Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
While Cordoba will always be the top day-trip option from Seville, there is another wonderful excursion you can make that will open up an entirely new perspective to you on southern Spain. Known as the White Villages, these small to mid-sized hill towns offer a unique experience filled with authentic Andalusian culture.
We were privileged to spend a glorious day exploring a number of these gems, and I must say it is a much different experience than spending a day in the region's trusted foundations of Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, and Granada.
How to Get There
Known as the White Villages due to their whitewashed walls with colorful brown and red roofs these communities are somewhat off the beaten track, and that is definitely part of their attraction. Located primarily to the southeast of Seville, you will have a few options available to you for how to visit this area. We decided to hire a driver for the day and I must say it worked out well.
Personal Tip: Consider Hiring a Driver
While I usually look forward to driving in foreign countries and would have relished the thought of spending a day cruising through southern Spain, I relegated the task to our trusted driver, guide, and friend, Paul McGrath. Paul is an Australian who has been living in Seville for close to 20 years and he has embraced this region to the fullest. He is an explorer at heart and with his native English is the perfect mate to take along on a road trip. Paul knows every stop, every nook, and every corner of this beautiful region and he did not disappoint.
One of the great advantages of using a driver is that for those of us who have a tendency to drive and sightsee at the same time—yes that’s me—it eliminates the driving burden so you can actually enjoy the beautiful countryside.
So, should you have a free day while in Seville and desire to see the White Villages you have three options: You can rent a car and do-it-yourself, you can seek out a group tour, of which I’m sure there are many (we did see tour buses during the day), or you can hire a private driver for the day.
Renting a vehicle certainly gives you the flexibility to set your own schedule and do as you please, but you do all of the driving and planning. A group tour will have a very defined day set out for you where you will have no flexibility, but someone else does all the work for you. And, hiring a driver really gives you the flexibility to plan your day while having someone else do the driving. All three options have their advantages and I’ll let you decide what is best for you.
Seville to Olvera: Approximately 90 minutes
Olvera to Setenil de las Bodegas: 25 minutes
Setenial to Ronda: 25 minutes
Ronda to Grazalema: 45 minutes
Grazalema to Zahara de la Sierra: 30 minutes
Zahara to Seville: 80 minutes
This adds up to about 5 hours of driving time. If you spend an hour to 90 minutes in each of the villages it’s a 10 to 12 hour day. Of course, this can be tweaked and adjusted to meet your particular needs. Perhaps you’ll want to make fewer stops and spend more time in the villages you visit?
What to Expect
We started our day at 9 am, and given that it’s a roughly 90-minute journey to the area around the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park it is best to get an early start. You can expect this to be a full day so plan on getting back to Seville no sooner than 7 pm to 8 pm at the earliest.
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The Sierra de Grazalema is the region of mountains that is home to a number of the White Villages, and the mountains combined with the picturesque villages make this a photographer's dream. While you can visit as many or as few of the villages as you want, and in any order you desire, we followed the advice of our guide, Paul, and began the day in the small village of Olvera.
This tiny village with a population of under 9,000 was the first of the White Villages that we visited. The morning fog was stubbornly hanging on and obstructed what would have been a stunning view looking over a vast expanse of olive groves that dot the countryside. The pinnacle of Olvera is the Our Lady of the Incarnation Church that is perched next to the Arabic Castle above the town. The church was damaged in a fire in 2004 and sadly has not been renovated yet due to a lack of funds. But, the vantage point here is superb and you are within walking distance to the castle should you wish to explore this 13th-century fortress, designed to give strategic advantage to its occupants. Famous for its olive oils, Olvera is the perfect entryway to the regions other White Villages that lie further to the south.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Setenil de las Bodegas is probably the most unique village that you will visit on this tour. Setenil is built into, under, and on top of the rugged, rocky hills of the area. Many of the houses, cafes, and shops here were simply carved out of the stone and existing caves and they make for a fascinating experience. The Trejo River runs through the town with many houses and shops occupying the walls of the river gorge. Setenil de las Bodegas is very small with just over 3,000 residents and as you walk along its rock covered streets you can’t help but wonder if that mountain of stone above you might someday come crashing down. While it is famous for its meat products, especially its sausage, we found a wonderful ceramics shop and picked up a beautiful handmade bowl.
I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!
