Things to do

Alcalá de los Gazules is a working town, not a tourist hotspot, and you won't find gift shops, multilingual menus, adverts for full English breakfasts, or attractions specifically aimed at holidaymakers. It is, however, an outstanding and relatively unspoilt example of a traditional Andalusian hill town, and was declared a site of cultural and historic interest in 1984.  If your idea of a good time involves enjoying the Great Outdoors, eating what the locals eat, and not being pestered by people trying to sell you things, it might be just the place you are looking for.

Information about the town can be frustratingly hard to find, especially in English.  There is a tourist information website run by the Council, but it's all in Spanish (despite having provided them with English translations on two occasions over the past ten years).   It's been updated recently, but still contains some omissions and errors.  There is a tourist information office in the town centre, but it's only open for a couple of hours in the mornings.

Just walking around town will soon give you the feel of the place, especially if you leave the main streets and explore the little alleyways.  You may well end up in in one of the many communal courtyards and have to retrace your steps, but that's half the fun.  Smile and say hola to the locals, but do respect their privacy especially when taking photos.

Some suggested walks:
  1. The High Life:  Starting at the Alameda, go along the main street (Calle Real) and continue up Ildefonso Romero.  Enjoy the view (especially the sunset) from the Paseo San Juan de Ribera (confusingly, on Google Maps this is called Santa Maria de España) then walk up to the Plaza Alta and explore the Parroquia San Jorge, an intriguing old church full of mysterious symbols. Walk round the castle to La Coracha  for a spectacular view over the Alcornocales and the Sierra del Aljibe, then down past the cemetery, around the edge of the rocks, down to C/ Nuestra Señora de los Santos and finally back to the Alameda.
  2. Morning constitutional:  Approx 5 km down the C-44 and back.  Join the locals on their early morning stroll, march or jog down the green cycle track to La Palmosa (industrial estate), where there are various options for coffee and toast to fortify you for the walk back.
  3. Well, well, well:  Walk along Calle Pozos, check out the three wells, then carry on along the Carretera Patriste towards the campsite and do a bit of birdwatching.  Turn back when you've had enough and come back the same way.
  4. Pilgrims and Romans:  Walk down the Calle Nuestra Señora de los Santos and look at the Depositos Romanos and the Fuente de la Salada. Turn left at the bottom of the hill and follow the track past the waterworks (not  smelly!), following the trail of the Romeria towards the Santuario de Nuestra Señora. If you don't want to go the whole way, you can climb back up to San Antonio and back into town past the black rocks and the waterfall.
    Things to see in Alcalá

    Parroquia San Jorge (St George's Church) is at the very top of the town in the Plaza Alta.  It is well worth going inside and has some fascinating relics and symbols.  Notice how St George, the dragon-slaying patron saint of the town, is up there above the altar with Jesus and Mary! It's fine to take photos (unless there's a service on of course).

    Casa del Cabildo: a 16th Century example of Spanish Renaissance architecture and formerly the town hall, now the home of the Alcornocales office.

    El Castillo and La Coracha:  Not s much a castle, more of  a stub - Napoleon's troops blew it up when they left town in 1810.  It is being restored, slowly ...  The surrounding ramparts offer the most amazing views and it´s well worth making the climb.  You can access them via a track on the right as you go down from the Plaza Alta towards the cemetery, or (depending on the state of the building work you might have to climb through a fence) from an alley off the Plaza Alta itself (ask someone for el castillo).

    Centro Cultural Santo Domingo:  A former convent, now converted into the town´s arts centre, located directly behind the covered market.  Look out for posters advertising exhibitions, concerts and films.

    Markets:  The Mercado de Abastos is an indoor market open from 8 till 2 Monday to Saturday.  It contains several butchers, a fishmonger, a florist and the town´s most expensive greengrocer.  On  Saturdays there is an open-air market in Santo Domingo, selling everything you'd expect.

    Depositos Romanos and la Fuente de la Salada:  halfway down Calle Nuestra Señora de los Santos you can visit some stone water storage tanks fed by a natural spring in the rock.  They were apparently built by the Romans, and there may have been a temple there at one time, but the most interesting thing about them now is the resident frogs.  A bit further down is an old water trough, still used for watering the mules and donkeys that live up on La Coracha.

    Centro de Interpretación Etnográfico[currently closed while awaiting relocation]

    Los Pozos (The three wells):   Of Moorish origin, the wells on the main road to the southeast of the town supplied the town with water well into the 20th century.  I must confess I have never found the third one (Pozo Arriba) but you do get a great view of the town from the place where it is supposed to be!

