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The prettiest villages in Spain (Part 1)

With a population of no more than 15,000 and a wealth of cultural, natural and architectural attractions, these picturesque destinations are all part of a network called The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain

  • The smallest city in Spain to bear that name, with just 265 residents, Frías rests on top of La Muela hill, on the shores of the Ebro river, forming a peculiar silhouette framed by Humión peak. Grouped around the castle of the Velascos and the church of San Vicente Mártir, the tightly packed hanging houses cling to the rock, defying the laws of gravity (www.ciudaddefrias.es). The city is part of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain Association, which lists unique municipalities of under 15,000 residents that are worth a visit, although travelers will miss many whose charm exceeds some of the ones included here.
    1Frías (Burgos) The smallest city in Spain to bear that name, with just 265 residents, Frías rests on top of La Muela hill, on the shores of the Ebro river, forming a peculiar silhouette framed by Humión peak. Grouped around the castle of the Velascos and the church of San Vicente Mártir, the tightly packed hanging houses cling to the rock, defying the laws of gravity (www.ciudaddefrias.es). The city is part of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain Association, which lists unique municipalities of under 15,000 residents that are worth a visit, although travelers will miss many whose charm exceeds some of the ones included here.
  • This medieval seaside city that juts out from the mainland features a maze of lanes that wind around its Knights Templar castle, the Castillo del Papa Luna, which rises up from a rock. The city was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain association, presented officially along with 13 other towns in 2013 (www.lospueblosmasbonitosdeespana.org).
    2Peñíscola (Castellón) This medieval seaside city that juts out from the mainland features a maze of lanes that wind around its Knights Templar castle, the Castillo del Papa Luna, which rises up from a rock. The city was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain association, presented officially along with 13 other towns in 2013 (www.lospueblosmasbonitosdeespana.org). Getty Images
  • Steep, narrow roads, and a peculiar architecture of wood and red stone that blends into the surroundings characterize the town of Albarracín, in Teruel province. The town has been nominated as a Unesco World Heritage Site for the beauty and the significance of its historical heritage, which includes palatial, religious and popular buildings such as the Casa de la Julianeta. www.albarracin.es.
    3Albarracín (Teruel) Steep, narrow roads, and a peculiar architecture of wood and red stone that blends into the surroundings characterize the town of Albarracín, in Teruel province. The town has been nominated as a Unesco World Heritage Site for the beauty and the significance of its historical heritage, which includes palatial, religious and popular buildings such as the Casa de la Julianeta. www.albarracin.es. iStock
  • Made up of whitewashed homes and featuring a multitude of squares and intriguing corners, Zuheros sits before a picturesque mountain range filled with olive groves. Incorporated into the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain network this year, its castle and Murciélagos (bats) cave serve as a natural border between the Sierra Subbética natural park and the Córdoba countryside. (www.zuheros.es).
    4Zuheros (Córdoba) Made up of whitewashed homes and featuring a multitude of squares and intriguing corners, Zuheros sits before a picturesque mountain range filled with olive groves. Incorporated into the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain network this year, its castle and Murciélagos (bats) cave serve as a natural border between the Sierra Subbética natural park and the Córdoba countryside. (www.zuheros.es).
