash their houses creating an amazing contrast with the flower filled streets. They still bear the imprint of their defensive function in the 13th to 15th centuries, with ruined fortifications and walls demarcating the former frontier (frontera) of the Christian and Muslim kingdoms. The parkland surrounding many of the villages is home to mountain goat, red deer and wild boar and in the skies above one can often see griffon vultures as well as golden, booted and short-toed eagles. It is well worth visiting these villages and we have put together a drive through some of our favorites with suggestions of things to see and do as well as our recommended eating spots. Ask in reception for detailed driving directions.
Arcos de la Frontera, is only a half hour drive from the Hacienda and is famous for its architectural heritage, a mixture of arab, gothic, renaissance and neoclassic design. The old town is a labyrinth of small, undulating streets good for exploring. The Plaza del Cabildo is worth visiting and is where you will find the castle, the basilica of Santa Maria and the Parador hotel where you can stop and have a drink whilst taking in the great views of the surrounding countryside. El Convento de las Monjas Mercedarias dates back to the 17th century and used to be the town prison, it is the only remaining convent in Arcos still home to nuns. They are well-known for the biscuits and cakes they bake and which can be bought from the convent.
El Bosque sits at the entrance to the Grazalema Natural Park. The river Majaceite runs through the village and provides fresh running water to the trout farm which you can visit, it also provides hydropower for Molino Abajo, an 18th century traditional flour mill museum, which is still in working condition. The area is good for hiking and there is a nice walk that starts from the Trout farm (piscifactoria) and follows the river for aprox 5 km to Benamahoma. Please ask at reception if you would like a map.
Restaurants: Meson el Tabanco
Grazalema considered by many to be the showcase White village, it stands nearly 3000ft above sea level and was once famous for its cottage weaving industry although sadly today just one mill remains; la Antigua Fabrica de Mantas (just beyond Hotel Peñon Grade) which makes blankets, throws, rugs and shawls all of which are sold in the shop. There are some fantastic walks in the surrounding countryside, ask at reception if you would like us to book permits (may be required, depending on walk)
Fiestas: Romeria de San Isidro (Patron saint of the countryside) 24 May 2011 Toros de cuerda (running
of bulls through the village streets) 1, 2, 3 July 2011 Fiesta del Carmen July
Restaurant: el Simancon
Zahara de la Sierra, worthy of a visit and reached by a dramatic mountain road from Grazalema. Its Moorish castle is a focal point of the village. Below it is a beautiful reservoir with amazing views where you can swim in the summer. If you wish to see a traditional olive mill in operation you can visit Molino El Vinculo just outside the village which offers guided tours. Please check with reception.
Restaurant: Al Lago, A stunning setting with lake views from the terrace in which to enjoy a leisurely lunch, dinner or innovative tapas. Chef Stefan Crites, who trained in New York for many years, re-interprets some of Spain’s culinary classics with a creative and exotic touch using local organic vegetables, top quality meat and fresh fish from the markets in Cadiz.
Festivals: Corpus Christi 26 June 2011 (worth seeing, the streets are lined with palms and flowers), Romeria de Bocaleones 2nd fortnight of May, Romeria de San Juan, 2nd fortnight June, August ferias 3rd week August.
Villaluenga del Rosario, If you feel like buying some really exceptional cheese, this is the place to go. Queso Payoyo is a local cheese produced here. It is named after the Payoyo goat native to the sierra and is considered one of Spain´s finest cheeses.