Zuheros, the most beautiful village in Spain and gateway to the Sierra Subbética Natural Park
Billed as the most beautiful village in Spain, Zuheros, in Cordoba province, is one of the gateways to the stunningly beautiful Sierra Subbética Natural Park. It is one of the few places that has managed to maintain the charm of another era.
You know you are in for a treat as you approach the village, the castle, perched on its rock buttress, dominates the view with pale orange tile topped, white cubed houses clustered below. The background is the wooded slopes of the Sierra and the craggy valley of the Rio Bailón. Parking in the village is desperate so take advantage of the first spot you see.
View of Zuheros
The first impression of Zuheros is its cleanliness, not just the streets, that are immaculate, but also the clear, mountain air. The town is at an altitude of 700 metres. Even the whitewashed, flower bedecked, winding allies that take you to the top of the village have an aura of neatness about them. At the top of the village, a mirador on three levels gives panoramic views of the river valley and the castle. Even the mirador is discrete, built into the side of the hill and disguised with foliage.
Village life centres on the square at the top of the hill, as it has for centuries. The castle faces the church with the town square between the two. On one corner of the square is the town’s Archaeological Museum, displaying artefacts from the Cueva de los Murciélagos and on the other a bar/restaurant. Unlike squares in other towns, surrounded by tall buildings, shady places, hidden from the sun; this one is open to the skies, shade is provided by trees, the shadow of the castle and the umbrellas of the bar. It is easy to imagine it is a favourite subject for artists.
Zuheros square and castle
Although there is ample evidence of humans in the area since prehistoric times – the nearby Cueva de los Murciélagos is famous for its archaeological history of occupation from Neanderthals through to the Roman period, the first settlement built on the site of Zuheros village was a castle, built during the Moorish period in the 9th century AD. It was then called Sujayra. It was surrounded by about 30 houses and a mosque and an enclosing wall. It had some importance since it helped guard the trading route from the Califal capital of Córdoba to the Nasrid capital of Granada.
Iglesia de los Remedios
Fernando III took the town for the Christians in the early 1240s and converted the mosque to a church dedicated to Santa Maria. Following the reconquest in 1492, the enclosing wall of the settlement was taken down and the castle was reformed into a Renaissance Palace. At the same time the parish church, Iglesia de los Remedios, was built on the site of the old mosque. The original settlement expanded and started to flow down the hill. The castle was eventually abandoned and the walls you see today were renovated in 1964.
Buy a ticket that is valid for the museum and the castle at the museum. There is not a great deal to see inside the castle but the views from the one remaining tower you are allowed to ascend are panoramic. Looking down from the tower you also have a better appreciation of how the original town was laid out between the town walls.
All the exhibits are on one floor, in two rooms. They concentrate on the finds made in Cueva de los Murciélagos, stone tools made by Neanderthals and the first humans and some early Neolithic pottery. The cave was even used during Roman times but not as habitation, more as a trading post for livestock between the markets. To while away the time the traders played dice, a set of which were found in the cave and are on display at the museum.
Is Zuheros the most beautiful village in Spain? Not having seen them all, I am in no position to judge but it must certainly be a strong contender and it needs to be since its economy now depends on rural tourism and the olive.