Long notorious as a den of bandits and smugglers, Gaucín became part of a rich popular tradition that romanticised these often-tragic figures as free spirits and champions of the oppressed. As one of the first white villages to have become popular among foreign residents, Gaucín’s ‘free spirits’ are now mostly made up of the colony of foreign artists who have settled in this picturesque corner of Andalucía.
The reason may be clear, for Gaucín is also one of the prettiest ‘pueblos blancos’ in the Serranía de Ronda, sparkling like a bright pearl within its green setting. The road to Gaucín is a pleasurable experience in itself, winding downwards into a deep verdant valley from Casares as you move northwest. Cross the river at the base of the valley and you know you’re halfway there, at the beginning of a gentle wind back up hill that eventually leads into this little white-plastered town of some 10,000 souls.
As the Serranía de Ronda is a series of mountain ranges that spreads far north as well across, Gaucín could be said to straddle the crest of the second wave that extends inland from the coast. The Mediterranean isn’t particularly far away, and on clear days the village offers stunning views across the western part of the Costa del Sol, all the way to Gibraltar and North Africa. Such villages were packed together in their high positions to protect themselves from marauding invaders, yet like most mountain villages Gaucín eventually succumbed to a succession of Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth and Moorish rule, traces of which can still be found in the language, customs, cuisine, architecture and indeed the faces of the people.
Tightly packed, the cleanly whitewashed houses are separated by narrow cobblestone streets, alleyways and peaceful little squares that give villages like this their unique charm and appeal. Orange and almond blossom fight for attention in spring, while the summer sees locals seeking refuge in their cool homes or in municipal parks stretching along the panoramic precipice of the hillside ridge. Come here at noon on a hot summer’s day and the village may well look deserted, but venture out in the evening and you see a vibrancy of outdoor life that is typically Spanish and still very much alive.
On the outskirts of town you will find a series of ‘ventas’, or roadside restaurants that specialise in country fare and are especially popular on Sundays and holidays. Amid lively chatter large family groups come here to enjoy local dishes built upon tradition and the riches of the land, so expect game, Spanish Jamon (ham), bean stews and other regional delicacies washed down with Spanish wine. Many of the foreign residents have either bought quaint village houses to do up or have restored or built country villas on the slopes just outside Gaucín, from where they enjoy peace, nature privacy and – best of all – fantastic views over the country, the village and the magnificent medieval castle that still stands guard over this little country jewel.