Beautiful medieval villages that tufted the Andalucian country side are now sparsely populated. Within a half an hours drive from each other, a great day trip is to explore these quiet villages. What is a pueblito? Robin Graham will let you in on the secret.
By Robin Graham
Two emblematic sights that always come to mind when one thinks of Andalucia are castles and pueblos blancos, the white villages. Andalucia is littered with them. You have to watch yourself ; you can get a little bit “castled out” if you’re not careful, a little blasé about the generous sprinkling of white villages over the slopes and heights of the region.
If you find yourself affected by Andalucian apathy however, there are antidotes. For example, food festivals. You might just be aware that the Spanish quite like a bit of food now and then. This region alone plays host to dozens upon dozens of festivals annually, and I’m not talking about farmer’s market mish-mashes – I’m talking about single product, bacchanalian orgies of worship; jamón festivals, snail festivals, morcilla (blood sausage) festivals, cheese festivals – you name it.
Other themes that can join the dots of your disappearing enthusiasm are flamenco, with its constant stream of events and festivals (that word again – welcome to Spain) and music in general; particularly the Circuitos Andaluces project which organises free concerts of folk and classical music around the region with an emphasis on beautiful venues, inside and out. Can’t beat that.
Or can you? While other towns and villages resort to festivals, ferias, and fiestas to reinvent themselves and drum up some interest amongst weary locals and expats, there is one place that doesn’t have to. It alone enjoys a quality that trumps all of the castles and the pueblos that surround it on every hilltop; it is both a castle and a pueblo blanco.
Castillo de Castellar has a history that has continued to twist and turn right up until the last few decades. The castle was put here by the Moors in the 12th century when every square foot of this country was being fought over, and inside the castle walls they put a pueblecito blanco. The visitor nowadays, therefore, walking beneath the arch of the great gate and expecting an alcazar, is confronted with that most Andalucian of scenes; bougainvillea draped cottages with whitewashed walls, sprawling in a maze of winding, cobbled streets.
Fairy-tale doesn’t cover it. It even has a lover’s balcony, built right into the cliff side, that over looks the mountains of Cadiz province and the beautiful lake below (shh, it’s a reservoir). Up here at altitude, one can sit on a turreted terrace and sip wine while eagles swoop silently overhead, their shadows dragon-sized on the medieval castle walls.
In the ’70s a new town was built a few kilometres away and the resettlement of the residents was partially successful. Only a few of them remain. The houses that were left empty have been bought up by holiday home owners and a good number of aging German hippies, so the crooked little streets are lined with artists’ studios and handicraft displays.
It’s well worth a visit for the views alone, and is one of the more unusual locations in this beautiful province.