  • On the surface, Laguardia looks like a typical medieval town with three streets crossing it from north to south, united by pedestrianized alleys and plazas, and surrounded by a wall. But beneath its sidewalks it resembles more a piece of Swiss cheese, with its profusion of wine cellars and family-owned caves. Another new member of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain, Laguardia is also the capital of the Rioja Alavesa wine region. The photo depicts the façade of the Santa María de los Reyes Gothic church. www.laguardia-alava.com
    5Laguardia (Álava) On the surface, Laguardia looks like a typical medieval town with three streets crossing it from north to south, united by pedestrianized alleys and plazas, and surrounded by a wall. But beneath its sidewalks it resembles more a piece of Swiss cheese, with its profusion of wine cellars and family-owned caves. Another new member of the Most Beautiful Villages of Spain, Laguardia is also the capital of the Rioja Alavesa wine region. The photo depicts the façade of the Santa María de los Reyes Gothic church. www.laguardia-alava.com
  • The Matarraña river divides Valderrobres into two very different areas: the suburbs south of the bridge, and the historic quarter in the north, which is accessed via the Gothic-style bridge. The Santa María la Mayor church and the castle of the Archbishop, which were once linked, are also Gothic, while the Casa Consistorial was built in the Mannerist style. www.valderrobres.es
    6Valderrobres (Teruel) The Matarraña river divides Valderrobres into two very different areas: the suburbs south of the bridge, and the historic quarter in the north, which is accessed via the Gothic-style bridge. The Santa María la Mayor church and the castle of the Archbishop, which were once linked, are also Gothic, while the Casa Consistorial was built in the Mannerist style. www.valderrobres.es Getty Images
  • The narrow passageways known as “arteas” that run between Ansó’s houses make up a distinctive feature of the architecture in this town on the border with France and Navarre. One of the best-preserved municipalities in the Aragonese Pyrenees, it also has one of the richest and most varied traditional costumes in Spain. www.anso.es
    7Ansó (Huesca) The narrow passageways known as “arteas” that run between Ansó’s houses make up a distinctive feature of the architecture in this town on the border with France and Navarre. One of the best-preserved municipalities in the Aragonese Pyrenees, it also has one of the richest and most varied traditional costumes in Spain. www.anso.es Getty Images
  • This ‘pueblo blanco’ in Cádiz province was declared a historic-artistic site in 1976 and won a national award for its restoration efforts in 1978. Highlights include its walls, Divino Salvador church, castle, patios, windmills and the folk museum. Also be sure not to miss American artist James Turrell’s ‘Second Wind,’ which belongs to the art foundation NMAC Montenmedio Arte Contemporáneo. www.turismovejer.es
    8Vejer de la Frontera (Cádiz) This ‘pueblo blanco’ in Cádiz province was declared a historic-artistic site in 1976 and won a national award for its restoration efforts in 1978. Highlights include its walls, Divino Salvador church, castle, patios, windmills and the folk museum. Also be sure not to miss American artist James Turrell’s ‘Second Wind,’ which belongs to the art foundation NMAC Montenmedio Arte Contemporáneo. www.turismovejer.es Corbis
  • Recgnized for its historic, architectural and heritage value, Trujillo is also now part of the network of Most Beautiful Villages in Spain. Formerly a defensive Muslim enclave, it became Christian territory in 1232, and a wall separates the city center from the suburbs that grew up around the church of San Martín (pictured). The town is filled with churches, convents and palaces built by conquistadors. www.turismtrujillo.com
    9Trujillo (Cáceres) Recgnized for its historic, architectural and heritage value, Trujillo is also now part of the network of Most Beautiful Villages in Spain. Formerly a defensive Muslim enclave, it became Christian territory in 1232, and a wall separates the city center from the suburbs that grew up around the church of San Martín (pictured). The town is filled with churches, convents and palaces built by conquistadors. www.turismtrujillo.com
  • The town hall, the old prison, Romanesque churches, museums, the theater and the Plaza Mayor (pictured) are among the many reasons for Sepúlveda's recent incorporation into the network of Spain's most beautiful villages.Two alleys open up from each side: Lope Tablada street and a staircase leading to a Renaissance-era stone crucifix. www.turismosepulveda.es
    10Sepúlveda (Segovia) The town hall, the old prison, Romanesque churches, museums, the theater and the Plaza Mayor (pictured) are among the many reasons for Sepúlveda's recent incorporation into the network of Spain's most beautiful villages.Two alleys open up from each side: Lope Tablada street and a staircase leading to a Renaissance-era stone crucifix. www.turismosepulveda.es Getty Images
  • In the 13th century, the Order of Calatrava chose Almagro as its new residence and center of operations. The town is famous for its Plaza Mayor with its Flemish touches, as well as the 17th-century Corral de Comedias, the only surviving example of such a Spanish open-air theater. Manors, palaces, convents and churches complete its offering. www.ciudad-almagro.com
