Deep in the heart of Spain we went in search of the Pueblos Blancos, the white villages of Andalucia. They are not so far from the popular holiday resort area of the Costa del Sol. I think it is sad that many tourists never venture off their sun loungers to explore these towns and villages. But plenty of people do and they are rewarded with a unique insight into Spanish life in the countryside. Even though it can be a bit touristy, compared to the coast it is a world away.
These white-washed villages and towns are built in the Moorish style on hillsides and hilltops. Sometimes even into the hills themselves in the case of cave houses.
When we visited in late June the surrounding countryside was crisp and golden brown, the heat was relentless and there was little shade or greenery on the landscape.
The rather barren landscape was broken up by the sudden appearance of sunflowers. On the drive from Seville we passed field after field of sunflowers. Standing tall into the distance as far as the eye could see.
The town of Ronda is a good base from which to explore the surrounding pueblos blancos, white villages but is also a striking town itself and one of Andalucia’s most visited towns. Ronda is just over an hour from the popular coastal resort of Marbella so also easily accessible as a day trip.
Ronda’s most famous landmark, the Puente Nuevo bridge crosses the dramatic El Tajo gorge, connecting the old Moorish town and the newer parts of Ronda.
Puente Nuevo means ‘new bridge’, the bridge was completed in 1793. I suppose at the time of naming it was new! And it is still the newest of the three bridges that cross the gorge.
The chamber above the central arch has had various uses over the centuries, including as a prison. Legend has it that tortured prisoners were sometimes thrown to their death, out the windows onto the rocks below. But some say this is a myth…
The spectacular Parador de Ronda hotel sits right on the edge of the ravine with views of the bridge and the river below. How amazing would it be to stay here?!
Mijas is another lovely Pueblos Blancos just 10-15 drive inland from Fuengirola, easy to visit for a morning or afternoon before heading back to the beach or the pool, or in our case the campsite! You can join tours from the resorts or self drive. There is a large covered car park with a lift up to the tourist office. On the high season day we visited it was busy and we had to queue for a park but not for too long.
Mijas is famous for it’s donkeys that have been carrying tourists up the hill and around the village for many years. The donkeys were originally used by farmers to carry their loads and harvests. When the tourists started arriving they asked for donkey rides and soon the farmers found this a more lucrative use of their donkeys. But you don’t need to ride a donkey to appreciate what Mijas has to offer.
You can’t avoid donkey mania in Mijas. But the riding of them has become a controversial issue in the town with many people concerned about the donkey’s welfare. Too often we see donkeys being ridden by people that are far to heavy for the poor animal. It is also hard to know if the donkeys are adequately cared for and offered sufficient water, shade, food and rest. We suggest avoiding donkey rides for tourists as too often the animals are mistreated. You can still have fun in Mijas, and instead have your picture taken on the statue.
Take your time to explore the winding streets and stop at one of the small bars or cafes.
We enjoyed exploring the shops with their endless array of donkey themed souvenirs. L and I were on a mission to find S the perfect donkey themed present for her birthday, he bought her a small donkey toy to add to their animal collection and I found her a lovely mug. Birthday presents on the trip needed to be small and functional.
Some of the bars have terraces with stunning views to the coast.
Museo Historico Etnologico
We also visited the small museum in Mijas with many displays on Spanish rural life. Displays include an olive press, wine making equipment, replicas of traditional rooms such as kitchens and bedrooms and lots more. L and S enjoyed looking at all the agricultural equipment and learning something about life in Spain before tourism brought new sources of income. Most descriptions were in Spanish so there was some guesswork, translation and deduction required for some displays but for just 1 Euro this museum was well worth visiting.
For a completely different Pueblos Blancos experience, we travelled east to the lesser visited area of Guadix. This is where you need to go if you want to experience staying in a true cave house in Spain. This has been on my bucket list for a very long time. It was a really fun experience being troglodytes for a few days!
A full blog post on cave houses in Spain is coming up soon after Granada and the Alhambra. Spain’s most visited site.