Charming villages

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  • Arcos de la Frontera
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ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA

The gateway to the Route of the White Villages, Arcos is probably one of the most beautiful towns in Spain and has been declared a historical-artistic monument. Perched on a rock, the town looks out over the surrounding countryside where fighting bulls and horses are raised and with its groves of oranges, almonds and olives, and vineyards.  The best views are from the balcón de Arcos, a look-out point in the Plaza del Cabildo, the main town square.

The town still has its Moorish layout with narrow, steep streets.  Part of the city walls can be seen, along with the 15th-century Arab castle, which is not open to the public as it is privately owned, and which contrast with the Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic palaces and mansions.  The Basilica of Santa María (16th-18th centuries) and the Church of San Pedro stand out among the religious architecture.

This town and its inhabitants inspired Manuel de Falla, the musician, to compose his famous "The Three-Corned Hat" (El Sombrero de tres picos), a ballet that is set here. Falla based his plot on the legend of the Governor and the Miller's Wife from the novel of the same name by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón.

One of the best ways to see the town is to go on one of the guided visits organised by the Tourist Office, including one that features its magnificent Andalusian and Moorish courtyards. The town is particularly known for its Holy Week processions, which are declared to be of National Tourist Interest, and for the way it celebrates Christmas, where the whole town becomes a living Nativity Scene, of Andalusian Tourist Interest.

Arcos is one of the cities that has been most evoked by the poets, both by the ones born here and those who visited it. As you stroll through the streets, you will see quotes by Pío Baroja, Azorín, Jorge Guillén, Dámaso Alonso, Gerardo Diego, Gloria Fuertes or Fernán Caballero dedicated to the town.

You can spend the day here and will also have time to discover the local wines. Red wines are prepared under the "Tierras de Cádiz" label in Arcos. This denomination also includes the Sierra de Cádiz white table wines, from the vineyards of Arcos.  One such wine is the Tierra Blanca from the Bodegas Páez Morilla winery. The town's wineries produce and label the Regantío Viejo (Bodegas Regantío Viejo), Viña Lucía de La Vicaría (Bodegas Páez Morilla), and the Huerta de Albalá red wines, all of which are excellent and are beginning to make their mark in the world of wine.  

Bodega Regantío Viejo de Arcos organises two Rutas de Sabores (Taste Routes), one of which involves visiting the winery with a wine-tasting session followed by lunch Bodega Huerta de Albalá

And a real must is to taste and buy Sierra de Cádiz cheeses: La Cabra Verde cheeses

Algar is near Arcos, given its privileged location, there are many leisure options on offer for visitors to the town, the hill-walking in the Tajo del Aguila, fishing in the river Majaceite, while the Guadalcacín II reservoir offers kayaking, sailing and a beach. A compulsory date for your agenda is the "Subida a Algar" Rally, which draws many fans of cars and motor-racing every year.

Arcos de la Frontera Tourist Office.

VEJER DE LA FRONTERA

This splendid site of historical interest, awarded the National Embellishment Award, showcases the Arab legacy in its popular architecture with an urban layout of neighbourhoods, such as the Jewish district. Phoenicians, Carthaginian and Roman are just some of the civilisations who passed through here. This frontier white village, and therefore protected by city walls, still boasts several of its original towers: Mayorazgo, San Juan, La Corredera and the four gateways into the medieval city: Arco de la Segur, Puerta de la Villa, Sancho IV and Puerta Cerrada.

The castle (11th-14th century) perched on the highest part of the town combines Arab and Christian features and is reached through a beautiful horseshoe arch. Vejer can be easily visited in a morning.  Wander through this unusual village and enjoy its hidden spots, white houses and the stonework of its walls.

Gothic-Mudejar, Renaissance and Baroque features can be seen in its religious and civil buildings, churches, palaces and convents, including the Convento Hospedería de San Francisco, which is a hotel-restaurant that is a real must. Its guests enjoy the experience of sleeping in these old stone rooms but with every comfort of the 21st century.      

Legend has it that a wealth Moor fell in love with a very beautiful young woman from Vejer.  He married her and whisked her off to his palace in his homeland. The young woman was sad because she missed her village and her people.  To make her happy, her husband built a village that was identical to Vejer and the city of Xauen was thus founded in Morocco.  These two towns are now twinned thanks to the historical dies and the great similarity between them.               

