Andalusia holds many treasures in its inland, one of them being the Route of the White Towns, where time stops before the visitor’s eyes.
Andalusia is much more than great cities, beaches, sun, golf and parties. If we go deeper into the northern parts of Málaga and Cádiz, we’ll find a real treasure for those who love rural areas: the Route of the White Towns, or as it is known in Spanish, la Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos.
This route, made up of about twenty towns located in the Sierra de Grazalema and the region of La Janda in Cádiz, along with the Serranía de Ronda (Ronda hills) in Málaga, has become one of the favourite tourist destinations outside of the main Andalusian cities:
- Arcos de la Frontera
- Prado del Rey
- Zahara de la Sierra
- Alcalá del Valle
- El Bosque
- Setenil de las Bodegas
- Puerto Serrano
- El Gastor
- Villaluenga del Rosario
- Torre Alháquime
With a distinctive architecture full with white houses, where the white colour of the lime used in the buildings is the element that gives its name to this route as a fundamental element to avoid the Andalusian sun and heat, its flower pots and red rooftops act as counterpoints to the immaculate colour of the facades. It is a beautiful picture as it is joined by blue and golden colours, with cinnamon and green tones belonging to the sky, sun, mountain range and flora. We can sight stepped landscapes where the white facades look like asymmetrical pearls that rise between its mountains and hills.
Steep and narrow streets. Many towns have castles or ruins that serve as a reminder of what Al-Andalus used to be in ancient times. A remnant that is also present in the Arabic roots of the cities’ names.
Of course, there are also other traces of past times that can be found in archaeological sites, Roman roads, and more recently, stories of Bandoleros (Spanish rural bandits) that the elders of the place still recall in benches and bars of the cities.
“Tripa vacía, corazón sin alegría”, or in English: empty stomach, joyless heart. That’s how the saying goes in the White Towns, where joy comes by enjoying its gastronomy, with high quality products such as the Payoyo cheese made in Villaluenga del Rosario, wines from Ronda like the Lagarejo, tagarninas (golden thistles), ajo a la comendadora (Commander’s garlic bread), sopas pegás (local soup accompanied by wild asparagus), gazpachuelo (fish stock with potatoes and bread, garlic, oil), venison, morcilla (black pudding), chacina (cold meats), trout, partridge, abajo (an asparagus soup), sweet potato with honey, quemones (with olive oil, garlic, onion and a poached egg), torrijas (typical Spanish sweet similar to French toasts), buñuelos or fritters, pestiños (honey- dipped fritters), gañote (a spiral-shaped sweet), quince cheese…
And to settle your stomach as well as for nature lovers, the Route of White Towns makes it possible to visit within short distance wonders like the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Los Alcornocales (cork oaks) Natural Park, Serranía de Ronda, or El Torcal de Antequera.
The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has been declared a biosphere reserve, located in the Subbaetic System between the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga. Having the larger Andalusian caves, what is known as the Hundidero-Gato complex has around nine thousand metres in its topography. Also worthy of special mention is the Cueva del Gato (Cat’s Cave), located between Benaoján and Montejaque (Málaga), with its subterranean river, as it is one of the most visited places by hikers in the Málaga province.
Located between the union of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Los Alcornocales Natural Park, one of the biggest in Spain, is also between Cádiz and Málaga, although it’s mostly Cádiz-based. As its name says, this Natural Park has a cork oak forest, the largest in the country and one of the biggest of the world, which makes its cork production another highlight. It also has the honour to be the largest wind farm of the Iberian Peninsula.
Under the wing of the Sierra de las Nieves (Snow Sierra), the Sierra de los Alcornocales and the Sierra de Grazalema, we find the Serranía de Ronda, much more than just a mountain range. It is, and has been, a meeting point among cultures in which we can enjoy the sight of watchtowers, castles, Roman theatres, palaces and the well-known Tajo de Ronda (Ronda Cliff). The ancient Roman city of Acinipo is also a must-see place, being a Roman site of unquestionable beauty, as well as its rich Arab legacy, with its baths and the Palacio del Rey Moro (Moorish King’s Palace).
And what about the Torcal de Antequera and Villanueva de la Concepción? The first Andalusian Protected Natural Space and Natural Reservation Park It’s no wonder that in 2013 it made the final of the Repsol Guide for the Best Spot in Spain. We owe this wonder of nature to the Jurassic period and to limestone rocks, and it has three natural trails for public use and an astronomical observatory, in addition to activities and routes that are organised off the beaten track.
Are you in the mood for enjoying nature further? The scenic route that can be found from Sierra de Olvera to Puerto Serrano, consisting of 36 kms, is a no longer used railway track which has been adapted in order to be used by non-motor vehicles, which makes it ideal for cyclists, hikers and excursionists. It used to join Jerez with Almargen and it has a large number of tunnels and viaducts, rural houses and hotels perfectly integrated in the surroundings where you can spend the night should you wish to stop over or be in touch with nature for a few days.
Highly recommendable for families owing to its being rather flat, which makes it easy for people of all ages to rent bikes and tandems as well as enjoying horse-riding exhibitions or even go on a horse-riding route yourself as you go through its 30 tunnels. You will also be able to see the griffon vultures that fly in the area.
Everything for everybody may well summarise the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos. From Arcos de la Frontera to Ronda, the way followed by the almohades in Al-Andalus. Towns and villages that seem to climb up the mountains and hills, with their labyrinth-like roads that perfectly adapt to whatever nature wished to do and lead to castles and churches, where the Kingdoms of Granada and Castile got together. Mysterious and hidden places where we can get to know the history and culture, which have been preserved over the years. Excellent cuisine and local products of the highest quality.
A visit to the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos is an absolute must for everyone who enjoys peace and quiet as it will immerse the visitor in a peaceful spot, away from the razzamatazz of the big city. And, even better, only a few kilometres away from the Costa del Sol.
What are you waiting for? Come and get joyfully lost among the meandering roads among the houses of the White Towns. You will most definitely not regret it!
By Massimo Filippa