Jimena de la Frontera is a White-plastered outpost in a sea of green at just half an hour from the Sotogrande coast, and around an hour from Marbella.
Although unmistakably a pueblo blanco, Jimena de la Frontera is in many ways not so typical of the villages that cling to mountain-edges in the southwest Serranía de Ronda. Firstly, it does follow the trend of being built on safe high ground that rises steeply towards a castle-topped hill, but although they’re undulating the surroundings of Jimena are not exactly precipitous – and it doesn’t require a hair-raising drive to get here. For those who love the calm, quaint and typically Andalusian atmosphere of a white village, but don’t relish seesawing through roadrunner territory, it is an ideal combination.
In fact, reaching this pretty little town is part of the pleasure, as you follow gentle gradients through green valleys and attractive farmland before you reach this white dot on the edge of the mighty Alcornocales nature reserve. The first point of contact is Estación Jimena, the younger cousin of the original village and the product of an industrialising age. Established on flat land at the end of the 19th century, it developed around the railway station, surrounded by agriculture and agri-business.
The real thing
With its steep, cobbled streets, intimate squares and amazing array of charming little houses and churches, Jimena de la Frontera is compact but pretty. Its atmosphere is authentically rural, this being a truly agricultural area, so although there are plenty of little inns and hotels Jimena is not the kind of place where busloads of camera-wielding tourists are offloaded on a regular basis. For visitors, though, it’s a pleasure to pick your way through a delightful array of alleyways, steps and terraced allotments that back on to sweet little cottages.
A small number of foreigners have started doing them up to live in, but generally it is those who enjoy Andalusian life the authentic way who come to settle in these parts. What attracts them is that Jimena is still wonderfully free of Irish theme bars and McDonalds. This is a place where you see kids kicking a ball in a square as old men gather to chat, ladies stop to gossip while on some domestic errand, and entire families congregate on the terrace of a local restaurant.
Still largely agrarian and in many ways more traditional than other white villages, Jimena de la Frontera is popular for all the right reasons – not least of which is the beautiful open scenery of the Alcornocales, with its rare pinsapo trees, endless cork and pine groves and beautiful valleys, gorges and mountain peaks. It is within this setting that visitors come from far to pick sought-after varieties of wild mushrooms in guided tours. Another popular activity is deer spotting during the rutting season in autumn, when groups of villagers and visitors picnic in the country in the hope of catching sight of the mighty stags or hearing their distinctive call. Just the kind of eccentricity you’d expect from a village in the midst of a natural paradise.