The famed white villages of Andalusia Spain, also known as the “pueblos blancos of Andalucía”, are the main reason we finally made our way to this part of the country. Of course, we really enjoyed our previous visits to northern Spain, so we didn’t take a lot of convincing, and then throw in the idea of making it a road trip along the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos in southern Spain and, well, we were hooked on the idea.
After we finished hiking through the tiny pueblos blancos of the Alpujarras we had a brief stop back in Granada to clean ourselves up and grab the rest of our gear, then we hopped the train to Ronda. Ronda, Spain – generally considered the king of the pueblos blancos (or queen, or maybe conquistador, I’m not really sure what the correct terminology is). There we settled in for a full week of apartment life to work on blog stuff, thoroughly explore all the amazing viewpoints and catch up with our old travel compañero, Chris Looney.
From there it was road trip time, visiting 11 more white villages in Andalucía (with Gibraltar and Cadiz thrown into the mix for good measure) to complete our own personal “Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos”. With that in mind, here is our (very subjective) list of the best pueblos blancos in Andalucía:
Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos Map
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Most Photogenic White Town in Andalusia
Built on an incredible gorge – El Tajo – which is spanned by an equally incredible bridge – Puente Nuevo – Ronda is endlessly photogenic.
So much so that we’ve already dedicated an entire post to its amazing scenery:
And if the idea of visiting Ronda has now tickled your fancy (or any part of your anatomy) you might want to check out:
Anyway, needless to say, the most notable parts of this phenomenal Andalucían pueblo blanco are mainly visual. Just keep walking and snapping photos, you’ll find they day flies right by. But, fine, if you insist on a bit more than “it looks cool”, here are a few tidbits for you:
Although there are cave paintings in the area that date back over 12,000 years, Ronda was first settled in the 6th century BC by the Celts, who called it Arunda. How it got its current name is a complete mystery, though. It was then turned into a Roman fortress in 200 BC and over the intervening 2+ millennia has been Roman, Suebi, Visigoth, Berber and Christian. And now, Tourist.
This varied history is why it also features a pretty great Old Town area, with intriguing ancient sites around every corner. There are also great restaurants, scenic spots to enjoy a beer on a terrace and even a lettuce restaurant that is usually lined up around the corner. All quite fascinating, really.
Ronda is often visited as a day trip from Seville (check out our Best Things to Do in Seville list) or Malaga but we think it is worth staying at least overnight.
You should know:
Renting a place with a balcony overlooking famous Puente Nuevo provides fantastic views, of course, but the best part is how fast your laundry will dry.
Vejer de la Frontera
Most Picturesque White Village in Andalucia
Considering this was the 10th pueblo blanco we visited on our ruta de los pueblos blancos (20th if you count hiking the GR7 in the Alpujarras), it is truly saying something that all three of us immediately loved Vejer.
And not just because of the bad-ass “de la Frontera” part, which obviously adds a certain cachet to any town. Vejer just has a terrific feel, very relaxed, quite friendly. It was arguably the best of the pueblos blancos of Cadiz province.
Now, of course, saying it has beautiful, whitewashed buildings, narrow cobblestoned streets and remarkable monuments doesn’t exactly set it apart as a weird and wondrous anomaly in these parts.
But it does have all those things and, in our opinion, the ones in Vejer de la Frontera are all just a bit more impressive than the other places we’d already visited. Mixing in a generous helping of colour in the form of flowers, colour-coordinated flower-pots and some actual trees certainly didn’t hurt.
I think the main reason it isn’t unanimously ranked at the top of all the other best pueblo blanco lists is because it doesn’t have quite as dramatic a setting as some of those found perched atop tall hills in Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
Naturally, it is still on a hill that requires a long slog up from your car (they wouldn’t want you to miss out on that part) it just doesn’t have a stunning hilltop castle or ostentatious cathedral that can be seen from halfway across the province. You can see the ocean, though, which is objectively pretty cool.
But within the town limits it is arguably the best of all the pueblos blancos with little surprises around every corner and a relaxed town square perfect for a drink or meal.
You should know:
The weird frog sculptures in the main square fountain aren’t the best part of Vejer de la Frontera, but they sure aren’t the worst.
Speaking of dramatic locations and bold hilltop construction, Olvera has both in spades. With a humongous castillo and possibly even bigger cathedral – both of which dominate the skyline in all directions from the pinnacle of the steep hill Olvera is built on – it is the kind of town that is just begging for a starring role in the next medieval blockbuster (or epic Routinely Nomadic Instagram post).
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Peñón del Sagrado Corazón (Rock of the Sacred Heart) also quietly sits right next to the main town square, tempting you to head up for some more of the best views in town (or the entire region for that matter).
Then, it was topped off with a small world moment where Laynni went to check out a hotel we were interested in and the owners turned out to be from Saskatoon. As in Saskatchewan. Canada. Halfway across the world. I don’t know, it seemed pretty interesting to us, anyway.
You should know:
Pork cheeks are much better than they sound, especially in Olvera.
