When we have visitors, one of the first places we take them is the gorgeous hilltop village of Castellar de la Frontera. This is partly because it’s only a short drive from where we live but also because it’s picture postcard beautiful and a good introduction to the ‘pueblos blancos’ (white towns) that Andalucia is famous for.
There are two distinct parts to Castellar and both have their own unique charms.
Perched high above Parque Natural Los Alcornocales, the old town has stunning views over the Guadarranque reservoir and, on a clear day, Gibraltar and the mountains of Africa in the distance. Eagle sightings are also pretty much guaranteed – we’ve never been let down on that score.
It’s a walled village and, every day during the summer, there’s a market at the entrance selling local handicrafts. Cork items in particular are popular which is not surprising given its location (Los Alcornocales translates as ‘cork oak groves’) and best buys are probably the cork planters in various sizes. The oak trees are stripped of their bark every summer to produce the cork – if you take a walk around the area you’ll be able to see where the bark stripping has occurred.
To be honest, there’s actually not that much to do in the village (it has a hotel and some small shops, bars and restaurants), but it’s still worth spending an hour or two just wandering through its tiny cobbled whitewashed streets. We’ve been many times and we always end up finding some new little lanes and alleyways to explore. It’s also on my ‘to do’ list to stay overnight at some point for a new perspective – to wander the streets after dark and see what it’s like when the tourists have all gone home. There is a hotel and several Casa Rurales in the village for anyone thinking of staying.
Old Castellar has a real bohemian feel to it which is no doubt due to its past life as a hippy colony. This came about after the building of Nuevo Castellar in the late 1960s – the residents of old Castellar were re-housed at which point the hippies moved in. Some are still there and, to be honest, I can’t say I blame them!
Nuevo Castellar, a new town about 8km further down in the valley, couldn’t really be more different – modern houses (retaining the traditional white colour), wide streets, and lots of open space.
Plaza de Andalucia sits in the centre of town with bars and restaurants around its edge and a bell tower in the centre where, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot nesting storks.
There’s a small zoo on the outskirts of the new town which houses animals that have been rescued by police or customs from the black market in animal trading. Many of the animals here are victims of smuggling between Europe and Africa, which is unsurprising given the zoo’s proximity to the Straits of Gibraltar.
There are also plenty of good walks in the area if you’re a lover of the great outdoors.
Parque Natural Los Alcornocales
Most of the area around Castellar is part of the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales. For an easy walk there’s a canal that runs past the edge of town. To walk south along the canal cross the road opposite the entrance to the zoo. You’ll quite often find yourself sharing the footpath with a herd of cows (despite appearances with their huge horns they’re harmless – or so I’ve been told!) or goats, and spotting frogs and terrapins on the banks of the canal is common.
If you decide to go in the opposite direction you’ll eventually come to a railway line – cross this and carry on to meet the Sendero del Canal y Camino Vieja a Jarandilla. There’s a brick wall across the path near the sign to the Sendero but just slip through the gap at the side and carry on walking.
Another beautiful walk is the Sendero de la Mariposa Monarca (Monarch Butterfly Walk). This walk is 5.8km long and is accessed from the road beside Venta la Cantina just on the edge of town. The walk goes along the banks of the Guadarranque river as far as Venta Jarandilla so it would be easy to combine the latter two walks to make a long circular loop.
It’s possible to get to Nuevo Castellar by train from Algeciras. You would need to get off at Almoraima and then it’s a short walk to the town centre. There are also buses running from Algeciras and La Linea although they’re not very frequent. There’s no public transport, however, to the old town.
If you’re driving from the coast you can turn off the A7 at Sotogrande (exit 130) and it’s a scenic drive on the A2100 for around 13kms to the new town and then up a winding road to the old town. Although you can drive all the way, it’s easier to use the parking spaces just beneath the castle and walk up to the castle gates.
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