Medina-Sidonia: A Guide to Spain’s Oldest Pueblo Blanco

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The pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalusia are one of the most alluring aspects of this huge, diverse region. However, while all these photogenic, historic towns share certain similarities (the “white” part, for example), each one also has its own unique features. Medina-Sidonia in Cádiz, for example, besides sporting that trendy hyphen, also happens to be the oldest of them all and one of the closest to the ocean, with the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean clearly visible from high points of town.

The history of Medina-Sidonia is truly a hot mess, dating back further than any of its white village counterparts and displaying evidence of an incredible range of conquerors and the conquered, from cave men to Visigoths, Tartessians and Romans to the Christians and Moors of the Middle Ages (oh, and don’t forget Spain).

Another handy characteristic of Medina-Sidonia is its close proximity to the wonderful old city of Cádiz, making the pretty little pueblo blanco a popular day trip destination. On the other hand, unlike some of the breathtaking hilltop castles of the interior (in places like Olvera or Zahara de la Sierra), Medina-Sidonia’s hilltop “castillo” truly fits the definition of a ruin, requiring a fair bit of imagination to picture its former glory. Nice views, though, all the way to Morocco’s Rif Mountains on a clear day (and it only costs a couple euros to enter).

Cafes and churches
Streets lined with bars perfect for taking a break

There is also a very impressive cathedral, well worth the €2.50 price tag, despite Laynni’s reticence (the guy selling tickets seemed offended by her reluctance, assuring us “es magnifica!”). Plus, there are some great tapas places near the main square, a favourite hangout for local “Asidonenses”. Doesn’t that nickname just roll off the tongue?

“But what about the name? Medina Sidonia? What’s that all about?” – is something I’m sure someone must have asked at some point. Well, how about I fill you in? Medina simply means “city” in Arabic, which, these days usually refers to the old town area of Arabic cities such as Marrakesh and Cairo. “Sidonia”, on the other hand, means “of Sidon”, in reference to the biblical Middle Eastern city. Ok, so, no, it’s not really the most compelling story…

Medina-Sidonia shares the picturesque medieval walls and winding, narrow streets of many other pueblos blancos but is also well-known for its many ranches that raise fighting bulls (and, presumably, the occasional gentle, bookish bull who is never truly accepted by the others yet goes on to be a hero in a much truer sense).

View from the Medonia-Sidonia church

Regardless of how much time you have to spend in Medina-Sidonia, the approach to the town is sure to be a memorable one – a medieval jumble of shining white buildings perched atop the tall hill of Cerro del Castillo at 300 metres above sea level, visible for miles around. And there are still plenty of things to do in Medina-Sidonia, Cadiz whether you are checking in on a short day trip or looking for a pleasant, quiet place to base yourself outside the bustle of the cities.

Here is a list of the top 10 things to do in Medina-Sidonia:

Map of Things to Do in Medina-Sidonia

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10 Things to Do in Medina-Sidonia

Wander the Streets

Medina-Sidonia truly is a pretty, picturesque little place and wandering its clean, white alleys and streets is the best way to really appreciate its charms.

Narrow street with white buildings

In particular you will want to make sure you get a look at the impressive white facades, balconies and wrought iron windows of the 18th century Baroque houses along Calle Varos.

Marvel at the Church of Santa María de la Coronada

This classic 16th century Gothic church is considered one of the best examples of this style in the entire province of Cádiz.

Church tower in Medina-Sidonia

Built atop the ruins of a Moorish castle (and, later, a mosque), it features a gigantic 15-metre-tall altar covered in scenes from Christ’s life (and ever so brief death).

Inside of a church

You will definitely want to climb the bell tower via one of those endless, cramped stone staircases. The top is pretty tiny (“max 8 people” kind of tiny) but the views are amazing and the bells are pretty cool. I was actually able to get my head right inside one, so that was something.

View from Medina-Sidonia church tower

Explore the ruins of the Medina-Sidonia Castle

The Medinia-Sidonia castle is one of those historic ruins that is maybe more important than obviously evocative. Meaning, there isn’t a whole lot left so you will have to use your imagination a bit.

But there are lots of informative plaques and the views of the surrounding countryside – plus Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera, the Atlantic Ocean and maybe even the Rif Mountains of Morocco – are pretty epic. Certainly worth €2, anyway.

Ruins above the white town of Medina-Sidonia

Findings on the hill date back all the way to the Bronze Age but most of the ruins are quite a bit newer. Of course, the term “newer” can be taken with a grain of salt in these parts.

Left over from its time as a Roman military fort, most of the walls are still standing along with several small fortified towers and even a moat. Then, the Almoravids built a Moorish alcázar in the 11th century, although all that is left are some of the foundations and a bit of the outer wall.

