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Setenil (Andalusia)

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One of the main attractions of the town are the cave houses. The town is divided by a beautiful stream that flows under many bridges. The town is hardly affected by tourism although several tourist shops have sprung up to cater for day visitors. The town has a ruined fortress that stands on top of a hill, alongside the church.

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      21.11.2006 20:57
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      Interesting and stunning!

      The Province of Cadiz has some of Andalucia's, prettiest white villages and one of the most interesting for me must be Setenil!


      On a very minor road going into Olvera, this must be the strangest of all the White Villages, its cave-like streets formed from the overhanging ledge of a gorge. Many of the houses - some two or three storeys high - have natural roofs in the rock and you can even see olive trees growing on their roofs!


      The tourism centre is in a medieval building with a beautiful patterned Moorish wooden ceiling. The office is on Calle Villa in the upper town. The building itself is worthy of a visit with its fine tiled walls, and elegant architecture.
      The Tourism centre also sells some nice Andalucian crafts (ceramics & wooden). You can get almost all your tour accessories here, including batteries for your camera, downloading your digital camera pics, post cards and a multitude of things for the tourist on their travels! Lots of souvenirs should you want to take a little piece of Setenil home with you for someone or even just a keepsake for yourself!
      We actually went in there for pamphlets and tourist maps etc, and they had a varied amount of brochures on Andalucia. The staff were very helpful in showing us where to get the best view points over this lovely town! We spent longer in there than expected, having found it a little haven for information on the town, before setting off for our day trip.


      Before giving you my personal views on this town, I am quoting a little of it's background which I aquired from www.andalucia.com/province/cadiz/setenil

      ‘It was certainly occupied during the Roman invasion of the region in the first century AD.
      Modern Setenil begins in 1484, relatively late in the Christian Reconquest, when the Christian armies expelled its Moorish, Granada-led Nasrid rulers. It took the Christians fifteen days to expel the Moors from the (nowadays ruined) castillo, castle, at the top of the town. The town name is believed to have been taken from the Roman Latin phrase "septem nihil", "seven times no", a phrase possibly linked to earlier invasions or skirmishes. The full moniker Setenil de las Bodegas dates from the 15th century, when it’s new, Christian, rulers developed an agricultural base of olives, almonds and vineyards. The first two still flourish on the hills and rooftops of Setenil, but its wine trade was wiped out by the phylloxera insect infestation of the 1860s, which effectively destroyed most European vine stocks. There has been a human settlement here since at least the Arabic Almohad period in the twelfth century. Given the evidence of other nearby cave-dwelling societies, such as those at the Cueva de la Pileta west of Ronda, where habitation has been tracked back more than 25,000 years, it is possible that Setenil was occupied much much earlier. Most evidence of this would have been erased in its continued habitation'.


      North-west of Ronda, the trip up to Setenil from Ronda was a nice drive, and when you first catch sight of this town, the white houses seem to emerge from the massive rocks! I found it quite bizarre to experience this, and although we only went for a day trip, I was so impressed with the whole Setinel experience! I don’t think it has any Hotels (perhaps one), and is still relatively unspoilt, as such, with mainly day trippers just passing through, but no crowds of whacko Sangria lovers here! This is not a place you actually need to spend your whole holiday in, as, its main attraction is the actual cave houses, cave bars & restaurants. As it is only 25 miles or so from Ronda, it attracts serious cyclists, hikers, and backpackers.

      Setinel has 3,016 inhabitants. It is ‘different’ compared to many of the pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalucia. Where most pueblos blancos were built on top of rock and mountains, alot of this town has actually been built inside caves and has a huge number of cave dwellers today!

      Setinel has a special meaning to me, as this was my Mother’s final visit to Spain, having travelled to Spain with my Father for over 30 years ( we have Spanish relatives who they visited once, twice a year, every year)! She had never visited that many of the white villages though, so this was a special trip for us, as we knew it would be her last trip to the country she loved so much, so that’s the reason we took her to see as much of Andalucia she could manage. The enjoyment on my Mothers face, at seeing this unique village, was in itself worth the visit!

      One thing about Sentinel, is it is very, very steep, and my Mother being elderly at the time, couldn’t have managed these streets, so we had to drive around most of it. The steep, narrow streets in this compact, ‘cliff hanger’ town are nerve racking to drive in, I can guarantee you that! It was like going downwards on a roller coaster, except your foot is hard down on the brake most of the way down, and your heart is somewhere in your mouth! Not for the faint hearted motorist! If a passenger, you will be very tempted to close your eyes to some of the near scrapes and near misses you might find your driver getting into! When turning a sharp bend into this one particular street, we were faced with a steep downward road with hardly any room for another car to pass! So steep, and very narrow!


      When we got to an even stretch, we got out and walked along to the area where the few cafes and Bars are (most set into the rock). Here, there are little shops where you can buy souvenirs, bits and bobs.
      Calle Herreria is the oldest street and this takes you down to the river. Your eyes fix on these cave dwellings in this street and you just have to take in the enormity of these rocks with their caves hollowed out and made into homes…… ( there are tours where you can actually book to look around some of these cave dwellings but we hadn’t booked this). We had decided on doing this trip last minute!
      We still managed a peek into some of the resident’s houses whose doors were left open! Now, just imagine a cave, white wash it, put in a 3 piece suite, table and Television (yes, all the mod cons you would have in a ‘normal’ house)! As well as the necessary water and electricity supplies, many have phones and perhaps even broadband connection, while others could even boast a swimming pool! Wouldn’t recommend trying to put up pictures though…..very rugged and uneven walls, and some still have the black soot seeping through the white wash, from pre-historic times! It is totally amazing that people live a modern day life in a cave over 25 thousand years old! They have built modern fronts to some of these houses (obviously where the openings of the caves had once been), but you can still see the inside is a cave and the overhanging rock jutting out above the houses, is quite intimidating. Everything inside and outside is painted white, to keep the heat out, and the small windows on the front of the buildings are also designed to keep the heat out. The temperature in these houses is self regulating and is a constant 18o - 20o C. They are therefore cool in summer and warm in winter, so no need for the air conditioning you usually need in these hot climates during the Summer.


