As a followup to our article on the best small towns in Italy we thought we’d shift our focus to another immensely popular European destination: Spain. Like Italy, Spain has its must-see major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada etc. And, like Italy it has its fair share of charming towns and villages that the majority of travelers never get to see. We thought we’d shed the spotlight on a few great picks for those travelers who wish to get off the beaten track and see a side of Spain most visitors miss. Here are a few of the best small towns and villages in Spain:
Located in the Spanish province of Málaga, Ronda narrowly squeezes into our definition of a small town. Yes, it has about 35,000 permanent residents, so it is a fair bit more populated than some other entries on this list. Still it is a far cry from Barcelona or Madrid, so we’re going to give it a pass. The Guadalevin river divides the town in two, and by divides we do mean divides. The El Tajo Canyon between the two halves of the town is more than 100 meters deep and buildings are perched precariously on either side of the gorge.
Ronda has more going for it than its stunning geography, however. It is host to the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain, and once per year the Corrida Goyesca, a unique bullfight takes place. Both Ernest Hemmingway and Orson Welles spent long periods of time in Ronda and their glowing endorsement of the town has helped build it into a tourist destination of note.
Much closer to the classic definition of a small town than our opening entry – Ronda – Besalú is home to just over 2,000 residents. Though in modern times it is more a destination for travelers with a passion for history, it was once, in the middle ages, a location of some significance when it served as the capital of Besalú County. It’s most significant feature is its Romanesque bridge that spans the Fluvià River, a 12th century construct with a gateway in its center.
Castellfollit de la Roca
A tiny municipality in Girona, Castellfollit de Roca, like Ronda, is another town perched on the edge of an abyss. Its buildings cling to the basalt cliff-side with a 50 meter drop just steps away. The basalt cliff is actually the byproduct of two separate lava flows overlaying one another. With roughly a thousand residents this village is a sleepy getaway, and if you are looking to escape from the hustle and bustle then this spot, bordered by the Fluvià and Toronell Rivers will certainly fit the bill.
Viewing the beauty of the picture above it is hard to fathom that only about 500 or so people have chosen to make Banyalbufar their home. This municipality on the shores of the Spanish Balearic island of Majoric is in the foothills of the Tramontana Mountains and the countryside has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Notable points of interest include the Torre de ses Animes, a watchtower constructed to warn against incursions by Moorish pirates, and a beautiful walking trail that leads more energetic visitors through pine forests and past spectacular rock formation en route to the Port des Canonge.
We head to Northern Spain for our next pick, into the principality of Asturias. The region features numerous fishing villages, but none more striking than Cudillero. It boasts a riot of colorful homes, quaint cobblestone streets, and rocky beaches for those looking to worship the sun. Legend is that the village was founded by Vikings.
Located roughly an hour or so from Madrid, Pedraza is known as one of Spain’s most beautiful walled medieval villages. The village’s castle was constructed in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 15th. If you can time your trip right to arrive in early July you can witness the Concierto de la Velas. Held on the first and second Saturday of every July, the festival features residents of the town and surrounding villages lighting thousands of candles, lighting up the entire village.
Less than an hour from Marbella, this charming white village is bursting with history. Dating back to the days of the Roman Empire, it is believed that Julius Caesar was supposedly cured of a liver issue in the spa of la Hedionda. This led the Roman Empire to allow Casares to mint its own coins. In the 12th century the town’s castle, around which the town center sprung up, was founded by the Moors, who occupied the region until a treaty in 1361 that saw them surrender the region. In more recent times the city was the birthplace of Blas Infante Perez de Vargas, the father of Andalusian nationalism.
Of course, even if history isn’t your thing Casares still offers plenty of charm, including boasting some of the friendliest people and tastiest home cooking to be found anywhere in the country.
Located in a bay in the middle of Cap de Creus peninsula, Cadaqués is a relatively short two hour drive from Barcelona. That proximity to one of Spain’s most popular cities, as well as its location on the Costa Brava make it an easy destination to get to. That easy access is a double-edged sword. If you are looking for a small town to relax and escape the crowds this might not be your best option. There is a population of under 3,000 people here on a full-time basis, but the town swells with tourists and part-timers who own vacation property here, so if you arrive in high season be prepared to swing your elbows to make room for yourself.
Cadaqués has historically been a popular retreat for artists, and Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso are just a couple of famous artists who spent time in this charming seaside town.
The final entry on our list of the best small towns and villages in Spain is Olite, a small town in the Navarre community of Northern Spain. As you can see from the picture above the focal point of Olite is its amazing castle, the Palacio Real de Olite. The castle was the royal seat of Charles III, who was King of Navarre from 1387 until his death in 1425. Other attractions in the area include the Museo del Vino, which provides an interesting history of the winemaking of the region, and the Iglesia de Santa Maria Real – a small church next to the castle that was consistently altered and improved upon for almost five hundred years between roughly 1300 and 1773.