9 Villages to Visit in Southern Spain

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

The Genal River Valley, tucked away near Ronda in Southern Spain, is just an hour’s drive from the glitz and glamor of Marbella, the hedonistic capital of luxury on the Costa del Sol. But despite the short distance, the contrast couldn’t be greater. Across the sweeping chestnut forest and mountain vistas, and on the streets of the valley’s 9 villages, all tiny – the population barely scrapes 120 in many of them and the largest is home to just 750 people – time appears to have stood still, and little has changed since the Moors planted the first trees there over ten centuries ago. A visit to these remote spots in southern Spain provides a unique glimpse of traditional Andalusian life.—Joanna Styles

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

Alpandeire

This village might be small but it’s known for its cathedral-size church whose terracotta structure dominates the otherwise white architecture. Friar Leopoldo, one of southern Spain’s most revered saints and known for his piousness and wise advice, was born here and his statue overlooks the village. Don’t miss lunch at La Cueva de la Higuera, next to the church with its cave interior, pretty shaded terrace, and menu showcasing local produce. The venison in sauce is particularly good.

Insider Tip: Drive to Alpandeire from Cartajima in late spring to admire the peach and cherry blossom in the orchards flanking the village.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to the Costa del Sol

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

Igualeja

This sprawling village is home to the source of the River Genal, whose bubbling waters give their name to the valley. Visit the source where water from the spring flows all year and quickly gathers in pools before cascading down into the valley.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss Easter in Igualeja when locals act out the Passion Play in the village streets and squares.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda

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Benaojan

This small village is big on produce. This time it’s cured pork products for which Benaoján is nationally famous. You can try the village’s famous ham, sausage and chorizo charcuterie all year round at the bars, but if you want to sample the best, visit the food fair during the first weekend in December when produce from all over Malaga province packs the stalls.

Insider Tip: Visit the nearby prehistoric cave of La Pileta, complete with cave paintings and interesting geological formations.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda

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Juzcar

This is the only village in the valley to have given up its traditional whitewash in favour of Smurf blue. Every building — including the cemetery and fountain — is bright azure, painted to promote the world premiere of The Smurfs in 2011. The villagers voted in referendum to keep Júzcar blue and it attracts tourists from the world-over, keen to wander its streets and greet Papa Smurf, Smurfette, and Gargamel.

Insider Tip: This village is busiest on the – visit during the week to have Júzcar and its Smurfs to yourself.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda

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Cartajima

The first village on the road from Marbella and one of the prettiest, Cartajima has commanding views of the valley, visible from almost every turn of its narrow streets. Look out for the mosaic plaque in the main square commemorating the village partisans who resisted the Napoleonic occupation. In return for their heroic hold-out against the French, King Fernando VII awarded the village with independence in 1814.

Insider Tip: Make Cartajima your base for your visit and stay at the Hotel Los Castaños whose 6 en-suite rooms offer a touch of luxury in cozy rustic surroundings.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

Atajate

Atajate might be the smallest of the villages in the Genal River Valley –  it numbers just over 150 inhabitants – but it’s big on wine and celebrating. Atajate is one of the few places in Spain where you can try homemade wine (sweet, ruby-colored and known as mosto) and in early November the village celebrates the year’s vintage with tastings, music, and dance.

Insider Tip: Take a tour of a local vineyard – there are 23 nearby – and taste the wines for yourself. Bodegas F Schatz produces seven organic, biodynamic wines.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/Miguel Angel Toro

Gaucin

The southern-most village and the only one in the valley with sweeping views of the Mediterranean, Gaucín is also one of the prettiest. Don’t miss the Moorish castle with its panoramic views north and south or the steep village streets, home to several fine homes.

Insider Tip: Time your visit to Gaucín to coincide with the annual Arts Festival, held over several weekends in May and June, when the village’s many artists hold open studios.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to the Costa del Sol

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

Parauta

Perhaps one of the prettiest villages in the Valley, Parauta certainly has some of the best examples of traditional Andalusian architecture. Explore its cobbled streets, flanked by typical village houses before you reach the fine 16th century church. Parauta is also one of the very few totally ecological villages in Andalusia

Insider Tip: Several lovely hikes start from Parauta. Walk to Cartajima or Igualeja (both routes are around 2.5 miles).

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to the Costa del Sol

Patronato de Turismo de la Costa del Sol/José Hidalgo

Pujerra

This is the only village facing north, and the best views of the sweeping chestnut woods – lime green and white in May and golden orange in fall – can be seen as you drive to Pujerra. Early November sees the local Chestnut Fair when visitors can taste over 50 dishes (savory and sweet) with chestnuts as their star ingredient. Legend has it that a shepherd named Wamba from the village became one of the last Goth kings of Spain in 672.

Insider Tip: Hike to Júzcar from Pujerra, an easy route that takes you down the valley and across the Genal River before you climb up to Smurf village.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guide to Ronda