— George Orwell
Ronda is probably the most visited of the communities in southern Andalusia with its famous Puente Nuevo spanning the El Tajo Gorge. Carved by the Guadalevin River, the gorge divides Ronda into two parts, the El Mercadillo or newer part of the town, and La Ciudad, the old Moorish section. The Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge, was completed in 1793 and is the tallest of Ronda’s three bridges over the Guadalevin River, at 390 feet. Equally scenic views are available along the tree-lined promenade known as the Alameda del Tajo. As one of Ronda’s most popular gathering spots, its balcony over the gorge provides stunning views of the surrounding countryside and a great place to relax in the shade of its botanical garden. Also of interest, despite my disdain for the sport, is Spain’s oldest bullfighting ring that dates to 1784, and is located in the Plaza de Toros de Ronda. It was designed by architect Jose Martin Aldehuela, who happens to be the architect who also designed the amazing New Bridge over the gorge.
One of the smallest of the White Villages we visited was the quaint and charming Grazalema. With just over 2,200 residents this sleepy mountain village is perhaps the prettiest that we visited with its cobblestone streets and colorful flower boxes adorning the whitewashed buildings. Find your way to the town’s main square, the Plaza de Espana, and visit the 18th century Church of La Aurora. From here you have a great view of the peaks that surround the village and provide a playground for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Be sure to spot the monument of the bull, a reminder of the local traditions here in southern Spain.
Zahara de la Sierra
The drive from Grazalema to Zahara is a spectacular ride as you traverse the mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Zahara is perched above the man-made Zahara-el Gastor reservoir and the turquoise blue waters of the reservoir provide a dramatic background to an already stunning view. With the 13th-century Nasrid Castle perched at the pinnacle of Zahara, it begs to be explored as does the village with its white-washed buildings interspersed with colorful churches and vibrant flags. The Church of Santa Maria de la Mesa is worth a visit and is set in the Plaza Mayor, the main focal point of the village. The plaza has a wonderful terrace that provides stunning views of the reservoir and the beautiful countryside dotted with olive groves. It’s a wonderful place to just sit and relax with a coffee or drink and watch the world go by.
From Zahara, it’s about an 80-minute drive back to Seville. Certainly, in planning a day trip to the White Villages you can pick and choose what you want to see and how long to spend in each village. And of course, depending on how you decide to travel will make a big difference in how much flexibility you have. The villages that we visited are clustered in and around the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park and this is a beautiful region of Spain and certainly worth visiting if you want to see a quieter, more authentic side of Andalusia. I hope you enjoyed this tour of Spain’s fabled White Villages and it helps in planning your own adventure to southern Spain.
Questions & Answers
Question: We are traveling for only 3 days: 1. Tangier Morocco (kids voted for), 2. villages of Spain or Seville, 3. Seville. Is it difficult driving from Tangier to Seville?
Answer: It’s a lot of up and down driving. Some of the villages are in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, which is beautiful but has some pretty good Mountains. Beautiful area. The drive from Tangier to Seville looks to be about 5 hours so even if you just went straight to Seville you’ll only have a day and a half there? But, the White Villages are somewhat on the way there, so the temptation to stop is certainly there.
Tough call. The one thing I would caution against is trying to do everything, although that is exactly what I always do, lol. Maybe stop in just one or two villages on the way to Seville to get a feel.
Question: What is the cost of the trip to White Villages and Ronda from Seville?
Answer: It is 320 euro for a group of 4. We left at 9 a.m. and returned at about 7 p.m.
Question: How do you book this White Villages Tour and contact the driver/guide when traveling to Ronda?
Answer: You can contact Paul McGrath through his website.
His website will have his email address and that is how we communicated with him.
Question: We're going to Spain soon. We have a car and are a family of four (two adults and two teens) leaving from Jerez. Do we spend one-day White Villages or two days Seville? If villages, thinking Ronda, Setenil and maybe just one white village, like Arcos, Zahara, Grazalema or Olvera. We are sleeping in Seville.
Answer: I guess it all depends on what you want to see? The White Villages are wonderful, but involves a long day and a fair amount of driving. I would definitely want to see Ronda, followed by Setenil, and then maybe either Zahara or Grazalema. If the option is either spending a day seeing the White Villages or spending this day in Seville, that presents quite the dilemma. I say this because we loved Seville and you really need at least two days to see everything in Seville.
If the decision came down to spending a day driving the White Villages plus spending one day in Seville, or, spending two days in Seville, I would opt for the two days in Seville. It involves less running around, and you’ll have more time to really enjoy Seville, which is wonderful.
In a perfect scenario, I would figure out a way to do both, spend two full days in Seville, and then spend the third day touring the White Villages.
© 2019 Bill De Giulio