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Looking for charming villages

Hi,

Looking for a region in Spain with a high concentration of charming towns and villages.

We traveled to Provence last year and really liked all the small villages that we could stroll around and had good restaurants but had culturally interesting sites.

We like to get a similar experience but with a different flavor and wondering if people had suggestions? Ideally would like to use one area as a base for about 10 days.

Posted by
2180 posts

You're in luck! Because in Spain, every region has charming and quaint villages, each with their own unique history, culture, and landscape. One potentially deciding factor is going to be the weather, may I ask when you plan on making this trip? The most charming village in 40c+ degree heat or in the middle of the rainy season loses its charms fast ;-)

Also, I assume you will have a car with you?

Posted by
1240 posts

If you want something with the rural look closest to Provence, I think you should be considering northern Spain. For example inland Catalonia or the Basque Country.

If the countryside look doesn't matter , then I'd consider central Spain. Lots of villages and smaller towns of varying "prettiness", fewer tourists and more local feel. For example Extremadura or Castile.

Southern Spain looks nothing like Provence - parts are almost desert, others mountainous or coastal. Some parts manage to be all three! However it does have the villages that seem "most Spanish" - hot, dusty, empty in the afternoon. I'd consider eastern Andalucia such as Almeria, Granada or Jaen provinces. Or there's always Murcia, some of which is quite green and unspoilt.

Importantly - will you be hiring a car, when are you travelling?I

And, as a wild card, instead of Spain, have you considered northern England? The Dales villages, Lake District views, moors and castle-rich coast. It's all brilliant.

Posted by
3155 posts

I love every part of the country and there are quaint and charming towns everywhere. Murcia, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile y Leon, and Andalucia come to mind. As Carlos and Nick asked, it depends on the time of year you intend on visiting and what type topography is enjoyable to you. Having a rental car makes getting to them easy. What I like is, that by visiting those small towns, ones gets away from the tourist madness of the popular destinations.

Posted by
286 posts

You could use the "Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos de España" as a starting place. You can look by autonomous community to find a high density area to your liking.

As the others have questioned, when would you come and would you have a car. If you had a car, I would recommend La Rioja. You could make your base in Briones or Laguardia. Both give you easy access to the Basque country and La Rioja Alta which has many small village that you can stroll through. Ezcaray is a good example.

During the summer it is cooler than Andalucia or even Zaragoza. The best time to come is October, as the weather is good, and the vineyards are turning colors. The landscape it very colorful.

Posted by
3869 posts

We loved Besalu in Catalonia. It can be done as a day trip from Girona, also recommended, which is an hour by train from Barcelona. Somewhere in Catalonia would be a good place to base for 10 days. There is plenty to do.

In Andalusia, you have the pueblos blancos, our favorites were Zahara, Grazelema and Sentinel.

Posted by
18765 posts

No shortage of pretty villages. If attractive countryside matters, I have found these areas to be the most scenic; I haven't really gotten into the Spanish Pyrenees, which are probably #1 for scenery.

Picos de Europa
Basque Country
Galicia
Alpujarras (near Granada)

Much of the countryside around Madrid is relatively dull.

As several others have pointed out, time of year matters a very great deal, because Andalucía, Extremadura and the area around Zaragoza are usually punishingly hot in the summer, whereas the stretch from Galicia to the Basque County is often cool, wet and overcast outside the summer.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks everyone! We’ll be going in late May and will have a car. Is Andalusia generally scorching by then?

Posted by
2180 posts

Thanks for the info update :)

Late May is a bit of a tricky time to visit the countryside, as it's on the tail end of the rainy season in the North but at the beginning of the Summer heat in the South (i.e. Andalucia), granted it's not as hot as in the high summer months. I'd say in general you are fine to visit Andalucia, but you may still need to take into account the potential for heat, as it's a bit unpredictable.

As others have posted above, the White Hill Towns of Andalucia are the most popular choice, albeit quite "on-the-beaten-path", it's certainly not undiscovered, if you get my drift ;-) You can fly in to Sevilla, rent a car there and then head up to Arcos or Ronda which make for fine bases, with Zahara and Setenil making for smaller more intimate experiences.

