Zahara de la Sierra
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Zahara de la Sierra - TEN Things You Should Know!
The Gastor lake, that lies just beneath it, looks like a moat from a distance... protecting the little village on all sides. The town itself sits upon a large rock with its steeply sloping streets reaching up towards the castle at its top. The castle, dating to the 13th century, sits ever higher, looming above the Medieval town and enjoying the most INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding Sierra de la Grazalema countryside.
1. Surrounding Countryside is Exquisite
Before we even get to the town itself, let's talk about the Sierra de la Grazalema. Spain is known for the beauty of its national parks but this whole area is just breathtaking.
You will find this park in the northeastern part of the province of Cádiz in southern Spain. The park is large and encompasses, within its 51,695 hectares (127,740 acres), a complex of mountain ranges, beautiful lush valleys, caves, large farms full of happily grazing critters and about 15 medieval white villages.
The terrain in this area changes dramatically from one town to the next. Leaving the village of Grazalema the countryside is blanketed in pretty farms and soaring mountains. As you get closer to Zahara de la Sierra the land gets a bit drier, the mountains a bit higher, and exquisite turquoise lakes dot the landscape.
2. Zahara de la Sierra is Exceptionally Steep!
If my first impression of Zahara de la Sierra was, WOW! I would say my second was, "Holy Cow, this place is STEEP!".
We parked at the bottom of town where there is a parking area that wraps around the village. From there the walk up to the main plaza took about 15 minutes of straight uphill climbing. Now, I'm in pretty good shape but when you have 80-year-old women passing you... with canes... you know you're in trouble!
If you're not up for the hike, you can also drive into the old town. The streets are winding and narrow and parking is limited so be ready. Luckily there is a one-way route that will take you through the center and back down the other side. There is also a small parking lot just across from the entrance to the castle.
3. There is a nice little Old Town Square
I really enjoyed walking through the old town streets. The town is very clean and pretty with lots of little shops and restaurants.
The main street, Calle San Juan, is flanked on either end by two churches (Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Mesa and Capilla San Juan de Letran), smaller streets branch off in every direction. Around the larger of the two churches, you will also find the Ayutamiento (town hall) and the tourist office.
This is a great place to buy some souvenirs or gifts. Many of the small shops sell locally made specialty items like wines, chocolates and pastries.
Hotel Al Lago - This is a great little boutique hotel right in the center of Zahara de la Sierra. It has balconies in all the rooms to enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding Grazalema landscape.
Hotel Arco de la Villa - The best thing about this hotel is its location. It is located right on the main town square just feet from all the restaurants and bars.
Al Lago - Located at the bottom of town with a terrace and beautiful views of the lake you will find this lovely Mediterranean style restaurant.
El Gallo - Located just along the main street (Calle San Juan) in the old town, this restaurant had great food and was good value for the money. The hamburgers were very good for Spain.
Meson Los Estribos - Calle el Fuerte 3, this is a great little restaurant just opposite the church on the way up to the castle. The views are amazing, and they have a lot of homemade local dishes.
4. There are two Cathedrals and they are both Charming
On one end of Calle San Juan you will find the Chapel by the same name, Capilla San Juan de Letran, which was built in the 20th century. The clock tower attached is from the 16th century.
5. Visit Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Mesa and the Parish Museum
If you keep walking through Zahara de la Sierra towards the castle, you will find the second and larger church built into the rock of the ancient village, Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Mesa built in the 18th century.
The parish museum is located just inside the church. Entrance is free but a small donation is appreciated.
6. There are Remains of an Entire Nasrid Village
Continuing past the Santa Maria church on the left-hand side, you will climb another steep road that will bring you to the entrance of the castle. As you make your way up ANOTHER steep path you will begin to see the ruins of an ancient village that resided on these rocks just below the castle.
You can see the remains of several medieval houses and wells. Above you will see a hexagonal base that is all that is left of the first church in Zahara, the Antigua Iglesia Mayor which dates to the 15th century.
7. Visit the Interpretation Center
Just past the ruins on the way up to the castle there is an interpretation museum that is built into what remains of the ancient church.
The museum is open most days and is a great way to learn about the civilizations that once lived in these areas.
Plus, it's a nice place to take a break from the steep climb and take in some of the breathtaking views!!
8. And, There's a Castle!
Congratulations! You've made it to the top! And, I'll let you be the judge of whether the views are worth it...
The Castle of Zahara de la Sierra is more like a tower, it's called the Torre del Homenaje and was built in the 15th century at 605m above sea level. The tower is shaped like a square, measuring 12m by 12.6m with rounded corners. There is not much to the interior of the tower but there is a very narrow staircase that will allow you to climb to the second level (as if you need to climb anymore), this is as high as one can get in this little village and you will be rewarded with views for miles in every direction.
