If you’re looking to venture beyond bustling Spanish cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, consider exploring any number of Spain’s incredibly charming small towns. Steeped in history and unspoiled by skyscrapers, Spain’s quaint historic villages (of which there are nearly 20,000) even have a dedicated list that’s compiled annually by the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain, which since 2011 has grown to include almost 100 of the country’s most picture-perfect settlements. Many of these spots are accessible from Spain’s major cities by public transportation, but renting a car is the ideal way to go when it comes to comfort and flexibility. (Just remember to get an international driver’s license before you hit the road.)
Here are some of the dreamiest hidden villages in Spain, some of which are recognized on the association’s list and others that are lesser-known.
This ancient fortress in eastern Spain comprises a rocky outcrop topped with a towering castle and crumbling medieval walls. On an overcast day, the walled town is evocative of a villain’s lair that might be used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Beyond its impressive hilltop position and significant Romanesque and Gothic-style architecture, Morella is particularly famous for its artisan baked goods, such as flaons, or palm-size pastries stuffed with fresh cheese and ground almonds soaked in aguardiente (Spanish moonshine made from distilled grape liquor) and mistela, a fortified wine. The medieval town is also known for traditional textiles, namely the wool blankets that have been made locally since the 13th century and today are sold at shops around town. Oddly enough, and of particular interest to parents traveling with small children, Morella is also home to a dinosaur museum full of prehistoric fossils and other archaeological artifacts that were excavated in the area.
(Travel time: Two hours by car from Valencia, three hours by car from Barcelona)
With its winding labyrinth of whitewashed houses and steep cobblestone alleys decorated with hand-painted ceramic mosaics, this Mediterranean mountain village is reminiscent of a seaside town in the Greek Islands—but Frigiliana is purely Andalucían. Situated on the southern Costa del Sol, this quaint town offers sweeping vistas that comprise blue skies and blue waters in equal parts. At the top of “El Fuerte” hill, which overlooks the beautiful white village, the 9th-century Moorish Castillo de Lizar is a prime spot to take in the surrounding scenery, and the Moorish old quarter known as Barribarto offers plenty of shops for local handicrafts. Every year during the last weekend in August, the tiny town celebrates its confluence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions with the Festival of Three Cultures. Over the course of three days, restaurants here create special tasting menus for the event and food stalls serve up delicacies like traditional Arabic pastries.
(Travel time: Less than one hour by car from Málaga, approximately one hour by car from Granada)
This quaint village in Catalonia may make you wonder if you’ve inadvertently wandered onto the set of a live-action Disney film, with its cobblestone streets and stone houses adorned with wooden balconies and flowerpots. A bubbling stream splits the village in half, so you have to cross a wooden hanging bridge on foot to get to the town center, but don’t be fooled by Rupit’s near-perfection: This town has survived everything from plagues to earthquakes during its centuries of existence. For a special outing, pack a lunch of local charcuterie on bread and pick up apple cakes known as coques de l’avia (grandmother’s cakes) from any bakery in town, then take a leisurely hike (approximately two hours) to the crystalline Sallent Waterfall nearby.
(Travel time: Less than two hours by car from Barcelona)
San Esteban de Gormaz (Castile-Leon)
Every third weekend in August, locals from this medieval village in northwestern Spain dress up in period costume to sell artisan wares—everything from candles and dried herbs to chocolate and cheese. No matter the time of year, travelers can walk across the Duero River on the well-conserved Romanesque bridge and visit the 11th-century San Miguel Church, both highlights of San Esteban de Gormaz. As you explore, look for mysterious chimneys jutting straight out of the ground—they’re actually “breathing” vents for the town’s underground wine cellars. Nearby, the Bodegas Gormaz vineyard is worth a trip to sample area wines—while not as well-known as Spain’s Rioja wine region, Ribera del Duero is famous throughout Spain for its meaty tempranillo reds.
(Travel time: Approximately two hours by car from Madrid)
This beautiful village is named for the Berber dynasty—the Banu Razin—that settled in this part of Spain sometime around the 9th century. Built within a rocky canyon on the hills above the Guadalaviar River, this picturesque community is home to some 1,000 people. Much of the isolated mountain town was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but the country’s government later restored many of the village’s 11th- and 12th-century homes. Albarracín has both Moorish and Catholic influences and features narrow, cobbled streets, a Gothic cathedral, the ruins of a Moorish alcazar, and pieces of a 10th-century curtain wall. In fact, Spaniards love this ancient village so much that some even voted it the most beautiful in Spain just a few years ago.
(Travel time: Less than four hours by car from Madrid)
The coastal fishing village of Cudillero is known for its colorful houses and hillside location on northern Spain’s Asturian coast. This small town by the sea is where Spaniards come when they’re seeking beach time but want to escape the crowds. (In 2018, El País’s readers ranked Cudillero as the second-most-beautiful town in Spain, just behind Albarracín.) Head to Silence Beach (Playa del Silencio) for a day of lounging, then stroll the promenade around Puerto Pesquero and duck into a tavern for some fresh fish and a glass of caña. Don’t miss the dramatic coastline and cliffs at Cabo Vidio, just a short drive from town.
(Travel time: Approximately three hours by car from Bilbao)
See the full list of “The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain.”
This article originally appeared online in February 2017; it was updated on January 23, 2020, to include current information.