In the far north east of Cadiz Province is one of the most spectacular white villages in Andalucia, Zahara de la Sierra. The name probably originates from the Arab word for desert, Sahra (as in Sahara), which, before the embalse was built about 1995, accurately described the area surrounding Zahara.
The road into the town is one way, if you miss a parking opportunity you will find yourself ejected on the far side of the town. Built on a pronounced hill overlooking the embalse the town is built on three levels.
The road first takes you through the lower level, the ‘modern’ town that, from a distance, seems to blend in with the overall landscape of white houses surmounting a steep hill. On your right you will see a small castle on a mound. There is a small car park here. This is a modern mirador and gives excellent views back over the embalse and across to the mediaeval town.
Ascending steeply the road takes you into the mediaeval town, largely built after the re-conquest of Zahara by Rodrigo Ponce de León, Duke of Cadiz in 1483. This middle level is a maze of steep, narrow streets and a small square, Plaza Mayor, with its Church of Santa María de la Mez, bars, a souvenir shop, tourist office and a restaurant. Parking is at a premium.
Looking down on the mediaeval level of Zahara de la Sierra
Continuing up through the mediaeval level you will pass through a narrow gate, the Puerta de la Villa, in the town walls at the crown of a ridge. There is a small amount of parking here and another mirador with panoramic views.
13th Century keep at Zahara de la Sierra
Opposite the car park are some steps. These lead to the third level of the town, the remains of the 13th century Moorish castle and the settlement that nestled within its walls and clung to the outer walls. The keep, right on the summit, has been restored and is open to the public. If you want to climb the interior stairs to the roof then take a torch, there is no lighting.