In the far north east of Cádiz Province is one of the most spectacular white villages in Andalucia, Zahara de la Sierra. The village is on the northern edge of the beautiful Sierrra de Grazalema Natural Park. The name, Zahara, 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.
Parking is at a premium.
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.
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.
From the castle, you will find yourself looking down on the mediaeval level of Zahara de la Sierra.
All that activity is likely to make you hungry and thirsty. There are a plethora of bars and restaurants in Zahara to cater to your needs. Make sure you try some of the local food that includes venison and wild boar. One of the most picturesque places to relax is Plaza Mayor, the focal point of the village. In the centre is a fountain constructed from the water trough from which villagers drew their water in times gone by. In the evening it is illuminated by a street light. Around the plaza there is the Church of Santa Maria de la Meza, the town hall, tourist office and souvenir shops. There is also yet another mirador. This one has magnificent views over the reservoir and across the valley. The village in the far distance is Olvera.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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