A unique joy of living for a few years in a foreign country is that you have time to travel a bit off the beaten path. You hit the classic tourist spots, but also get to immerse deeper to explore smaller, lesser known towns and villages. A lot of the Spanish pueblos I’ve visited have impacted me even more than the bigger cities, so I thought I’d make a list to encourage others to travel to these hidden gems. Of course, a wonderful thing about these places is that they are mostly untouched by tourism, so I hope you’ll respect and cherish the culture as much as possible. With that said, here is a peek into my personal top five Spanish pueblos.
5. Uclés, Castilla La-Mancha
Castilla La-Mancha is known as being dry, hot and fairly brown. So, it doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation in the world of travel, but look a little deeper and history begins to ooze out of this place. I was lucky enough to spend a month living in Uclés, Castilla La-Mancha this summer, and had my perspective changed on this authentic, historical part of Spain. The Monastery of Uclés is over 500 years old and was once the home of the Order of Santiago, which is the reason it is on one of the routes of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The town lays just below the Monastery on the hillside, making the views from the monastery magnificent and the views of the town from afar equally breathtaking. Summer nights here are spent walking down paths in golden sunlight under the trees, watching children catch crawfish in the stream, and heading to the (only) local bar to have a beer with friends in the fading sunlight. In late July sunflower fields bloom and surround the town in quilted swatches of glowing gold. Uclés is the pride of its 250 inhabitants for good reason, and is definitely worth a day trip if you’re looking to dig up a hidden gem of Spain.
4. Laguardia, Pais Vasco
The wine region of La Rioja is comprised of three main regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. Perched on a hilltop in the Rioja Alavesa, surrounded by a sea of flowing vineyard vines, you can see Laguardia in all its glory, with a backdrop of tall mountains and endless sky. Although this town is technically in the region of Pais Vasco, it represents the true essence of the Rioja wine region effortlessly. You can visit countless vineyards for tours and tastings, walk the cobbled streets for pincho hopping, and look out at the vast landscape that seems to spill out from under the pueblo for hundreds of miles. This town charms me to no end each time I visit, so even though it’s difficult to choose just one pueblo in Rioja for this list, my vote goes to the magical town of Laguardia.
3. Santillana del Mar, Cantabria
Santillana del Mar is a pueblo in Cantabria known as the town of three lies. If you dissect the name, you find “Sant” meaning “saint,” “llana” meaning “plain,” and “del Mar” meaning “of the sea.” Many towns in Spain represent a catholic saint, but this town is not one of them, and it is not situated in a plain or by the sea. But this bit of trivia doesn’t take away from the real truth of this pueblo: it is like walking into a fairytale. Santillana del Mar is known for it’s untouched, sturdily crafted architecture, it’s gifted wood craftsmen, and of course, delicious milk from Cantabrian cows. Perfect vignettes appear around every corner of Santillana, and to be honest, the word of its beauty seems to have gotten out a bit. Although there are plenty of camera wielding tourists along its paths, the charm of this town feels indestructible. Spend an afternoon strolling these tranquil streets, make a stop to order a glass of the famous milk with a cookie or two, and then drive along to explore the beautiful surrounding landscape. Even given the lie, the sea is always nearby in the tiny region of Cantabria.
2. Setenil de Las Bodegas, Andalucía
If you want a travel adventure that truly feels unreal, look no further than Setenil de las Bodegas. This pueblo in Andalusia was carved into a giant boulder, and its roughly 3,000 inhabitants thrive while literally living under a rock. There are two sides of the town, the “Sun” side and the “Shadow” side, according to how much light the rock allows to hit the streets. As you can imagine, there are one-of-a-kind views from any point in the village, and a stroll around the area will have you marveling at this town that seems to defy the laws of physics. Setenil de las Bodegas makes a great day trip if youre visiting from Sevilla or other nearby areas, and is near other incredible towns like Ronda, making it an easy, and worthy addition to your Andalusian road trip.
1. Muros, Galicia
I might be biased, but my number one spot has to go to my current home of Muros, Galicia. There is something immeasurably special about this little town, and it truly encapsulates the essence of Galicia. Not to mention, it is known for a history of witch craft and witches, or “meigas” who currently practice in the area. How cool is that?!
This region is famous for its many bays, and Muros seems to grow right out of its bay and into the mountainside like a patch of mussels grown into sea rock. This town has about 9,000 inhabitants who all speak Spanish and Galician and have an endless pride for the traditions of this land. The sea food is cheap and delicious, the beaches are wild and untamed, and the culture is strong in every sense. Galician people are resilient and they’ve manage to preserve a unique world of their own in the northwest corner of Spain. Muros is the perfect place to see all of this play out in real time. Grab a beer and some calamari with fresh lemon, take a stroll to admire the colorful boats on display in the port, and if you want, walk straight into the forest to feel completely immersed in the unique shade of green that is Galicia. My advice would be to head this way between June and September to enjoy the warm beaches and cold, exhilarating dunks in the sea. You might even catch what is in my opinion the perfect image of this town: the sun sparkling on its fresh rain-soaked streets, and maybe even a rainbow over the bay.
I hope you enjoyed my list, and are inspired to head off the beaten path to check out some of these precious towns. Have you been to any of these places? Which Spanish villages would make your top 5 pueblos list? I’d love to hear your feedback; happy traveling my friends!