One of the classic Andalusian pueblos blancos, Gaucín is a beautiful white village perched on the crest of the Sierra del Hacho …
One of the classic Andalusian pueblos blancos, Gaucín is a beautiful white village perched on the crest of the Sierra del Hacho.
Overlooking the valley of the Rio Genal below, it has a splendid vantage point and the views are simply sensational, down to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock of Gibraltar and across to the Rif Mountains of Morocco beyond.
All around are the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda which provides brilliant brush strokes of colour: red poppies, yellow mimosa and wild orchids are tempered by the cool green of olive groves and an occasional splash of pale pink almond blossom.
Due to its key strategic position it was once a major Roman settlement and its magnificent castle, Castillo del Aguila (Eagles Castle) dates from this era, although the fortress remnants seen today were built by the Arabs in the 13th Century.
As one would expect from the name, it is not unusual to see eagles circling the towers here, while kestrels regularly nest in the walls of the mediaeval convent.
The centre of the village is a tangle of narrow, twisting streets, once a haven for brandy and tobacco smugglers who travelled through the surrounding hills. Until fairly recently, most houses had no running water and a light bulb would have been considered a luxury - a far cry from the refurbished houses of today which boast every mod-con.
Now the pretty streets are lined with immaculately white-washed houses, their traditional wrought iron balconies ablaze with brightly coloured blooms.
Its steep winding streets, hidden alleyways and spectacular views have long been an inspiration for painters and photographers and the village has a sizeable artistic community.
In recent years the village has become very popular with northern Europeans, attracted by the relaxed lifestyle and the unspoiled beauty of this mountain hideaway which, at the same time, is only 30 minutes drive away from the beaches and nightlife of the Costa del Sol.
The village now has several excellent restaurants serving international cuisine as well as local dishes and tapas. There is a choice of lively bars and bodegas to visit, too, including two late night music bars and a flamenco bar. Note, however, that some of these establishments close during the quieter, winter months.
Surrounded by olive and almond groves, the countryside all around is ideal for walkers, birdwatchers and nature lovers. On the major migratory route from Europe to Africa, many rare species can be seen including eagles, falcons, buzzards, vultures, golden oriels, finches, and bee-eaters. Guided walks are available for those who prefer to explore on foot and there are riding stables near the village.
A Roman road leads down to the Rio Genal, which flows through the valley far below, its banks lined by oleanders. You can swim or fish here in the deep pools of the river, listed as the cleanest in Europe.
In the spring months orchids, lupins, peonies and gladioli grow wild along the roadside, in winter you will find narcissi, iris and scilla; the blossom of almond, orange and lemon gives the countryside a wonderful fragrance.
Footpaths crisscross the hillsides and you can walk for hours with only bee-eaters and golden orioles for company.
Los Alcornocales National Park, which also borders Gaucín, is the largest, oldest and greatest forest in Europe, the remains of a forest that once covered the whole of Spain (before they began cutting it down in the 16th century to provide wood for the sailing ships). A verdant paradise of dramatic hillsides, huge leafy trees hanging high overhead; cork oak forests and limestone peaks stretching wide across the horizon. It's heaven-made for great walking.
Gaucín, by the way, has a municipal swimming pool, open in July and August, and a tennis court too.
In common with most Andalusian towns and villages, the people of Gaucín like to party! Carnival is celebrated here, soon followed by Semana Santa (Easter Week) which sees a succession of solemn, yet quite magnificent, processions through the village streets.
On Easter Sunday two bulls (one at 10 am and one at 4 pm), are let loose to run through the town, chased by the valiant and foolhardy! This is the Toro de Cuerda and involves much feasting, drinking and hilarity. Corpus Christi (the Catholic feast celebrating the presence of the body of Christ in the holy water) is held in June.
The annual fair (La Feria de Gaucín) takes place between 4th and 7th August. Once the ancient livestock fair, the event is now in honour of the patron saint, Virgen de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows). Children's entertainment's and music by both local and national groups are featured, along with the regulation feasting, drinking and dancing until dawn (or later!).
Apart from the attractions of the Castillo el Alguila and its splendid 360º vistas of the Serranía de Ronda and the Campo de Gibraltar, other places in the village to visit include the Iglesia de San Sebastian, built after the reconquest on the site of the mosque which had, in turn, been built on the site of an earlier visigoth church. During the Civil War the church was sacked and the organ thrown into the street and destroyed. The bell tower still dominates the village skyline.
There's lots to see in surrounding areas, and no shortage of great day trips to enjoy. Sevilla, the vibrant capital of Andalucía, is only a couple of hours’ drive away. Hemingway’s favourite Spanish town, Ronda is 45 minutes from here on a fabulously beautiful road across the mountains. Granada with its world famous Moorish palace, “La Alhambra”, will take three hours.
The magnificent beaches of the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic coast are also within easy driving distance. The charming resort of Tarifa on this coast is a world mecca for windsurfing.
Estepona on the Costa del Sol, a lively resort with a pretty old town and fishing port, is only 45 minutes drive away; Marbella is reachable within the hour.
The Daily Telegraph described Gaucín thus: "I was promised a lovely setting, sleepy streets, a few bars, a handful of restaurants and some fantastic views. Sounds like my kind of town …
… And so it is. Even from afar, the location is astounding, white houses ranged along a lofty ridge, framed by craggy peaks, vultures wheeling overhead and surrounded by miles of sun-drilled hills dotted with carob, cork oak and shimmering fields of wheat. After an immense climb from the valley, we arrive in pretty narrow streets in the heat-stunned silence of mid-afternoon. A few moments and we find a small bar still serving tapas and ice-cold beer on a terrace with majestic views across the wooded hills and parched plains to Gibraltar and North Africa.
Idle strolls, leisurely drinks, al fresco suppers in jasmine-scented air – Gaucín has all these pleasures. A haven in the hills, it's a little piece of perfection".