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Stunning Olvera, Spain easily makes our short list of most beautiful pueblos blancos in Andalusia. With its huge church and even bigger castle, both dominating the skyline from the tall hill at the top of town, Olvera in Cadiz, Spain is a photographer’s dream. Yet, somehow, it sees fewer tourists than many of the other white villages in the area and is generally just a very quiet place.
From the castle you can enjoy panoramic views of the rest of town, plus surrounding hills, valleys, olive groves and even nearby white villages. Olvera appears dramatically on the horizon as you approach, rising up to nearly 650 metres above sea level like something out of a movie. This arresting first impression is probably why Olvera is so popular with foreign expats.
Things to Do in Olvera, Cadiz
Stroll through La Villa
The original Moorish walls still encompass La Villa, the 700-year-old original village and current old town section of Olvera. The streets are narrow, the houses whitewashed and the streets cobbled, of course. The formerly-a-mosque-now-a-cathedral is found here, along with the Plaza Iglesia and the castle itself.
Along with hitting the big, obvious highlights of Olvera (you know, those ones looming over you from the top of the hill) it is worth setting aside a bit of time to simply wander these atmospheric streets (and if you’re anything like us, take several wrong turns).
Walk the Calle Calzada
Many of the streets in the Barrio de la Villa are photo-worthy but the clear winner in that department is Calle Calzada, the main route that runs from the very bottom of town all the way up to the castle.
Lined with shining white houses with brightly painted trim adorned with colourful flowers, Calle Calzada is the kind of street where the journey is far more important than the destination (unless your destination is the castle, in which case, that’s actually even better).
Explore the Arab Castle
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more classic-looking castle than the 12th century El Castillo Arabe de Olvera (The Arab Castle of Olvera), more commonly referred to as simply Olvera Castle. Built on top of a rugged, rock outcropping at the very top of the village, the 360-degree views over the town and surrounding hills and fields are truly spectacular. It also has all the features you’d want in a medieval castle – high walls, strategic towers, military turrets, walkable ramparts and subterranean cisterns (we do love us a good cistern).
While the main reason the castle was built atop such a difficult chunk of rock was for defensive purposes, the Moors also used its location to share info and coordinate plans with other castles in the area by reflecting light with mirrors.
Unlike many old castles, you can actually explore most areas of Olvera Castle, making it easy to spend an hour or more. Wear good shoes, prepare for quite a few stairs (some quite narrow) and if you’re visiting in the middle of the day come prepared with sunscreen, a hat and water. There is a bit of shade but not much, and not in any of the best areas.
The castle is right across a small plaza from the cathedral and in between there is a nondescript office where you buy tickets (€2). The plaza also features a colourful “Olvera” sign that is popular for selfies, although sandwiched between these two architectural marvels it can come off as a bit tacky (not that that ever stopped me).
Marvel at the Church Of Nuestra Señora De La Encarnación
Built on the foundation of an old Moorish church, or “mudejar”, this massive neoclassic style cathedral is truly breathtaking. Once again, the views from the church are unbelievable, as are the views of the Encarnación church from the top of the castle.
The Duke of Osuña controversially ordered the cathedral built in 1822 with taxpayer money. It took over 20 years to complete but the result is one of the most famous churches in Andalusia (although that is of little help to those 19th century peasants).
Check out the Parish Cemetery
Nothing is more classically Olvera than the fact that even the cemetery boasts big views. Tucked down underneath the cliffs and castle, the small Olvera Parish Cemetery boasts expansive views amid a sombre scene. It is kept spotlessly clean and is plenty photogenic in its own right, with elegant white tombs built right into the walls and it continues to be the main burial site in the village to this day.
Hang out at the Plaza de Andalucía
The town’s main square is small but beautiful, with plenty of large trees, and a superb stone fountain with a pretty waterfall. Also referred to as “La Alameda” (grove), the excellent La Tarara Neotaberna restaurant is found here, along with a somewhat unusual (and huge) cage filled with chatty birds.
Climb to the Top of El Monumento Al Sagrado Corazon
Hey, have we mentioned there are lots of great views in Olvera? Yeah, well, we’re not quite done with them yet. Right from Plaza de Andalucía, a pretty staircase covered in foliage and flowers winds its way up to Peñon del Sagrado Corazon (Rock of the Sacred Heart). It is a climb of about 4 stories to the top but you will get a fantastic look up at the castle and cathedral.
The path is enclosed in lush greenery and leads up to a small terrace with an important statue by Jose Even Navas from 1929. “The Sacred Heart of Jesus” is at the highest point of the rock and depicts Christ with his arms raised dramatically. In triumph? To quiet the crowd? Participating in “the wave”?
You also get a great view over the countryside with one of the hanging balconies popular in Ronda.
Purchase Local Products
Olvera is justly famous for its olive oil (though the name is unconnected, apparently). Los Remedios, a local, natural olive oil made from surrounding farms and olive groves has a particularly good reputation.