    11Almagro (Ciudad Real) In the 13th century, the Order of Calatrava chose Almagro as its new residence and center of operations. The town is famous for its Plaza Mayor with its Flemish touches, as well as the 17th-century Corral de Comedias, the only surviving example of such a Spanish open-air theater. Manors, palaces, convents and churches complete its offering. www.ciudad-almagro.com
  • Its history as a border town between the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragón has left landmarks such as the castle and the medieval Jewish quarter. The 16th-century Casa de la Villa, chapel, churches, and monasteries also make up Sos del Rey Católico’s heritage. Ferdinand II of Aragón, the Catholic king who married Isabella I of Castille, was born here in 1452. www.sosdelreycatolico
    12Sos del Rey Católico (Zaragoza) Its history as a border town between the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragón has left landmarks such as the castle and the medieval Jewish quarter. The 16th-century Casa de la Villa, chapel, churches, and monasteries also make up Sos del Rey Católico’s heritage. Ferdinand II of Aragón, the Catholic king who married Isabella I of Castille, was born here in 1452. www.sosdelreycatolico Age Fotostock
  • A historic-artistic site since 1974, this town is divided into two parts. The side featuring the castle (pictured), which is protected by a wall and has a medieval feel, sits atop a small peak that dominates a wide valley flanked by numerous mountains. The other side is the Arrabal, which was built later and extends along the foothills of the mountain. www.guadalest.es
    13Guadalest (Alicante) A historic-artistic site since 1974, this town is divided into two parts. The side featuring the castle (pictured), which is protected by a wall and has a medieval feel, sits atop a small peak that dominates a wide valley flanked by numerous mountains. The other side is the Arrabal, which was built later and extends along the foothills of the mountain. www.guadalest.es
  • Mojácar’s amalgam of white houses makes it look like an improbable snow cap on the last foothill of the Cabrera mountain range. As you get closer, its labyrinth of narrow roads, domes, arches, hanging flowerpots, churches, and chapels gradually reveal themselves. Two things to visit: the castle viewpoint and the 12-pipe Moorish fountain. The sea is always visible in the horizon. www.mojacar.es
    14Mojácar (Almería) Mojácar’s amalgam of white houses makes it look like an improbable snow cap on the last foothill of the Cabrera mountain range. As you get closer, its labyrinth of narrow roads, domes, arches, hanging flowerpots, churches, and chapels gradually reveal themselves. Two things to visit: the castle viewpoint and the 12-pipe Moorish fountain. The sea is always visible in the horizon. www.mojacar.es Age Fotostock
  • Vettones, Romans, barbarians, Muslims, the Catholic Reconquest, the War of Independence…The rich and hectic history of Ciudad Rodrigo, new to the list of most beautiful villages in Spain, translates into a beautiful exhibition of religious, military and civilian buildings – the Hospital de la Pasión is one of the oldest still-functioning medical centers in the world. The refurbished castle is now part of the state-owned Parador hotel chain. www.turismociudadrodrigo.com
    15Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca) Vettones, Romans, barbarians, Muslims, the Catholic Reconquest, the War of Independence…The rich and hectic history of Ciudad Rodrigo, new to the list of most beautiful villages in Spain, translates into a beautiful exhibition of religious, military and civilian buildings – the Hospital de la Pasión is one of the oldest still-functioning medical centers in the world. The refurbished castle is now part of the state-owned Parador hotel chain. www.turismociudadrodrigo.com iStock
  • The ‘pueblo blanco’ in Málaga’s Axarquía hills is considered one of the best-preserved historic quarters of Arab origin in Spain. Prized for its restoration in 1982 and a historic-artistic site since 2014, Frigiliana’s narrow and winding streets are connected by innumerable stepped pathways. www.turismofrigiliana.es.
    16Frigiliana (Málaga) The ‘pueblo blanco’ in Málaga’s Axarquía hills is considered one of the best-preserved historic quarters of Arab origin in Spain. Prized for its restoration in 1982 and a historic-artistic site since 2014, Frigiliana’s narrow and winding streets are connected by innumerable stepped pathways. www.turismofrigiliana.es. iStock
  • In the last stretch of the canyon of the river Vero, between the deep ravines of the Guara range, the collegiate castle of Santa María la Mayor (a national monument since 1931) makes its appearance. At its feet sit the medieval homes of Alquezár, declared a historic-artistic site in 1982. www.alquezar.es
    17Alquézar (Huesca) In the last stretch of the canyon of the river Vero, between the deep ravines of the Guara range, the collegiate castle of Santa María la Mayor (a national monument since 1931) makes its appearance. At its feet sit the medieval homes of Alquezár, declared a historic-artistic site in 1982. www.alquezar.es
  • The castle, whose origins date back to the year 1202 (under the Arabic name Avingalbón) dominates the narrow streets of Puertomingalvo. The village is a showcase for authentic popular architecture with its town hall, built between the 14th and 15th centuries and featuring a stone façade with arched entrances and an eave made out of woodwork. www.puertomingalvo.com
