Zahara de la Sierra is a small town and municipality in province of Cádiz in Andalusia, Spain. It is perched on a hilltop, overlooking a large and beautiful reservoir, and it is one of the so-called pueblos blancos, the white villages of Andalusia. It is a pretty place for a stop if you happen to be in the area, and it is one the points of access to the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
Zahara de la Sierra was already settled by the Celtiberians, who built a 6 ha hillfort or oppidum on top of the hill that was later occupied by the Romans. In the 13th century, the Moors built a castle on the strategic hill, the remains of which can still be seen from a long distance. The village takes its name from the Arab Al-Sajra, or castle on a hill. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1407, but was reoccupied in 1481 by the last muslim kings of Granada, to be lost again in 1483. The kings of Spain then gave the castle, town and surrounding area to Rodrigo Ponce de León, who became Marquis of Zahara. During the Spanish War of Independence in 1810, French troops occupied the castle. Spanish forces trying to dislodge them failed at three consecutive attempts.
In 1991, the reservoir of Zahara-El Gastor was created as part of a project to improve the fresh water supply of Andalusia.
Today, Zahara is a small town with some 1,500 inhabitants; before the 1970s however, the town used to be significantly more populous with approximately 3,000 people.
Zahara de la Sierra is about 35 kms from Ronda, the closest major town (travel time approx. 40 min). Travel time from Cádiz and Sevilla is approx. 1h20 min.
Cars are best parked outside town in the car park along the CA-9104 road, where incidentally you also have a great view of the reservoir.
Zahara de la Sierra has a direct bus connection to Ronda, however, it only goes twice a day on weekdays (travel time 45 min or 1 hr). Timetables can be found here.
If you don't mind some uphill biking, it is 2h25min from Ronda by bike.
Zahara de la Sierra is very small, so easy to get around on foot. To explore the surroundings, a car or bicycle is necessary.
The castle of Zahara de la Sierra
- Castle. The Moorish castle dates from the Nazarí period (13th-15th century), and is located on top of the hill. Only the tower and some wall remains are left, and partly restored after recent excavations. From there, you have a wonderful view of the surrounding area. It is declared a Property of Cultural Interest. edit
- Iglesia Mayor (Great Church), ☎ +34 956 12 30 04. This church originally was the town's mosque and was converted to a Roman-Catholic church in the 15th century but abandoned in the late 18th century. It was restored a few years ago, and now houses an interpretive centre, detailing the history of the site and the medieval town of Zahara. edit
- Iglesia de Santa María de la Mesa, Plaza del Rey, s/n. The successor of the Iglesia Mayor is a typical Andalusian baroque church, with a gilded wooden altarpiece. It houses a small parish museum. edit
- Spanish fir interpretive centre, Plaza del Rey, 3, ☎ +34 956 12 31 14. A small exposition space dedicated to the Spanish fir or pinsapo, with information about the landscape of the Natural Park. A small botanical garden with local tree species is found just outside the museum. edit
- Medieval town gate. The main claim to fame of the medieval town gate is that it was blown to pieces by the French troops when they left the castle in 1812. edit
- Garganta Verde. The canyon of Garganta Verde is on the road to Grazalema, and offers a very scenic hike, with plenty of opportunities to observe griffon vultures. However, it is closed to visitors in the Summer months, although you can then still access the viewing platform at the edge of the canyon. In order to enter the Garganta Verde trail, you need to apply for a day permit at the visitor centre of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park in El Bosque (see Do section). edit
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
The Sierra de Grazalema is a beautiful area to explore by car, bike or on foot, but it is advised to first visit the Visitor Centre in El Bosque (some 20 kms from Zahara de la Sierra) before planning your excursions, since the information in the internet is not very accessible, and mostly in Spanish. Furthermore, for some of the walking trails in the park, including the Garganta Verde, you need a permit that can only be obtained by going to the visitor centre in person.
- Centro de Visitantes El Bosque, ☎ +34 956 72 70 29. Mo-Fr 10AM-2PM and 5-7PM; Sa 9AM-2PM and 5-7PM; Su 9AM-2PM. edit
View of the Zahara-El Gastor reservoir
A number of hiking routes can be taken from or close to Zahara. Detailed descriptions in Spanish can be found here.
- Arroyomolinos route. An easy 5km walk to the reservoir and the beach at Arroyomolinos, passing by the Cueva de Sustos cave (return the same way). Don't forget to take your swimming gear. edit
- Corpus Christi. The main festivities in town take place at Corpus Christi, which is celebrated 60 days after Easter, and the perfect opportunity to sample the local cuisine. edit
- Feria. The feria, with games, music and flamenco performances, is celebrated in the 3rd weekend of August. edit
Zahara is known for its local meat dishes and stews (cocidos). Typical of Zahara is a dish called quemones, a soup with boiled eggs, onions, garlic and parsley. Local pastry includes suspiros (merengues) and gañotes, fried sweet rolls with cinnamon and sesame seed, that are eaten in the Holy Week.
- Hotel al Lago, ☎ +34 956 12 30 32, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12AM. 3-star hotel on the CA-9104 road, with views of the reservoir. Double room from €88, breakfast included (prices may vary). edit
- Molino el Vínculo, (500m outside town on the road to Grazalema), ☎ +34 956 12 30 02 ([email protected]), . 2-, 6- and 12-person apartments with swimming pool and barbecue facilities next to an old olive mill dating from 1755. The mill can be visited, and has a small shop selling local products. 2-person apartment €96. edit
- Grazalema, in the middle of the Natural Park and supposedly the wettest place in Spain
- Ronda, beautiful historic town with its famous gorge
- Jerez de la Frontera, the home of sherry wine
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