Undiscovered Spain: The Most Beautiful (Mostly) Secret Towns and Villages in Spain
Updated: Sep 1
Here's my guide to visiting Spain's secret out-of-the-way towns, villages, and hidden gems. This guide will appeal to savvy travelers or those who are simply weary of urban tourist clogs.
Spain's hotspots -- Barcelona, Madrid, the Basque Country -- are beautiful, but suffer from tourism saturation. The good news is that there are some truly exquisite quieter alternatives, if you know where to look. This guide takes you on a de-touring of Spain, to Spain's off the radar untrodden spots.
From north to south, Spain is filled with picturesque less touristy hamlets that often go unnoticed and undiscovered. Many of these villages are among Spain's most beautiful towns and are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Spain's undiscovered small towns are appealing and romantic -- swathed in centuries old cobbled lanes, whitewashed cottages, alcazabas, and doughty cathedrals. You'll be transported back in time to a quainter and simpler version of life.
If you have tourist phobia like me and are looking for more unusual things to do in Spain, you'll want to ferret out these lovely small Spanish towns. They may not hog the headlines. But these hidden gems are just as beautiful as Barcelona or Seville. Some are even easy day trips from Spain's major cities.
The Best and Most Beautiful Off the Beaten Path Small Towns in Spain
Here are 33 secret destinations in Spain that will ignite your wanderlust. These adorable less visited Spanish towns are just too perfect to be kept secret. Bookmark them now for planning an itinerary or future road trip in Spain.
Perched on a cliff above the Guadalaviar River in Aragon, Albarracin is a gorgeous medieval hilltop town. It's been listed as a national monument since 1961. In 2018, Spaniards voted Albarracin Spain's prettiest town.
The town's light pink and orange hued buildings rise organically from a sun-scorched mountain. Albarracin harmonizes Gothic and Moorish architecture and nature beautifully.
At the top of the winding village, pop into Albarracin Cathedral. It's on the site of a historic Roman Temple. The late 16th century cathedral combines Renaissance and Gothic architectural elements and dominates the cityscape.
Ramble over the town's medieval curtain walls too. They once protected the city from all manner of unfavorable people, but mostly Christians. You have a breathtaking view from the Torre del Andador.
The Spanish-Baroque town of Antequera is fittingly dubbed the "Florence of Andalusia." Antequera is a hidden gem in Andalusia. You'll have the place mostly to yourself, which is a singular joy in southern Spain.
If you're day tripping, there's a lot to do. Park your car on the outskirts of town and walk up Calle Don Infante. Antequera boasts an impressive Moorish Alcazaba, almost like a mini Alhambra. It also has a lovely Renaissance church and a stunning medieval and baroque historical core. You'll have an eyeful of swoonful scenery.
Antequera's ancient megaliths/dolmens are outside the old town. You'll see signs. The dolmens date from the Bronze Age and are among the oldest things on the planet. They are essentially Spain's Stonehenge.
The dolmens are ancient burial grounds that were declared a UNESCO site in 2016. They're one of the most remarkable engineering and architectural works of European prehistory and an important example of European Megalthism.
Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Besalu may be the most interesting Spanish village you’ve never visited. Once the capital of Charlemagne's 8th and 9th century feudal Spain, Besalu is the prototype of a well-preserved medieval town.
Besalu’s photogenic bumpy cobblestone streets and ancient stone buildings are charming. The center is Placa de la Lliberat, chock full of cafes and artisan shops. The ancient town's most emblematic sight is its 12th century fortified bridge, complete with crenellated battlements. But there are plenty of architectural treats in Besalu.
Sant Vicente is Besalu's best Romanesque church, dating from the 10th century. It has a particularly beautiful rose window.
The Church of Sant Pere, or Saint Peter, is all that remains of the 10th century Benedictine monastery torn down in 1835. The ruins of the convent of Santa Maria on the hill above town offer a panoramic vantage point over Besalu.
You can also visit rare Jewish baths, discovered in the 1960s. A tourist train leaves from the medieval bridge every 45 minutes and visits the baths and the two churches.
Cadaques has a reputation as one of the most painted villages in the world. This once isolated sleepy fishing village in Costa Brava attracted artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Marcel Duchamp. They came for its whitewashed buildings, vivid colors, and rugged beauty.
