If you find yourself on a trip to southern Spain, it certainly won't be complete without stopping by and visiting one of the many white villages (or 'pueblos blancos') of Andalusia, often nestled on a hilltop and is the epitome of Spain in the summer sun.
These white villages, apart from being ridiculously aesthetically pleasing, are also an easy drive from one to another, and if the white villages are the focal point of your itinerary, it'd make sense to base yourself in a more popular town where you'll have plenty of amenities like Ronda for example.
I chose to base ourselves in the city of Málaga, and even driving out of town into the hills was a peach.
The State of Roads in Southern Spain
The roads in Spain are for the most part, smooth, well-paved, and easy to navigate and understand.
For someone who's grown up with Right Hand Drive vehicles, driving from the left wasn't much of an issue either.
We got around with Google Maps, which was also easy to use and we never got lost.
You'll often find yourself on expressways or motorways, especially as we left Málaga, and travelling to villages like Mijas, Nerja, and Frigiliana was all under an hour on smooth motorway traffic.
The only time I drove for about a 2 hour stretch, was on my way to Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra, where I drove through some country roads, which were also smooth flowing and straight up empty at certain stretches.
We ran into tolls twice in 4 days, the first time paying a couple of euros (it was less than €4), and the next was when exiting Ronda and we had to pay a fair bit more, about €10 which I suppose was to be expected considering the popularity of Ronda.
Where to Base Yourself
When it comes to looking for a home base, you have several options to choose from.
The bigger cities of Andalusia make perfect sense, such as Seville or Málaga, as these places have many attractions themselves and are popular destinations on their own.
Not only do you get plenty of amenities, you also get a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets, big city nightlife, various cuisines from around the world represented, a bit of shopping therapy and so forth.
If you’d like to base yourself in one pueblo blanco, I’d pick Ronda as it’s strategically located and is close to several other popular ones.
It’s also one of the more popular ones around so you’ll be able to get by with English and there are plenty of shops and amenities around.
If you’d like to move around the pueblos blancos as you tour them, that is possible too, as plenty people do, but the hassle of moving in to a new place every few days isn’t my idea of fun, so I chose to base myself in a big city.
Also, expect to brush up on your Spanish or fire up Google Translate a lot more as these villages are going to be far more Spanish-speaking, which is great for a more ‘authentic’ Spanish experience if you will.
Who to Rent from?
Many internationally recognised car rental companies can be found in Spain, and we went with Europcar just because it offered the most value for money at the time.
Feel free to shop around though, and most definitely get fully insured for an ease of mind.
Some of these roads are narrow, especially in the town centre of the villages itself, and you don’t want to be constantly worrying about scratches.
If you’re driving around in a big city, a bigger car might be fine, but in smaller towns and villages, it makes sense to go with a smaller vehicle.
My driving license is in English, but was never asked for an International Driving Permit (IDP) at any point.
Mind, I was never asked for it in Thailand either.
What if You Don’t Drive?
Driving naturally offers you the most freedom and flexibility, but if you don’t want to or can’t, you’ll have to rely on public transportation.
Naturally, this means strict time keeping and being bound to their schedules, not yours.
You’ll also be restricted to villages only served by public transport, which in this case will most likely be buses.
It’s a fine enough option regardless, and many other travellers do it too.
A Guide to the List of Pueblos Blancos
I'll start with the most famous of all the pueblos blancos— Ronda, in the province of Málaga.
Ronda used to be one of Spain's best kept secrets, not anymore these days though, with day trippers and tourists packing out the streets in the height of summer.
The biggest draw of Ronda is that the town is set on the edge of a mountaintop above a deep gorge called El Tajo with a stunning drop off.
The famous Puente Nuevo bridge took several decades to construct, and connects the old town with the newer part of town.
You can choose to hike or drive down the El Tajo gorge, but note that the drive down is rather narrow on twisting roads and if you’re not entirely confident, I’d go with skipping a drive altogether and going for a hike instead.
Ronda is situated where it also makes for a great base for exploring the rest of the pueblos blancos, as its popularity as a tourist destination has led to a plethora of accommodation options, as well as the ease of getting by without any knowledge of Spanish.
2. Nerja / Frigiliana
The two towns of Nerja and Frigiliana are often visited together as Frigiliana is a short 20 minute drive up the hills from the coastal town of Nerja.
Truth be told, these two towns were my favourite pueblos blancos and it’s not hard to see why.
Situated along the Costa del Sol, Nerja boasts a beautiful beach and seafood shack (‘chiringuito’) that was featured in the iconic 1980s Spanish TV show ‘Verano Azul’, which launched the seafood shack to national prominence.
