I woke up the other day with Aracena on my mind. It’s not unusual for me to feel Spain when I am not there. Do you know what I mean? When all of a sudden you feel a place you have visited before, even though you’re in this moment far away from there…Aracena is one of those small Southern Spain villages that draws you back. At least it does for me. I know that my recent second visit there will not be my last.
Tucked within the north-western part of Andalucia, Aracena is an enchantingly old town of white-walled Spanish homes and medieval ruins. Yet until you visit, you can’t see it’s other hidden treasures. Some lie beneath the ground and some above. The small town hugs the lower sloping terrain of a large hill that rises up. No matter where you are in the town, it seems that you can look up and have a view of the ancient Aracena Castle ruins that live perfectly placed on the hilltop. Only the Priory Church accompanies the castle, built off to the side but still presiding prominently atop the hill. I noticed on this second visit of mine in January 2015, that more restoration of the castle ruins is taking place.
Lying below this towering green hill and its medieval legacy, is one of the most impressive and beautiful cave systems in Spain. Called Gruta de las Maravillas, it is made up of several caves and even underground lakes that are linked by narrow channels. With variety of minerals sparkling on all the surfaces, the lighting is colored, adding a supernatural experience to the environment. There is also a geological museum at the visitor center entrance to the cave.
Other great sites are the Museum of Ham of Aracena, or El Museo de Jamon de Aracena, and the surrounding forests of the Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. This is full of charming Bed & Breakfast type of accommodations, many referred to as fincas which are the old farmhouses and mills in the countryside. There are also camping areas and campsites, as well as beautiful hiking trails and horseback riding, which I enjoyed last time we visited (click here to read more about horseback riding near Aracena).
One of my favorite part of visiting Aracena is being in the village’s center square, la Plaza Marques de Aracena. While there are other quaint parks in the town, this one holds fond memories for me of meeting up with friends and enjoying roasted castanas, or chestnuts that are picked fresh from the countryside.
Yet for me the most magical part of this beautiful town, is the castle and the Priory Church on top of the hill. Arriving there is always an adventure since the cobblestone road is steep and becomes narrow as it winds sharply between white-washed walls of small quaint houses that sit snuggly side by side. Then you drive along the side of the hill with an open vista of the village below, arriving at the church once you pass through the beautifully shaped archway. It feels like you are entering a portal to go back in time. The church can be entered and its interior arches, vast pillars, and religious relics enjoyed.
From this hill summit, you can see views of the green forests and lands spreading out to far distances. A stone boulevard winds its way from the Church to circle just below the castle ruins. The rectangular shape of a fortress wall rises up simply, still rising from the ground with the large boulders and clusters of rocks that dot the soft grassy ground. No matter the season or time of year, there are always flowers adding their color to the scene and dancing among these architectural remains. And down below the village can be taken in with one view, still resting along the lower slopes of the ancient castle and church.
Aracena is relatively close to Seville, with only a couple more hours drive or bus ride. If you find that you’re going to be in this part of Andalucia, try to make it to this magical little town, especially if you’re craving a more local experience of Spain’s countryside and less-frequented areas.
Enjoy more pictures by visiting my online album: “Return to Aracena“.