In the mountainous region between Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera, there are a number of villages and small towns which began as Phoenician and Roman settlements and which grew beyond their walls between the 8th to the 15 centuries. The White Towns are characterized by narrow alleys and secluded squares lined with whitewashed houses much like the buildings in North Africa. The churches were often built on the sites of former mosques and the mansions date back to the Reconquista. Their Gothic, Renaissance, or Baroque architecture is an interesting contrast to the older Moorish buildings. The Ruta de los Puelbos Blanco connects 19 fascinating villages and begins in Arcos de la Frontera.
One of Andalucia's most dramatically positioned white villages, Arcos balances atop a rocky limestone ridge, its whitewashed houses and stone castle walls stopping abruptly as a sheer cliff face plunges down to the fertile valley of the river Guadalete below.
Declared a national historic-artistic monument in 1962 in recognition of its exceptional architecture and impressive location, the old town is a tangled labyrinth of cobbled streets that lead up to a sandstone castle, the Castillo de los Arcos. As you'd expect from such a spectacular vantage point, there are exhilarating views over the town and the rolling plain below.
Summit hike with a view of Gibraltar
Those who climb the highest mountain in the Sierra de Grazalema (1648 m) are rewarded with an incomparable view. The north side of the ridge may offer a view of eagles circling over the Spanish firs. To the south, you can see the Los Alcornocales nature reserve and even the Strait of Gibraltar on a clear day. (3:30 hrs, 5.5 km, elevation change: 730 m)
A hike through a spectacular gorge
The Garganta Verde is a spectacular canyon in the Sierra de Grazalema. The 400 meter high cliffs are home to griffon vultures, which can always be seen circling overhead. A highlight in the landscape is the Cueva Ermita – a colossal arch in the wall of the gorge.
The first thing that strikes visitors to Ronda is its precarious position on the edge of a steep canyon. Such notables as Rilke, Hemmingway and Orson Welles were captivated by the city's amazing location. In “For Whom the Bell Tolls” Hemmingway writes about rebels being thrown from the cliff by Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. The plunging canyon that splits the city in two is called El Tajo and is spanned by three stunning bridges. A stroll along the panoramic promenade on the edge of the canyon is a must. One of Spain's oldest cities, Ronda was under Moorish rule for over 700 years, a period that is reflected in the local architecture. The city is also known as the birthplace of the modern method of bullfighting featuring a torero who is on foot instead of on horseback and who fears shame more than death or injury. The Plaza de Toros is the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain still in (infrequent) use.
Pueblo blanco in the shadow of a rock castle
The small village at the foot of the Sierra Grazalema belongs to the lesser known white villages in Andalusia. It was founded in the 8th century by the Arabs and was probably called “Zahara”, which means something like “flower”, because of its beauty. The ruins of a Moorish rock castle from the 12th century still tower over the village of 1000 inhabitants and offer a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside and the Zahara reservoir.