    People-watching:  Sit out on the Plaza de la Alameda or el Paseo de la Playa with a cold beer or tinto de verano on a summer evening around dusk and enjoy the paseo, when  everyone comes out to stretch their legs and socialise.

    Out of town
    Ermita Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Santos:  5 km from the town is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Saints, a place dear to the hearts of all Alcalainos.  The chapel contains a moving collection of exvotos, pictorial offerings by people offering thanks to the Virgin for her divine intervention.  In September, the Santuario is the destination of the Romeria and pilgrims flock from to celebrate their patroness.

    Centro de Visitantes El Aljibe:  Open 10 am till 2 pm and 6 till 8 pm (4 till 6 pm from October to April). A purpose-built visitor centre just off the A381 on the Benalup road (A2228), with exhibits showing the traditional activities of the Alcornocales such as cork-cutting and charcoal.making.  There is a small shop selling books and gifts, and a restaurant.

    Behind the Visitor Centre is the Botanical Garden, offering a wonderful spiral-shaped walk through all the different kinds of wild plants and trees in the area, with a central pond teeming with frogs.  It's a good place to spot songbirds too.

    Camping Los Gazules is a campsite about 5km from the town, in a beautiful setting within the Alcornocales park.  It is open all year round and has chalets to let as well as places to pitch tents, caravans and motor homes.  There is an open-air swimming pool, bar, restaurant and shop.

    Making Pictures:  The wonderful light and scenery make this a great place for artists and photographers.  If you fancy developing your painting and drawing skills - or even finding out whether you have any - you can sign up for a residential course at Painting in Spain, in the centre of Alcalá, and get personalised tuition.

    Horseriding: pony-trekking tours are available via the campsite.  The horses are pretty docile but be sure to let them know if you are a beginner.  At the other end of the scale, you can learn classical dressage and doma vaquera at the Finca El Alamo.

    Birdwatching:  Alcalá is a twitcher's paradise, with over 250 species of resident and migratory birds regularly seen in the area.  For guided tours in small groups, contact Andalucian Guides.

    Cycling:   Many cycling tour operators include Alcalá on their itineraries and there are a number of special mountain-biking trails in the Alcornocales.   A map showing these can be obtained from the Alcornocales Park office in the Plaza Alta.  At present there are no facilities for hiring bikes here.

    Cycling round town is only for the insane.

    Swimming: the open-air piscina municipal is open from 1 till 7 in the school summer holidays (late June till mid September), and is located down on the Prado near the Ubrique road.  It's closed on Mondays. There is another smaller pool at the campsite, open to non-residents, and an indoor one at Medina Sidonia.

    Hiking:  There are surprisingly few decent off-road walks starting from the town itself, as most of the surrounding land is reserved for livestock or hunting.   Maps showing nearby trails (senderos) can be picked up at any of the information points listed here.  The Ruta de los Molinos (route of the mills) is the nearest; quite short but very interesting, it starts near the campsite and goes deep into the Park, past a nesting site for griffon vultures, following the course of the Rocinejo river.

    If you drive 13 km out of town on the A2304 in the direction of Puerto Galiz, you can park at a picnic site just past the Aula de Naturaleza and take various signposted routes into the wilderness.  The Garganta de Puerta Oscura (Gorge of the Dark Gate) is a short walk, particularly splendid in spring, when there is water in the lake and wildflowers abound.  If you like to go up a mountain just because it's there, Picacho or Aljibe can be accessed from here (just don't attempt it on a summer afternoon!).

    If you prefer walking on the flat, try the Corredor Verde Dos Bahias (green corridor two bays) - or at least a section of it - which runs from Los Barrios to Puerto Real.  The nearest section to Alcalá can be accessed by taking the A2228 Benalup road - just before you go up the hill into Benalup, the track crosses the road and you can leave your car there.

    More good walks (in Spanish)

    Further afield
    Alcalá is a great base to explore the area, and within an hour's drive you can reach the Costa de la Luz, the historic cities of Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera, the Rock of Gibraltar, the majestic Sierra de Grazalema, and any number of picturesque pueblos blancos like Medina Sidonia, Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera.

    Even without a car, you can get around reasonably well by bus (see links to timetables, top left).  A day in Seville is actually easier on the bus because you can get right into the centre without having to park, and avoid paying €7 each way on the toll road.