What to see in Zahara de la Sierra: the viewpoint of the mountain range
Zahara de la Sierra, with barely 2,000 inhabitants, is one of the most beautiful villages of the Sierra de Cádiz. This town is located 16 kilometres north of Grazalema, sprawling beneath the rock on which its spectacular castle is erected. This fortress was the site of the historic encounter between Alfonso X the Wise and Aben Yusef, where the Christian king asked the Maghrebi leader to help him fight against his son, Sancho IV.
Zahara de la Sierra: what to see and do in this Cádiz town
You can make out Zahara de la Sierra in the distance long before you reach this beautiful village, which is brimming with charming squares and sloped streets that adapt to the terrain along various tiers. The town can be seen from any of the roads in the area, making it the perfect spot for looking out over this part of Andalusia. The best photographs are taken from the viewpoint which lies just before you enter the village. You will also find breathtaking views from the Alameda de Lepanto viewpoint, located half-way along Calle Ronda.
The Castillo de Zahara de la Sierra castle
The town centre of Zahara de la Sierra, interspersed with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses, was declared a Historic and Artistic Site in 1983. When walking around the village, you will discover beautiful streets and many houses adorned with colourful flowerpots.
One of the main attractions of Zahara de la Sierra is its spectacular castle, built between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whose Torre del Homenaje keep affords magnificent views over the sprawling land below, home to many olive groves and the Zahara-El Gastor reservoir. Years ago, this tower offered views of the fortresses of Olvera, Cote and Matrera. When required, it enabled the locals to keep their enemy in sight and organise themselves to defend against oncoming danger.
The keep of the Zahara de la Sierra castle was last used for military purposes between 1810 and 1812, during the French occupation of the mountain range. These days entrance to the castle is free, but if you want to take a look inside the castle you need to request a visit in the town’s tourist office (Plaza del Rey, 3).
The Baroque Church of Santa María de la Mesa
Another of Zahara de la Sierra’s treasures is the Church of Santa María de la Mesa, built in a Baroque style between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The temple’s star attraction is its main altarpiece. Made out of carved wood and laden with golden ornaments, this altarpiece comprises a wonderful series of decorative elements and figures. The church, which houses the Parish Museum, was built on the site of the former Chapel of Saint Francis.
We also recommend paying a visit to the Chapel of San Juan de Letrán, found in the Plaza de San Juan. It was built on the site of an ancient mosque, of which only the clock tower remains standing. This chapel, which houses hugely valuable sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artwork, is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, the patron saint of Zahara de la Sierra.
You should remember that, as is the case with Olvera, Zahara de la Sierra was one of the most important strongholds in the history of the Moorish occupation of Spain—particularly under the rule of the Nasrid dynasty—as it held a first-class strategic position on the medieval Ronda frontier. Moorish rule was sustained in the town until 1483, when it was conquered by Rodrigo Ponce de León, the Duke of Arcos and the last Marquis of Cádiz.
An interesting fact: until the 1970s, Zahara de la Sierra was named Zahara de los Membrillos.
The Playa de Zahara de la Sierra beach
Lying at the feet of Zahara de la Sierra, alongside the reservoir, is the Arroyomolinos recreational area. This is home to an artificial beach (commonly referred to as la playita), which is very popular during summer months. Local authorities have made use of the passing Guadalete river to create a lake that is suitable for swimming in, with professional lifeguards, restaurant and bar services, a beachfront chiringuito bar and several tables in a shady area underneath the trees. From here, you can embark on several attractive hiking trails that run through the Natural Park.
Good restaurants in Zahara de la Sierra
If you feel like something to eat in Zahara de la Sierra and you don’t know where to look, we highly recommend four restaurants which serve delicious dishes of Cádiz’s traditional cuisine. These are Los Tadeos (Paseo de la Fuente, no number), which is found in the lower part of the town and has a terrace offering magnificent views over the Bocaleones river; Marqués de Zahara (San Juan, 3), located within a sixteenth-century mansion, where local homemade food is served in its courtyard; Los Estribos (Fuerte, 3), with views over the Zahara reservoir, where you can sample delicious homemade food; and Arco de la Villa (Camino Nazarí, no number), which lies below the medieval castle and also offers a broad menu of local specialities.
What to do around Zahara de la Sierra
As you’re now an expert on what to do in Zahara de la Sierra, let’s now head outside the town, where you will find endless tourist attractions. For example, just 2 kilometres outside of town lies the Los Palominos Roman bridge, which has a dedicated barbecue area. Slightly further out lies the Puerto de las Palomas, which is a hang-gliding hotspot. The Green Gorge lies 7 kilometres outside of town, with vertical walls measuring up to 200 metres high. This gorge is home to the Ermita de la Garganta, a cave with impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
So remember, you’ve got a huge range of options for your getaway to Zahara de la Sierra, whether in the white town of the Cádiz mountains itself or in its surrounding areas. Remember that Zahara de la Sierra is part of the White Villages Route, along with Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema, Setenil de las Bodegas and Olvera.