This past Saturday I discovered what might become my favorite place in Spain so far: Gaucín. Gau-huh? Yeah, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s a teeny tiny town of about 2,000 people in the mountains, all whitewashed, on the road from Ronda to Gibraltar, the A369. Apparently it used to be home to bandits and smugglers. It was accessible by a path that was compared to a ladder by some travelers. It’s pretty remote. It also has some amazing views – at night you can make out individual lights in Tangiers across the Straits of Gibraltar, and through the day you can see the mountains of Morocco rising up through the clouds.
Nowadays there’s a road that heads right through it, and sometimes when we drive to Gibraltar we take the long way, through the mountains, and drive on this road. So we’ve passed through Gaucín several times; it goes by quickly, even driving the maximum 40km/hr that you can manage in the mountains. If you close your eyes to sneeze, you might miss it. The streets are so narrow that they are all one-way – if you miss your stop, you have to circle the whole way back through the town again. The hills and drops are steep, and could give you some serious vertigo if you look down.
We happened to go on the day of the annual Christmas fair, which is held in a medieval convent. It was a fantastic introduction to this little village. Music on the steps of the convent, crafts for sale, churros and paella cooked over open fires available for sale. But here’s what I loved about Gaucín: It’s not very Spanish. In fact, it’s terribly British. Turns out most of the village is comprised of British expats who wanted to get away from the tourist scene of the Costa del Sol while still being close enough to go grocery shopping at Morrison’s in Gibraltar if they should so choose.
The guitar player on the steps was British. The lady selling cupcakes owns a bakery nearby – she was Canadian, but that’s close enough. There was an English bookseller. Jewelry makers, truffle makers, carrot cake bakers: all British. The paella and churros were Spanish, as were a few of the craft tables. Seriously, it was just enough Spain to remind you that you were still in Spain, but when you talked to someone in English they didn’t look at you like you were insane.
Gaucín seems to be this artsy-fartsy haven of British creative types who wanted the best of what Spain has to offer – inexpensive places to live, good weather, relaxed siesta culture – with being close to their own English communities on the Costa del Sol. Which makes it officially awesome in my book.
The road through the mountains is filled with amazing views of other whitewashed villages tumbling down the hillsides, and is worth a day spent exploring. Just beware – if you take a wrong turn, like I did once a few weeks ago, you can easily wind up on a very sketchy narrow dirt road, so it’s best to have a full tank of gas, some water and granola bars, and a working cell phone…just in case!