Tag Archives: White Villages

Jimena de Libar, Andalusia

Jimera de Libar in the Guardiaro Valley

Jimera de Libar, easily reached by train from Ronda, by walking from Benaojan, or by car from both Cortes de la Frontera and Benaojan, is a delightful white village in the Guardiaro Valley of the Serranía de Ronda. Limestone mountains for the Sierra de Libar tower over the village and birds of prey frequently look down on the ant-like people going about their business.

In recent years the village has become exceedingly popular for holiday makers choosing to rent self-catered homes away from the hotels of the area, and then use the village as a base from which to explore the hiking trails of the Grazalema Natural Park. Mr Henderson’s railway walk from Benaojan to Jimera de Libar is a popular local excursion or day trip from Ronda.

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Cork Trees

The Cork Tree, Quercus suber

In the surrounding area to the west of Ronda, from Grazalema south through the Los Alcornacales Natural Park, you’ll find an unusual tree that locals use for making cork. It is the cork tree Quercus suber, native to the Mediterranean, but harvested extensively in Western Andalucía.

In truth, the casual nature lover might at first glance assume the cork tree is an Oak, with a similar dark coloured knobbly bark, at least this is what many travelers tell me when I encounter them. However, if you’re in the area shortly after the bark has been harvested you’ll quickly spot the difference.

The majority of harvesters will only remove about 1.5 to 2 metres of bark starting about half a metre from the ground. Taking too much bark can damage the tree since it is an essential part of the cork tree’s defence against fire. The summer months in Andalucia can be scorching, and the bark also helps maintain the tree’s stores of water.

After it is removed, the bark is soft and springy and children love to roll it around in their hands to see how much they can compress it. The processed cork is broken up and compressed and glued to form the cork sheets used in flooring tiles, gaskets, and the most well known, champagne stoppers.

The original invention of cork stoppers is credited to a Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, whose name is used by Moët & Chandon on their premium champagne. Sadly there is no evidence he invented the cork stopper. You will however struggle to convince any cork harvester of this.

The Quercus suber is only able to be harvested approximately every ten years, and a mature cork tree of 50 years is needed to make bottle stoppers. Since the tree isn’t not cut down, cork forests can be left to nature for the most part, and have been known to live to more than 200 years.

The ecological benefits of cork cannot be understated, this truly is a renewable resource that allows for a complex eco-system of insects, reptiles, birds, mammals, and other flora to survive more or less uninterrupted by humans for centuries.

With Spain and Portugal together accounting for the lions share of global cork manufacturing, the financial benefits add to the ecological, and should be encouraged. so the next time you buy a bottle of wine, make sure it has a cork stopper in it.
Quercus suber cork tree Andalucia

El Bosque Botanical Gardens

El Bosque Botanical Gardens

Within the Serrania we are lucky enough to have three natural parks, Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves, and Alcornacales, and at El Bosque, a small botanical garden “El Castillejo” devoted exclusively to the local and endemic plant species of these mountains.

Due to the Serrania being both Moediterranean and European, many of the tree species are common throughout Europe, whilst most of the shrubs are generally Mediterranean. Most of the flowers and grasses are either Mediterranean or endemic to the area. Your stroll will take you through several mini ecosystems, each with their own viewing area to sit and appreciate the surroundings.

Sadly many of the endemic species of the area are endangered, and not just in the Serrania, so the botanical gardens now also have preservation areas set aside for plants from the Sierra de Loja and Sierra Bermeja, thus ensuring that qualified botanists are able to track grwoth patterns and grow new seedlings for transplant should this ever be required.

As you wander around pay attention to the signs next to each species, a red dot in the top left corner indicates the species is in danger of extinction, while a yellow dot indicates the species is vulnerable. An orange dot signifies a species that is endemic or peculiar for some reason.

The park has adequate parking, and toilet facilities at the main entrance, which is also where the library and classrooms are located. Take care not to hurt any wildlife you encounter, from insects to lizards and snakes, all of which are a vital part of the ecosystem.

The Smurfs 3D Juzcar

Global Launch of Smurf Film in Juzcar

Sony Entertainment, the producers of a new film “The Smurfs 3D” recently chose Juzcar in the Genal Valley as the global launch party location, hosted by Spanish model Eva Gonzalez.

The village was chosen because of its connection to the smurfs in the form of being home to over 150 varieties of mushroom, and since the Smurfs live in mushrooms, Sony’s Spain director Ivan Losada explained the village was absolutely perfect.

Almost every building in the village was painted Smurf blue, with many in the village now calling for this to be the official colour over the village permanently, instead of reverting to the white typical of Andalucia’s pueblo blancos.

