Pretty and picturesque, relaxed and cheerful, Aracena is the main town in the beautiful Natural Park which surrounds it …
Virgin de Mayor Dolor
Romería de la Divina Pastora (1st Sunday in June)
Feria Grande (3rd week in August)
Romería de la Reina de los Angeles a la Pena (8th September)
Aracena is the main town in the Sierra de Aracena Natural Park with a population of approximately 7,500.
Unpretentious but relaxed and pretty, it meanders up a hillside topped by the remains of its Moorish castle and a church built by the Knights Templar, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, which preserves the minaret of the mosque that preceded it.
A favourite holiday retreat of the Spanish royal family, Aracena is a busy, bustling little market town, relaxed and cheerful like so many in La Sierra de Aracena, an hour to the north-west of Sevilla and well on the way to Portugal. Welcomes are warm and friendly and you will feel immediately at home here.
Supping a cold beer outside one of the many little bars and taverns around the Plaza Alta in the centre of town, watching the world go by, is a very satisfying way to spend some time.
Here, old-fashioned, unpretentious rural Spain meets more trendy modernity in perfect harmony. Children on roller skates and scooters, giggly teenagers flirting and listening to music, old men earnestly debating the best way to grow a pumpkin, grandmothers fussing, women gossiping: all the generations in one space, a constant hubbub of activity.
It's a perfect size, a little country town, so not remotely intimidating, yet big enough to offer some excellent restaurants and tapas bars - there were 64 bars and three night clubs at the last count - and some good shops. The town also has a popular covered market, boasting three fish stalls and two meat stalls as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Its Moorish castle and fine, thirteenth century church notwithstanding, the town's most famous landmark is the Gruta de las Maravillas, the "Cave of Wonders", the most visited site in the province of Huelva.
For centuries the townsfolk of Aracena were unaware of this marvel that lay, unsuspected, beneath the very ground they trod.
Discovered by accident (by a stray pig apparently … ) the Gruta de la Maravillas is the largest cave in Spain, a mile and a half long, and is truly a marvel of subterranean lakes, striking colours, cathedral-like chambers and all manner of exquisitely adorned stalagmites and stalactites.
As the brochure says "Water has written a poem through the silence and slowness of the centuries".
The cave served as the backdrop for the film "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" and the names of the individual chambers sound like they were dreamt up by a Hollywood scriptwriter. But they are, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rock formations found inside - the Cathedral, the Sultana's Bath Chamber, the Emerald Room, Godʼs Crystal Room, the Submerged City, the Enchanted Tannery, the Chickpea Room and the Gallery of Nudes.
At the entrance to the caves there is a helpful tourist office and a small geological museum with minerals from all over the world.
Aracena is, of course, at the heart of a prestigious jamon producing area and is well served by restaurants and tapas bars.
It featured in the Sunday Observer's "50 best things to eat in the world, and where to eat them". As they said, "black foot ham from here is some of the finest in the country, and there is nothing better than sitting down in any of the bars and restaurants in Aracena to a plate of this rich delicacy, sliced and served with understanding. Last time we were there we had a memorable revueltos (scrambled eggs) with setas (local wild mushrooms) and jamón".
There is a Ham Museum (Museo del Jamón), dedicated to the tradition of farming Aracena’s most valued denizen, the black-footed pig. They are left to roam the surrounding oak forests and feed on acorns to produce the prized pata negra ham, a delicacy exported all over the world. Other specialities of the region are its mushrooms, chestnuts and asparagus.
All around you have the marvellous, soft beauty of the Sierra de Aracena Natural Park, a land of glorious woodlands and far-reaching views, of rolling hillsides and crystal-clear streams. And some of Spain's most beautiful villages.
Aracena is an easy one hour drive from Sevilla, a city which must not be missed. In the opposite direction, there's Portugal, a different world away, enchanting, beguiling and so, so different from Spain. The Costa de la Luz is a 90 minute trip, passing through dramatic scenery which includes the Rio Tinto mines.
Right here, the pace of life is slow, the air is pure, the future bright. Aracena, capital of this captivating region, is a picturesque little town with a relaxed air of quiet satisfaction.