What to see in Aracena, the home of Iberian ham
Aracena is a beautiful town in the north of the province of Huelva, right in the very heart of the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. The heritage, surrounding countryside and incredibly well known Jabugo ham are all very popular with visitors.
Clearly, beaches are not all you can find in the province of Huelva. As you head inland towards the border with Extremadura, you will notice the change in landscape. The blue tones of the Atlantic Ocean become the green mountains of Sierra Morena and the whitewashed homes of the pretty towns and villages. Aracena is just one of those wonderful places that will win you over on first sight. This charming little town has a Moorish castle that stands out majestically and dominates the landscape.
Find out all about what you should see when you visit Aracena, the mountain range and the surrounding area.
What to see in Aracena
Aracena’s old quarter was awarded monument of cultural interest status in 1991 based on its extensive heritage that remains well-preserved even today. You will love strolling around the elegant streets and seeing a number of different tourist attractions as you go.
To make things easier and cheaper, you can purchase a tourist pass for the town’s main features. It includes entrance tickets to the castle, the Ham Museum and the Grotto of Marvels.
Aracena Castle is the first thing that will catch your eye as you arrive in Aracena. It is on the highest point in the town. The castle has Muslim origins (XIII century) and it is still partially intact. There is a Mudéjar-style church on the inside (Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor).
Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor
The church inside Aracena Castle is the oldest church in the town. It was built between the 12th and 15th centuries and it was given the status of Monument of Cultural Interest in 1995. You will find it at the top of the mountain and the blend of architectural styles reflects the different periods of its construction. For example, the famous 15th-century Mudéjar tower or the varied features in the naves ranging from archaic shapes that are typical of its early years to Gothic and neo-Classic features such as the 19th-century main altarpiece.
The Grotto of Marvels
At the bottom of the hill, right in the middle of the town, you will find one of Aracena’s biggest surprises: The Grotto of Marvels. It is a natural cave that was formed as water slowly eroded the hill’s limestone rock. When it opened to the public (1914), it was the first cave in Spain to do so.
Inside, enjoy a wonderful display of natural phenomena such as stalactites and stalagmites. It is a fine example of how nature never rests. The cave was discovered during a search for silver and it is over two kilometres long. Around 1,200 metres of it are open to the public.
If you do decide to take a visit, remember that temperatures in underground caves tend to remain stable all year round (between 16 and 19º C) and humidity levels are very high (98 to 100%). A coat will come in handy.
There is a 17th-century convent (Convento de Jesús, María y José) at the foothills of the castle. It is an Andalusian Baroque rectangular building with a stunning, white, two-floor cloister and impressive side door leading into the church.
The convent was used between 1671 and 1970 when it had to be sold to cover the congregation’s debts. The convent has now been given a new lease of life and it is a very tempting spa.
The Ham Museum
Aracena is also very famous for its Jabugo ham, one of the wonderful culinary delights of the Huelva mountains. Aracena Ham Museum and the Iberian-Pig Visitors Centre pay homage to the animal and its exceptional produce. Use the information boards and projections to learn all about how the pigs are reared, the role that acorns play, life in the countryside, and the ham curing and maturing processes.
Of course, you won’t want to miss the museum shop where you can purchase a wide range of top-quality Iberian meats to take away with you. You’ll find it hard to walk away empty-handed.
Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche
Aracena is right at the very heart of the mountain range known as Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. It is a protected nature reserve in the north of the province. In stark contrast to the south of Huelva, huge forests, open fields and a rainy and humid microclimate are characteristic of the area. There are almost 200,000 hectares of protected land spread across 28 municipalities.
Species such as the lynx, griffon vultures, black vultures and black storks cohabit in the park and, of course, it is also the breeding ground for Iberian pigs.
There are a number of outdoor activities that you can do there. Amongst other things, there are around 600 kilometres of hiking trails. You can also go climbing in Risco de Levante or do water sports in Zufre and Aracena reservoirs.
If you’d like more information, you can find it in the visitors centre in Cabildo Viejo de Aracena (Plaza Alta, 15). We recommend going there before you set off on your outing so that you can get a good idea of all the hiking options that are available.
Where to eat in Aracena
Eating well in Aracena, the very heart of Iberian cured ham country, is easy. There are plenty of restaurants in the town serving up excellent meals at very affordable prices. Here are just a few of the places you can go to for a tasty meal:
- José Vicente: Iberian ham, meat and mushrooms. This place is number one in Sierra de Aracena. It’s one place you really cannot miss if you’d like to try authentic Iberian produce. Any of the meat dishes will not disappoint.
- Casas: a real local classic that opened in 1947. The menu in Casas is a very traditional one and includes a range of local Iberian produce. Pork and beef are the star ingredients. However, if you’d like to try something a little different, the true star of the show in this restaurant is the ‘San Jacobo’ – breaded Iberian pork loin stuffed with cheese.
- Bar La Parrita: If tapas are what you’re looking for, this is a great option for you. La Parrita is popular in Aracena. The potato salad, croquettes and steak with foie are amongst its most requested dishes.
- Puerta 20: The interior design in this restaurant (lots and lots of doors) makes it a very special place to stop off and have a meal. Choose between tapas or individual dishes, all of which are both very tasty and reasonably priced.
- Confitería Rufino: Step inside if you’d like something sweet. This traditional bakery opened in 1875 and custard-filled cakes are its speciality. The shop itself is also a sight to behold.
What to see near Aracena
There are a number of very interesting places that are well worth visiting relatively close to Aracena Natural Park. In the park itself, you’ll find towns and villages such as Cortegana, Fuenteheridos and Almonaster la Real where there is a 9th-century mosque.
The prettiest towns in the mountain range are:
- Fuenteheridos: This enchanting town has been recognised for its historical and artistic heritage. It is surrounded by beautiful chestnut and oak tree forests.
- Almonaster la Real: The castle-come-mosque is the main feature in this small town surrounded by green hills. The mosque is believed to be the most significant building of its kind in Huelva.
- Cortegana: It has a wonderful 13th-century castle at the top of the hill looking down over the local area. Cortegana is well worth a visit.
- Aroche: This is one of the oldest towns in the area and it has been recognised for its historical and artistic heritage. It has a castle, castle walls and charming stately homes.
- Jabugo: Aracena is where you will find the Ham Museum but Jabugo is where the product gets its name from and it is the heart of the ham’s Protected Designation of Origin. Many of the top suppliers, including ‘5 Jotas’, have their curing facilities here. There’s nowhere better to enjoy some tasty cured ham. Furthermore, Jabugo is also lovely place to take a walk and have a snack in one of the excellent bars.