Andalucia and its White Villages
Driving Southern Spain
Driving in a foreign country can intimidate the best of us. My first time driving in Southern Spain, I worried about mysterious traffic rules and weird signage – all of which would be in español! How would I get from place to place without roadside disaster? Calmer thinking prevailed when I ultimately decided that if I wanted to get the most out of southern Spain and its White Villages, the most quintessentially Spanish towns, self-touring was the way to go.
Of course, after I got behind the wheel, revved the engine and pulled away from Cadiz, a charming Andalucian seaside city, I found I had little to worry about.
I highly recommend self-driving tours. While unfamiliar terrain may be a distraction, it should not prevent the trip – particularly in Spain. Roads are generally good with clear signposts and traffic laws almost identical to the U.S.
In terms of visiting the White Villages, driving offers the most flexibility to explore these town’s endless corners and winding roads without having to walk their steep hills or wait for buses to get from town to town. White Villages a charming, must-have Spanish experience, and travelers need to leave a major city to get to them.
For those not clued into these remarkable places, the White Villages are usually walled cities found resting on a hilltop. They were built as strategic military posts by Spain’s Christian and Moorish kingdoms, and they are painted white to protect their clay walls from the harsh sun of the region. Visitors will discover winding cobblestone streets along narrow corridors, great views, and a wonderful sense of history all dripping with traditional Spanish culture.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s get some of the drivable White Villages worth your gas and rental car expense. FYI, for touring Andalucia, Enterprise is a good option.
For anyone smart enough to cruise along the N-340 coast road, make sure to stop in Vejer. The city was declared a national monument in 1978 and for good reason. The pueblo is just enough off the beaten path to feel undiscovered and is home to one of the more charming village squares in Spain, Plaza de España.
Arcos de la Frontera
A vertical cliff protects Arcos de la Frontera from all sides, and makes its picturesque views impossible to miss. The main plaza faces Basilica Parroquia de Santa Maria church and a great three-star parador (stay in these hostel/hotel places every chance you can), Arcos de la Frontera.
The mountaintop city called Grazalema offers an inviting view of La Encarnacion Church and La Aurora Church, both built in the 17th century, along the main road, and are some of the city’s best tourist attractions. On the edge of town is Villa Turistica de Grazalema, which hosts one of the most beautiful views in the region.
I know, technically, Carmona is not a White Village. However, most people visiting southern Spain will likely stop in Seville, perhaps Spain’s most iconic southern city, and Carmona lies just 18 miles from Seville. Carmona maintains White Village aesthetics with high walls and history, and it is a gateway to the Roman Baetica trails and offers ruins to the Roman Necroplis.
My launching pad of Cadiz (the city) is also worth noting as an excellent hub for driving the aforementioned White Villages, and has it own venerable old town built right on its meandering coastline. For those needing a little bit of modernity before making their pilgrimage to the White Villages, the “new” section of Cadiz has every amenity a traveler could want.
A final word of caution, while southern Spain’s roads are fun and scenic, road side exits are infrequent. If you miss your turnoff, expect a lengthy drive before being able to turn around.
This post was done in partnership with In The Know Traveler and Enterprise Rent-a-Car but they had no input on the content. All opinions are my own.
Photography by Devin Galaudet and Sarah and Iain (Creative Common 2.0)