Sierra de Aracena
Half-way between Extremadura and Portugal, the Sierra de Aracena mountain range has historically been a borderland and, as such, has been the victims of attacks from the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Moors alike. This might give some idea as to why practically all of the towns and villages contain castles or fortresses that look out over the beautiful whitewashed houses that stand out in stark contrast with the green – ochre in autumn – mountains in the background.
If you follow the mountain range from east to west your first stop should be Aracena. Aracena’s castle is the best place to get magnificent views of Huelva province and on one of its flanks you can also find the delightful church of Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor, which also boasts a Gothic-Mudéjar tower with Sebka brick patterns that is reminiscent of the famous Giralda tower in Seville.
If you take a walk down to Plaza Marqués de Aracena you will also be able to see the magnificent Arias Montano Casino, a beautiful example of local architecture designed by the native Sevillian Aníbal Rodríguez.
One of the other places worth visiting in Aracena is the Grotto of Marvels, the first cave opened to the public in Spain. With more than 2000 metres of subterranean tunnels, caverns and turquoise lagoons, the Grotto is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the area, and not just for speleologists.
The winding HU-8105 road connects Aracena with Linares de la Sierra, which is probably one of the most traditional villages in the area. Its cobbled streets and immaculate whitewashed houses make the village seem lost in time, and the beautiful Andalusian mosaics, with geometric, floral or religious designs, that adorn the doors to the buildings are a charming artistic touch.
Not far from here you will find Alájar, which boasts some of the finest lookouts with astonishing views of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche. From here you can see the Peña Arias Montano, the place chosen by Benito Arias Montano – the famous theologian and advisor to King Phillip II of Spain – as a place to meditate and study. Views of this area and the Natural Park surround the village of Alájar, from which you can also see the sea just 80 km away, giving this quaint village an almost magical quality.
The winding road through the Sierra de Aracena will soon bring you to Almonaster La Real, whose chapel Nuestra Señora de la Concepción is actually the only surviving rural mosque from the Moorish period, which itself was built upon Visigoth and Roman remains. This mix of cultures is also to be found in the nearby village of Cortegana, which also boasts an impressive castle and the beautiful Divino Salvador church, which is a blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.
Throughout the area you will find many places that specialise in Jabugo Iberian Ham, which is a delicacy of the region. It is highly recommendable that you try it with other local delicacies such as cheese, honey, wild mushrooms and other cured meats that go perfectly with the local wine El Condado.
Aracena’s castle may not be as famous as its ‘Grotto of Marvels’, but thanks to its beauty and the rich history behind its construction, it’s slowly becoming one of Aracena’s most popular attractions.
Heritage, nature and Iberian ham are just some of the excellent reasons to visit Aracena, a lovely little town in the Sierra de Huelva.
Almonaster la Real, which appears in the latest version of ‘The Most Beautiful Towns in Spain’ list, has one of the last rural mosques to be found in Spain.