A big part of the reason you can’t see much of the alcazar, though, is that the first Duke of Medina-Sidonia, Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, built a medieval castle on top of it in the 15th century (always happy to make use of the opportunities afforded to them, those Spanish).

It is a bit of a tiring hike up a winding, cobblestone path to the castle but unless this is your first Andalusian white village you are probably quite familiar with navigating the steepest streets to get to any of the good parts.

Relax on the Plaza de España

What, a lovely plaza surrounded by gorgeous, classic buildings? What an unusual pueblo blanco occurrence! Nonetheless, just because every white village seems to have fantastic main square, well, that doesn’t make the next one any less enjoyable.

Children playing in Medina-Sidonia Plaza de Espania

The perfect place to explore historic buildings, grab a bite and relax with a cocktail (or reluctantly just the one beer because you still need to drive to Cádiz).

Glass of sangria

Or you can simply wander in photographic bliss. Either way, the Plaza de España of Medina-Sidonia is a terrific place to get a feel for the town.

There are plenty of restaurants featuring comfortable outdoor terraces and the elegant Town Hall overseeing it all in its garish “Plateresque” style (meaning silver, so much silver).

White building with flags

Walk Under the Amazing Arches of Medina-Sidonia

Arco de Belén

This fabulous arch, also known as Puerta de Belén (Gate of Bethlehem), is the gateway to the old town, tower, stables and some outstanding paintings. Originally called the Arco de los Gitanos (Arch of Gypsies), the current name comes from the beautiful image of María Santísima de Belén housed within.

Woman walking through one of the Medina-Sidonia gates

However, I spent most of my time jockeying for just the right angle for the perfect photo through the arch toward the church.

Arco de Pastora

Another wonderful Moorish gate, the 10th century Arco de Pastora is from the Caliphate period and boasts a classic horseshoe arch and big staircase. It was originally known as the Puerta de la Salada due to the nearby salt mines. Like the Arco de Belén, its name later changed in honour of the most famous image displayed inside.

Puerta del Sol

Sticking with the arch theme, the Puerta del Sol, or Sun Gate, got its name because it faces the rising sun in the east. However, whether or not you opt to get up at the crack of dawn to see it, this simple, charming arch is well worth a look.

A old round gate

See History in the Roman Archeology Museum

Uniquely spread over two separate (but relatively close) locations, a visit to the Archaeology Museum is like stepping back in time. The main part of the museum has a wide range of Roman artifacts, Moorish items and old ruins including houses and one of the first clever underground sewage systems.

You will receive a free information pamphlet (in both English and Spanish) that explains the different displays and once you have had your fill of the first section a staff member will lead you off-site to an ancient Roman road made of huge stones. A wide driveway and two sidewalks are clearly visible, and there are even a pair of game boards etched into the stone (neither of which are Roman Conquest Monopoly, we eventually learned).

Check out the Convent of Las Descalzas

Founded in 1687, this beautiful circular convent on a small islet was built for Mother Antonia de Jesús and the Order of Augustinian Recollects.

White convent

Also known as the “Monjas de Arriba” (Nuns from Above), the church features an impressive dome, two large rectangular spaces, an overall octagonal shape, a number of 18th century frescoes and an intricate altarpiece designed by Juan Batista Severiano and Francisco Bartolomé.

“Descalza” is Spanish for “barefoot” but, trust me, they won’t appreciate you taking this literally.

Try the Local Pastries

Medina-Sidonia is famous for the “alfajor de Medina” pastry, which was honoured with a “Denomination of Origin” classification. This delicious, cylindrical Moorish cake features a variety of nuts, honey and spices and is often toasted to provide that crispy, warm Andalusian dessert goodness.

Find the Duke’s Stables

These historic 16th century stables focused around a single, stone nave were restored to their former glory in 1994 but have served many (weirdly varied) purposes over the years.

Stairs to Medina-Sidonia duke's stables

From Royal Garrison to smuggling surveillance, cockfighting arena to comedy house, the one thing nobody seems to mention is its time as a home for rich, spoiled horses. You can still tell, though.

Gaze upon the Ermita de los Santos Mártires

Surrounded by greenery and located just outside the main town of Medina-Sidonia, Spain, this ancient hermitage is one of the oldest Visigoth buildings in Andalusia. Originally the home of the Roman patrician, Lepero, it was expanded significantly by the Moors in the 7th century and “renovated” many, many times since.

Following restorations in the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries, the Ermita pays tribute to the Virgin of Loreto, patron saint of farmers, and features a white marble altar and a 17th century polychrome sculpture brought from Italy by Juan de Viera.

