CarmonaI couldn't help but be a little nervous as I pulled my rental car keys out of my pocket and unlocked the car door. It was my first time driving in a foreign country and I didn't know how difficult it would be. But I decided that if I wanted to see the famed White Villages of southern Spain, self-touring was my best option.
I pulled out of the car lot, and as I drove, it became clear that I was wrong to worry. Driving in Spain was no problem and my trip was going to be fantastic.

I highly recommend a self-driving tour for clients visiting this region. Many villages are close together, road conditions are generally good with clear directional road signs and Spain's traffic laws are nearly identical to those of the U.S. But most importantly, driving offers the flexibility to explore the White Village's nooks and crannies while avoiding steep hills on foot. However, drivers should understand that missed freeway exits can result in long detours, as there are substantially fewer road exits. Agents should map itineraries carefully.
My vehicle was rented through Bravo Holiday Cars, a reliable car able to navigate the winding streets.

The White Villages are walled hilltop cities built by Moorish and Christian kingdoms as strategic military posts, and they are painted white to protect the clay towns from the harsh rays of the sun. Today tourists will find charming cobblestone streets that wind through narrow corridors, offering wonderful views, historic landmarks and ancient alcazars.
Here are a few of the basics.

Arcos de la Frontera
A vertical precipice surrounds Arcos de la Frontera making picturesque views inescapable. The local plaza faces Basilica-Parroquia de Santa Maria church and the three-star Parador Arcos de la Frontera. This parador (an approved accommodation in historic settings throughout Spain) is soft lit and trimmed in dark woods.
While just steps from the town plaza, La Casa Grande feels homey. This quaint eight-room hotel was built in 1729 and has original terra-cotta floors and beamed ceilings. The 300-year-old mansion is quiet, cozy and perfect for couples.

Grazalema
In Grazalema, sightseers will undoubtedly want to see La Encarnacion Church and La Aurora Church both built in the 17th century near the town plaza.
On the outskirts of town is Villa Turistica de Grazalema. The villa is the site of one of the most beautiful views in Grazalema and has an outdoor pool and tasty traditional meals. Visitors can choose from private villas or standard rooms.

Vejer
For those cruising the N-340 coast road, be sure to hit Vejer. Declared a national monument in 1978, Vejer feels off-the-beaten-path and is home to one of the most pleasant village squares in Spain, Plaza de Espana.
For accommodations by the plaza there is La Casa del Califa. Originally culled from five separate houses dating as far back as the 13th century, La Casa del Califa Hotel is one of the more romantic paradors in Spain. Seventeen rooms are set in a maze of halls and stairways featuring Moorish decor, and the Restaurant el Jardin de Califa, which specializes in Moroccan fare. Reservations are suggested.

Carmona
Although technically not a White Village, Carmona should not be missed. Located about 18 miles outside of Seville, Carmona offers White Village aesthetics, a gateway to the Roman Baetica trails, ruins of the Roman Necropolis and my vote for the nicest parador in Spain, the Parador de Carmona.
Originally part of a 14th-century Arabic fortress, the hotel features views of the river Carbones and authentic Carmona-area delicacies. Be sure to try the delicious olives served at the bar.

HERE ARE A FEW REACOMMENDED STAYS IN THE WHITE VILLAGES:

Vejer
Casa del Califa Hotel
www.vejer.com

Convento Hospederia de San Francisco
www.tugasa.com

Grazalema
Hotel Puerto de la Villa
www.grazhotel.com

Villa Turistica de Grazalema
www.tugasa.com

Arcos de la Frontera
La Casa Grande
www.lacasagrande.net

Parador de Arcos de la Frontera
www.parador.es

Carmona
Casa de Carmona
www.casadecarmona.com

Parador de Carmona
www.parador.es

Cadiz
Hotel Playa Victoria
www.palafoxhoteles.com

Puerto de Santa Maria
Hotel Monasterio San Miguel
www.jale.com/monasterio

Rental Cars
Bravo Holiday Cars
www.grupobravo.net

Written by Devin Galaudet

Originally published in TravelAge West on May 2, 2005