Villagers and fans crowded into the town square to be seen with Ms Gonzalez and the lead Smurf characters, Smurfette, Papa Smurf, Gargamel, and the cat Azrael. Children from the village were encouraged to wear Smurf hats and paint their faces blue.

Around 4,000 litres of the special Smurf blue paint were used, with all residents unanimously voting to approve the change in a local referendum which expires in September, though mayor David Fernandez indicated under questioning that if changing the colour to blue substantially increases village tourism that keeping the colour could be extended.

All photos by www.villa-ronda.com


Zahara de la Sierra

Zahara de la Sierra, Pueblo Blanco in the Grazalema Natural Park

Nestled under the mountain that gives the village its name, Zahara de la Sierra is one of the pueblos blancos of Cadiz province, and is only 30 minutes drive from Ronda, or an hour from Jerez de la Frontera. Completely within the Grazalema Natural Park, and with the district’s largest lake at its base, as well as the beginnings of the Garganta Verde walk just outside the village, Zahara is rightly quite central to experiencing the Sierra de Cadiz.

Arriving in the village you are immediately struck by the sight of the fortress tower sitting on a narrow plateau at the top of the mountain rocks, and the white buildings wrapped around the mountain base which makes Zahara a popular village to photograph from afar with some of the best views being at the southern end of the lake on a clear blue sky day.

During the wars between what was left of Al-Andalus ruled by the Nasrids in Granada, Zahara was one of the frontier villages that protected Ronda and the city of Malaga from Christian raids, and even though the Nasrid’s were officially a client state of the Spanish nobility, there certainly wasn’t any love lost between them. The fortress was the Moorish watchtower of the area, but in those days a series of other defensive structures also existed, some of the foundations of which are still visible now. The current tower was built in the 1400s, replacing a previous Moorish tower.

Zahara de la Sierra, contrary to popular lore is not named after the orange blossom that seems to fill the air in the streets. Azahar (orange blossom) and orange trees are plentiful in the area, in fact many of the village streets are lined with short trees that in season are filled with oranges. Part of the confusion lies in one of the official names of the village after the Christian reconquest when it was known as Zahara de los Membrillos, which refers to the quince trees in the area, but the name Zahara has a different meaning in Arabic, referring to a big rock, which is precisely what the village sits on, a huge big rock.

Historically the location of the village has been used by many different people, starting with neolithic people who probably used the caves that dot the area, and evidence of their presence is felt in the polished axe heads and pottery dug up in local farms over the years. By Roman times the thriving city of Acinipo was the centre of a large district, and evidence of Roman villas and a Roman bridge still exist.

Iberian people during the Visigothic era continued their Roman culture long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and archeologists have found several burial crypts and part of a church altar dating from this period, but the first mention of Zahara as a definite location can be dated to 1282 when Sultan Yusef Aben of Morocco and the Castilian king Alfonso X met to discuss an alliance to defeat Sancho IV who had rebelled from his father’s rule. We are not certain how big the village was at the time, but it is unlikely to have been very big since it had been founded as a frontier fortress.

Local Dining

Today walking through Zahara one could be forgiven for imagining that nothing of these times exists, the village gives the apearance of being a thoroughly Andalusian and Christian mountain village, with only the ruins of the Moorish fortress left to tell the story of over two hundred years of almost constant unrest between the Christians of the north and Muslims of the south.

There are two churches in the village, both of them very close together, and between them a short strip of shops, hotels, restaurants, and the town hall. In the morning the village square and restaurants are filled with local people enjoying breakfast in the sun, but by lunch time the tourists have taken over, and then in the evening a pleasant mix of locals and visitors share these spaces together.

Your walk around the village is sure to be relaxing, Zahara de la Sierra isn’t large, and two to three hours is sufficient to see the pretty manicured streets with their citrus trees, to appreciate Zahara’s few monuments such as the church of Santa Maria, the clock tower, the chapel of San Juan de Letran, and a small marble statue representing Nuestre Señora de Zahara.

The highlight of your walk will undoubtedly be the ruins of the medieval village and the torre del homenaje, at the base of which is a museum that offers a fascinating commentary on the history of Zahara and the fortress. If you can, take the steps to the top of the tower and marvel at the views of the village, the lake, and the countryside. It truly is spectacular.

After your walk around the village, enjoy a local tapas lunch in the village square, or of views of the lake are more your thing, the restaurant Al Lago has a wonderful outdoor terrace and contemporary Spanish menu and a selection of Ronda wines to enjoy.

Zahara de la Sierra Photos