While in Cadaques, explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town, the large Church of Santa Maria (beautiful altar and great views from the terrace), and the Cala Nans Lighthouse. You can also walk from Cadaques to the Dali House in Portlligat (you need reservations). This is where Dali created his finest works. Top off your day with dinner at Casa Anita.
35 minutes away Figueres is an unremarkable workaday town. But if you're a fan of Salvator Dali's art, it's a must visit town in Spain. Figueres is home to the stunning Dali Theater-Museum and the nearby fantasy castle Castle de Pol. The museum is the essential Dali site in Spain.
Romantic Carmona is a gem of an Andalusian town, only a half hour from Seville. It's an ancient Roman fortified city loaded with ancient Roman ruins and three Moorish fortresses. You enter via the 9th century splendid Puerta de Sevilla, or Seville Gate, and are surrounded by noble palaces and majestic churches.
Carmona's must see sites are the 15th century Church of Santa María la Mayor, the Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla, the Church of San Pedro, and the Plaza San Fernando in Carmona's historic center. Climb the Torre del Oro at the Alcazar for stunning views.
When you're done wandering through the incredibly picturesque old town, head to the Roman burial ground, Necropolis Romana, which is a must see site in Carmona. Many of the tombs were built right into the rock and you can even enter some. It's only open until 3:00 pm, so keep that in mind on your explorations.
One of the prettiest and least touristed towns in Spain is Cartagena, in the province of Murcia. Although the harbor of Cartagena is a cuise ship gateway, there are very few tourists who actually plan their trips to Cartagena.
Hard to understand, because the city is absolutely gorgeous. Cartagena is an ancient town, founded by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who defeated the Romans. In fact, this town’s first name was New Carthage. As you stroll through the town, you see plenty of Roman ruins.
The Roman Theatre is a must see attraction. There are also plenty of Neo-Baroque buildings around town that are considered some of the most beautiful ones in Spain. Just outside Cartagena is a hidden gem of a rocky beach, with impossibly blue- green water.
For a meal in Cartagena, try Restaurants La Catedral, with a view of the Roman ruins. You can simply live among the ruins, rather the taking a tour.
Caseres is one of Andalusia's most ridiculously beautiful and underrated towns. If you need to escape the tourist siege of the Costa del Sol, come inland to this mountain hideaway for a dose of tranquility.
In Caseres, narrow cobbled streets twist and climb among ancient stone walls lined with palaces, mansions, arches and churches. The skyline is decorated with turrets, spires, and gargoyles. This off the beaten track village boasts a unique architectural blend of Roman, Islamic, and Italian styles.
At the summit of the town lies its 500 year old castle, a craggy crown atop the sugar cubed homes. It was erected by the Moors, who used the steep limestone massif to build a defensive outpost.
Protected by defensive walls, Caseres has survived almost intact from its 16th century period of splendor. At dusk or after dark, when the crowds have gone, you'll feel like you've stepped back into the Middle Ages.
The arcaded Plaza Mayor is one of Spain's most beautiful public squares. This spacious and pedestrianized main square is surrounded by cream colored historic buildings. The most famous monument is Torre de Bujaco, with its crenellated battlements. You can climb to the top for a good view of the square.
The Plaza de Santa Maria is also an impressive square. You'll find medieval palaces and elaborate Renaissance facades at every turn, all lorded over by a dramatic Gothic cathedral. Get lost in the surrounding tangle of lanes.
8. Castro Urdiales
The small, picturesque town of Castro Urdiales is located along the northern coast of Spain, in the region of Cantabria. It can be reached by car in 30 minutes from the Basque city of Bilbao.
In the center of Castro Urdiales stands the Town Hall Square, fronted by the castle-like Town Hall and surrounded by elegant porticoed arches. It’s the perfect place to stop for a coffee or lunch at one of the many cafes.
You can marvel at the Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion. Built in the 13th century, this huge Gothic church is three floors high, constructed from pink stone, and outfitted with flying buttresses and towers.
The town’s Medieval Bridge was built to provide better access to the Hermitage of Santa Ana. It's a single ogival arch on top of a rocky outcrop, with the sea rushing in below. It's referred to as the "Roman Bridge," but the bridge is Gothic and dates from medieval times. Refurbished over the last few years, visitors can still walk across it today.