The cultural activities offered include the Segur Flamenco evenings that are held in the medieval fort in August. Within the municipal district, around 15 km along the A-48 road (km 42), Montenmedio is a unique complex that combines tourism, sports and the arts. Its contemporary art collection, with works by artists of the ilk of James Turrell or Marina Abramovic, is worth visiting. The complex has a variety of restaurants and leisure activities for everyone: Horse-riding, quads, 4x4, bird watching...

The coast is just 9 km away and the village has one of the province's best beaches, El Palmar, with 4 km of fine golden sand, which is very popular with surfers. Then, there is one its most traditional and popular the festivities, the toro embolao, when a bull is run through the town's narrow streets on Easter Sunday.

If you continue along the coast, you reach Barbate, a seafaring town that is the heart of almadraba tuna fishing, where the tuna are caught using an age-old technique of a maze of nets.  You can learn about a "ronqueo" (the quartering of the tuna,), how the mojama (cured tuna) is sliced and about the fish canning industry, that is the main economic force of this town. 

Or you can go for a walk along the paths through the La Breña y Marismas de Barbate natural park.

You are interesting in studying Spanish here, the town is home to the La Janda Spanish School, an excellent school.

About almadraba tuna

Almadraba Tuna Route

Compuertas. Boat trips, tastings, short courses

Herpac. Weekend breaks with accommodation, visits to canning companies, tuna ronqueo, tastings

Vejer Tourist Office.

MEDINA SIDONIA

Located in the La Janda region in the heart of the province, and on the Route of the Horse and the Bull, Medina still retains all its medieval charm. Founded by the Phoenicians, it was an important Roman colony and capital of the Muslim cora (province) of Sidonia.

The town is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of Andalusia and you will be taken back to the Middle Ages as you stroll through its streets. Built on the so-called Cerro del Castillo (Castle Hill), Medina was declared a site of historical interest and the remains of the castle built on the Muslim fort still remain from the medieval era. There are many medieval arches and gateways to the old town, such as the Arco de la Pastora (Shepherdess Arch - 10th century), del Sol (Sun Arch - 10th-13th century) and Arco de Belén (Nativity Arch - 12th-15th century). Worth visiting is the town's parish church Santa María la Mayor Coronada (15th-17th century) in the Gothic and Plateresque styles, which has an alabaster statute of the Virgin Mary that was a gift from Alfonso X the Wise. The Chapel of the Holy Martyrs, from Visigoth times, is just outside the town.  It is thought to have been built in 403 and is the oldest in Andalusia.

You should also take time to visit the ancient Roman Asido Caesarina, an archaeological site that still has the remains of the sewage system, drains, rooms, houses and part of the pathway that runs four metres under the street. Some civil buildings worth seeing include the Town Hall, the Duke's Stables and the Ethnographic Museum.  The latter is in a mansion and contains many of the items that were part of daily life in the past of Medina Sidonia. The exhibition is organised around three major themes: Fish farming activities, crafts and daily life.

Have you heard of the Medina alfajor? This product with a protected geographical denomination is an Arab pastry made using traditional techniques and with top quality ingredients: honey, almonds, flour, species such as sesame, aniseed, cinnamon and cloves. Then, there are other typical sweets, such as the "tortas pardas", "amarguillos", etc, which are truly delicious.

On the long weekend to celebrate the Constitution, the open doors Day is held every year, when visitors can enjoy an extensive programme with different activities, shows and exhibitions, along with routes taking in the monuments and courtyards, and a craft market.

If you would live to learn more about the local stock breeding of horses and bulls, and the environment where they live, we recommend visiting Los Alburejos to watch the "A campo abierto" show, which is within a stone's throw.

Other interesting activities near to Medina are:

For that special dinner followed by a show, there is nothing better than the Hotel Utopia, which is also in Benalup, a boutique hotel that recreates the 1930s, where live performances are regularly put on.

