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Aracena and Caves of Wonders

Aracena is the highest town in the Sierra de Aracena. It is protected by the remains of a Moorish castle and a hilltop church built by the Knights Templar.It is a stunning sight as you round the corner from the main Seville Road, especially at night when it is all lit up. It is well worth the walk up to the top of the hill, from where you can see the town below, the views across the Sierras and the tiny white villages scattered on the hills or in the valleys in the distance.

Aracena also has its legend. It is said that when the Knights Templar entered the town, the Moors were eating happily in the castle, when they were surprised. The word for face is Cara and the word for dinner is Cena, so the town became known as Aracena or may be they were 'feeding their faces'! But it is only a legend.

Aracena has been populated for over 4,000 years, evidenced by the remains of the Cave of Umbria a few kilometers from the town. It was the rich mineral wealth of the area that encouraged settlements in the Bronze and Iron Ages. A thousand years later the town was inhabited from an influx of people from middle Spain, from Castañar. There have been many invading armies, including the Celts, the Romans, the Moors and Christians of the Crusades. It was the Moors who built the castle originally and the Knights Templar who built one of the wonders of Aracena, the church inside the Castle. Developed and improved by succeeding generations, the interior has a beautiful vaulted atrium, Gothic elegance and three naves covered with star vaults. But the history does not end there. There is also the Cabildo, a medieval building constructed in the sixteenth century, the Church of the Assumption, built during the Renaissance period, which was not completed, and the Baroque Convent of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, The Casino ( which in Spanish means Social Club) in the main square was erected in 1910 and has a beautiful blue ceramic tiled roof. Like many of the beautiful grand houses in the centre, it demonstrates how affluent Aracena was in the early 1900's when many of the aristocracy of Seville built their vacation homes in the town. Today it is a classic rural tourist town retaining its heritage, culture, charm and Spanish warmth while offering first class accommodation and tourist facilities.

Below the castle hill are the marvelous caves of wonder, or Grutas de Maravillas. They are the largest caves in Spain and part of the Indiana Jones film, the Temple of Doom, was filmed inside. They are truly spectacular and a definite 'must' on any list of things to do.

The caves were found in the late nineteenth century by, so the story goes, a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. This subterranean complex has a vast lake and a huge variation of natural formations. It was opened to the public in 1914 and the tours have been extended as new sections have been explored. It is truly spectacular as well as incredibly beautiful. It is located just two hundred metres from our clinic in the street Pozo de la Nieve or in English 'Well of Snow'.

Food and Drink

The Iberico Pork in this region is to die for…. It tastes like no other pork and is more like steak in its colour and texture. Here in Andalucia each pig is well cared for, having, on average, 1000 square metres of open countryside to itself. They eat mainly acorns from the immense number of Holm and Cork oaks that grow in the area. The climate, their freedom to roam, their nourishment and the environment all combine to produce tender, flavoursome pork which is most often mistaken for fillet steak. Add to this the simplicity and skill of Spanish cooking and you will never forget the fresh Iberico pork.

This pork is also famous in its cured form. The 'Jamon' legs you will see hanging in restaurants and butchers are produced using traditional methods and have been hung for at least two years before they are sold. The jamon is usually eaten in wafer thin slices with bread and it has a 'morish' taste!! There is a JamonMuseum in the centre of town and we can also arrange for you to visit one of the many factories to see how the Jamons are processed and preserved and how the special sausages are prepared.

The climate here in the autumn and early spring means that Aracena is the centre of the Sierras for first class mushroom growing, and mushroom hunting is a local pastime.

The most sought after mushrooms include, tentullos, boletus, gallipiernos, Macrolepiota procera (called parasol mushrooms) and chanterelles. Many restaurants serve these mushrooms as a local delicacy in the form of roasts, stews, and often scrambled with eggs.You can try them as a tapa or a main meal.

