Pueblos Blancos, A Magical Trip into Andalucia

As I was researching southern Spain, I fell in love with the idea of one particular thing – driving around the infamous “pueblos blancos”, the white towns. Dotted along the hillside of Andalucía, these quaint white-washed towns looked like a fairy tale in the photos I found online and couldn’t stop obsessing over. The one problem was getting to them. Even if you rent a car (which would have been expensive because we don’t drive manual) the roads are difficult to navigate and parking is unreliable.

Enter Naturanada, a tour company that was recommended to us by our Airbnb host. They offer a Pueblos Blancos and Ronda trip, so we booked it through email and showed up at their office bright and early Monday morning. Including our tour guide, Blanca, there were 9 of us, and we all fit comfortably into a van for our day adventure.

For the next 10+ hours, we would climb castle ruins, see falcons flying above a National Park, hold tight to our seats as we curved along dangerous roads, do shots with locals at 10 in the morning, and be awed by some of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen.

First stop was Castillo de las Aguzaderas, built in the 14th century. With no one around, we were free to walk on the walls – which was a little scary because there were no barriers to protect us from falling off! I took the winding, pitch-black stairs to the top, where we could see the countryside all around us. The castle has recently been restored, so it’s in good condition and was a great little place to explore for a while.

Driving alongside a bright teal lake we caught our first look of Zahara de la Sierra (population: 1, 400), a town built into and on top of a steep hill, with a picturesque castle keeping guard even higher up above the village. The crystal clear water at the bottom of the mountain looked stunning, but it’s from a man made dam so you can look but you can’t touch it (or swim in it).

Back in her youth, Mom would chug “sol and sombra’s” down like it was no one’s business. It was here in the village, at 10 am, that she decided she wanted to relive her younger days. So once the bus dropped us off, we strolled into a bar and ordered this traditional after dinner drink that’s equal parts brandy and anise. The bartender poured us a ridiculous amount. Two elderly Spaniards and my Mom got into a heated discussion about the Real Madrid soccer team. It was a great start to the morning.

Just outside of Zahara de la Sierra is Molino de Vinculo, an olive oil factory from the 1700s. Hundreds of years later, the same family is still taking care of it and making olive oil in the same traditional, hand-made way. Blanca took us on a little tour around the grounds, and even though it wasn’t the season for production, we got to taste some of the oil by dipping into it with bread. It was very flavourful and a little bitter, perfect for the olive oil lovers that I know – M’s family – so I picked them up a bottle.

The road from Zahara de la Sierra to Grazalema was winding, steep, and magical. We climbed 763 metres to our next stop, Mirador Puerto de las Palomas. This lookout point is situated at a height of 1, 186 masl. The Sierra de Grazalema park, which encompasses over 127, 000 acres, is famous for its vulture colony. We were so high up that these infamous vultures were circling and gliding right above our heads (okay, I may have cheated and used a zooms lens but … I swear they were really close!).

After taking in the beautiful sights from the highest point in the park, we continued to the little town of Grazalema (population 2, 100), where we enjoyed a traditional Andalucian village lunch. When I travel, I always like to order food traditional to that area. If we're by the sea, I order seafood. Blanca, our tour guide, told us these villages are known for their venison, peppers, and goat cheese, so that's exactly what Mom and I ordered!

Although the white villages are grouped together into one category because of their white-washed exteriors (which aren't an aesthetic choice – it's to keep the houses cool in the heat), each one is distinct in personality. In Grazalema, for example, there's a yearly bull running festival with a twist on the traditional. A rope is tied to the bulls' horns and the citizens run around pulling it and instigating the bull to charge. During our lunch, we saw a group of children re-enacting the tradition as part of a huge game of tag. So. Cute. 

Grazalema felt full of life and festivity. Walking through little shops and admiring the different cheeses made me deeply regret that bringing food back to Canada is illegal. I would've bought every variety if I was rebellious enough to try and sneak it through. 

We drove into Grazalema from above, so we couldn't see the stunning setting it's placed in until our departure. We drove down into the valley and kept peeking looks over our shoulders at the view behind us.

Our last stop was my most anticipated. I had heard so much about Ronda and seen many photos of the iconic bridge that connects that old and new town. Unfortunately, because it's so well known, it was filled to the brim with tourists who were running around trying to take in as much of the city as they could before getting back on their massive tour bus. Luckily, our wonderful tour director Blanca knew a secret spot where we could get the best view of the city, far below and far away from the hordes of selfie sticks and bucket hats.

The path to where most of the iconic photos are taken is just underneath the bridge, and it's a steep climb down and then back up. I was so thankful that Blanca drove us down to this spot – from farther away, we could appreciate this ancient city built on top of 100 metre cliffs. 

Our Pueblos Blancos tour was a day taken straight out of a magical storybook. I fell in love with each of these towns so much, that I promised myself I would be back one day to spend an entire summer amongst the olive oil trees, white washed towns, and kind village citizens. Until then, these perfect little towns will keep popping up in my daydreams.