Considered the epicentre of hiking in Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park (Parque Natural Sierra), gorgeous little Grazalema offers even more than a rather obvious name connection. One of the few pueblos blancos that isn’t built right on top of a hill, Grazalema occupies a pretty valley surrounded by lush hills on three sides, and expansive and picturesque rolling fields on the other.
There are lots of great miradores (viewpoints) scattered around town and, reputedly, a dozen interesting fountains (we managed to find just one). It was the only place in the area where jaunty hiker types with expensive footwear and carefully prepared daypacks outnumbered strolling coffee drinkers.
We are already considering returning at some point to take in more of the hiking in the area but, for this visit, we stuck with our very convincing impression of slovenly, photo-happy North American beer drinkers. Method acting at its finest.
Even getting to Grazalema felt like an adventure, as drove up steep switchbacks out of Zahara de la Sierra all the way to the stunning views from Puerto de las Palomas at 1,357 metres above sea level (and at least 900 metres higher than our little rental car would have chosen if it had gotten its way).
You should know:
The town is divided into upper and lower barrios, with the lower residents in Barrio Bajo traditionally known as “jopiches” (little bull penis) and those in Barrio Alto known as “jopones” (big bull penis). I am unsure if the distinction was physical, gastronomical or merely a sexual threat but, just in case, we opted to stay in a place as close to the middle as possible (representing a regular bull penis, perhaps, and hopefully wearing a condom?).
Zahara de la Sierra
Most Impressive Location
Like Olvera, Zahara de la Sierra features a striking hilltop castle with the town spilling down along the slopes below it. However, it is also somehow even whiter than most towns (power washers?), making it really pop against the bright green hills and, just for good measure, there is a vivid blue lake tucked into the valley below it.
The castillo itself was closed for construction while we were there but even from the outside you could tell that it wasn’t going to compare with the intricate and extensive paths, arches and ramparts of the Olvera castle.
However, from the viewpoint at the bottom of town or even just approaching from the north with the pueblo blanco silhouetted against the rugged background, well, that view is worth the trip alone.
You should know:
Following Google Maps when it tries to get you to drive through the busy square on the National Day of Spain isn’t going to end well.
Villaluenga del Rosario
Wherever we go there is always some town, location or attraction that manages to surprise us. In a good way, I mean, not an “ooh, I’m starting to think that chicken wasn’t fully cooked” way. And on our ruta de los pueblos blancos of Andalucía tour, Villaluenga del Rosario was that place for us. Seeming like just a convenient stop on the drive from Grazalema to the very popular Casares, Villaluenga, as we now casually call it, like we’re old friends, is just a really great – and sort of weird – little place.
They are (regionally) famous for their goat cheese, so they are practical. There is a very noticeable church on a hill at the top of town but when you finally find your way there through the maze of illogical alleys it turns out to actually be a cemetery inside the remains of a church. So they are sneaky, too.
But then there is the bull ring. It is fairly tiny, as far as bullrings go (he says, after seeing a total of 4), but roughly proportionate to the size of the town, I suppose. Odder, though, was that it was just open.
Like, we could walk right in, wander the stands, check out the views from the top, examine all the alarming horn holes punched in the wooden barriers around the outside and, just possibly, re-enact a wild matador-bull confrontation with an American heavy-metal fan waving a hoodie while a marginally convincing Canadian woman angrily stamps her feet on the dusty ground before charging him aggressively (and marginally less convincingly). Olé!
You should know:
Goat cheese is actually cheese made from goat’s milk, not a type of cheese that the majority of goats prefer.
Setenil de las Bodegas
There’s always one in every crowd that just has to go against the grain and be completely the opposite of everyone else.
In travel it’s the girl tackling an 18-hour marathon of flights and airports while wearing a miniskirt. In the NFL that is the New York Giants – while every other team works hard to produce a winning team, the Giants buck that trend and eschew talent in favour of folksy old-school grit.
Among the pueblos blancos, it’s Setenil de las Bodegas.
While almost every white village in the area is grandiosely situated at the top of the largest hill around, Setenil is built down low, mainly in caves. Or at least the old part is. The town has spread out and up somewhat since its heyday as a near-impenetrable Moorish fortress against the relentless Christian onslaught, it’s named supposedly coming from the Latin “septem nihil”, or “seven times nothing”.
This, because apparently it took seven sieges to finally conquer it. Pretty impressive, especially since judging by the crowds overwhelming Setenil’s tiny streets and narrow walkways on “The National Day of Spain”, the modern version was only able to hold out until about 11:30 am.
You should know:
Even though they literally live in caves, residents of Setenil de las Bodegas still find the term “man cave” just as dumb as everyone else.
Other Pueblos Blancos of Andalucía
While each of these white villages can be recommended for one thing or another, in our brief experience they didn’t quite live up to the lofty standards set by the previous 7.
Basically, if you get the chance to see them because they are on your way, or you know someone heading there anyway, or maybe you got horribly lost and just showed up out of the blue, well, by all means, pop in and have a look…
Arcos de la Frontera
Often described as one of – if not the – best of the Andalucía white towns, we personally found it a little underwhelming. Part of that is the weight of expectations (we knew nothing about Villaluenga which made it easy for it to pleasantly surprise), and it certainly looks the part from a distance (big hill, castle overlooking a river), but overall it lacked the charm of many of the others.
