The pueblos blancos of Andalucia are well-loved by those in the know – visitors who adore to explore ancient, characterful villages, sprawled spectacularly over hillsides, white houses and churches clinging to the steep slopes with commanding views over the surrounding fields and valleys, hidden alleys and courtyards revealing bursts of multi-coloured floral exuberance.
Built many centuries ago by the Moors in strategically defensive positions, these hilltowns offer an intimate view of Spain’s intriguing past, with Arabic and Roman remains. But this rich heritage lives harmoniously alongside modern-day gastronomy – their tapas bars and markets have an impressively inventive offering for such small towns.
Medina Sidonia has a long history stretching back to Phoenician times – the engineering feats of the next settlers, the Romans, can still be seen today. This is the seat of the oldest dukedom in Spain, which dates back to the 15th century. The first Duke of Medina Sidonia was a descendant of the famous Guzman El Bueno, who held off the Moors in the siege of Tarifa and was rewarded by the king with vast tracts of land across Spain and lucrative tuna-fishing rights off the Cadiz coast.
The Medina Sidonia line has continued to this day, with the current 22nd Duke of Medina Sidonia; his mother, known as the Red Duchess, was a feisty and fearless aristocrat who gave away much of her land to rural cooperatives.
Today you can still see city gates from the Moorish era of the town, and the magnificent Gothic Santa Maria la Coronada church, built over the remains of a mosque. The elegant Plaza de España is a good spot to soak up the local atmosphere, while admiring the renaissance Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
Vejer de la Frontera is also perched atop a hill – so close to the Costa de la Luz that you have amazing sea views from the town, right across to Morocco. One of the coast’s most popular beaches, El Palmar – a 12km stretch of golden sand – is just a ten-minute drive away.
The main square is a delight: a pretty palm-shaded plaza called Plaza de España, whose delightful tiled fountain is decorated with famous colourful ceramic frogs. Medieval city walls and the Moorish alcazaba (castle), along with some arches, are still standing; you can climb up and walk along the turreted battlements in places, such as in Casa Mayorazgo; look out for the town of Medina Sidonia in the distance (Vejer was also was also ceded to Guzman El Bueno as a reward for recapturing the town from Moors). Worth visiting is the Iglesia del Divino Salvador church, with an unusual combination of Mudejar and Gothic styles.
These two towns, which are located around 30km from each other, both have a delightfully dry, sunny climate. Located in Cadiz province, they have excellent access: Medina Sidonia is close to the super-scenic A81 motorway, while Vejer is reached on the A340, a fast dual-carriageway road.
This region of Cadiz province is bordered by the sea to the south and west, and the Sierra de Cadiz-Alcornocales Natural Park to the north and east.