For more information and photos, read our Climbing the Castle of Zahara de la Sierra guide.
9. Zahara de la Sierra is Part of the 'Pueblos Blancos' Route near Ronda
** View from the Castle with another white village (Algodonales) in the distance
Ronda is a very popular tourist destination in southern Spain, what many people don't realize is that Ronda is just one of the pretty villages in the Sierra de la Grazalema national park. There are about 15 other gorgeous villages that you can visit, all within a short drive of Ronda. There are also several other beautiful villages just on the outskirts of the Grazalema park which are still considered part of the "Ruta del Pueblos Blancos".
You can either rent a car and drive to each of these little towns or take one of the many tours that leave from Ronda or Seville for the day. Most of these towns are small and easily visited in a day but you could easily spend days to a week wondering around this part of Andalucía, staying overnight in one or two of the towns.
10. Your Kids Will Have a Blast Too!
OK! Once they get over the fact that you just made them hike to the top of this random village in the middle of nowhere... they will love what comes next...
If you have some extra time, there are a few fun things your kids can do outside Zahara de la Sierra...
1. La Playita - This is an artificial beach that was created not far from the village where you can spend the entire day. Your kids will love the tree-top park that has also been installed right above the beach. This recreational area is only open during the summer months but it's a big hit with kids. There are bar-be-que areas as well as a restaurant and kayaking has also become quite popular here.
2. La Garganta Verde - If your kids aren't too tired of hiking yet, this is a great hike through the "Arroyo del Pinar River" canyon. The hike takes approximately 2 hours through the gorge but you will enjoy spectacular views of the gorge throughout the way. To do the walk you must first obtain permission from the park visitors' center in El Bosque.
3. Recreational Area in the Reservoir - Embalse de Zahara - el Gastor - Just in front and below the village you will find a second small recreational area. This has been a great success for Zahara because it has really increased summer tourism to the area. Where before the town was strictly a rural, mountainous town, now it appeals to summer beachgoers as well.
Other Important Information You Should Know About Zahara de la Sierra
1. Zahara de la Sierra has been Chosen as One of the "Prettiest Villages in Spain":
Zahara de la Sierra has been chosen by the Association of The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain as one of the most beautiful villages in the Cádiz province.
We highly recommend visiting these amazing villages while you're in the area.
2. Zahara de la Sierra is one of the Famous Villages on the "Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos"
The White Towns of Andalusia, or Pueblos Blancos, are a series of towns and large villages in the northern part of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga in southern Spain, mostly within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
Other villages on this route are: Casares, Grazalema, Mijas Pueblo, Villaluenga del Rosario, Benaocaz, Ubrique, Benamahoma, El Bosque, Prado del Rey, Puerto Serrano, Algodonales, El Gastor, Setenil de las Bodegas, Alcalá del Valle, Torre Alhaquime, Olvera, Arcos de la Frontera, Algar, Espera, Bornos and Villamartín, Vejer de la Frontera and Frigiliana.
3. Distances to Other Important Towns:
Larger Cities / Towns
Malaga: 139 km
Cádiz: 120 km
Sevilla: 105 km
Ronda: 32 km
Other Smaller White Villages
Jerez de la Frontera: 81 km
Villamartín: 31 km
Olvera: 28 km
Grazalema: 20 km
Algodonales: 9 km
4. When is the Best Time to Come
- During the months of April, May and October you are most likely to experience good weather with pleasant average temperatures that fall between 20 degrees Celsius (68°F) and 25 degrees Celsius (77°F).
- On average, the warmest month(s) are July and August, with July being the hottest.
- The months of January, February, March, April, August, September and October have a high chance of precipitation, with November being the wettest.
- On average, the coolest month is January.
- June is the driest month.
The important local and customary foods of Zahara de la Sierra are: porridges, omelets, asparagus stews, Swiss chards with chickpeas, “sopa hervía” (with garlic, asparagus, bread, oil and salt) or “sopa tostá”, tomato soup, cold meats (especially salami and other pork products), quince jelly and different varieties of olives.
In June, the people of Zahara celebrate the holiday of Corpus Christi like no other. All of the locals get together and decorate the fronts of their houses with sticks and branches and other natural elements to make them look like they are a part of the Grazalema countryside. The event has become so popular that is has been declared an event of "National Tourist Interest".
7. How To Arrive
There are two ways to enter the town of Zahara de la Sierra. The first is to take the A382 road, which links Arcos de la Frontera with Antequera, and the second is the A376 from Seville to Ronda.
There is a parking area just at the bottom of town that wraps around the front of the village. Its just across from the entrance to the town and where you would start your climb.
If you drive into town, there is a road that goes one way through the town square and up the hill towards the castle. There is a small parking area just opposite the entrance to the castle grounds.