Cross it and climb up to the Hermitage of Santa Ana. The hermitage stands on a rocky outcrop overlookings the sea. The current building dates from 1941. However, it was constructed on the site of many previous buildings, which date as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period.
The town of Comillas is known for its superb architecture. You'd never expect to find such treasures in an unassuming, almost unknown, small town in Cantabria Spain.
Comillas has two main sites, both architecturally interesting -- Gaudi's El Capricho and Sobrellano Palace. El Capricho is a rare Gaudi building outside his more well known Modernist architecture in Barcelona.
I like to think of El Capricho as Gaudi's sunflower villa. El Capricho was a youthful project for Gaudi. In 1883, Maximo Diaz de Quijano commissioned Gaudi to build him a summer villa. Quijano, an amateur musician and botanist, chose the lilting name El Capricho, which means whim or folly in Spanish.
A short walk up the hill, you'll find Sobrellano Palace. The over the top Neo-Gothic palace was commissioned by Antonio Lopez, the first Marques of Comillas, and designed by Juan Martorell.
The palace was a vanity project. It was the fashion for aristocrats to have fancy country estates. Interestingly, Sobrellano Palace was the first building in Spain to have electricity.
You can only visit the palace on a guided tour. There's hourly tours (in Spanish) that last 40 minutes. But you can cast your eyes on Gaudi-designed furniture, magnificent fireplaces, paintings, and stained glass. Outside the palace is a beautiful chapel-pantheon, also Gothic in design.
The ridiculously eye catching fishing village of Cudillero might be Spain's prettiest seaside village. Cudillero is just 40 minutes from Oviedo in the Asturias region of Spain. It's well worth the detour. A remote place of hills, you'll have to park outside the teeny tiny town and walk in.
In Cudillero, white and pastel houses are piled in a mishmash on top of each other. There's a pleasingly startling contrast between the terra cotta roofs and the blue sea. It's said that each house in the village matches the color of the owner's fishing boat.
You can dine on freshly caught seafood. I liked El Faro. Another good eatery is Opera. I filled up on octopus and mussels while there.
Cudillero has some secret beaches. And in its tight alleyways, there are some beautiful viewpoints where you can admire the colored houses and terra cotta roofs.
Undiscovered Cuenca is a dramatic UNESCO-listed medieval town in the region of Castilla la Mancha, the land of Don Quixote. It's an easy day trip from Madrid, the perfect spot to escape the hurly burly of the city.
Cuenca is home to the gravity defying "hanging houses." They cling precipitously to the top of vertical cliffs, jutting into thin air between two river canyons. The best photo op is from the jaw dropping Puente de San Pablo, the bridge spanning a 130 foot gorge.
The main drag of Cuenca is Alfonso VIII Street, which is lined with colorful red, blue, and yellow houses. Plaza Mayor boasts an elegant ensemble of buildings, including the Anglo-Norman-Gothic styled Cuenca Cathedral. There are plenty of walking routes just outside the city to keep your legs and lungs pumping.
Don't miss the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art. It's housed in a 15th century complex, with loads of gallery space. The permanent collection houses the works of Spanish modernists who lived in the area. You can also find some El Greco pieces in the Bishop's Palace.
If you want to dine with views over the Huecar River gorge, try Figon del Huecar or Posada de San Jose's Restaurant. Cuenca's speciality is lamb.
Frias is a tiny medieval town perched on a hill above the Erbo River. Nestled within the province of Burgos, Frias is a village of fewer than 300 people that's extraordinarily beautiful. The town is built on a rock called "the Molar," giving it a dramatic silhouette.
Frias' most important site is the 800 year old Frias Castle. This Gothic edifice, with some Romanesque traces, dates back to the 10th century. The castle keep is the symbol of the hamlet. It's a steep climb, and rather daunting in the heat.
From the castle, you can see Frias' famous hanging houses. They're wooden houses hanging over the gorge on the Molar. Don't miss the Church of San Vicente and the Church of San Vitores.
The Gothic Bridge, with nine impressive arches, crosses the Ebro River and serves as the town's entrance. Completing the tableaux are the town walls where two of three old gates are preserved.
