The joys of rural tourism in Andalucía

In recent years Andalucía has gained a reputation as one of the major international destinations for rural tourism, a circumstance which owes much to the climate and landscape, although the infrastructure has also played its part too. There are many people who have yet to discover the enormous possibilities offered by this extensive region, which is the largest of Spain’s autonomous communities, and even when they do they are surprised to discover that there are still lonely wildernesses where there is barely a trace of man and plunging gullies which seem as though they have been gouged out of the landscape or thick forests of leafy cork oaks or chestnut trees, for example. Andalucía is a region which is defined precisely by the sheer richness and diversity of its landscape and characteristics: its beaches and mountains, its climate, its towns and villages. Furthermore, there can be few places in the world that can claim to be located between two seas and even two continents.

This very singular situation – between Europe and Africa, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic – explains the richness and diversity of Andalucía’s natural patrimony. For its geographic location, Andalucía is regarded as having a Mediterranean climate and, in theory at least, its vegetation and fauna should correspond to those characteristics. But the enormous contrasts in relief, coastline and climate, not to mention the direct intervention of man himself which has been taking place over thousands of years, have converted the region into a mosaic of landscapes of enormous ecological diversity offering unique experiences, such as the opportunity to spend your morning skiing down the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the afternoon enjoying the sun on one of the beaches along the Malaga coast.

Rural tourism has taken enormous strides in Andalucía in recent years. Small towns and villages which previously had limited economic possibilities have now found a means of subsistence through the exploitation of their natural resources thanks to the growing interest in rural tourism. The restoration or conversion of old houses for use as rural accommodation or hostels is a recurring feature in many of these populations and the inhabitants enthusiastically carry out whatever projects are necessary to adapt and improve their villages in order to make them even more attractive for those who opt for this type of alternative tourism based on a traditional, healthy lifestyle in an unpolluted, natural setting.

Sierra Nevada

To refer to just one of the many possibilities offered by rural tourism, we’ll take a look at hiking in the Sierra Nevada where numerous guided treks are available which serve as an invitation to explore the breathtaking scenery of this very singular nature space. The Borreguiles Trek is strictly for experienced walkers and takes in villages that boast some of the richest flora and fauna in the whole of the Sierra Nevada. The trail winds through high mountain pastures which maintain their luxuriant greenness throughout the year thanks to the abundance of water. Other excursions include a trail that enables walkers to see some of the Sierra Nevada’s glacial lagoons; the Vereda de la Estrella Trek which visits the source of the river Genil, passing en route through one of the best preserved forests in the Sierra Nevada; the Collado de Matas Verdes, which is a perfect example of a mountainous Mediterranean ecosystem, with Trevenque and the Cirtijuela botanical garden two extraordinary spots that are perfect for reflection and contemplation; or the trek to the Cañada del Pinar, probably one of the few places in the Sierra Nevada where you can still see a natural pine forest. Finally, one of the traditional summer treks is to the peak of the Veleta mountain, at 3,398 metres one of the highest in the peninsula, with the views from the summit which are absolutely incomparable.

All the treks follow clearly marked routes and although we have suggested them with hikers in mind they can just as easily be followed by cyclists. Should you prefer to explore the Sierra Nevada by bike you can be assured that cycle hire shops, guides, etc are available.


White villages


If you are not attracted by the idea of hiking or cycling and you would prefer to learn more about the villages and rural life, or craftwork, gastronomy or architecture… a good choice would also be to follow the Route of the White Villages, a series of itineraries which focus on the northern part of the province of Cadiz and the north east of Malaga in an area which roughly corresponds to the Grazalema Nature Park. The name of the route comes from the dazzling white colour of the houses which are painted with lime, a characteristic found in each of the more than 25 villages along the different itineraries.

There is evidence that the area has been settled by man since prehistoric times and remains testify to the the many different cultures and races: Iberians, Romans, Visigoths and, in particular, the Arabs, the culture which has had greatest influence on the region. The influence of the Arabs is immediately visible in the narrow, winding streets with their steep inclines. It is a delight for the senses to be able to stroll along streets with their windows and balconies dotted with flowers which contrast with the whiteness of the walls. A mild climate maintains the greeness of the fields and mountains and adds the finishing touch to this idyllic scene.

Of the four different routes, we will take a look at the one which goes from Ronda to Castellar de la Frontera which follows one of the prettiest roads in the Ronda mountains and finishes close to the Bay of Algeciras in the low lying hills that border the coast. Taking the C-341 road from Ronda the first stop on our journey is the village of Atajate which is surrounded by olive groves and vines and is guarded by an old watchtower, probably of Arab origin. One kilometre further on is a road which turns off to Jimera de Líbar, another typical mountain village in which the minaret of the ancient mosque now serves as the belltower for the parish church.

Five kilometres away to the south is Benadalid. The first thing that attracts the traveller’s attention is the tiny cemetery nestling within the walls of the old fortress below which the village spreads out. In spite of its peaceful appearance Benadalid has had probably the most turbulent history of all the villages in these mountains: it was the scene of numerous insurrections and wars throughout the period of Arab domination and became the target of further conflict due to its situation on the frontier with the kingdom of Granada. Today it is a tiny village of white houses, steep streets and windows decorated with geraniums.

Six kilometres away is Algatocín, another white village clinging to the hillside, which is built around a square and a church. A modest parish church was built here in the 16th century which consolidated itself soon after the Christian reconquest, although it had to be partially rebuilt in the 18th century. A short journey of another seven kilometres takes the traveller to Gaucín, located at the foot of the Hacho mountain, midway between the Serranía de Ronda and the Sierra de Cadiz.


Province of Cadiz


The following stage of the journey takes us to Jimena de la Frontera which signals that we are now in the province of Cadiz. Jimena has always been one of the more important towns in the Sierra and spent more time than any other under Arab rule. The most outstanding thing about Jimena de la Frontera is the scenery of the surrounding countryside with its the enormous forests of cork oaks which blanket the hills of the Sierra del Aljibe.

From Jimena the road passes through some beautiful mountain scenery until it arrives at Castellar, some 20 kilometres away, which is, without doubt, the most interesting visit in the area. Ignoring the new town, which was built only recently, the visitor’s time is better spent visiting old Castellar, a medieval town enclosed by walls which date from the 13th century. It should be mentioned that its present inhabitants have not always been there and that when the previous residents moved down to the new town they were replaced by a community of artists and craftworkers who decided to installed their workshops there. The architecture of old Castellar remains intact and continues to be one of the most beautiful villages in the region. Nearby is a magnificent forest which once belonged to the former convent of Almoraima.

These are just some of the many possibilities offered by rural tourism in Andalucía. If you wish to obtain further information the tourist offices belonging to the regional government, the Junta de Andalucía, or the rural accommodation agency, Red Andaluza de Alojamientos Rurales, will be able to provide all the information you need to enable you to get to know the treasures that are waiting to be discovered in Andalusian rural tourism.

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