Five days of enchantment. I don’t know how else to describe the last five days after leaving Sevilla. We visited three "Pueblos Blancos" in the Andalucía region. Each village nestled in the foothills dates back to at least 400 A.D., the Roman times. Maybe earlier. Narrow cobbled streets, all of them either ascending or descending, are lined with small houses and in the mix there are now apartments or offices or stores.
We arrived in Arcos de la Frontera (Arches of the Frontier) so named because during the Christian conquests, it was at the border, the frontier, of the battles to conquer the Moors and to push the Muslims out of the Iberian Peninsula. We weaved our way through too narrow streets following the GPS voice as we tried to find our hotel. We came to an arched tunnel. Enrique stopped unsure if he could drive through. We folded in the mirrors, turned off the radio, and didn’t speak as if silence would make our car narrower or the tunnel wider. Creeping through and then a sharp right turn and up a steep incline and there were were at the plateau atop the village, and our hotel, the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera. A sigh of relief.
It was a rainy afternoon but we went walking anyway, and we found a lovely hole in the wall restaurant bar, Taberna de Los Jovenes Flamencos, the Tavern of the Young Flamencos. The service was charming and the food was incredible. We were there for nearly three hours. The drizzle stopped and we made our way up the hill to home, in the morning we continued our exploration before leaving for our second stop.
Grazalema is the tiniest of the towns we visited. High in the foothills, it is the most remote of the three villages. We stayed two nights in a small Bed & Breakfast. We found it by accident as we tried to follow the GPS voice which was directing us the wrong way on one way streets. Suddenly there was a sign and an arrow: half way down a street no wider than 5 feet we saw the open door to La Meyorana! High in the foothills, it was cold and drizzly when we arrived and it rained hard the entire next day. We stayed in.
Glorious sunshine and warming breezes greeted us Sunday morning. We explored Grazalema for half the day before leaving for Ronda. On our way, we spontaneously turned off the road and headed toward Zahara de la Sierra, another White Village. As we drove around a huge lake and then up into the hills to the town, we noticed an ancient tower high above the town.
"I’m not walking up there.," I said as Enrique parked the car.
We walked the village streets, stopped in the main church, marveled at how elaborate it was for such a small out of the way village, and walked on. As we approached the path that would eventually lead to the tower, I could see it in his eyes and I could see the yearning in his body language. Okay, I would climb the ramps and steps to the tower, but I get points.
Over 200 steps. Yes, I tend to always count steps. As strenuous as it was to walk up, it was more difficult to walk back down. The ancient stones, worn from centuries of walking, were slippery even on this sunny dry day. We stopped for lunch before getting on the road again.
Ronda is the largest of the three villages and the oldest dating back to 300 or 400 B.C. It is also distinguished because of a grand gorge that runs through it. The gorge is breathtaking. Incredible. We visited an estate currently being restored: Casa del Rey Moro — House of the Moorish King. In the Arabic gardens, there’s a doorway, more like a portal, that descends to the base of the gorge. Yes, we walked down the spiraling stone steps, wet with condensation. 230 steps down and we were at water’s edge. Beautiful descent. Beautiful destination. Lots of photos. The return was arduous. OMG.
I kept telling myself: "Michelle did it; I can do it."
At the entrance to the Casa, there were photographs of Michelle Obama’s visit, along with their daughters, to Ronda and to the Casa and to the Cave.
Ronda was a Roman city, then a city of the Moors, and then a city conquered by the Catholic Monarchs. In the 1800s into the 1900s it was a city of poets and writers, now it’s a thriving tourist city and it’s rich with enchantment. We were there Monday and Tuesday, and we could have stayed on for several more day, but Granada was calling.
There is a powerful sense of peace in the White Villages. The rolling hills covered in brilliant yellows of mustard plants and stunning greens of newly sprouting wheat, and dotted with olive trees and strewn with boulders left over from the prehistoric glacier age, create a bold backdrop for the scattering of white houses with red tiled roofs. There is something ageless, perhaps eternal, and it touches you. Well, it touched us. As we drove along we would spontaneously look at each other and smile, or I’d reach out or Enrique would reach out and we clasp hands. No words. We just knew.
Each village was different — different energy, different character, different level of awareness, each with a strong sense of integrity — even though they look alike. The tourists were there, mostly from England or France or Germany. Few Americans. But the locals were there, too. Strong, present, unyielding. These were their villages, their homes, and they were willing to share them. For a while. We were in the region for five days visiting three, no four, White Villages. Then it was time to move on, but I suspect we will be back someday. I think our souls will call us to return. For now, it is on to Granada.