On the other hand, allow me to suggest a few alternatives, which are no less spectacular and charming, yet are off the radar, as far as international tourists are concerned:

Extremadura: Fly in to Madrid and rent a car then drive southwest through the Extremadura region, a land of time warped Crusader Castles, Moorish Strongholds, Royal Monasteries, and impressive Roman ruins: stopping in places like Cáceres, Trujillo, Guadalupe Monastery, Mérida, Zafra. This is the region which the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the V retired to, it's also home to the best quality of Jamon Iberico in Spain.

Southern Aragon: Fly in to Valencia or Zaragoza, rent a car and then drive to this undiscovered corner of Spain. Center yourselves around Teruel, known for its Gothic and Islamic architecture, and then branch out to Albarracín (voted the prettiest village in Spain) and to ancient Calaceite. Also make a side trip to nearby Matarraña, nicknamed the "Tuscany of Spain".

Hope this gives you a few ideas :)

Posted by
18765 posts

I'd suggest taking a look at the actual historical day-by-day weather data for your shortlisted potential destinations available on the website timeanddate.com . People's tolerance for (and definition of) hot weather varies. I think if you're going to have your own (air-conditioned) car and will primarily be visiting small towns--possibly for only a couple of hours at a time if the places are really tiny--Andalucía's June heat might not be absolutely impossible to bear. But best to look at data for at least the three most recent years (I'd do five) to be sure it looks acceptable to you. I've linked to Seville's data for June 2019. Seville's one of the hottest places in Andalucía. This year the high temps for the first four days of June were 97F - 100F - 97F - 90F. That area wouldn't be my choice at that time of year when there are many other attractive options available.

I believe the Alpujarras area over near Granada would be somewhat cooler, because there's a modest amount of altitude involved there. But that's probably not a place you'd want to stay for 10 days unless you were into heavy-duty hiking. And I'm not sure there would be very many "culturally interesting sites" unless you drove back to Granada.

When it comes to the availability of cultural sites, I think much depends on what you mean by "small villages" and your willingness to base in a larger place with the desired cultural attractions and day-trip out to the small villages. If that's what you have in mind, you'll want to consider the ease of getting in and out of your base town/city by car, and the availability of parking.

Should you be intrigued by Albarracin and Teruel (both places I'd like to return to), I want to mention the town of Cuenca with a hill-top historic district built along the edge of a ravine. Cuenca has two very nice, small modern-art museums. It's on the AVE line between Madrid and Valencia, so it's not a place you absolutely have to see if you're in the area simply because you'll have a car on this trip. However, with your own vehicle, I think it's within reasonable range of Teruel and Albarracin; it would be impossible from that direction by train or bus. Cuenca is not undiscovered, but it wasn't overwhelmed by tourists at the time of my late-May 2016 visit. As for Teruel, as suggested by the town's motto ("Teruel exists"), you will feel you've escaped the mobs if you go there. Teruel's on a secondary rail line connected to Valencia and Zaragoza. Few tourists are willing to spend the hours necessary to get there. Albarracin's much smaller, and its only public transportation is a once-a-day bus from Teruel. Bus travelers have to spend the night in Albarracin, so that further limits tourist traffic.

Posted by
3869 posts

oh acraven, you're killing me! I have to get to Albarracin!! I first became interested in the town from the Aerial Spain videos. I watched them on Amazon. Acechrist, I'd highly recommend the movies as a resource for exploring Spanish cities and regions you'd like to visit.

Posted by
18765 posts

Don't make the mistake I did, of planning to stay just one night. If you're using public transportation, you need two nights. With a car, you might get by with one if you could arrive quite early and depart quite late. Try to get information on local tours before arrival. There apparently are some, but I'm not sure what days of the week and months of the year they operate. And arriving in the afternoon and departing earlyish the next day, per the bus schedule, just doesn't work.