I Left My Heart in Andalucía: Pueblos Blancos (and one blue town!)
I had a incredible puente. Rented a car. Drove on tiny streets of stone. Saw a blue town. Ate paella. Caught a flamenco show. Stood on the stage… “Stood,” no, not “danced.” Posed on it, too. 981 miles and a week of school later, I miss the trip.
It all began a Tuesday evening at an airport Enterprise office with a white car. Every story at a car-rental office for me begins with a white car! This time, though, I wouldn’t be driving/riding in Fletcher from Texas. No. In Spain? Júzcar from Madrid--a name dedicated to one special stop on the trip.
“Where is the parking brake?” After being shown the car, I knew we needed to know the answer to that question. Images of the car drifting down a mountain in Andalucía flashed through my mind. All ready to go, I was hesitant to delay our trip even more. We had to get 4 hours south to Córdoba for the night. But this was worthy of delay. A button with “P” on it next to the driver’s seat. Great! Let’s go.
Intimidated as I was by Spain’s highways, everything went rather smoothly. We stopped once on the way to Córdoba at a Repsol gas station. There we found cheese samples and cheese blocks for purchase. We left empty-handed and empty-bladdered. It was probably best that it was dark, we weren’t missing out on anything by hustling past everything in between Madrid and Córdoba.
The hotel in Cordoba was great. It had lots of artwork around, a chandelier, grand old pieces of furniture, and tons of hot water. And another free breakfast! The breakfast was in a beautiful room with decorated bowls and plates all over the walls. We sat by the window while enjoying una tostada con tomate, an assortment of meats and pastries, and most importantly, un cafe con leche. We needed to fuel up for the rest of the day’s travels. Next stop: Arcos de la Frontera.
BUT, because I was doing research on the spot, I saw that Medina-Sidonia was south of Arcos and suggested we go there first and then make our way back up north to Arcos. I read the GPS wrong when we were 20 minutes away and we ended up en route to the southern end of Spain--the ocean. In an effort to turn error into impromptu exploration, we said “why not go down and see the ocean if we’re only another 15 minutes away!” So we saw the ocean. How wonderful it was to breathe in the open, blue air.
In Medina-Sidonia an odd and brusquely-speaking man came over to us upon parking and we gathered he was saying we had to pay 2 euros to park there. And for a guidebook. I tried to give back the book but he said it’s 2 euros anyways. That raised some flags. What raised them even higher was spotting him walking outside of a bar with a beer 10 minutes later. Oh well. I had to get over this betrayal, this person who had taken advantage of our tourist-selves. Angry as I was, it was only 2 euros and considering the horror scam stories you hear of… We left unscathed. Not to mention the views from Medina-Sidonia are beautiful.
We headed north to Arcos de la Frontera with the intention of arriving in time for sunset. Luckily we got there just in time. After a gas station purchase of...gas...and jamón-flavored chips, we parked the car in an underground lot and walked up the hill to the old town. By chance we were walking on a road along the edge of town with breathtaking views of Spanish landscapes at sunset.
We stayed in a family-owned home and were greeted with sangria on the roof. The prime owner is an artist and her work is all over the entrance. We were well-located and wandered the streets coming across white walls with potted plants hanging on them and many souvenir shops chock-full of trinkets.
The next day we had a perfect breakfast of toast and jamón and headed out to our next stay in Zahara de la Sierra. This drive would take us directly into the mountains. Stops along the way included El Bosque, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, and Grazalema. We just drove through some towns, but stopped in Villaluenga del Rosario where there’s an award-winning cheese factory. The local cheese is queso payoyo and it is delicious. Walking through the town we also saw their small bullfighting ring. The town was so small and so quiet and the door to the ring was open. We were not in Kansas anymore (but for us Kansas = cosmopolitan city). I wondered about local law enforcement. Where was it? Did it exist? Did everyone coexist peacefully? Questions left unanswered.
Next stop Grazalema. By this time, I was fairly knocked out. We hadn’t eaten much and so deciding on a place was tough. How does one choose what to finally consume after consuming nothing for so long? We had wandered into a place with the door open only to be told they weren’t serving anymore. Then why was the door open?! At this point I started to feel like such an outsider. That feeling weighs on you. Everyone stares at you, everyone waits to see how you are going to speak when you are about to open your mouth, some speak abruptly to you indicating they have no patience for the tourist-thing. I must say overall I’ve encountered nothing but kindness. But the amount of driving had taken a toll and so had the stares of people in the small towns. We saw the main square, purchased some souvenirs, and had some tapas at a family-owned restaurant.
The next day, after being barked at for parking in a spot designated for taxis, we managed to get up the tiny streets of Zahara de la Sierra to a parking lot at the bottom of the lookout point. We hiked up to the top for an incredible view of a turquoise lake and the surrounding mountains. It was quite something to imagine this spot in the time it was created. It was a lookout point to watch for invaders and was particularly important during the war for Granada. What good vision older generations must have had! No phones! Distance a requirement for survival!
After the great photo-op we headed to an olive mill I had found out was open. The man on the phone said we could stop by and it just so happened a tour arrived at that moment. We joined the tour in the room where the olive oil is produced. What timing. Juan, the owner of the mill, looks like a movie-star. He gave us a taste of the olive oil and we couldn’t believe he lived on this small road in a mountain with very little to no traffic.
Setenil de las Bodegas was next. WHAT a sight. The main street is directly under a large rock. This is the image of the town--streets with homes and restaurants below a giant rock jutting out of the mountain. Here we had a great success: sitting on a terraza overlooking the main street.
Júzcar and Ronda were our last two stops. Júzcar is painted blue for a Smurfs film that either was to be filmed there or just advertised there. When I asked a local shop-owner if everyone wanted the town to be painted, she replied, “yes, more or less.” I can’t imagine living in a town of white homes and deciding along with my neighbors to paint it blue. What a place! Smurfs references are everywhere, in stores and on homes. Some pitufos (Smurfs) are painted onto buildings and there also seem to be rides and attractions for children such as a small zipline and trampolines. They were deserted, however, and contributed to an eerie, empty feeling on some of the streets. It was most interesting to see a group of young kids clearly getting ready to do something for their weekend evening. What do they do? What’s it like to grow up here? More questions unanswered… There are a few giant statues of Smurfs for photoshoots. Did I mention the town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there, one must drive along the edge on a small two-way road? The town is on the edge of a mountain and to get there we had to drive along the edge on a small two-way road.
Ronda was where we spent two nights. They have the biggest bullfighting ring in Spain, I believe. It was quite something to walk in it and see the different collections they have. They have weapons and toreador suits and all sorts of visual art. There's more to say about Ronda, but this post is too long.
It is also so listy! But I really wanted to simply post some descriptions. This was a trip to remember.