Medina Sidonia Tourist Office

Municipal Archaeological Museum

Asido Caesarina Roman Archaeological Complex

Sobrina de las Trejas Bakery

Arab pastries

TARIFA

Overlooking the sea, Tarifa, Al-Yazirat Tarif (island of Tarif) as it was known to the Moors, is the most southerly tip of Europe and the closest point to Africa.  It is a town brimming with history and set in a beautiful natural setting.  It is one of the province's most popular tourist spots and has become the Mecca of wind and kite surfers.

There has been a settlement here since time immemorial, which explains the important archaeological remains, including the Algarbes necropolis, a burial site from the Bronze Age. There is also the Roman Baelo Claudia on the Bolonia outlet, a beautiful unspoilt building that has one of the province's best beaches.

The town's urban layout recalls the villages of North Africa, with its white houses, squares, lively streets, where visitors from around the world mix with the local residents. The most busiest streets are the Batalla del Salado, where you can find wonderful stores selling the Tarifa surfwear, and La Calzada, with bars and restaurant offering dishes that feature the Spanish red sea bream, from the Straits of Gibraltar, and which you should make sure you try while in Tarifa.

Make time to go to the market, which is small but offers a magnificent range of local fish and seafood. The town is also known for its canned horse mackerel and mackerel, and the best known brand is La Tarifeña  Then, end with something sweet from the Bernal or La Tarifeña pastries, where you should try the typical dessert known as a tranvia, a king size meringue, or the queen of desserts, tocino de cielo (rich custard flan).

Stroll around the town and discover its key sites, starting with the impressive Castle of Guzmán the Good, from the 10th- 15th centuries.  This well-preserved castle was built by Abderramán II, the calif of Cordoba, and can be visited.  The city walls from the same period are also of note. I am sure you have heard of Alonso Pérez de Guzman, who was the keeper of the castle in 1294 and after whom the fort is named.  Legend has it that when the castle was under siege and his son had fallen into enemy hands, Guzmán the Good threw his own knife down to be used to kill his son rather than succumb to the demands of the beseigers.

Make your way up to the Town Hall square, where you will find a pleasant avenue of elm trees and a lookout point where you can enjoy the views over the Straits of Gibraltar and Africa, a mere stone's throw away.

Baelo Claudia is in Bolonia, roughly 15 km. away. This Roman city was founded in the 2nd century B.C. and became an important urban and economic hub.  Its main industry was fish salting, with most of the catch coming from the almadraba net system introduced by the Phoenicians, and producing the famous garum sauce, that was exported throughout the Roman Empire.  We strongly recommend making time to visit it.

Before starting the visit through the archaeological complex, you should visit the   Baelo Claudia Visitors' Centre next to the site, in order to get an overall and full view and it will help you to learn about and appreciate this artistic enclave.  You will also be struck by the unrivalled views of the archaeological site, the Cadiz coast and the Straits of Gibraltar. 

Some of the available leisure activities are:

A boat trip in the Straits to go whale watching, where you can see different types of dolphins, pilot whales, fin whales, and if you are lucky the sperm whale and killer whale.

Hang out on the town's beaches: playa Chica, Los Lances, Valdevaqueros, Bolonia, huge stretches of sand that have become a Mecca for watersports.

Take a kite-surfing or windsurfing course at one of the schools

Its four protected natural spaces are ideal places for outdoor activities: Los Alcornocales natural park, El Estrecho natural park, Los Lances Beach natural setting, Bolonia Dune natural monument (30 m.)

Bird watchers regard the Straits as a truly unrivalled spot. The birds cross here on their migration routes from Europe to Africa and vice versa, and thousands of birds can be seen in some of its natural spaces. The Marismas del río Palmones natural setting has a bird-watching observatory.

Golf lovers will find some of Europe's best golf courses here: Alcaidesa, Sotogrande, Valderrama, Almenara, San Roque, etc.

Or you could go on a Spanish course while on holiday or if you are here for a longer stay:

Escuela hispalense

Al Andalus Language School

Links of interest

Tarifa Tourist Office

Baelo Claudia Visitor's Centre 

Whale Watching

www.turmares.com

www.whalewatchtarifa.net

www.aventuramarina.org  

www.firmm.org

www.circe.biz

 

Casa Campana en Arcos de la Frontera.
Tarifa.