Flora and Fauna

The Sierras provide a superb backdrop for the rich natural wildlife. Unlike much of southern Spain, here in the mountains there is always a vibrancy of colourful flowers, birds and animals. Just a couple of minutes walk from the town there are a wealth of Senderos, or marked mule trails that take you straightaway into the countryside and on to the many small villages that are scattered throughout the rolling hills. Great places to rest a while, people watch and sample some of the freshly made tapas and cold meats in one of the traditional village bars.

Local Cultural Events

All year long the town and local villages stage cultural events, some formal such as Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter) and some strange events such as the Vegetable Slaughter Fiesta!! One thing you can be sure of, they always involve fun, food and music.

Here is just a flavour of some of the colourful displays throughout the year.

Semana Santa

During Holy Week there are processions nearly every day starting from Palm Sunday and each depicts a day in the last week of the life of Jesus. On The final day is the crucifixion of Christ and is remembered by a series of processions starting at 5 in the morning and culminating in the entrance to the Church on the hill late at night. The Thrones are carried by 40 or so people who raise it above their heads and carry it around every part of the town so all may see the decorated thrones. The local bands all play as they follow the thrones on their journeys.


During the summer there are many Romerias, which are processions, generally to a holy site such as a hermitage. It is also a fun day for all the family and involves, transporting a statue of the Madonna in a decorated cart pulled by bulls; dressing up in traditional costume; parading the finest horse; singing and dancing along the way and a food fest at journeys end.

Summer Band Concerts

Every other Sunday evening during the summer, the municipal band plays in one of the squares dotted around the town. These concerts last around and hour and a half, starting at 10pm and are free. The band is mostly brass with some woodwind and percussion and they play a variety of different music including traditional Spanish, film themes and marching tunes.

A full programme of events across the region is provided in a monthly local magazine which will be available in all the hotels. It is written in both Spanish and English and presents a well written and informative brief of what is happening during each month.

Things to do

Aracena is not awash with typical tourist activities such as late night bars and night clubs - it has many restaurants and bars which are generally family run. The Spanish are less interested in aesthetics and more interested in the quality of food and the ambience of a restaurant, so if you see a small bar with loads of Spanish people inside, you can be sure the food is delicious and will be freshly made. Very few microwaves here!

However there are many activities and places to visit locally. Aracena has a thriving theatre with a variety of productions including plays, cinema, flamenco, music and ballet. It is located in the centre of town and programmes can be picked up in most of the local bars and shops. Prices are reasonable, the theatre is comfortable and well attended and the shows are of a high quality.

During the day local activities include:

  • Swimming (indoor and outdoor pools)
  • Walking the Senderos
  • Birdwatching
  • Horseriding
  • Fishing in the lake
  • Golf in Rio Tinto or Seville
  • Cycling
  • Castles and churches
  • Visiting the many unique villages
  • Paintballing
  • Visiting the traditional jamon and cheese factories

and further afield you can visit Seville with its stunning architecture and cultural sites; the beaches of Huelva with miles of white sandy stretches; the famous Doñana Natural Park which is dedicated to conserving the abundant natural wildlife; the Wildlife Park on the road to Seville; Merida with its rich Roman heritage and Rio Tinto where the British had a significant impact during the early twentieth century and you can take a train trip along the Red River. The list just goes on and on. Plenty to do and see with the opportunity to learn and practice some Spanish!!

Rio Tinto

The town of Rio Tinto is about 20 minutes from Aracena and was once a thriving mining area and although this may sound like an ugly place it is truly amazing. The mining has ceased but the colours and contours of the old works are incredible to see. The river that runs through it is blood red, not from the minerals, but from the algae that feed on the minerals. There is a museum there which shows how the British came and developed the mines in the early 1900's; a whole separate estate built by the British for the British, with typical semis and terraces from the era; and a diesel train that takes visitors along the river. There is also one of the oldest golf courses in Spain, again introduced by the British. It is an extraordinary 9 hole course which has a driving range, a putting green and some of the best scenery you can imagine for playing golf. The T boxes and greens are well groomed but in between, the fairways are just stone, so you will need to take a piece of artificial grass with you for fairway shots. This is just a few coppers and will save your clubs! Not a course for the faint hearted, but a round you will never forget.

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