If you’re planning to visit Spain, cities like Barcelona or Madrid probably come to mind, or perhaps the beautiful beaches of Costa del Sol. While those places are fabulous, there’s also something to be said about the country’s charming small towns. Wandering through the alleyways and cobblestone streets, it’s a great way to get a more authentic look at Spain and perhaps discover some amazing hidden gems too. These small towns, in particular, are destinations you really should visit.
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Albarracín is tucked into the hills of east-central Spain, above the Guadalaviar River. One of the most stunning villages in the capital of the Sierra de Albarracin Comarca, it’s characterized by towering medieval walls and historic wooden houses that are decked out with pink plaster. At the crest of the walls, or Murallas de Albarracín, is the 10th-century Andador Tower, while the ruins of a Moorish castle sit on a clifftop in the old town. The medieval architecture, narrow streets with the Guadalaviar River circling below, truly make it one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain.
A whitewashed village in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, Pampaneira is renowned for its white chimneys, cobbled streets and mouthwatering cuisine. It clings to the steep slopes of a lush river gorge, a place where donkeys walk on the mostly deserted main streets, with the occasional beret-wearing old man and women in black taking a stroll or watching the world go by. A lovely square is dominated by the 16th-century Iglesia de Santa Cruz church, while the surrounding area offers opportunities for horseback riding, guided walks, mountain biking and rock climbing.
When you take a stroll down the cobbled streets or cross over the 12th-century Romanesque bridge straddling the Fluvia River in Besalu, you may feel as if you’re in an entirely different time. Set in the province of Girona, this 11th-century village is living in a unique balance of old and new today. Literally a walking museum, the church of Sant Pere was consecrated in 1003, while the bridge and its areas of the Jewish quarter have all been restored. You’ll see beautiful squares and the remains of a medieval synagogue that sits near the river. Take a guided walking tour to learn more about its history, including the Jewish ritual bath, church of Sant Pere and the Jewish quarter.
Ronda boasts centuries-old history at every turn as one of the oldest towns in Spain. Surrounded by lush river valleys, it sits above two deep river gorges. Throughout are remains of prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta. This is the home of modern day bullfighting, with the famous Maestranza bullring one of the oldest and one of the most attractive in the country, while its 13th-century Arabic baths in the old Arab quarter are known are the best preserved in the nation. There are numerous other attractions here too, like the 1793 Puente Nuevo, or new bridge, which links the old Moorish town and the newer, El Mercadillo parts of the city, the La Sangre de Ronda wineries and Santa Maria Church.
Medieval Ainsa lies under the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains at the edge of Ordesa National Park. One of the highlights here is Ainsa Castle, situated near Plaza de San Salvador. Some of it dates back to the 11th century, while much of it was added in the 16th century. Two of the towers house museums where you can learn more about the castle and the area. Be sure to climb the belfry tower of the Romanesque Iglesia de Santa Maria for picturesque views of the village.
Casares is a postcard-perfect village in the province of Malaga, known for its Moorish-style whitewashed buildings which hug the cliffs overlooking the Alboran Sea. Your jaw will literally drop when driving from the coast road, and suddenly the village and its medieval fortress comes into view. The 13th-century Casares Castle is a must-visit, as is the Church of La Encarnacion. Climb the Puerta Calle Arabal to view the castle and ruined church, and take one of the walks marked with information signs just outside the village. Horseback riding tours on the beach and multiple golf courses in the area offer the chance to enjoy more active pursuits under the ever-present sunshine.
This small town of about 3000 boasts a rather impressive palace. The Palace of the Kings of Navarre of Olite is actually a fortification made up of three parts, the Church of Santa Maria la Real, the Old Palace and the New Palace. One of the best examples of Gothic architecture in all of Europe, its fairytale-like design is a reminder that this was once home to monarchs and princes. Olite also happens to be the capital of Spanish wine, making it an ideal spot for a wine tasting tour, with multiple wineries, called bodegas, for sampling the local wines.
Santillana del Mar
A perfectly preserved historic town, Santillana del Mar is a medieval treasure with its glistening cobblestone streets, brick and stone buildings that have seen hundreds of years of history. Due to strict town planning rules, only residents or guests staying in hotels with garages can bring motor,vehicles into the old town. Other visitors can drive to unload their luggage, but must return the vehicle to the car park at the town entrance. The area around the village has been populated for thousands of years, with traces of some of the earliest inhabitants found at the Altamira Caves just outside of town.
The “Gibraltar of Valencia,” Peníscola was once a simple fishing village, but over time it’s become a popular tourist destination as a town right at the edge of the sea. In recent years it’s been thrust in the spotlight thanks to “Game of Thrones,” with some of its famous scenes from Meereen shot here. A true slice of paradise, many people come to soak up the sand and the sun though it also hosts the impressive Castle of Pope Luna which stands atop a rocky promontory, providing a breathing panoramic view. The old town can be entered in one of two gateways that lead through the medieval walls, with Fosch Gate the main entrance up until the 18th century, and Porteta Gate leading into the old town from the harbor.