A land of rugged hills, deep valleys and spectacular scenery, La Subbética de Córdoba lies in the heart of Andalucía …
La Subbética de Córdoba lies in the very centre of Andalucía, almost equidistant from its major towns, Córdoba itself, Granada, Sevilla and Málaga. Within an hour from here you can be in any one of these great cities.
That alone is a pretty good reason to base a holiday here. Another is that it just happens to be incredibly beautiful, a land of rugged hills and deep valleys, spectacular scenery and a thriving ecology. A vibrant and vivacious landscape, it is both robust and melodious at one and the same time.
Some of Andalucía's most delightful 'pueblos' are to be found here, steeped in the ancient traditions and culture of the area, both products of a fascinating history which dates back to the beginning of mankind. The people here have been endowed with a wonderful heritage and it's good to see that they cherish it and are doing their utmost to preserve it.
The heartland of Andalucía couldn't be described as such without an olive tree or two. Here there are a few more than that! It's a thrilling vista, row upon row, dotted on hillside upon hillside, stretching as far as the eye can see. The symbol of peace, prosperity and knowledge, the olive tree is the overriding memory of the countryside here and has a great influence over people's lives.
Some of the world's finest oil originates from the Subbética, with towns such as Priego de Córdoba and Baena vying for the prestigious crown of best producer of the year.
But it's not all olives, far from it. The centrepiece of the area is its Natural Park, Las Sierras Subbética, some 31,000 hectares (120 square miles) of medium-height limestone mountains which extend through much of the region, their steep slopes and rugged crags overlooking pretty, narrow valleys. Although not especially high, it does boast Córdoba's highest peak, La Tiñosa at 1,570 metres.
These sierras are a joy to behold, and well worth the trouble of getting out of the car and exploring on foot.
Forested with oaks and maples, they are home to wild cats and boar, foxes, hedgehogs and the Cabrera shrew. Eagles, falcons, vultures and kestrels circle the skies high above; cuckoos, partridges, owls and swifts compete for lower air space. Butterflies flutter through a pastoral scene of pure delight.
It's not without interest underground, either, with some wonderful cave formations, the work of rivers flowing through the limestone fissures.
By way of variety, there are some beautiful lakes too, including the vast "Lake of Andalucía", (although technically this is a reservoir), some 32 kilometres long, a spectacular sweep of azul blue water surrounded by hills of olives and almonds in the extreme south of the region.
More than 300 archaeological sites exist in the Subbética and there are enough museums, castles, churches and fascinating monuments to satisfy anyone interested in the history of mankind. Inhabited since the mists of time, its unique location on the geographic crossroad between Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla and Málaga has made this area strongly influential on more than one civilisation.
Important under both the Romans and the Visigoths, for more than 200 years Córdoba was, to all intent and purpose, the "capital of the world" during the reign of the great Islamic dynasties. Granada, too, was a city of vast importance and cultural refinement.
Between the two, the Subbética was at the very centre of Al-Andalus culture, the great Hispano-Muslim civilisation which embraced Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Garrisons, watchtowers and castles remain throughout the region, a reminder of this legacy.
In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the caliphs long gone, the Subbética was booming once again, thanks to the craftsmanship and merchanting enterprise of its inhabitants, a time which is now evidenced in Priego, Lucena and Cabra by some of the best examples of Cordobian Baroque architecture.
The expressiveness of the local people is still very much to the fore - the energy and creativity of Easter Holy Week or the "Cruces de Mayo" and the spontaneity and fun of any number of local festivals held in towns and villages up and down the region are testament to their vibrant personality.
Easter Week in both Cabra and Priego (and the May celebrations here, too) have been declared attractions of national interest.
Traditional crafts and products continue to flourish here, with woodwork, esparto grass, pottery, stone, bronze and embroidery all actively pursued. There's plenty of lovely things to buy, in addition to some mouth-watering local fare - and the wonderful olive oil, of course!
The Subbética is made up of fourteen towns, ranging in size from the 900 inhabitants of Zuheros to the 40,000 or so in Lucena. As everywhere, some are of more interest to the tourist than others, although each and every one of them have something about them.
Here are a few of our favourites:
Priego de Córdoba
Quite rightly known as the "Baroque Jewel", Priego is a lovely little town, energetic and flourishing yet steeped in history and old-world charm. There are some wonderful examples of Baroque of course, with a church seemingly around every corner.
La Fuente del Rey is a national monument, a highly sculptured spring with a mere 139 fountains. There are several other architectural delights, including the impressive Arab castle and the 16th Century market and slaughterhouse, Las Carnicerías Reales.
Above all, it's a town which just invites you to stroll - don't miss the flower-bedecked passageways of the Barrio de la Villa which lead down to the panoramic vistas of the Balcón del Aldarve.
One of the prettiest villages in Andalucía. Nestling mid way up the northern slopes of the Sierra, it enjoys wonderful views across the dusty plains which stretch out way into the distance. The verdant mountain countryside continues its climb up behind the village.
Zuheros is classic Arabic-Andaluz, the castle tower rising from its centre, a 16th Century church alongside. Village streets are steep and narrow, winding their precipitous way along the contours of the mountain.
There is a fascinating - and archeologically important - cave here: the Cueva de los Murciélagos (the Cave of the Bats), which runs for a length of two kilometres, full of stalactites and stalagmites, and which exhibits a wealth of Neolithic wall paintings and other evidence of prehistoric life, dating back some 35,000 years.
Right in the heart of the National Park, this little town has a welcoming and friendly feel. It's an unpretentious place, a good place to stop for a tapa or two and watch the world go by, Cordobese-style.
The castle here is a classic and well worth a visit. Not least of the attractions are the views: all around the town, the wonderful hills, valleys and craggy mountain peaks of the National Park stretch out, a painting to behold.
Perched on its rocky outcrop above the "Lake of Andalucía", this medieval settlement appears like an island rising from the waters.
Great views, some seriously steep little streets, the obligatory Moorish castle at its summit (and Baroque church alongside), good fishing, watersports and birdwatching along the shores of the lake are some of the attractions here.
There's plenty of good food and fine wines on offer in the Subbética: Doña Mecía is home to the excellent Montilla Moriles fino (sherry), widely available throughout the area, an excellent (and cheap) aperitif.
Substantial, calorie-rich mountain foods, including tasty pork and goat dishes, are a specially; you shouldn't miss the scrummy goats cheeses from the area either, and no meal would be complete without a chupito (a shot) of one of Rute's famous aniseed liquors, Anis.
With a climate which is typically Andalusian (hot in summer, mild and balmy in spring and autumn, a little chilly in the depths of winter, La Subbética offers so much to the visitor: authentic Andaluz lifestyle, a rich cultural tapestry, beautiful countryside, attractive towns and villages - and an easy journey to each and every one of Andalucía's great historic cities.
La Subbética is just waiting for you to discover it …
Towns & Villages
Quite rightly known as the "Baroque Jewel", Priego de Córdoba is a lovely little town (population 22,000), energetic and flourishing yet steeped in history and old-world charm. It just invites you to stroll around, Andalucía at its most refined and authentic …
This picturesque white village is the southern gateway to the beautiful rolling hills of the Subbetica Natural Park. Sitting on top of a huge rocky outcrop which towers up from the breathtakingly blue waters of the largest lake in Andalucía, it's a dramatic setting …
A classic Arabic-Andaluz village in a dramatic setting with a Moorish castle tower and 16th Century church alongside, it is one of the prettiest in Andalucía. Popular with walkers and artists, it is also known for its Cave of the Bats and for its delicious, locally bred goats cheese …