Sierra de Cádiz/Pueblos Blancos
Located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, and in the far south-west of Andalusia, Sierra de Cadiz-Pueblos Blancos County, in the province of Cadiz, can be reached from the Bay area and the Costa del Sol along the A382, and from Seville via the A473.
It is blessed with a pleasant climate of hot summers and mild winters; however, in the Sierra de Grazalema (Biosphere Reserve) there is a microclimate which is characterised by high levels of rainfall, the highest level in Spain.
Its white towns with their Al-Andalus urban design and valuable archaeological remains which cling to the slopes of the mountains are a genuine alternative to the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas, as well as an invitation to enjoy Nature.
This is why it is one of the favourite destinations of Rural Tourism lovers. Its wide range of active tourism activities, set against the background of two protected natural spaces (Grazalema and Alcornocales), a cuisine created from the produce of the land, the festivals and traditions all with true local flavour come together to make up the sum of the many attractions in this part of Cadiz.
White Villages Route, here.
A region which has been inhabited since the most ancient of times, the Sierra de Cadiz boasts an incomparable archaeological heritage, with remains dating from between the Lower Palaeolithic times (250,000 years ago) to the Granadine-Castilian fortifications from the Middle Ages, and include important Iberian and Roman settlements.
There are still some remains of the prehistoric population in the Cuevas de la Manga (De La Manga Caves) in Villaluenga del Rosario and megalithic monuments as significant as the Alberite Dolmen in Villamartín, the El Charcón Dolmen at El Gastor, the Tomillo Dolmens in Alcalá del Valle and the prehistoric Fuente de Ramos necropolis at Puerto Serrano.
With the Roman Empire, the area reached great levels of prosperity, as is evidenced by the numerous remains dotted around the county. Besides the archaeological site in the Sierra de Aznar at Arcos de la Frontera, with its impressive “Castellum Aquae” and the remains of the Roman Road, there are the ancient Ibero-Roman towns of Iptuci at Prado del Rey, Ocuri at Ubrique (with remains of the walls, necropolis and forum) and Carissa Aurelia at Espera (with its impressive hypogea, or underground tombs), as well as the important Cerro de la Botinera site in Algodonales.
The long-lasting Islamic presence in the area left its distinctive mark on both the appearance and culture of the towns and villages in the Sierra. There are still fortresses (Zahara de la Sierra, Olvera, Setenil de las Bodegas, Arcos de la Frontera, Bornos, Ubrique, Villamartín...) and walled towns (Benaocaz, Torre Alháquime...) which witnessed the intense struggles for the frontier, and were also used later on by the Christians. After the ‘Reconquista’, the latter built churches, magnificent manor houses and civil buildings, examples of all possible architectural styles. The ten Historical Sites to be found in the county are the proof of this wealth of monuments
The marked Al-Andalus inheritance has deeply influenced the physiognomy of the towns and villages in the Sierra de Cadiz, providing them with a unique, characteristic architectural style, allowing the visitor to become completely submerged in the past. The whitewashed walls are a recurrent theme running from one town to another, as they share the typical architecture of low houses set in steep, narrow, winding streets with their characteristic cleanliness, neatness, order and utter attention to even the smallest of details.
The geraniums hanging from the windows imbue these Andalusian-style houses with a blaze of colour, as they shine brightly in the sun. Their layout and shape mirror those of houses in neighbouring Morocco.
Each of these mountainside hamlets has a deep-rooted whitewashing tradition which goes back as far as the earliest generations.
The buildings, sometimes perched on rocky projections, extend the white of the lime whitewash out over the rocks themselves, creating wonderful sculptures which change shape depending on the time of day.
The roofs of the homes, most of which are gabled and tiled in various shades of ochre and dotted with white chimneys, provide a particular townscape which is typical of this region.
Water, ever-present in this area, also has a starring role in urban design in these towns and villages. At their drinking fountains, you can quench your thirst with the freshest, cleanest mountain spring water.
The sierra is also studded with unique buildings, the majority of which have fallen into disuse but are conserved in perfect condition. This is the case of the oil mills and mills, some of which are water mills with mill ponds. There are also horse-mills for well-water and mills with waterwheels for river-water. Furthermore, there is a wide choice of types of accommodation (rural cottages, inns, old mills, farmhouses and mountain refuges), which have been renovated and perfectly fitted out, so that those with a love of simplicity and peacefulness can enjoy this outstanding area for some days.
A good way to learn about the roots of a people is by looking at their traditions. This region is characterised by customs related to the professions which its inhabitants have occupied since Ancient Times, professions such as grazing and cattle-farming. A familiar sight in the fields or on the farms is that of a herd of goats being led by their goatherd. There is also the pig-slaughtering season, when sausages and cold cuts are made by hand. These pork products will become the pièce de résistance in the cuisine of the local bars and restaurants.
