For yet another look at Andalusia, we leave the coastline and head inland to the Pueblos Blancos (White Towns), so called for their whitewashed houses built closely together. These dazzlingly white villages, often tucked into rocky bluffs, evoke villages in North Africa. So far, we've been treading the beaten touristic path. In these evocative medieval villages, with their Moorish style alleyways, we become travelers and adventurers again.
The best base and the most historic stopover is Ronda, with the oldest bullring in Spain. It clings to a cliff above a narrow, 107-meter (350-foot) chasm, a dizzying ravine created by the turbulent Guadalevín River. The tour also allows time to visit the bodegas at Jerez de la Frontera as part of the Sherry Triangle.
Days 1 & 2: Jerez de la Frontera & the Sherry Triangle
On the morning of Day 1, leave Seville and head 87km (54 miles) south, following NIV/E5 to the turnoff west into Jerez. Check in to a hotel for 2 nights. Head 87km (54 miles) to the south, following NIV/E5 to the turnoff west into Jerez de la Frontera, the land of sherry to explore the bodegas. The best ones are Sandeman, Pedro Domecq, and González. But time your tour of the bodegas so that you can see the Dancing Horses of Jerez. When no performances are scheduled, you can watch the horses as they train. An intriguing curiosity, and only if you have time, is a visit to Museo de los Relojes, a clock museum with timepieces from the early 17th century. What to do at night? Devour tapas and drink sherry in the taverns.
On the morning of Day 2, leave Jerez and drive south for 12km (7 1/2 miles) to the town of El Puerto de Santa María, part of the Sherry Triangle. Before lunch you can set about exploring the town, enjoying wine tastings at Terry; visiting an old mosque, Castillo de San Marcos; and seeing the historic Plaza de Toros, or bullring. After lunch continue to number three of the triangle, Sanlúcar del Barrameda. Head northwest from Santa María along Route 440. At this point, you'll be only 24km (15 miles) west of Jerez. At one of the taverns here, you can enjoy a glass of the distinctive manzanilla wine, the driest of all sherries. Consider a 3 1/2-hour river cruise offered by Real Fernando. Upon your return, you can stroll about the Old Town for an hour or so before driving back to Jerez (just follow the signposts).
Day 3: Arcos de la Frontera to Olvera
On Day 3, leave Jerez in the morning and head east along N342 to Arcos de la Frontera, a distance of 32km (20 miles). Except for Ronda, the old Arab town of Arcos will be the highlight of your tour. It's so special it's been declared a National Historic Monument, and you'll need about 2 hours to wander its narrow streets where Moors of old trod. You'll want to spend most of your time exploring the Medina or Old Town and taking in the panoramic lookout point, Mirador de Abades. There are some good restaurants here, so consider a luncheon stopover.
Leave Arcos after lunch, following N342 to the junction with Route 339 cutting south to Zahara de la Sierra, 51km (32 miles) from Arcos. With its ancient stone streets and whitewashed houses, Zahara lies in the heart of the Natural Park Sierra de Grazalema. You climb a steep path to see a panoramic view and the ruins of a reconstructed castle, where a 10th-century Muslim fortress used to stand.
For your final stopover of the day, head back to Route 339 to the junction with N342. Continue east to Olvera, where you can check in to a hotel for the night. The distance is only 24km (15 miles) from Zahara. Another former Moorish stronghold, Olvera makes a good base for the night, and you can explore El Castillo de Olvera, a fortress once thought impregnable. The narrow streets are lined with shops selling handicrafts.
Day 4: Setenil de las Bodegas to Ronda
On the morning of Day 4, leave Olvera and drive to Setenil de las Bodegas, following the signs to CA-4222 southeast into Setenil, a distance of only 13km (9 miles). Crammed into clefs of rock, with cavelike streets, the town is one of the most curious of the Pueblos Blancos because of its bizarre shape. You'll need about 2 hours to explore it before pressing on to Ronda for the night. Return to CA-4222 and head southeast into Ronda, following the signs. The road changes its name to MA-428 for the final descent into Ronda, 18km (11 miles) from Setenil.
Ronda is the grand stopover along the tour, a town that lies high in the Serranía de Ronda mountains. If you don't have time to explore it on the first day, you can spend some of your time there in the morning. The highlight is La Ciudad, the old Moorish town, although El Mercadillo, the so-called New Town, is also of interest. You can't do it all in 1 day, so select what interests you the most. Wander the streets of the Old Town and follow in Hemingway's footsteps by dropping into a series of tapas bars as darkness falls across the ravine. Overnight in Ronda.
Day 5: Grazalema to Jimena de la Frontera
On the morning of Day 5, leave Ronda and take A-376 northwest to Grazalema. At the junction of A-372, follow the signs southwest to Grazalema, 33km (20 miles) from Ronda. Those with more time use Grazalema as a base for exploring the Parque Natural of the Sierra de Grazalema. Otherwise, settle for a stroll through this ancient town called a pueblo blanquísimo, or the whitest of the white towns.
After 2 hours, hit the road again for Gaucín by taking A-374 southwest to Ubrique, where you get on A-373 south and follow the signposts to Cortez de la Frontera. Outside of town link up with the A-369 and follow it southwest until you hook up with A-377 going into Gaucín. The whole trip from Grazalema to Gaucín is 63km (39 miles). Spend an hour or so here, taking in the panorama from Castillo del Aguila. Chances are you'll be in town at lunchtime.
Set out once again for Jimena de la Frontera, where you can check in to a hotel for the night. From Gaucín, follow the curvy A-369 southwest for 23km (14 miles) into Jimena. Wander its narrow cobblestone streets and explore the impressive ruins of Castillo-Fortaleza, taking in some of the most panoramic views in the region. Those with more time can explore some of the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales.
Day 6: Medina Sidonia to Vejer de la Frontera
On the morning of Day 6, leave Vejer and travel to Medina Sidonia, a distance of 86km (54 miles). Take C-333 out of Jimena, going northwest to the junction with A-375, where you will head southwest to the junction with A-381. Once here, continue northwest into Medina Sidonia, following the signposts. You can spend 2 or 3 hours here and stick around for lunch, taking in its central medieval square, Plaza de España, and paying a visit to Iglesia Santa María La Coronada, today a church but formerly a mosque. You can also visit the town's Roman sewers.
After leaving Medina Sidonia, take the C-393 south to Vejer de la Frontera, only a 26km (17-mile) journey. This is one of our favorite of all the Pueblos Blancos, and you can check in to a hotel for the night. Everybody visits Castillo Moro, the Moorish castle, but you can spend 3 hours or so wandering its narrow streets and taking in the views. The town is still partially walled.
Day 7: Return to Seville
On the morning of Day 7, you can leave Vejer and head back to Seville, which is likely to be your transportation hub for leaving Spain. Get on N340/NIV heading north, connecting with the E5 into Seville, 160km (100 miles) away. If you arrive in Seville in time, you can stroll about the Old Town or get some much-needed rest before your journey back home.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.