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Arcos de la Frontera
Discover Spain’s Premier "Pueblo Blanco"

The enchanting Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) sparkle on hilltops throughout southeast Spain’s Cadiz Sierra range. They’ll take your breath away as you view them tumbling down hillside slopes or explore their narrow streets. There are virtually scores of beautiful and historic villages throughout this region, and adventurous travelers are well rewarded for following arduous mountain routes to reach them.

Luckily, the most renown village, Arcos de la Frontera, is also the most accessible, only 90 minutes by car or bus south from Seville. Settle into quaint Arcos for a few days of Pueblos Blancos relaxation, or use Arcos as your base for additional explorations.

Arcos Ridgeline

Cliffside Setting

Arcos sits along a ridgeline above the impressive cliff, Peña Nueva, overlooking the winding Guadelete River and its broad valley. The opposite side of the ridge, Peña Vieja, overlooks Lago de Arcos. The old town center sits at the highest point, with streets of white-washed homes cascading down the ridgeline. Motor traffic flows only west to east into the old town, then loops back, leaving the town’s labyrinth to be explored peacefully on foot.

Orient yourself by finding the central nucleus, Plaza Cabildo, and peer from the plaza’s open north side down onto the golden cliffs and out across the river plain. The old Castillo (fort) and Santa Maria church overlook the square, along with one of Spain’s better Paradors (state-operated historic inns).

Climb the church bell tower for one of the most spectacular views in Spain. You’ll need to tip the tower keeper to climb through his home to reach the bells and the view. Gaze out over the river plain and lake, then peer down onto winding village streets. The church dates from the 7th century, containing elements of Romanesque and later Gothic styles. The interesting church interior, open in the evening, shows off an interesting Andalusian Baroque choir and altar.

Pena Nueva
View from an El Convento Hotel terrace
Courtesy: El Convento Hotel

Arcos street Peaceful Ambiance

Explore the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys which run out from the plaza. Some of the alleys are but two meters wide, following the rugged terrain, with arches bridging between homes on either side. This is an architecture that harks back to the Moslem occupation in the Middle Ages.

The white home facades sport the signature geranium-filled, grill-covered windows and blinds of the Pueblos Blancos.

Tiled rooftops add to the classic charm. You’ll come across the impressive homes of nobility, sporting large arched and carved doorways, intermingled with the modest homes of merchants and craftspeople.

Meander and discover small plazas, craft shops, a busy farmer’s market, and scattered restaurants. There are few tourists to break up the Andalusian ambiance. When you come upon the 15th century church, San Pedro, you’ll have another opportunity for a great bell tower view, and a chance to meet Ramirez, the friendly tower keeper. A particularly good local crafts gallery is the Galeria de Arte San Pedro, where Adrés Oviedo Vidal creates and displays beautifully painted ceramic pieces. When you’re ready for some nourishment, stop at one of the small tapa bars and sample an assortment of tasty dishes. If you’re not comfortable reading a Spanish menu, the owners will gladly take you back into the kitchen and display the day’s selections for your choice.

Artist Anres Oviedo Vidal
Courtesy: Vidal Gallery

The artist's gallery
Courtesy Vidal Gallery

Pueblos Blancos History

The Pueblos Blancos share a history involving the centuries-long fight of the Spaniards to reconquer Spain from the Muslims (Moors). Arcos’ name, de la Frontera, reflects this frontier history. Some of the villages changed hands multiple times between the first Arab conquest (711) and the final Spanish victory (1492). Arcos’ Castillo, built by the Moors in the 11th century, reflects the Arab occupation. On the border between Castile and Granada, the towns became desirable bounty. Their signature barred window architecture reflects each town’s defensive emphasis.

Once Spain had finally reconquered this area, the ancient nobility began to enjoy the cultural activities which accompanied Spain’s Renaissance. Traces of this rebirth can be found today in Arcos’ array of old-town buildings and churches, rich with decorative moldings and pediments and containing works of art from the 1500s and 1600s.

Beyond Arcos

You’ll find yourself wanting to extend your Arcos stay, especially if you are fortunate enough to find a room at the Parador or El Convento hotel. At both places you can gaze from your own terrace across the valley, as well as admire the cliffside and white-washed homes. You can also use Arcos as a convenient home base from which to take an interesting circle route of other Pueblos Blancos. Drive east on road C344 to El Bosque, then on to Benahoma and Grazalema. All three display their own brand of Andalusion charm, particularly Grazalema, a great place to picnic at the City Hall plaza and explore the quiet streets.

Arcos west view
West Side View of Arcos

Then drive north to heady Zahara. The tiny village sits under a Moorish castle and provides spectacular mountain views. Consider settling in and spending the night in quiet Zahara at Hostal Marques or one of the village pensións. You can return to Arcos by looping westward on route 382. If you are looking for still another White Village, drive south from Zahara along route 473 to reach the largest town in the region, picturesque Ronda.

Long after you’ve returned from your visit to the White Villages, their unique character and charm will be a fond part of your memories. You’ll be glad that you included the Pueblos Blancos in your Spain travel plans.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Spain’s Arcos de la Frontera and the Pueblos Blancos.

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