      We stopped and talked to one lady, standing at her door, and I think (with my basic Spanish and her non English) she told us she had lived all her life in Setenil, and had never once been down to the Coast (approx one hours drive away) in her life, and had no intentions of ever going. This dear lady was 82 years old! The furthest she’d been to was Ronda, just 20-30 minutes drive away. This is quite common in the white villages for the elderly locals never to have set foot outside their Province, and they are perfectly proud of telling you this. Nowadays though, because of lack of work in these villages, the young ones tend to seek employment down on the lively ‘Costa del Sol’, so there is a sad lack of teenagers in these places as they perhaps only come home for weekends to catch up with their families.

      This is such a friendly place and everywhere we went, we talked to locals, and the few who could speak English welcomed us, and told a little bit more of their lives in caves! They actually find it fascinating that we are so interested in this, as they have known nothing else, and they cannot really understand what intrigues us so much! Through my basic Spanish I even managed to talk to the non English speaking ones, and they were all united in being proud of their unique town! They were all only too happy to pose with us for photographs, and some of the photos we have, are of them standing proudly outside of their ‘cave’ houses or ‘cave’ bars and restaurants!


      We jumped in the car again (again, to save my Mother walking too far) and made our way to Calle Jaboneria. As you are driving round this town, we looked up at one rock side, to find little shacks lined along this rock face. They looked abandoned or ‘run down’ so we assumed whoever these had belonged to had got pretty fed up of climbing this steep rock to get into their cave home!
      After arriving at Calle Jaboneria, we found this is another street full of cave inhabitants, and being higher up, the views from this street were beautiful and you can look over most of Sentinel including the Church & Fortress. I believe this street got its name from perhaps the women washing their clothes in the stream that runs through it? No one really knows where it came from……well from the enquiries I made anyway!


      After our little tour, having seen these quaint and amazing houses, it was lunch time, and we came upon a Tapas bar which again was in a cave. This little bar had so much character, with traditional ceramic wall plates hanging from the cave walls and ceiling. We sat outside under an umbrella initially, as I wanted to just look at the surrounding sites, but the heat soon made me change my mind! Within about 5 minutes we scurried back into the bar area itself, to cool off!

      Setenil is famous for chorizo, sausage, and cerdo and of course, Pork, taken from their own pigs, so, we couldn’t have eaten anything other than its famous Tapas and ordered a few dishes of all what they are famous for! This was not expensive, about a euro for each small dish, and this gave us the chance to try out some of the delicacies, including the famous Black Pig ham…. delicious!
      We also tried one of their pastries, which again, they are well known for producing. It was delicious but I could tell it was laden with calories as I munched my way through it! Oh well, you only do this once in a while!

      We had over indulged somewhat, and I should never have had the two wines with all this, as the heat and wine don’t sit well together with me! Setenel bars and restaurants are known to be the best in the region, therefore what can a person do, but try out all this lovely food & drink????! There are quite a few restaurants & Bars scattered around this town, so plenty choice for eating!


      The ruined Moorish castle - The 'Fortaleza del Castillo' was ruined by the Christian attacks. It was a fortified castle of Arab origin from the 12 century, There is not a lot left here to see, but still nice to wander round. Again, as we had our Mother with us, we never ventured much into this, but we never missed much as it literally is a ‘ruin’ and you can see it all from standing outside its perimeter!

      There is also the nearby Church of the Incarnation with its Gothic- renaissance style of the 16 century similar to the Twn Hall. The church has on display a priests cloak, given as a gift by the Catholic Queen Isabella. It was interesting to see that it had been preserved well considering how old it was!

      By this time I was suffering from the heat, 2 wines and too much food, and had to stop for a cold drink again! We found refuge in another little bar not far from the Castle. We were desperate to cool off from the soaring heat! This time I had a 2 litre bottle of water, and drunk it as though I was replacing about 2 weeks of liquid I had lost! The heat on this August day was tremendous!

      As we sadly left Setenil, we visited the Roman ruins of first-century AD Acinipo, and Ronda la Vieja ('old Ronda'), as they are barely a few of miles from Setinel, and the views from above the ruined open-air theatre are amazing! You can look over and see the stage, and semi-circular seating and it is really a sight for sore eyes!

      What a wonderful day we had, looking round Setenil and surrounding areas! Had to buy numerous bottles of water though, as the heat was intense up there! My mistake for having the couple of wines earlier in the day! Don’t think they helped!

      Setenil is a lovely and unique place to see. If you should be touring around Andalucia, or even staying on the Coast, then do a day trip and see some of these beautiful white towns/villages, but add Setenil to your itinery as a 'must see'! Put it on your list! You won't be disappointed!

      Definitely a day visit, not much else to see for a long duration.

      Approx. distance from Ronda is 25 miles, and there are buses running from Ronda, 3 or 4 times a day. From Marbella, on the coast, it may be about 1 hour, 20 minutes drive.

      Lovely day out and ‘different’!


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      One of the main attractions of the town are the cave houses. The town is divided by a beautiful stream that flows under many bridges. The town is hardly affected by tourism although several tourist shops have sprung up to cater for day visitors. The town has a ruined fortress that stands on top of a hill, alongside the church.

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