Archive for July, 2013

19 May 2013

There is great charm in taking a drive around the countryside and dropping in at various quaint towns you find on the way. I had heard of the white towns of Andalusia and was very interested to have a close look – I also remembered seeing them in some movie. The day being nice and sunny, we decided to explore white towns that day.

The white towns of Andalusia are located to the northern part of Malaga and Cadiz provinces and so we had an hour’s drive to the nearest one. During the Reconquest, the Moors started retreating up the mountains when their main cities in the plains fell to the Christians. They set up small villages in difficult to reach places and that allowed them to hold on much longer even after the major towns had all been captured. However, eventually, these villages were also captured and have now become towns. The walls of all buildings in these towns are white and hence the name “white towns”.

I had charted out a rough course and we set out accordingly. The first stop was planned to be Setenil de las Bodegas, a white town different from others. While others had set up their villages in hills and on the mountains, the people of Setenil had made their dwellings in the deep caves beneath the cliffs of the River Trejo. The drive along the countryside is very enjoyable, especially on a sunny day. The Andalusian countryside is fully utilised with olive plantations all across. We could also see a lot of wind mills on many of the hilltops.

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The drive, being through high country, is very enjoyable and you have great sights everywhere. I was in very good mood as I drove up to Setenil, little realizing the perils that lay ahead. As we approached the town centre, I noticed that the roads were getting narrower. Roads in old towns in Europe are generally narrow and I did not pay this much attention; nor did I notice that most cars on the road were small hatchbacks unlike the full sized sedan that we had rented. Soon, we found ourselves in a spot where the car could just pass and the road seemed to curve on ahead. It suddenly struck me that if the road narrows any further, our car would not pass. In a wave of panic, I had visions of the car being stuck and some recovery truck towing it away, the day wasted and the pocket a lot emptier. However, there was no option but to go ahead and so, we inched along and soon spied a plaza at the end of the road but as always, to get to that safe place, we had to go through a particularly narrow opening! Anyway, after losing much sweat and with the wing mirrors folded in and with great support from Sandhya and a few passersby, we finally passed through, albeit with a small scratch on one of the mirrors. A definite blow to my driver pride!

The effort was well worth it though, as the town was very beautiful with wonderful small walkways and tracks that led up and down various inclines. The cave dwellings have mostly been converted to bars and cafes. It was wonderful to walk around and we spent some time walking around. It was obvious to me that a gym would have no business in this town where you were climbing up or down all the time!

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After some more excitement, which included driving into a dead end in a cave and some hair raising reversing, we drove on to our next destination – Olvera. This one turned out to have slightly wider streets than Setenil and so my blood pressure was in check when we got to the town square. There is a very nice church and castle in Olvera but both were closed when we got there and so could not go in.

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Next on the agenda was Zahara de la Sierra, a white town that seemed to be a must-visit based on what I read on the net. As we drove along, we passed some white towns and they are very beautiful to see, especially from a distance.

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As we approached Zahara, we could see it in the distance and the view was fantastic indeed.

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There is a reservoir in the valley beside the town. The drive was not so difficult as the roads were reasonably wide. There are some beautiful cafes in Zahara and it is a sheer please to relax by the roadside, drinking a coffee or beer. It was just great to wander around this small town and I was wondering how it would be to live in such a small town. The population must have been below one thousand.

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There is also a 12th century castle keep in Zahara and it is a steep 15 minute climb from the town centre. The views from this keep are simply out of the world, especially that of the reservoir.

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By this time, it was growing late and we headed back to our hotel. It was a delightful day and it would have been a great loss indeed, had we not done this drive around the white towns of Andalusia.