6 Dreamy Hidden Villages in Spain

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6 Dreamy Hidden Villages in Spain
Looking for a different way disconnect and relax on your next trip to Spain? Time travel may be the answer. Get away from the amazing but—let’s face it—seriously hectic metropolitan areas like Barcelona and Madrid and spend a few days in one of these charming Spanish villages unspoiled by time (or skyscrapers). Most of these historic communities are accessible by public transport, but renting a car is the way to go when it comes to comfort and flexibility. Just remember to pick up an international driver’s license before you leave home.
By Chris Ciolli, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Brandy Bell
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    1. Morella: Medieval and Walled In
    Morella—a rocky outcrop topped with a ruined castle and crumbling medieval walls—looms large on the horizon from miles away. On an overcast day, it’d make an ideal lair for a villain on Game of Thrones. Have a bit of a sweet tooth? Sample traditional sweets made the old-fashioned way—vegetarians should be aware that in Spain that usually means with pork fat, not butter. Morella is particularly famous for flaons, palm-sized half-moons stuffed with fresh cheese and ground almonds soaked in aguardiente (Spanish moonshine made from distilled grape liquor) and mistela, a fortified wine. Besides its artisan baked goods, Morella is also known for textiles, particularly traditional wool blankets made locally (from the 13th century on) and sold at shops around town. Oddly enough, and of particular interest to parents traveling with small children, Morella has a dinosaur museum full of fossils and artifacts excavated in the area.

    (Travel time: Three hours from Valencia or Barcelona)
    Photo by Brandy Bell
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    2. Rupit: A Fairytale Village
    This village may make you wonder if you’ve inadvertently wandered onto the set of a live-action Disney movie. Cobblestone streets wind around postcard-perfect stone houses with painted wooden balconies and flower pots. A bubbling stream splits the village in half—you have to cross a wooden hanging bridge on foot to get to the center. But don’t be fooled by Rupit’s near-perfection, however: 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 apple cakes known as coques de l’avia (or grandmother’s cakes) for dessert from the Forn de Rupit Bakery and take a leisurely hike (1.5-2 hours) to Sallent Waterfall nearby. After, turn in to the only hotel (Hostal Estrella) or one of a few holiday rentals available in the village.

    (Travel time: Less than two hours from Barcelona)
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    3. San Esteban de Gormaz: Mysterious Chimneys and Wine
    There’s nothing quite like a medieval fair held in a medieval old town. Every third weekend in August, locals from this small village 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 medieval bridge and visit the 11th-century Romanesque church, San Miguel. As you explore the village, be on the lookout for mysterious chimneys jutting straight out of the ground—they’re “breathing” vents for underground wine cellars. Nearby, Bodegas Gormaz is worth the trip to sample area wines—while not as well-known as Rioja, the Ribera de Duero wine region is famous throughout Spain for its meaty tempranillo reds.

    (Travel time: two hours from Madrid)
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    4. Frigiliana: Whitewashed with Ocean Views
    This is the Spain that travelers have been dreaming about for centuries—the Spain that Franco tried to sell to the masses with his “Spain is different” tourism campaign. This is pure Andalusia (southern Spain). Here, steep cobblestone streets wind around whitewashed houses decorated with hand-painted ceramic plates and hanging pots overflowing with flowers. Sweeping vistas divide themselves into equal parts blue skies and even bluer waters. The last weekend in August, this tiny place celebrates the history, coexistence, and confluence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions with the Festival of Three Cultures. Restaurants create special tasting menus for the event, and food stalls serve up delicacies like traditional Arabic pastries.

    (Travel time: 45 minutes from Malaga or 75 minutes from Granada)
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    5. Valiña: Ramshackle Charm and Ancient Gold Mines
    This minuscule village is low on residents (there are fewer than five) and amenities (there are no shops or restaurants) but high on charm. Just past Requejo, and before Vega in Toral de los Vados on a road that is only paved part of the way (the rest of the way is gravel), cows amble through the empty streets, and poppies grow wild on the roadside. Trust us, it’s worth renting a car (sorry, no bus service, either) to see this beautiful and easily missed corner of Castile-Leon. Just be sure to bring your own food and drink; and if you want to stay overnight, your best bet is to rent a casa rural (country house) in the area. From Valiña you can also drive or take a 2.5-hour hike to Las Médulas de Oro, Roman-era gold mines. Worth noting: There’s another Valiña in Spain in Galicia, so be careful when figuring out your route and making reservations.

    (Travel time: An hour and a half from Leon, two hours and 15 minutes from Santiago de Compostela)
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    6. Albarracín: Cliff Dwellings and a Haunted Tower
    Complete with a haunted tower, this village in the Spanish region of Aragon is named for the Berber dynasty, Banu Razin. It was the capital for about a century. In this picturesque community of some 1,000 residents, stone houses border the edges of precipices with no margin for error high above the natural moat of the Guadalaviar River. To get a better view of the village, you’ve got a couple of options. If you don’t mind the odd chance encounter with a spirit, there’s Doña Blanca Tower (located in a cemetery), said to be inhabited by the ghost of a princess banished from her home by her jealous sister-in-law. Or skip the cemetery and climb the stairs to the top of a 10th-century military post, Torre del Andador. Then head to El Buen Yantar Restaurant for hearty local fare—reserve ahead or be prepared to wait, as there are only about 12 tables.

    (Travel time: 3 hours and 20 minutes from Madrid, 2 hours from Zaragoza)
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