We arrived in Spain on April 3rd and headed straight to the Costa Del Sol to enjoy the beach and some golf (for the hubby). Unfortunately, the Costa Del Sol is not what I remember from 20 years ago (perhaps this contributed to my recent meltdown?) and we were soon pouring over the map planning our next stop.
But then I remembered something: the charming, ancient white villages that dot the countryside throughout the south of Spain. There is something haunting and fairy-tale like about these little villages. I couldn’t leave without a visit to at least one. Fortunately, three of the most interesting “pueblo blancos” in Spain lie along a stretch of the same road, heading away from Manilva toward the mountains that frame the coastline.
Ronda, Casares, and Gaucin are ancient villages that trace back to before Roman times. Ruins of forts, castles and towers in these little towns attest to their significance in the distant past, but a list of notable people who walked their streets in more recent history (Hemingway, for example) suggests a magic that is timeless.
Casares: Located on the A377 less than 15 minutes from Manilva, Casares is named after Julius Caesar, who used the sulphur baths nearby. Casares is also the birthplace of Blas Infante Perez de Vargas, a labor lawyer, writer and important figure in the Spanish Civil war who was executed by Franco in 1935. Casares is the most photographed village in Spain. It offers a 12th century castle, stunning views to the sea, and classic, narrow streets that are filled with bars and cafes. If you visit Casares, stop at the Hedionda Roman Baths (free) for whatever ails you. For some exercise, hike from the base of the city to the museum at the top at sunset.
Gaucin: Further along the A377, up the steep mountainside, lies Gaucin. Hairpin curves and sheer drops of several hundred feet next to the roadway notwithstanding, the ride up the mountain is beautiful, especially in spring. Gaucin has much to offer: Its resident castle, Castillo del Aguila, dates back to the Romans, but was expanded into a fortress by the Moors. The Convento de los Carmelitas was built in the 1700s and is now used for civic events, such as exhibitions of Gaucin’s growing artist community. Gaucin also hosts its own running of the bulls event on Easter Sunday. Unlike the throngs of tourists that descend on Pamplona for the running of the bulls, Guacin’s event is much smaller (around 40 people usually run) and it is not advertised anywhere. Guacin’s toro de cuerda dates back to the 17th century and includes many days of celebrations and processions in preparation for Easter.
Ronda: Turning right out of Gaucin onto the A369 leads straight to the crown jewel of the Malaga province. Built atop a canyon that is hundreds of feet deep, Ronda’s three scenic bridges are world-famous. There are ruins of a fortress and a beautiful 16th century church, but Ronda is perhaps best known for its famous visitors. Ernest Hemingway, who spent much time in Ronda, claimed that if one were only to see a single bullfight, Ronda would be the place to do it (I’ll pass on that). Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (about the Spanish civil war) is said to be based on the executions of Nationalists who were thrown off the hills of Ronda into the canyon below. Orson Wells, Rainer Maria Wilke and the English writer, George Eliot also spent time in the spectacular town of Ronda. Several charming hotels and B&B’s are available in Ronda, so if you have the chance, stay the night.
Any one of these magical villages would be well-worth the trip, but if possible, try to make it to all three. They represent the very best of the historical treasures and stunning vistas on offer in Andalusia and should not be missed.
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