The Beautiful Small Towns of Spain
One of the best ways to see Spain is on a cross-peninsula road trip, because when you navigate the country by car you see a whole other side of it; the small towns.
Maybe you come across a Andalusian mountain town because you are looking for lunch, or a Galician fishing village catches your eye as you round the bend of a coastal road.
Happenstance and serendipity can bring you as you motor the peninsula to little pockets of paradise.
Below are some of the many beautiful small towns across Spain worth visiting as destinations:
Part of the joy of traveling around Andalusia is the seemingly endless supply of “pueblos blancos”.
While there are many that exhibit the Moorish architecture and labyrinthine streets that makes the region so popular among tourists, there’s something extra special about Ronda, it’s location. Set high in the mountains, on the edge of a 400-foot cliff, the views of the valley below are stunning and the 3 bridges that span the canyon are feats of engineering.
Pink, orange, and red houses fill this isolated mountain town, set in a rocky valley on a bend of the Guadalaviar River. After it was all but destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, the government restored houses and streets not in some bland mid-20th century style, but instead taking cues from its Medieval roots and its history as the long-time seat (1012-1104) of a powerful Berber family following the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. The foundations of the castle where the al Banu Razin family, which gives the town its name, set up its court still remains, and the walls that protected the old Moorish city have been restored over time.
Benasque, Pyrenees Mountains
Wake up in this village, surrounded by the tallest peaks in the Pyrenees mountain range and it can be hard to tell if you are in Northern Spain of in the Swiss Alps.
Besides the Romanesque architecture characteristic to the region, cozy wood-paneled restaurants perfect for enjoying that warm mug of hot chocolate, and aristocratic mansions, the town also serves as the launching point for outdoorsy travelers who want to explore the glaciers, skiing runs, fly fishing sites, hiking trails, and waterfalls in the area.
Unlike the single-hue towns that dot Spain’s countryside, this fishing village on the Bay of Biscay explodes with multi-colored pastels each house taking on its identity of its own with an overall effect that is nothing short of mesmerizing. You can wile away hours with a cold caña or 2 watching the activity on the small, but active, dock, or set out for day trips to nearby beaches.
A popular site for Catholic pilgrims due to its association with the famed mystic St. Teresa of Ávila, the city has a remarkably preserved Old Town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ávila is just 70 miles away from Madrid, which makes it ideal for a day trip, but once you see the way the city walls are lit up at night in an ethereal glow, behold the castle-like Gothic cathedral, or taste the famous yemas de Santa Teresa, small pastries made from egg yolk, you will want to stick around for a night or 2.
Cuenca, Castile-La Mancha
Another beautiful Spanish town with centuries-old history at every turn; another Old City declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over time, the town has adapted to its remarkable setting, atop a pair of deep river gorges.
The famous “hanging houses”multi-story homes built literally over the edge of the cliffs, with balconies that extend over nothing, hanging on for dear life.
While the architectural wonders are not as common as they once were, 1 of them is now home to the world-class Museum of Abstract Art.
Galicia is special, and the gallegos who call this northwestern corner of the country home will be the first to tell you that… in Galician.
A majority of locals consider the language, closer to Portuguese than Castilian Spanish, their native tongue.
Combarro, a small coastal village along the Ría de Pontevedra estuary, captures all the singularity of the region in the unassuming seaside restaurants serving the daily catch, narrow winding streets, and most of all the traditional hórreos, stone granaries that line the waterfront.
Zafra is sometimes referred to as “the little Seville,” and it’s easy to see why.
Gleaming white houses, Moorish architectural influence in every cobblestone and archway, and a giant castle that you can stay in make this town in southern Extremadura worth more than just a stop-over on your way to larger nearby cities like Cáceres.
Lekeitio, Basque Country
A sprawling Gothic basilica is the centerpiece of this fairy tale Basque fishing village, but it’s really only the beginning of a long list of things to see, do, and eat. For starters, there’s a pair of gorgeous beaches right in town. From the longer Karraspio Beach, at low tide you can walk—yes, walk—across a sandbar to the nearby San Nicolás Island. Hike to the top of the small island for panoramic views of Lekeitio and the rugged Basque coastline.
The people of Catalonia are famously proud of their history. And when you walk down Besalú’s cobbled streets or cross the 12th-Century bridge that straddles the Fluvià river, it can feel like you’re back in a time when this charming village of just 2,500 people was the capital of an entire Medieval county.
By Sebastian Modak
Paul Ebeling, Editor
On the Road Again…