The food was excellent value for money too, and the restaurant is chockfull of diners everyday.
Mind, sun loungers are hard to get in the summer, so you’ll either have to plan and reserve a lounger in advance or bring your own umbrellas and beach chairs.
You can even go cave hunting in Nerja, and the origins of the cave are fascinating and is open year round.
Once you’ve gotten enough sand in your hair and paella in your belly, head up to Frigiliana.
Frigiliana was the prettiest pueblo blanco I got to see, with flowering bougainvillea lining the streets which glistened in the sunshine.
The terrace boasted some stunning views of the town, surrounding hills and the sea beyond, and several restaurants have taken advantage of the natural beauty of the town and set up shop where you can dine overlooking these sweeping views.
Mijas is closest to Málaga and the easiest to get to from the latter.
It is a quiet, small and unassuming town with similarly great views and a lively town centre.
However, what Mijas boasts that the other pueblos blancos don’t is the Aroma Café & Secret Garden restaurant.
So popular is this restaurant in the summer that we could not get a table when we first walked up, and the restaurant is not small either.
With a wonderful alfresco dining area out back in the ‘secret garden’, this restaurant lends itself to a cosy, family-friendly summer barbecue type of atmosphere, and the food was great here too.
I detailed the entire experience in my guide to Mijas above.
4. Zahara de la Sierra
I’ll admit, this was a slightly unconventional choice.
Not known by many or listed on guides for the pueblos blancos, I headed to Zahara de la Sierra for something different.
On a lake near the mountain range of Sierra de Grazalema lies the stunning town of Zahara de la Sierra, a 2 hour drive away from Málaga.
The castle at Zahara de la Sierra is where we found most other visitors, who were hiking up to get to the absolutely jaw-dropping views of the surrounding lake.
On a clear, sunny day of blue skies, the lake down below absolutely glistened, and serving as the backdrop framing the rest of the town, this view could not be done justice in pictures nor videos.
Nearby there is a recreation space in the form of a municipal park by the name of Área Recreativa Municipal la Playita where you can dip your toes in for a swim or have a barbecue, and a yacht club by the name of El Mogote where you can do some water activities.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, given the sheer number of pueblos blancos there are in Southern Spain.
However, this was a good gauge of the popular ones to the less visited ones, with as much of a variety in sights and experiences as I could find.
There’s still Jerez de la Frontera, Ojén, Arcos de la Frontera, Maro, Agua Armarga, Grazalema, Villamartín, and this list goes on and on.
From my trip to Spain in the summer, I've turned some of my photography into my brand of everyday products which you can check out below. Worldwide shipping is available so if you're looking for a tote bag or postcard to take home to remember your travels if you too have been to these parts of Spain, and if you'd like to support this passion project of mine, look no further!
View the full product catalogue at the shop here.
The stereotypical view of the white villages of southern Spain (los pueblos blancos) includes white houses, narrow pebbled streets barely wide enough for vehicles to pass through, and the flowering bougainvillaea poking through the houses.
Frigiliana made all the pueblos blancos views I had in my mind manifest in real life.
It was stunning on every corner, but from where we parked at the foot of downtown, we had to scale a number of steps to get up to the town centre, and halfway up we saw these bougainvillaea growing out of the walls with the beautiful town in the background which was absolutely stunning and this is where I took this photograph.
View the rest of the collection here.
When in Seville, we went on a walking tour to get ourselves familiarised with the city.
I've fallen hard for walking tours after this summer, and I'm so glad I went on 2 in Spain alone.
Across the Guadalquivir River lies the neighbourhood of Triana, so called the neighbourhood of gypsies and outcasts, where inhabitants used to identify as being from Triana before Seville.
The draw of Triana though, apart from the flamenco flair, is Calle Betis, the riverfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars which turns into a hotspot in the evenings.
In the sleepy late afternoon though, the buildings shine in the sun as workers of each restaurant start slowly setting up for a busy evening ahead.
View the rest of the collection here.
Barcelona wasn't on the itinerary this summer, but as you can imagine I have plenty photos from my stint 2 years ago.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Barcelona is El Born, which is basically the Gothic Quarter except lined with local boutiques instead of kitsch tourist souvenir shops, which lends itself to a really nice bohemian atmosphere.
Not to mention some of the best tapas bars in the city can be found here, which is a major plus.
El Born's also where you get all the beauty of the Gothic Quarter, and I particularly like the doors and façade of shops and houses here.
So here's a photograph of a coffeehouse in El Born, and I think this is quintessential Barcelona in a photograph.
View the rest of the collection here.