The question I am hearing from people lately is “Amalia, where have you experienced real Spain?”. My first thought, and what leads to my answer, is always of the small ancient villages of rural Spain, the country’s enchanting countryside. Since my mother lives in such a part of Spain, I have thoroughly enjoyed months at a time traveling and living throughout the varying regions. I have spent good amounts of time in the exciting cities of Barcelona and Madrid and, while enjoying authentic Spanish culture there, also found that the large cities are teeming with adaptations of Westernized culture and new-age technology. Both, I believe, are important to enjoy when visiting any country. I particularly love the way that Spain embodies both the past and present. So that you enjoy it as well, here are some of my favorite rural areas of Spain to explore (listed by region) that are less heard of and will introduce you to its magical, living history.
Tineo – This small town is about a 30 minute drive or 45 minute bus-ride from the capital of Asturias, Oviedo. It has beautiful portions of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail to enjoying walking on. One of my favorite boutique hotels to stay in, and for a great rate, is the medieval+modern beauty of Palacio de Meras Hotel & Spa. The village is along the side of lush, rolling hills and from almost any location, you have vistas of nearby mountains.
- Tuña – No, I don’t mean the fish. Notice the accent above the “n” for proper pronunciation. This small village is so small, that even in this modern age it still feels appropriate to call it a parish, which is what it truly is. There it not even a single traffic light that exist in this area, much less the village itself. Located approximately a 30 minute drive from Tineo and just over an hour from Oviedo, this ancient cluster of homes is where my mother’s side of the family hails from! So it obviously has special significance for me. For you, it still holds invaluable great sites and experiences, especially if you love nature and hiking. An ancient Roman bridge spans the beautiful, trout-filled river that runs through this lush, hilly valley where homes are still tucked away. One of the homes in the very center was restored by a local family and is a national monument to my ancestor, the General Rafael Del Riego. Since it is still a private residence, you cannot tour the inside, but you can take a look at the wonderful plaque and coat of arms located on the outside of the house as you approach it. In researching for more about this quaint village, I found very little information except for the link located in the heading above. If you have any other resources for it, please feel free to share here.
- Aracena – I will never forget my wonderful time in this enchanting town. Composed of winding rows of white-washed walls, wrought-iron black balconies, and red Spanish-tiled roofs, the town spreads out along one side of a large hill. Crowning the plateau top is the historic Aracena Castle. Visiting the cathedral and ruins here truly took me back in time. The plaza in the town-center is beautifully traditional of Spain and the most famous site to visit is the Gruta de las Maravillas. These are one of the most incredible cave-systems in the country.
- Higuera la Real – Spread out graciously among gently rolling hills, this is a second home to me now that my mother has been living there for over two years. As far as I know, it is not particularly famous for any one thing, yet I highly recommend it as a fantastic exploration off one of the main roads through this region. It’s known for raising Iberian pigs and thus enjoying delicious jamon. The surrounding countryside is dotted with olive tree groves and grazing sheep. I remember coming upon actual shepherds leading their flocks of sheep on the empty dirt roads I used to walk when visiting there. My favorite part of being here, is the people. I know…I’m probably biased since my mother lives there, but I will always love it for the wonderful warmth of the people who make it their home.
- Jerez de los Caballeros – A small town with a big name and lasting history. Also situated upon a large hill, this town is a bit larger than its neighbors and noticeable from afar by its impressive Moorish-style castle that proceeds from atop. It’s remaining historic sites date back to the times of the Crusades and Knights Templar. Once again, this is a great place to explore and enjoy taking your time to enjoy the local people and culture.
- Zafra – For a bit of a larger town, this is the place. They also have one of the most beautiful Paradores that I have ever visited. That is, a restored medieval castle that is now a hotel. I would encourage you to stay there as a home-base for touring and exploring the region. Let me know if you do because it is on my list of places to stay the night at. The streets in this town captivate me and the Convento de Santa Clara is genuinely and gently mesmerizing. The architecture of this convent, still occupied by nuns, seems to radiate with a time-surpassing energy of reverence and peace. I remember that what brought me back to reality was the beckoning smell of fresh-baked pastries that the nuns bake and sell from a small side door to the side of the main church entrance. Make sure to discover and enjoy some treats from this sacred place, especially the cookies made with anise.
I could write another entire blog post, or even two, on even more quaint villages of the Spanish countryside that still thrive with authentic Spanish culture. These relics of our beloved Spain are still the heartbeat of this captivating country. When you choose to visit Spain, make sure to experience this untouched, remote side of the country. Enjoy more pictures below and stay tuned for other posts about more hidden treasures of where to visit for a real experience of Spain.
To enjoy more images, visit my online album “Real Spain in the Countryside“.