Another great tradition in the area is that of olive growing, with ancient oil mills which still produce excellent oils. In fact, the Sierra de Cadiz can even boast oil bearing its name and with a Denominación de Origen (Designation of Origin).
The great importance of the bull in these parts is apparent in the bullrings (particularly that of Villaluenga del Rosario, which is the oldest in the province) and the cattle farms breeding fighting bulls, such as the one in Arcos de la Frontera. What’s more, the bull is the main element in many of the festivals in the province, which include letting bulls loose in the square, “bull-running” etc...
We can also admire the area’s cultural and historical background in the local museums situated in the different towns in the Sierra. Apart from those that have archaeological rooms with interesting pieces, there are also those which deal exclusively with craft and ethnographic traditions: the “Olvera. The Frontier and the Castles” Museum, the Museum of Textile Crafts in Grazalema, the Historical Town Museum of Villamartín, the History Museum of the Sierra de Cadiz in Benaocaz and the Archaeological Museum in Espera, amongst others.
Flamenco is also of great importance here, as in the rest of the province. Numerous flamenco social clubs and festivals such as the National Competition of Flamenco ‘Serrana’ Singing which is held in Prado del Rey, take place in the Sierra de Cadiz.
Using techniques which in many cases date back to days gone by, and a wide range of all kinds of materials such as textiles, leather, earthen-ware, cane, wicker, wood etc.., the area’s craftsmen offer a great variety of authentic, high quality products.
One of the most outstanding crafts is fine leatherwork, which is based in Ubrique, as well as Prado del Rey and Villamartín. Wicker and cane crafts are particularly renowned in Setenil de las
Bodegas and Bornos, while ceramics are the speciality in Arcos de la Frontera; with respect to musical instruments, the main exponents are the guitars to be found in Algodonales and the pipes in El Gastor. The wide range of crafts is completed by the baskets and espadrilles in Torre Alháquime, the riding boots in Espera, and the crafted furniture in Prado del Rey.
For the more active
The privileged natural environment of the Sierra de Cadiz is the ideal place to try out all kinds of active tourism activities, keeping in contact with Mother Nature.
A hill-walking visit to the natural parks of the Sierra de Grazalema and Los Alcornocales is one of the best ways to discover the numerous plains and gorges, caves and narrow passes of the region; lose yourself in the heart of the forests of Spanish blue fir, or contemplate the vastness of the countryside from the top of its peaks, admiring the flight of the lion vultures.
Always with the gentle murmur of waterfalls and streams in the background. Routes like those of Llanos del Republicano, Garganta Verde and Salto del Cabrero (Goatsherd Leap) can be tried either on foot, on mountain bike, or even on horseback.
For lovers of risk-sports, this county also has plenty to offer. It brings together the perfect conditions for air sports (hang-gliding, paragliding, ultra-lights) which are very popular here thanks to the numerous areas for free-flying: Sierra de Albarracín (near Benamahoma), Puerto de las Palomas, Sierra de Líjar... In fact, Algodonales hosted the World Air Games in the year 2001.
Climbing fans have various routes at their disposal, for either free-climbing or aid climbing, so they can enjoy this sport to the maximum, in Puerto de las Palomas, Peñaloja, el Peñón Grande, el Cintillo or la Verdilla. Canyoning is another appealing option in the Garganta Verde and the Garganta de Buitreras.
Watersports lovers won’t be disappointed either, as they can go fishing, kayaking or sailing on the numerous rivers and reservoirs, such as that at Guadalcacín II (Algar), Bornos Lake and Arcos Lake, which each have a Sailing Club. In the village of El Bosque there is also the southern-most trout fishing stretch of river in Europe.
Natural ParadiseThe majority of the land in this county is part of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park (with the Cerro de El Torreón, the highest point in the province) and Los Alcornocales Natural Park, as well as other highly valuable, protected areas such as Peñón de Zaframagón (Zaframagón Rock) and the Espera Endorheic Basins Nature Reserves or the unspoilt areas of the Bornos Reservoir Beauty Spot and the Arcos Reservoir.
Beauty SpotThe Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco, has its own specific microclimate thanks to its high level of rainfall (the highest in the Iberian Peninsula), and this is the factor which most influences the wealth of flora and fauna, as well as its unique morphology.
This is the highest mountain range with the most crags in the province of Cadiz; it is also an example of karst topography with sheer-walled valleys, caves, chasms, caverns, cornices, and scree-slopes. These create landscapes of incredible beauty such as the Garganta Verde, the Salto del Cabrero or the Puerto de los Acebuches.