La Dehesa Del Iberico specializes in Iberian ham products, gourmet products, local specialty cheese and wine. It is often filled with locals but they will also take the time to talk to you about the products and give out samples. They can even ship it to your home in a vacuum package to preserve freshness.
Stop by La Cilla Museum
This small cluster of buildings on a charming plaza features the Tourist Office, the Cilla Museum and a tower that was originally part of the castle ramparts. The main museum building was originally a barn (which is what “la cilla” means in English) in the 15th century before being converted to a women’s prison and, eventually, Olvera’s cultural centre.
Within, there are displays showing life in medieval Olvera, with many old artifacts and loads of historical information (entirely in Spanish). Meanwhile, out in the courtyard you are treated to, you guessed it, another fabulous view over the surrounding olive groves, hills and winding roads.
Things to do Near Olvera, Spain
Bike or Hike the Via Verde De La Sierra
The 36-kilometre Olvera Via Verde de la Sierra of Andalucía, Spain is one of the most famous biking routes in the country. Part of an old rail line that originally connected Almargen to Jerez de la Frontera, it has been won several cycling awards for its design and scenery.
The Via Verde de la Sierra, which essentially means “green route of the mountains”, refers to the small section of the original railway between Olvera and Puerto Serrano. Along with just generally beautiful surroundings, one of the main highlights is the Protected Natural Landscape of Peñón de Zaframagón where a huge colony of Griffon vultures lives. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about vultures at the nearby Zaframagón Vulture Observatory and Interpretation Centre.
While the trail can be done in either direction, it is more downhill than up if you start in Olvera (although it still adds up to over of 1,200 metres of total elevation gain). Going both there and back is certainly possible but plan for a long day.
Santuario De Los Remedios
This 18th century classic Andalusian church was built on the remains of an ancient hermitage just 2 kilometres outside of modern-day Olvera. It is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies), who was credited with ending a horrible drought after simply being asked nicely (or that’s how I understand it, anyway). Not surprisingly, this generated plenty of goodwill in the area.
As a result, she is the patron saint of Olvera and many other nearby villages within “las cientos sierras” (the 100 mountain ranges). And, to this day, every second Monday after Easter locals celebrate the Quasimodo Monday Pilgrimage by gathering to give thanks in the Santuario de los Remedios.
El Monasterio de Caño Santos
This ancient monastery located 7 kilometres out of town was built in 1542 to serve as the seat of the Holy Virgin of Caño, the town’s patron at the time. Then, in 1835, the monastery was taken and the friars ousted, leaving the building empty and deteriorating until the council of Andalusia eventually decided to restore it to its former glory (in 2007).
The Road to Setenil de las Bodegas
While the uniquely bizarre cave town of Setenil de las Bodegas is quite the destination in itself, you’re sure to enjoy the drive there as well.
Following a smooth but winding road through picturesque hills and aromatic olive groves, it’s one of the many places in the Andalusian highlands where it pays to take your time.
Lavadero De Pino
Despite being a couple of kilometres outside Olvera, the clean water of the spring here made it the main washing station for locals for hundreds of years. Of course, today there are other options so it is no longer in use, but it still holds some picturesque, historic charm.
Hiking in Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema
The dramatic hiking trails and unbelievable terrain of Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema draw outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. Whether you are looking for world-class day hikes such as La Garganta Verde, El Torreon or El Pinsapar, or interested in taking on a portion of the famous GR7 long-distance trail, this gorgeous park is a hiking mecca.
History of Olvera, Spain
Archaeologists have determined that Olvera has been settled for over 2 millennia and was home to humans as far back as the Paleolithic era (12,000 years ago). When it became an official town under the Phoenicians and then the Romans it was known as Hippa Nova (not to be confused with its hippie phase of the 1970’s).
From there it faced the usual patchy timeline – conquered by Visigoths in the 5th century, the Moors in the 9th century and the Christians in the 14th century. The Moors, or Berbers, renamed it Uriwala, a name that stuck ever since (more or less).
The famous Nicolás de Ribera was born in Olvera, Spain and went on to become one of the key players in the Spanish conquest of Peru, eventually being named mayor of Lima in 1535 (perhaps a bigger honour then than now).
Festivals and Events in Olvera, Spain
The Fiesta de San Jose has been taking place in Olvera for over 2 centuries, featuring a local procession with the saint’s image.
The Quasimodo Monday Pilgrimage takes place on the second Monday after Easter, with participants gathering in the Santuario de los Remedios to give thanks to the Virgin under the comfort of shady olive trees.
The Fiesta de San Agustín has been held every August since King Felipe V initiated it way back in 1710. It involves several days of revelry, music, dancing and bullfighting.
Where to Eat: Best Olvera Restaurants
Because it gets so hot, most Olvera residents don’t eat until quite late (even by Spanish standards). 10 pm is not unusual.
La Tarara Neotaberna
La Tarara Neotaberna was a surprise find in such a small town. It serves traditional food with an exceptional twist. It has an Instagram-y interior, tables outside with views of the square (Plaza Andalucia) and a rock garden.
We recommend the pork cheeks and La Tarara’s take on the ubiquitous tortilla. Plus, their beer is very cold.
