Arcos de la Frontera is the natural gateway to the Pueblos Blancos. The first impression of this town is of a line of whitewashed houses mixed with a number of majestic monuments, all perched along an impressive redrock gorge wich overlooks the River Guadalete.
Arcos is the prototype of the pueblos blancos, and is worth more than just a brief visit. It is recommendable to leave your car in the lower part of the town to take in your visit on foot. Settled by Romans, Visigoths and Arabs, Arcos possesses one of the most beautiful town centres (old towns) in Spain. Declared in entirety a National Historic- Artistic Monument in 1962, the town's winding street layout, of clear Arab design, is enrichened by the posterior influence of the Christian Reconquest. Numerous Baroque and Renaissance façades, decorated with the coats of arms and flowers are here to be seen.
There are many monuments of interest in Arcos, among which one should not miss the Iglesia de Santa Maria, a 15th century Gothic- Mudejar church with posterior Renaissance influences. The main façade is a mixture of Gothic and Plateresque styles. This church leads to the main square where the Castillo de los Duques is found. This castle served as a residence to the Taifa kings during the Muslim period of domination.
Next to the Castle is the Arco de Matrera city gate, the last remains the town's walled precint. This collection of monuments, conveniently close together in the same square has the added attraction for the visitor of a mirador (viewing point), which, literally overhanging the river gorge, offers an impressive panorama of the surrounding countryside.
There are many other monuments to occupy the visitor´s time, namely: la Iglesia de San Pedro, the Convento de la Encarnación, the convents of San Francisco and of San Agustín, the churches of La Caridad, La Misericordia and San Juan de Dios, the Casa de Belén, and many more which could stretch to include the whole town.
A recommended way out of Arcos is to the south which runs along the lower part of the gorge, offering an attractive view of the town.
Travelling along a fairly narrow mountain road, the route leads to Algar, a small mountain village where uneven streets, whitewashed walls and large flowerbeds form the scenery.
The route returns along the same road, crossing the Arcos reservoir dam. A brief stop is worthwhile for taking in the splendid view. The route leads to the next stop, Espera, by means of the 343 local road. Many kilometres before arriving, Espera can be seen at the base of an impressive rock crag which serves as a base for an ancient Castle. This building is partly connected to an Ermita venerating the image of the Cristo de la Antigua.
According to legend, in the year 1650, King Hespero ordered a castle to be built here in order to observe the stars. Whether true or not, the fact is that the origins of the village go back to the remotest of times, as the numerous excavations in the surrounding area testify.
It is worthwhile climbing up to the top of the rock and observing the almost 360º panorama of the village and surrounding countryside.
The Parish Church ( Iglesia Parroquial) de Santa Maria de Gracia and the Casa de la Cilla, currently an olive mill, complete the village´s monumental heritage.
10 km from Espera along a winding country road is Bornos, the fourth stop on the route.
The blue of the Bornos reservoir can be seen from far off, serving as a pleasant background for the whitewashed town.
Although some remains of ancient civilizations have been found, the origins of the village are considered to date from Arab times.
The centre of the village, with its typical Andalusian street layout and ever- present flowers, is the location for the Palace- Castle (Castillo- Palacio) de los Ribera.
The building has two clearly differentiated parts: the older part being the Torre del Homenaje ( Tower of Homenage), and the other being the Palacio, which contains a splendid cloistered patio leading to a recently restored garden literally full of flowers.
Other examples of the monumental wealth of the village are the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (16th century) the Colegio de La Sagra, the Ermita del Calvario, and the Convento del Corpus Christi, the latter nowadays serving as Secondary School, providing an interesting architectural mix, especially when seen from the main road around Bornos.
From its rich past, the village possesses some outstanding examples of civil architecture, particularly the Casa de Ordoñez.
Before continuing directly to Villamartin a detour is recommended on the way out of Bornos along a narrow road leading to the Roman ruins of Carissa Aurelia, in the Cortijo de Carija.
Like many of the villages in the area, Villamartín emerges dazzling white against a background, which depending on the time of year, changes from ochre to green tones.
The Iglesia de Santa María de las Virtudes (16th century) presides over the town. Currently under restoration, the church conserves a splendid 17th century retableu and sculptures by Pedro Roldán. Other interesting religious buildings are the Iglesia de San Francisco and the Iglesia de Las Angustias.