The great botanical wealth of the park is evident in its vast areas of Mediterranean forest, river vegetation, and in its endemic species like the Grazalema poppy and the toadflax.
Particularly worthy of mention is the Pinsapo the Spanish blue fir, a species of fir tree only found in Western Europe, endemic to the Serranía de Ronda and a relic of the Caenozoic Tertiary Era. Sheltered from the sun within the Sierra del Pinar, between Grazalema and Benamahoma, there is a magnificent Spanish blue fir forest, currently the best-conserved in the world.
The Sierra de Grazalema also provides a habitat for the local fauna, with birds of prey particularly significant in this area, and one of the largest colonies of lion vultures in Europe is to be found here, along with one of the largest colonies of cave bats in Continental Europe (in the Hundidero-Gato Complex).
The Alcornocales Natural Park (formed by the boroughs of Arcos de la Frontera, Ubrique, Algar, El Bosque, Prado del Rey and San José del Valle) contains the largest cork-tree forest in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in the world. Its natural appeal does not end here, as it also harbours some exceptional areas of river flora which are capable of transporting us to subtropical regions no longer found in present-day continental Europe.
These mountain ranges host a great wealth of birds of prey, boasting up to some 18 species. The species best-adapted to this type of forest are the booted eagle, the short-toed eagle, the goshawk, the sparrowhawk and the tawny owl.
The flavours of the land
The cuisine of the Sierra de Cadiz, another of its tourist attractions, is to a great extent the consequence of the melting pot of cultures which have cohabited the area: the Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures.
Their long-lasting occupation here has left traditions and customs in their wake, along with ways of producing succulent, healthy dishes made with the excellent fruits of the land.
The main ingredients in the ‘serrana’ cuisine are of the highest quality, particularly in the case of the olive oil with its Designation of Origin “Sierra de Cadiz” which provides the dishes with a special touch. Also on the list of ingredients are the excellent produce from its vegetable plots, orchards and countryside; the delicious meat, sausages and ham from the Iberian pigs and of course the handmade cheeses, including the most famous of the Sierra cheeses, the ‘payoyo’.
And we mustn’t forget the country loaves of bread and the soft ‘mollete’ bread rolls, famous throughout the province.
The county is not without its fish either, as there are trout fishing areas, and fish farms in towns like Benamahoma, which also provide delicious trout.
Amongst the typical dishes of the Pueblos Blancos are: all kinds of cooked asparagus, golden thistles, garlic or tomato soup, hearty farmhouse soups, the typical aubergine and squash ratatouille, snails, potted pork, chickpea stew, free-range chicken, pork with honey, flaked Iberian pork and many more. But perhaps the most typical and popular dish of all is the ‘cocido de matanza’ or ‘slaughter stew’, made with chickpeas, white beans and pork products from the slaughter of the pig, which is still carried out in many households.
Cakes and pastries are another of the culinary specialities of the Sierra de Cadiz, with a very clear influence from the Al-Andalus tradition. Examples of these sweets are the fried lemon, sesame and cinnamon pastries or ‘gañotes’, ‘pestiños’ or honey pastries, egg pasties, doughnuts, honeyed French toast, Easter buns, goat’s cheesecake, meringues, pine kernel toffee cakes...
General informationWeb: www.mmsierradecadiz.org
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Interesting web pages with more information on this place:http://www.alcaladelvalle.com/
Web of Information about Alcalá del Valle http://www.sierradecadiz.com/
Web of information of the Sierra de Cádiz http://www.elgastor.es/
Official Web of El Gastor http://www.ayto-elbosque.es/
Official Web of El Bosque http://www.algodonales.es/
Official Web of Algodonales http://www.algar.es/
Official Web of Algar http://www.arcosdelafrontera.es/
Official Web of Arcos de la Frontera http://www.benaocaz.es/
Official Web of Benaocaz http://www.bornos.es/
Official Web of Bornos http://www.espera.es/
Official Web of Espera http://www.grazalema.es/
Official Web of Grazalema http://www.olvera.es/
Official Web of Olvera http://www.pradodelrey.es/
Official Web of Prado del Rey http://www.puertoserrano.es/
Official Web of Puerto Serrano http://www.setenil.com/
Official Web of Setenil de las Bodegas http://www.torrealhaquime.es/
Official Web of Torre Alháquime http://www.villaluengadelrosario.es/
Official Web of Villaluenga del Rosario http://www.villamartin.es/
Official Web of Villamartin http://www.zaharadelasierra.es/
Official Web of Zahara de la Sierra http://www.ayuntamientoubrique.es/
Official Web of Ubrique