    18Puertomingalvo (Teruel) The castle, whose origins date back to the year 1202 (under the Arabic name Avingalbón) dominates the narrow streets of Puertomingalvo. The village is a showcase for authentic popular architecture with its town hall, built between the 14th and 15th centuries and featuring a stone façade with arched entrances and an eave made out of woodwork. www.puertomingalvo.com Getty Images
  • A few kilometers away from the Catalan border, the town of Calaceite was declared a historical-artistic site in 1973. The plaza Mayor, with its 17th-century town hall, branches out into a network of roads that will bring its visitors to churches, plazas and manors made of stone decorated with wrought-iron balconies. www.calaceite.es
    19Calaceite (Teruel) A few kilometers away from the Catalan border, the town of Calaceite was declared a historical-artistic site in 1973. The plaza Mayor, with its 17th-century town hall, branches out into a network of roads that will bring its visitors to churches, plazas and manors made of stone decorated with wrought-iron balconies. www.calaceite.es Age Fotostock
  • Its 16 towers, six doors (including the King’s door, through which Jaume I once entered) and almost two kilometers of wall (which is 10-15 meters high and two meters thick) conform the characteristic, winding silhouette of Morella, which is crowned by its castle. The Santa María la Mayor church hosts the annual International Organ Musical Festival every August. www.morellaturistica.com
    20Morella (Castellón) Its 16 towers, six doors (including the King’s door, through which Jaume I once entered) and almost two kilometers of wall (which is 10-15 meters high and two meters thick) conform the characteristic, winding silhouette of Morella, which is crowned by its castle. The Santa María la Mayor church hosts the annual International Organ Musical Festival every August. www.morellaturistica.com iStock
  • They say that the medieval layout of Cantavieja is an invitation to discover the city's nooks and crannies (filled with history and heritage) and to climb up to its lookout points: on the west side of town it is possible to see the Muela Monche; on the east, the meadow of San Antonio and the Rebollar, and on the south side, the Tarayuela. cantaviejaturismo.blogspot.com.es
    21Cantavieja (Teruel) They say that the medieval layout of Cantavieja is an invitation to discover the city's nooks and crannies (filled with history and heritage) and to climb up to its lookout points: on the west side of town it is possible to see the Muela Monche; on the east, the meadow of San Antonio and the Rebollar, and on the south side, the Tarayuela. cantaviejaturismo.blogspot.com.es Age Fotostock
  • Its Arabic origins are palpable in the narrow zigzagging streets and historic quarter, with the castle up at the top. The Christian expansion of Vilafamés can be seen in its linear road system, parish church and 15th-century palace. One of its main attractions is the Roca Grossa: a large mass of rock that can be found going up the fountain road (Carrer de la Font). www.vilafames.es
    22Vilafamés (Castellón) Its Arabic origins are palpable in the narrow zigzagging streets and historic quarter, with the castle up at the top. The Christian expansion of Vilafamés can be seen in its linear road system, parish church and 15th-century palace. One of its main attractions is the Roca Grossa: a large mass of rock that can be found going up the fountain road (Carrer de la Font). www.vilafames.es
  • In January, residents and tourists in Lucainena de la Torres follow the procession of the patron saint, Saint Sebastian, and throw bread rings his way from roads, houses and flower-filled balconies. From El Poyo de la Cruz, you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the town and the old mill.
    23Lucainena de las Torres (Almería) In January, residents and tourists in Lucainena de la Torres follow the procession of the patron saint, Saint Sebastian, and throw bread rings his way from roads, houses and flower-filled balconies. From El Poyo de la Cruz, you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the town and the old mill. Age Fotostock
  • This town has maintained its Berber look with its slate roofs and whitewashed houses that adapt to the uneven terrain. Pampaneira, a historic-artistic site together with Bubión and Capileira, is situated in the Poqueira ravine, near the summits of Mulhacén and the Veleta. Most of the village falls within the bounds of the natural park of Sierra Nevada. www.turismopampaneira.com
    24Pampaneira (Granada) This town has maintained its Berber look with its slate roofs and whitewashed houses that adapt to the uneven terrain. Pampaneira, a historic-artistic site together with Bubión and Capileira, is situated in the Poqueira ravine, near the summits of Mulhacén and the Veleta. Most of the village falls within the bounds of the natural park of Sierra Nevada. www.turismopampaneira.com Corbis
  • Rubielos de Mora is known as el Pórtico de Aragón (the Gateway of Aragón, as it opens up onto the highlands of Teruel) and for the large number of manors and small palaces that form this historic-artistic site. It is part of the network of Cittaslow municipalities and is located along the Camino del Cid.
    25Rubielos de Mora (Teruel) Rubielos de Mora is known as el Pórtico de Aragón (the Gateway of Aragón, as it opens up onto the highlands of Teruel) and for the large number of manors and small palaces that form this historic-artistic site. It is part of the network of Cittaslow municipalities and is located along the Camino del Cid.