Best Small Towns in Spain
Set amid a landscape of rugged limestone
outcroppings at the junction of two rivers,
Cuenca is a fascinating combination of medieval
masonry and cantilevered balconies that
seem to float above the steep gorges below.
The angularity of the architecture here
is said to have inspired early versions
of cubism, a fact commemorated in Cuenca’s
Museo de Arte Abstracto Español.
This museum is considered to be one of the finest modern art museums in
Zafra’s 15th-century castle is the
largest and Best preserved in the region.
It is set within the angular, stark white
architecture of Zafra, which is also said
to have inspired the cubists.
After it was wrenched away from the Moors
in 1227, Baeza became a frontier town between
the Christian and Moorish worlds, and a diehard symbol
of the Catholic ambition to occupy all
of Iberia. Today, a wealth of architecture
survives as evidence of the splendor of
Pint-size, sleepy Carmona packs a historical
wallop, evoking the Roman occupation of Iberia.
The town claims an architectural legacy
from every occupying force dating from 206
B.C., when the Romans defeated the
resident Carthaginian army.
The site appears inhospitable —
a gorge slices throughthe town center and its twin halves
are interconnected with bridges that are antiques
in their own right. But the winding streets of
this old Moorish town are perfect for wandering,
and the views of the surrounding Andalusian countryside
are stupendous. Ronda is also revered by bullfighting fans,
both for its bullring (the oldest and most
beautiful in Spain) and the region’s
skill in breeding the fiercest bulls in the
Wander through streets and alleys once
trod by the Phoenicians, the Celts, and
the Moors. Today, the town offers a welcome dose of medieval flair on
the Costa del Sol, a region otherwise filled with modern, anonymous,
and often ugly resort hotels.
On the Costa del Sol at the Balcón
de Europa (Balcony of Europe) lies this
Mediterranean gem, with a palm-shaded promenade jutting out into the sea.
Lined with antique iron lampposts, the
village overlooks a pretty beach and fishing
fleet. The resort town is on a sloping
site at the foot of a wall of jagged coastal mountains.
You can snuggle up in the parador or lodge in one of the
little inns on the narrow streets.
Although famed as a charming medieval village,
Elche is Best known as the excavation site
of one of the premier sculptures of the Roman
Empire in Iberia, La Dama de Elche, now exhibited
in Madrid’s archaeological museum. These
days, you can still see date palms planted originally by the Phoenicians and a
mystery play celebrating the Assumption of the
Virgin, which has been performed in the village church every year since the 1300s.
South of Barcelona is Spain’s most
romantic Mediterranean beach town, with
a 2.5km (11/2-mile) long sandy beach and
a promenade studded with flowers
and palm trees. Sitges is a town
with a rich connection to art; Picasso
and Dalí both spent time here.
Wander its little lanes and inspect the
old villas of its Casco Antiguo, the old
quarter. When not at the beach, you can view
three good art museums. Nowadays, thousands
of gay men and lesbians flock to Sitges,
but there’s a wide spectrum of visitors
of all persuasions.
The 16th-century church that dominates
this town from a nearby hilltop isn’t
particularly noteworthy, but Cadaqués— on the Costa Brava near the French
border—still charms with whitewashed, fishing-village
simplicity. The azure waters of the Mediterranean appealed
to surrealist master Salvador Dalí, who built a
suitably bizarre villa in the adjoining
hamlet of Lligat.
Santillana del Mar
Jean-Paul Sartre called it “the prettiest
village in Spain.” Only 6 blocks long and
just 5km (3 miles) from the sea, Santillana
del Mar perfectly captures the spirit
of Cantabria. It’s also near the
Cuevas de Altamira, often called “the
Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.” Romanesque houses and mansions line the
ironstone streets. People still sell fresh
milk from their stable doors, as if the
Middle Ages had never ended, but you can
live in comfort at one of Spain’s
grandest paradors, Parador de Santillana,
a converted 17th-century mansion.
On the island of Majorca, you’ll
find this lovely old village (also spelled
Deyá), where the poet Robert Graves
lived until his death in 1985. Following in his
footsteps, artists and writers flock to
this haven of natural beauty, 27km (17
miles) northwest of Palma. The views of
the sea and mountains are panoramic. Gnarled and
ancient olive trees dot the landscape.
You can book into cozy nests of luxury
like La Residencia or Es Molí.