History of Medina-Sidonia Cadiz

Originally an ancient Phoenician city called Asido (in reference to Sidon), although most of the earliest remnants date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC under Roman rule when it was known as Asido Caesarina (no extra points for figuring out how they came up with that name).

In the early 8th century, Muslim general Musa Ibn Nusair conquered it and made it the capital of the province of Sidonia, hence Medina-Sidonia. Alas, in 1264, Alfonso X of Castile won it back and turned it into an important defensive fortress on the frontier between the Kingdom of Granada and the Moorish lands.

Narrow street with white buildings
A narrow street in Medina-Sidonia

Finally, in the 15th century it was officially included under the rule of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. The ducal seat produced Medina-Sidonia’s most famous resident, Alonso Pérez de Guzmán who was the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia. His claim to fame was leading the Spanish Armada against England in 1588.

Medina-Sidonia Spain Festivals and Events

The year starts off with a January Fiesta Patronal in honour of Our Lady of Peace where all the new children of the year are presented to the Virgin (for approval? Or just a meet and greet?).

In February, Medina-Sidonia celebrates Carnaval like many other places around the world, as well as Easter (Semana Santa) in either late March or early April.

The Feria del Ganado takes place at the beginning of June and is one of the oldest of its kind in Andalusia.

In December the city adds a touch of panache to their Christmas celebrations with a renowned Living Nativity, which involves as many as 600 locals re-enacting over 60 scenes from nativity.

Where to Eat: Medina-Sidonia Restaurants

La Vista de Medina

If you are looking for well-known traditional Spanish dishes with a view, check out La Vista de Medina, located in the same square as the Church of Santa Maria de la Coronada. If you can, try to time your visit with the sunset.

Bar La Plaza

A good choice for a relaxing drink and tapas near the Plaza de España after exploring Medina-Sidonia. We can recommend the meatballs and especially the pork cheeks. For both eating and mischievously pinching.

Meatballs and fries

Where to Stay: Medina-Sidonia Hotels

La Vista de Medina

If you are looking for stunning views, relaxing pools and a great restaurant, look no further than La Vista de Medina. The rooms are studios with a small kitchen, comfortable living room area and private balconies. This is a great place to base yourself to explore the area.

Click here for La Vista de Medina prices

Posada Alegria

The Posada Alegria offers both rooms and small apartments. It has a great location in the heart of the old town and the staff has lots of useful info about the area.

Click here for Posada Alegria prices

Tugasa Hotel

Experiencing the superb décor of Tugasa hotel’s communal areas feels like stepping back in time. Yet private parking is also available (although be prepared to drive on narrow old streets to access it).

Click here for Tugasa Hotel prices

How to Get to Medina-Sidonia

By Car

Most people visit Medina-Sidonia by car, either their own or a rental. It is easily accessible from Seville, Cádiz, Malaga, Gibraltar, Córdoba and Granada, each of which have international airports.

Man driving
Exploring the white villages by rental car

Nearby Main Centres by Car:

Cádiz to Medina-Sidonia: 40 km / 35 min

Gibraltar to Medina-Sidonia: 85 km / 1 hr

Seville to Medina-Sidonia: 120 km / 75 min

Malaga to Medina-Sidonia: 200 km / 2 hrs

Córdoba to Medina-Sidonia: 250 km / 2.5 hrs

Granada to Medina-Sidonia: 320 km / 3.25 hrs

Nearby pueblos blancos:

Jerez de la Frontera to Medina-Sidonia: 35 km / 30 min

Arcos de la Frontera to Medina-Sidonia: 40 km / 35 min

Villamartín to Medina-Sidonia: 60 km / 1 hr

Grazalema to Medina-Sidonia: 85 km / 75 min

Algodonales to Medina-Sidonia: 90 km / 75 min

Villaluenga del Rosario to Medina-Sidonia: 90 km / 75 min

Casares to Medina-Sidonia: 115 km / 75 min

Zahara de la Sierra to Medina-Sidonia: 95 km / 1.5 hrs

Olvera to Medina-Sidonia: 105 km / 1.5 hrs

Ronda to Medina-Sidonia: 125 km / 1.75 hrs

Setenil de las Bodegas to Medina-Sidonia: 110 km / 1.75 hrs

Medina-Sidonia Parking

There are two public parking lots on the way into town from the south. These are great choices to use and walk in unless you know exactly where you are going and are used to driving on narrow roads.

By Bus

Several buses run back and forth between Medina-Sidonia and the main Cádiz bus station. They usually take about an hour and a quarter.

