Arcos de la Frontera, Cadiz’s famed Pueblo Blanco
Rising up from the low Andalusian countryside, a group of tall cliffs reach up into the heavens. At their very top sits the famed Pueblo Blanco of Cadiz – Arcos de la Frontera. Like whipped cream crowning a latte, the whitewashed homes of the town rest atop the cliffs, cutting into the very rock they stand upon.
The position of Arcos de la Frontera, standing high up above its surroundings, make it a very attractive location. Arcos de la Frontera has been settled for over thousands of years, and artefacts from as old as Neolithic times have been found here. In fact, its history spans the bronze age, the Phoenicians and the Romans, the Moors, up until the present.
But this history is not necessary to realise what an amazing place Arcos de la Frontera is. The moment you see the cliffs of this Pueblo Blanco and the charming town spilling over the slopes of its sandstone ridge, you’ll know what a special place it is.
Surrounded by the banks of the meandering Guadalete river which runs through the valley, this Pueblo Blanco is a place from another time. Its isolated location, in the middle of hundreds and hundreds of acres of olive groves tells of a more pastoral time when the pace of life was slower.
TIP: WHERE IS ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA IN SPAIN?
Located within the dramatic countryside of Cadiz, Arcos de la Frontera is surrounded by the stunning landscape of Southern Spain. One of Andalusia’s most famous Pueblo Blancos, it can be reached by car in two and a half hours south from Seville.
Driving up into the heart of the old town, we are immediately greeted by charming Moorish style homes lining the narrow streets of Arcos de la Frontera. We found the most accessible carpark there was and parked our little car. The streets farther up were only going to get smaller, so we thought it was best to make the rest of our excursion on foot.
The Old Town of Arcos de la Frontera
From the carpark, it was a fifteen-minute walk to the charming core of this Pueblo Blanco. Quite soon, we found ourselves wandering the tangled maze of its historic streets, our feet treading on large, ancient cobblestones. The winding streets often ended in cul de sacs, which usually meant we had to back-track quite a bit to get to try another path. Combined with the blistering sun, exploring Arcos de la Frontera around mid-day wasn’t the easiest thing. I found myself wishing we’d gotten up earlier.
However, there was something about the discomfort that made it all seem more authentic. This was Spain at its best – the lazy heat, the brilliant blue skies and the pure white walls of the Moorish town brought to life with bright yellow doorframes, colourful pots and plants of the most vibrant green.
Calle Dean Espinosa – A Quaint Old Street
We had to walk some distance on a hot tarmac road to get to the old core of Arcos de la Frontera. Eventually, the asphalt gave way to large cobblestones, and the streets narrowed, sheltering us in their shadow.
We eventually found ourselves walking up the steep Calle Dean Espinosa. Here, we had our first taste of the old core of this Pueblo Blanco. In this little street are a couple of inviting cafés, their fronts decorated with potted plants. I felt their welcoming facades wash away the heat and welcome me into this ancient town.
We were tempted to stop at one of these restaurants for a refreshing glass of cava. However, the narrow bend ahead, curving such that we couldn’t see all that lay beyond, stoked our curiosity and we just had to continue on.
Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción in Arcos de la Frontera
A few metres more, and the road opened up to a flight of stairs that lead up to the side entrance of the Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción. I found the architecture here, in this particular corner, thoroughly delightful. Even as the road opened up to the church on the right, it narrowed straight ahead. I noticed that the cars which drove through the alley separating the church walls and the houses next to it had only a few inches of space on either side! We were glad we had come up here on foot.
This narrow street leads under some of the church’s flying buttresses that connect the main building and the supporting pillar. Standing on the terrace in front of the church’s side entrance, I could fully appreciate the architectural complexity that surrounded me. Nobody ever planned the layout of Arcos de la Frontera. Here, buildings rose around essential landmarks like the church, cramming it in and giving the city a charming vibe.
Plaza Botica – Where to Eat in Arcos de la Frontera
Continuing from the church is a narrow alley, which, if you follow through, will eventually lead you to the popular Plaza Botica. Here, you’ll find a handful of highly-rated restaurants serving up Spanish fare. It is the perfect place to sample something traditionally from the region, like Salmorejo, Andalusia’s heavier version of the Gazpacho.