Bar La Plaza
If you are looking for tapas or a drink with a view of the church, head to Bar La Plaza in Plaza Ayuntamiento. They have simple but tasty tapas for a very reasonable price and lots of shade for those warmer days.
Where to Stay: Best Olvera Hotels
No 31 Bed & Breakfast
We highly recommend staying at No 31 B&B. It is in the heart of Olvera and has a terrace with stunning views of the church and castle. A delicious breakfast is included, both rooms have private bathrooms and the owners, Peter and Sherri, will go above and beyond to ensure that you have a wonderful stay.
We were surprised to find that the owners were from our hometown in Canada before they moved permanently to Olvera. They renovated a traditional house and turned it into a classy B&B while keeping many of the original details – our favourite was the patterned tiles. Others will like the complimentary tea and coffee available throughout the day and the reasonably priced minibar.
Casa Cal y Sol
If you are travelling in a group then Casa Cal y Sol is a great choice with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, a massive deck with great views and a small plunge pool.
How to Get to Olvera
Olvera, Spain is easily accessible from Seville, Cádiz, Malaga, Gibraltar, Córdoba and Granada, each of which have international airports. With so many great towns and villages in the area we highly recommend renting a car for at least a few days to cover more ground and set your own schedule. We find Discover Cars usually have the best deals in the area.
If you are relying on public transportation the only reasonable option is the ALSA bus between Olvera and Malaga that takes just under 2 hours.
Nearby Main Centres by Car:
Seville to Olvera: 100 km / 1.5 hrs
Check out our guide to the Best Things to Do in Seville
Malaga to Olvera: 120 km / 1.5 hrs
Cádiz to Olvera: 125 km / 1.5 hrs
Nearby pueblos blancos:
Algodonales: 20 km / 20 min
Setenil de las Bodegas to Olvera: 16 km / 25 min
Zahara de la Sierra to Olvera: 30 km / 30 min
Villamartín to Olvera: 45 km / 40 min
Grazalema to Olvera: 40 km / 45 min
Ronda to Olvera: 50 km / 45 min
Arcos de la Frontera to Olvera: 65 km / 1 hr
Jerez de la Frontera to Olvera: 100 km / 1.25 hrs
Medina-Sidonia to Olvera: 130 km / 1.5 hrs
Vejer de la Frontera to Olvera: 165 km / 2 hrs
How Far is Olvera from the Sea?
The nearest beach to Olvera, Spain is the Playa de San Pedro de Alcantara on the Costa del Sol, which is 100 kilometres / 1.5 hours to the south. However, you can also head west to Cadiz, which is a bit farther (125 km) but takes about the same amount of time. In our opinion, Cadiz is the much better alternative because it is such a fascinating old city (try to spend a few nights there if you have the time).
Where to Park in Olvera
There are several parking areas at the bottom of town which makes the driving part easy but the walking part harder (up, a lot of up). You can park on the street on Calle Bellavista, near the swimming pool on Avenida Manuel de Fall or in a lot on Calle Vereda Ancha (which was practically empty while we were there).
Alternatively, you could drive to the top of the town and possibly get lucky with a spot near Plaza Ayuntamiento (and save yourself some climbing).
Olvera Weather in Cadiz, Spain
Andalusia gets very hot in summer, which is good for beaches and water sports but may be a bit warm for hiking or sightseeing in pueblos blancos. At least it almost never rains. July and August are the hottest (35C+) but June and September also regularly see 30C+ temperatures.
Olvera gets even hotter in summer than most of the other villages, which is probably why they take siesta so seriously. If you arrive in mid-afternoon, don’t expect many people out and about.
Winters are relatively mild with daily high and low averages ranging from about 15C to 4C but there is a lot more rain at this time, starting in November and continuing right into April.
The best times to visit Olvera 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) Near Olvera
There are so many great options in the area, you really are spoiled for choice. We have brief descriptions of some of the best ones below or you can check out our full summary:
Map of the Pueblos Blancos of Andalusia
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Zahara de la Sierra features an impressive Moorish castle on top of a huge, rocky hill located next to a beautiful blue lake.
Setenil de las Bodegas is famously built under a massive rock, making it extremely unique among all these hilltop fortress and soaring views.
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).
Grazalema is a lovely little whitewashed village tucked beneath the Peñon Grande mountains. It is the most popular base for visits to the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema.
Arcos de la Frontera is all about the arches, many obvious and others hidden in the least likely spots.
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).
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.
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.
Of all the amazing white villages we visited, Vejer de la Frontera was our favourite. Great vibe, beautiful place and the nicest main square in Andalusia.
It seems that every person you talk to will give a different answer regarding their favourite pueblo blanco, along with many different reasons. However, although I can’t say definitively that Olvera is my personal favourite (Ronda is rather obvious but still hard to beat and Vejer de la Frontera just had a feel) it is definitely among the finalists. Visually stunning, atmospherically relaxed and just enough off the beaten path to feel adventurous, Olvera is definitely one of the gems of Andalusia.
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