Of course, it has a lot of arches (hence the name) and is full of white buildings and narrow streets. However, I wouldn’t describe any of the arches as exceptional, the buildings not quite as white, and if we were judging by the traffic, the roads were seemingly too narrow (although the alleys were fine, I mean, they’re alleys).
The two most noticeable things for us about Arcos de la Frontera were the driving struggles of practically everyone bold enough to bring a car into the Old Town (plenty of acrobatic corners and “mirror scraper” arches).
We were much happier with our fairly long walk in from the parking area on the edge of town after we watched a couple of vehicles trying to find, reach and navigate the Tetris maze of a parking lot next to the main church.
The other noticeable thing was the way the rough stone streets had become smoothed over the years to a squeaky polished finish, lending a horrible, shrill, screeching backdrop from cars driving to everything in town. Harrowing.
A sleepy little place worth a short walk around, especially up to Barrio Nazari to see the ancient Moorish ruins, much of which are still intact. Covered in graffiti, trash and, presumably, urine, but relatively intact.
The main square is pretty, also, and there is a relatively easy cobblestoned path up a different hill to a plain square church. In itself, not exciting, but the views are stupendous.
This is one of the most popular pueblos blancos of Malaga because of its close proximity to the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol. And it looks amazing as you approach – hovering on the hill coming from the south, appearing suddenly over the ridge from the north.
For my money, the best viewpoint is actually from the rocky outcropping next to the “ornithology centre” just west of town, which touts excellent chances to see a variety of large birds but somehow doesn’t mention the outstanding look at Casares itself (featuring the standard hilltop castle front and centre).
Check out our full guide to Casares: Gateway Between the Costa del Sol and Pueblos Blancos
While the castle itself was closed the afternoon/night/morning we were there, it was still one of the best ones for exploring. The area immediately around it features several miradores, some surprising ruins, a small cemetery and some old apartments apparently inhabited by a cadre of old ladies who do nightly constitutional laps back and forth across the tiny square.
All in all, quite atmospheric.
It may actually have a fairly old population, in general, as the benches around the main square were likewise entirely dominated by older men, seemingly just hanging out, not eating or drinking or even talking other than the occasional brusque comment in the direction of a compatriot. Nonetheless, they seemed perfectly content.
Probably the least touristy pueblo blanco we visited, which was a bit surprising since it is very close to Ronda and right on the Algeciras train line. We took the very short train ride to get there, wandered around a bit, then hiked back (roughly 11 hot, dusty kilometres).
The entrance to town (the way we did it, anyway) was a bit rough (broken-glass-and-illegal-smells kind of rough) but once you make it all the way up the hill you’ll find a pretty fascinating little place. Long and narrow, like a really cool tie, with a very cute church (cute even by pueblo blanco standards) and square and some nice views.
The rocks nearby are popular with climbers and via ferrata enthusiasts, while Cueva del Gato is one of the largest caves in Spain and has a pretty pleasant picnic area.
And if you sneak past the barriers to the cave itself you can be treated to a very impressive collection of bat dung and bird feathers.
Despite another hilltop castle, a bell tower you can actually climb and views all the way to the ocean, we found Medina-Sidonia didn’t quite match up to many of the other white towns of Andalucia in terms of sheer beauty or tourist-friendly photo ops.
And, I’ll admit, the hyphenated name isn’t helping its cause (where will it all end, British soccer player moms?).
The castle ruins are extensive but mostly just that – ruins. The church, however, was undeniably impressive.
Even though the €2.50 entrance fee was enough to deter Laynni and Chris, slightly offending the ticket booth guy (“es magnifica!”), it did allow me to explore on my own. I especially enjoyed the part where I was able to put my head completely inside one of the bells.
Car Rental For Your Pueblos Blancos Road Trip
You can rent cars in a many places in Andalucia that are nearby the pueblos blancos like Seville, Cadiz, and Malaga. We rented ours in Ronda since we stayed there for a week before seeing the other white towns. We were happy with Ronda Rent A Car for our week long rental, which is good since they were the only game in town. Just remember to get a small car to more easily navigate the narrow streets or plan to park outside the towns and walk in.
The Pueblos Blancos of Andalucia Summary
The white villages in Andalucia are truly outstanding – beautiful, exotic and filled with centuries of checkered history. The Moorish designs, Christian refinements and dramatic settings make the entire region a fascinating place for a ruta de los pueblos blancos and the perfect place for extended road trips (although keep in mind there are limits to how long white buildings and hilly streets can keep you captivated – just ask any 15th century Christian soldier, or Looney).
Nonetheless, our 12-stop white village / pueblo blanco tour was a rousing success, even if Looney occasionally broke free to enjoy a terrace beer or mystery tapas rather than continue on our endless hunt for more classic fountains or delightful flower pots.
Exploring these incredibly scenic pueblo blancos also combines perfectly with some classic city stops (Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Gibraltar), remote hiking (Las Alpujarras) and a bit of coastal beach time (Cadiz, Malaga), and should be on every Spanish bucket list.
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