By Chelsea Alventos
Dabbled through the mountainous countryside of Southern Spain, are towns with stark, white rectangular buildings. Perched on cliffs along the winding roads of Andalucía, they are called pueblos blancos (white villages).
The fates decided to send me to Arcos to begin teaching English in Spain. My first week, I wandered the old town, thinking to myself how unreal it all seemed. Cars squeezed down the narrow roads, tucking in the side mirrors to fit. The basilica of Santa María suffered the occasional scrape from the too-large vehicle of a nervous tourist who didn’t realize what he was getting himself into by driving up into the winding one-way streets.
I was immediately enamored by the historical center of Arcos de la Frontera which seeps with culture and history. Visiting the casco antiguo (old town) by foot is your best bet. Most of the labyrinthine streets are impassable by cars and the details can only be enjoyed by taking a stroll.
At the casco antiguo via the Cuesta Belén, the ornately decorated basilica of Santa María stately stands, its yellow stone blackened by age. Behind it lies the Plaza del Cabildo, a look out point with views of the surrounding countryside. The Guadalete River winds around the cliff, with patchwork fields of shimmering wheat and sunflowers. Soulful flamenco guitar of a local can be heard. You may be surprised to find a friendly local with his pet barn owl and falcon staring back at you.
Plaza del Cabildo is the location of the town’s parador, an old palace-turned-hotel, which offers the imposing view of San Pedro church. Sip a coffee, soak up the sun and sights. Across the plaza from the parador is the town’s beautiful Moorish castle, which unfortunately can only be seen from the outside as it’s privately owned.
Want a lemony muffin to fortify your walk? Nuns are hidden at San Pedro church. Knock on a small window, a hand eerily appears to take your euros, and you are handed a bag of muffins. A room sized diorama of the Bethlehem scene is next to the muffin sellers with a big yellow star: “Belén”.
Behind San Pedro Church, more vistas of the countryside surrounding Arcos and the town’s lake. Artisan shops sell floral ceramics with bright red, yellow, and blue designs. My Dad bought 20 hand painted fans in another shop to take home as gifts..
Mid-December, more than 20 scenes of the nativity are acted by Arcos native. Children giggle, fidget, and pet the baby sheep. Biblical garb is the fashion, striped robes and head gear, and actors quietly chat catching up on the local news. Braying donkeys add to the mix.
Springtime brings Holy week. After a week of religious processions, on Easter Sunday two bulls are released and rampage through the town’s fenced-off main street while the Arcences celebrate a town-wide party.
Arcos de la Frontera is an authentic and enchanting town that charms its visitors and will leave you feeling like you’ve just stepped out of a history book. Whether it’s on day trip from Cádiz or Jerez or on a route of the white towns of Andalucía, Arcos de la Frontera is a highlight.
Chelsea Alventos is a Buffalo, NY native who has been teaching English in Andalucía and Extremadura for the past three years. She enjoys cold beers on sunny days, taking flamenco lessons, baking sinful desserts and working them off by enjoying outdoor exercise with her Spanish boyfriend. You can read more about living and teaching in Spain on her personal blog Andalucía Bound www.andaluciabound.com/.