Nothing prepares you for the stunning beauty of Frigiliana. In Frigiliana, everything is beautiful in a way that it almost never is. Frigiliana is a spotless, secluded, perfectly coifed cliff town dressed in blue and white, with flowing orange and purple vines and potted blood red geraniums.
The Spanish tourist board voted Frigiliana the prettiest village in Andalusia, and and you can immediately see why. There are no must see sites or grand monuments in Frigiliana.
Frigiliana's main attraction is its cobbled pedestrianized streets with whitewashed houses with colorful doors. There is a pathway through the middle of the village called the Calle Real. But you must stray off the path and investigate all the nooks and cranies.
For even better views, hike up to the ruins of the 16th century Castle of Izar. From the old town, you climb up long flights of steps, narrow paths, and gravel tracks to the site of the old castle overlooking the white village and the Mediterranean sea. You'll also find signs warning you to be careful of rogue donkeys who might bite.
READ: Guide to Frigiliana
Getaria is one of the most charming towns on the Basque coast, jutting out into the sea with an attractive sandy beach (Gaztepe). It’s a pristine medieval fishing village with old world charm, stone houses, and gorgeous landscapes. You’ll have picture-perfect coastline views.
Getaria is home to the Basque regions’s signature drink, txakoli, a sparkling white wine. You can visit several wineries in and around the town. Getaria is also known for its seafood, particularly baby squid and turbot.
Getaria has a pretty Gothic church and is the birthplace of haute couture fashion icon Cristobal Balenciaga. There’s a museum dedicated to his life and work. You get there via an incongruous outdoor escalator at the outer edge of the town.
Grazalema is a pretty mountain village of Roma origin, located at the foot of the Penon Grande in the valley of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. It's completely different than Osuna or Ronda, more wild. It's known as the wettest part of Spain.
The beautifully situated village is splashed with whitewashed homes and surrounded by olive trees. I was there in February, so there was even a sprinkling of snow. I paused in the main square, the Plaza de España, which is lined with bars and restaurants, for a late lunch.
You can also visit Zahara de la Sierra, right next door to Grazalema. Like Grazalema, it's streets are white, immaculate, and fairly deserted. You can climb up to the Arabic Tower of Tribute, though the pathway isn't for the timid. The tower itself is nothing special, but the views are epic.
The tiny town of Guacin is in the south of Spain, just a 30 minute drive from the Costa del Sol. But the pretty place usually goes unnoticed. In Guacin, you can visit an off the beaten path medieval era village without the crowds.
Because of its romantic hilltop aerie, Guacin is nicknamed the "Balcony of Europe." It's also been dubbed the "Notting Hill" of Andalusia because it attracts so many Brits.
Park your car and explore sparkling Guacin by foot. The town is a tangle of steep hilly lanes and shady cobbled paths. On your stroll, you'll find several lookout points.
Visit the Moorish Castle of the Eagle. Now mostly in ruins, the atmospheric pile dates back to Roman times. When you're done exploring, there are quite a few quality cafes and restaurants. Try the popular Bar Pio Pepe or Platero & Co.
If you want to experience a typical Spanish cave district, head to Guadix. The unique cathedral town of Guadix, a very off the beaten path destination in Andalucia, is only 45 minutes from Granada.
I went mostly to see the house caves or “cuevas.” Guadix’s inhabitants live in caves, with whitewashed chimneys set against the mountains. Close to the cave district, Barrio de Las Cuevas, you'll have a viewpoint of the city and surrounding mountains.
Guadix also has a beautiful and imposing cathedral to explore, dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. And its alcazaba is the town's best example of Moorish architecture.
Tranquil Hondarribia is a pretty resort town located on the Spanish-French border in Basque country. The historic city center is surrounded by city walls and a drawbridge. It's filled with cobblestones streets and colorfully painted houses with flowers spilling out of flower boxes.
In the town center, you'll find the Castle of Charles V (now a hotel), the Gothic Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion, and plazas with al fresco cafes.
There's also a nice beach, if you want to relax and swim. When hunger calls, this tiny village has two Michelin starred restaurants, Restaurante Alameda and Maison Eguiazabal.