From here, the road splits in two, with one looping back around the Basílica de Santa María de la Asunción. Taking the looping street, Calle Escribanos lead us to a large square in front of the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera. The square itself is sadly not much to look at, having been turned into a carpark for visitors. However, from here, you can see the impressive front facade of the Basilica on one end, and a white gate which seems to open up into the sky, at the other end.
Lookout Point – Balcony New Peña
We wove our way around the parked cars towards the gate. As we ducked under its arch, we felt the cool breeze around us gained strength. Ahead of us stretched the rolling green plains of the Andalusian countryside. From the Balcony New Peña, the land unfolded into the distance, the horizon only interrupted gently by a few distant mountains.
Wildlife Conservation Effort – Caring for Andalusia’s Birds of Prey
To our right, we noticed a stand with several birds of prey chained up to a long stick. Although we were sceptical about the purpose of this stand and its captive wild animals, we approached it nevertheless. After we got speaking to the man who was taking care of the creatures, we realised that the stand was part of a local effort to protect the wildlife of the area. Our Spanish wasn’t good enough to find out more. Still, we trust that this wasn’t an illegal operation (especially since the police station is just across the carpark).
We spent a few moments here admiring the birds and took a few photographs of them. I found myself especially enchanted by the bright white owl. Its brilliant white breast, tawny head and gentle face captivated me, and I felt a little sad that it had to live a life of captivity.
We were both reluctant to leave the balcony. The strong, cool breeze was such a relief, and we were unwilling to return to the searing heat of the plaza. Nevertheless, we had to move on, for the day was getting on, and we still hadn’t fulfilled one of our main missions for visiting Arcos de la Frontera.
Glancing back to say goodbye to the stunning countryside, we re-entered the Pueblo Blanco’s narrow little streets in search of Andalusia’s famous monastery cakes. We remembered seeing a sign outside a church door advertising a variety of tasty sweet treats and doubled back in search for it.
The Convent Bakery – Comunidad de Mercedarias Descalzas
Some years back, a friend had returned from Andalusia with a box full of traditional cakes. After sampling a few, I fell in love. The cakes and biscuits here have unique flavours and textures that you can’t find elsewhere. Thus, I was adamant we purchase some of these treats in bulk to take back to Barcelona. (I will also admit that none of them survived the journey back.)
Backtracking the way we came, we headed for the Comunidad de Mercedarias Descalzas. A religious sanctuary just off Plaza Boticas. Here, under a stone doorway darkened by the elements was a half-opened wooden door. Outside the door, a board advertised a dozen of the specialities of the place. The ingredients in each recipe appear simple – mostly flour paired with honey, walnuts and perhaps fruit. However, each galleta had its own unique characteristics.
Buying Convent Sweets
Purchasing the cookies was quite an experience. As the nuns inside the sanctuary do not want to be seen, they communicate with the outside world through a rotating shelf.When we had decided what we wanted to buy, we rang a bell, and a sister came and took our order. We then placed the money on the shelf, which, when rotated, revealed our parcel of monastery cakes.
Suitably stocked up, we slowly made out way back down the streets of Arcos de la Frontera. It was our first Pueblo Blanco on this trip, and I had not known what awaited us when we arrived. As an example of a white village, Arcos de la Frontera has certainly surpassed my expectations.
As we left, I wished we had more time in this tranquil mountain top town. Perhaps on our next visit, we might arrange a stay in the Parador in the heart of the city. I can only imagine it would be amazing to watch the sunset from its terrace, overlooking the great Andalusian countryside.
FAQs for Arcos de la Frontera
Arcos de la Frontera is in the region of Andalusia, in the south of Spain. Read more…
The weather in Arcos de la Frontera, like in most Spanish mountain towns, is pleasant all year around. The hottest months are July, August and September. However, even though max temperatures can reach up to 32°C, you’ll always find a cool breeze blowing.
Arcos de la Frontera is a small town, and you can see most of it in one day. We visited Arcos de la Frontera and spent half a day there before heading on to Ronda for two nights.