Medina-Sidonia Weather: When to Visit

Andalusia, as a whole, gets very hot in summer, which is good for beaches and water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing. At least it almost never rains. July and August are the hottest (35C+) but June and September also regularly see 30C+ temperatures.

Main restaurant street in Medina-Sidonia
Blue skies and warm weather in October.

Winters are relatively mild with daily high and low averages ranging from about 4C to 15C but there is a lot more rain at this time.

The best times to visit Medina-Sidonia are in spring and fall, with May and October both boasting perfect 20-25C daytime highs and much less rain than the winter months.

Other Pueblos Blancos (White Villages)

As for the other villages, well, consider yourself spoiled for choice:

Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry and flamenco capital of Andalusia. So if those are things you are into, Jerez is a must-see. If not, well, it’s still a very beautiful place (and much larger than most other towns on this list).

Arcos de la Frontera is all about the arches, many obvious and others hidden in the least likely spots.

Villamartín is another relatively large white town that is spread out across both sides of a tall hill. It has the obligatory whitewashed buildings and some architectural highlights including Topete Mansion and Matrera Castle.

Grazalema is known for its many amazing hiking areas.

Grazalema from above

Check out Grazalema: A Guide to Spain’s Hiking Pueblo Blanco

Algodonales boasts an impressive location next to the Sierra de Lijar mountains and is famous for a) having the largest hang-gliding school in Andalucia and b) making great guitars. I kid you not.

Tiny Villaluenga del Rosario has an awesome little bull ring and fantastic cheese.

Pretty Casares is close to the Costa del Sol and is considered the gateway to the white villages. It also features a photogenic castle atop a rocky outcropping, a griffon vulture colony and a fun via ferrata.

White village of Andalucia Casares on the edge of a cliff
Casares from one of the many viewpoints

Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.

Olvera has some of the best viewpoints in the area from its impressive castle.

View of church and castle in Olvera Cadiz

Ronda is both the largest town in the region and the crown jewel of the pueblos blancos with its stunning El Tajo gorge and fabulous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).

View of the New Bridge in Ronda Spain

Check out The 24 Best Viewpoints in Ronda

Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.

For an overview of our white villages road trip, check out 12 Spectacular Pueblos Blancos in Andalucia

Cities Near Medina-Sidonia

Cádiz

Although it lacks the one big, incredible site of the other major Andalusian cities, Cádiz was among our favourite cities in Andalusia for its beaches, atmosphere and old town ambience. With balmy weather (even by Andalusian standards) and perfect for wandering, Cádiz is the kind of place where the days slide by and you’ll always wish you could stay a bit longer.

Gibraltar

A somewhat bizarre bit of Britain dropped right on the edge of Spain, Gibraltar has some pretty compelling sites (i.e. Rock of Gibraltar) and historic WWII attractions. The border crossing is straightforward and Gibraltar is easily visited on a day trip, although the sites are pretty spread out so if you want to see everything it wouldn’t hurt to stay a couple of nights.

Seville

Classic Seville is one of the gems of Spain, with a beautifully walkable old town, many amazing churches and, of course, the world-famous Real Alcazar. Hopeless romantics will also love the street and balcony that inspired Romeo and Juliet.

Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville

Malaga

Malaga has a lot of international flights and is a common entrance point to Andalusia. Mainly known as a transport hub and beach/party town, we found Malaga to be a pleasant surprise. It has some nice old streets, good pedestrian areas and the Alcazaba, a phenomenal ancient medieval Moorish fortress that is comparable to the big attractions in Seville, Granada and Córdoba.

Córdoba

Much smaller and more manageable than Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, cute Córdoba has the world-famous mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, which is definitely worth the visit alone. There is also a fascinating Jewish quarter, vibrant old town and impressive bridge (that also featured in Game of Thrones).

Arches in the Mezquita - one of the things to do in Cordoba
The arches in La Mezquita in Cordoba

It is less than 2 hours from Seville by car, roughly 2.5 hours by bus and just 40 minutes by high-speed train.

Check out How to Visit Córdoba on a Day Trip from Seville

Granada

Comparing Granada and Seville is like comparing apples and oranges (both excellent but could probably use a wash first). Granada’s central area isn’t quite as perfect as the one in Seville, or compact as Córdoba, but it has some fascinatingly gritty neighbourhoods and a long list of awesome viewpoints. And, of course, the Alhambra, which just might be the coolest historic site I’ve ever visited.

Medina-Sidonia Summary

Lacking the really obvious castles and attractions of some of the pueblos blancos farther north, Medina-Sidonia nevertheless exudes a coastal charm unique among these fascinating ancient settlements. With its dignified streets, historic ruins and stunning arches, Medina-Sidonia should be included in any white village itinerary, or at least visited on a day trip from Cádiz.

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