What to see in Aracena: between caves and pastures
Hidden among the westernmost mountains of Sierra Morena is Aracena. A town of whitewashed houses whose heart hides one of the most incredible caves you can imagine. Hermitages, squares and convents can be found walking through the steep streets of the center of this Andalusian town. There is much to see in Aracena, and its charm is so much that spending only one day in it becomes so short that it is well worth spending at least a couple of days to get to know its places of interest, to taste its gastronomy and to enjoy the hospitable character of its people.
Aracena is the largest of the mountain villages of the same name. It is a perfect base to know other charming villages of the Sierra de Aracena like Almonaster la Real or Linares de la Sierra. If we add to this the places to see in Aracena and the activities that can be done there it is clear that it will take at least 2 or 3 days to know this area of Huelva.
Organizing the visits well, you can see Aracena in one day. Being one more day you can take advantage to make some route through the meadows that surround the town or that lead to some nearby villages. Having a third day allows you to reach some of the most picturesque villages in Andalusia. This is what we did and what I tell you are the places to see in Aracena and that make it worth organizing a getaway to this corner of Huelva.
What to see in Aracena
First of all tell you that Aracena is a small town. You can walk on foot despite the steep streets that can get too hot uphill on hot days. Although when you see a map with the places to see in Aracena it seems to you that some places may be remote, the reality is different and everything is a stone's throw away in this town. Just wear comfortable shoes to walk the cobbled streets of Aracena and be encouraged to go from end to end in search of churches, squares and history.
Dominating the town from a hill you can see what is left of Aracena Castle. Among its walls erected by the Portuguese are vestiges of the Muslim past of the place. Although there isn't much to see inside, It is worth doing the guided tour that also explains the history of the Priory Church of Our Lady of Major Pain, built next to the castle. In her they emphasize the dressing room that keeps the image of the Virgin, the gothic interior and the Mudejar tower whose design remembers to the Giralda of Seville.
Whether or not the inside of the castle is visited, it is worth going up to it and crossing its outer perimeter. From that walk they have magnificent views of Aracena, whose white houses distinguish some churches, hermitages, the casino and even the bullring.
At the foot of the castle is this square. Its name has its logic, because to reach it from anywhere in the town (except the castle) there is no choice but to walk uphill. And from it, all roads go down, whatever the chosen direction.
Two buildings stand out in this square. The first is the Old Town Hall, a 16th century building which was the first town hall of Aracena. Today it is occupied by the Visitor Center where you can know the main characteristics of the Sierra de Aracena, from its geology to its flora or fauna.
In front of the Old Town Hall is another of the buildings to see in Aracena: The Church of the Assumption. It is a temple of great dimensions and aspect more of strength than of catholic temple. Began to build in the 16th century, the church was not completed until 1996, as the roofs had never been finished. We did not find the church open on any of the days we spent in Aracena, not even on Sunday, and when asked they told us that their doors were only opened for certain celebrations.
Marquise Square of Aracena
Surrounding the Church of the Assumption you can go down to this square. It is so small that it almost looks more like a wide street, but still, there are two other buildings to see in Aracena. One of them is the City Hall, a Mudejar style building from 1911 in reddish tones that contrasts with the white of the rest of Aracena's buildings.
Across the square you can see the Carmelite Convent and its church that was once a synagogue. It was originally a male convent, but today, several centuries after its foundation, it is a convent of cloistered nuns who live behind the high walls of this white building like lime. If you like sweets, take the opportunity to buy what they prepare: melenetas or trunks of the mountains are some of their specialties. The schedule of the lathe to acquire these delicacies on Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. On Sundays they attend from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Marquis of Aracena Square
Just follow the walk through Aracena through Calle José Nogales to pass in front of the Food Market and the Church of Carmen. This temple is another of the Mudejar-style buildings to see in Aracena and was the original church of the former convent of Carmelite monks.
Just turn left at this point to reach the most beautiful square in town: the Marquis de Aracena Square. It is a large pedestrian space that until 1876 was little more than a place where the inhabitants of the place went for water. Thanks to D. Julián Romero de la Osa, great benefactor of Aracena, the square became the beautiful wooded space that we see today and in whose center is a fountain of crystalline water crowned by a sculpture of San Julián.
In this square you can also see one of the most attractive buildings in Aracena: the Arias Montano casino. It was opened in 1910 (time in which the town had three casinos of society), and like the Town Hall, it is a work of Anibal González .. In this white building of modernist style that dominates the Plaza del Marqués de Aracena undoubtedly highlights its rounded central body with a beautiful viewpoint and a glazed tile dome.
Another of the places linked to see in Aracena linked to its culture is the Ham Museum of Aracena. It occupies the building that originally hosted the Museum of Arts and Customs of the Sierra, and today, in its seven rooms you can learn a lot from the meadows, cork oaks, Iberian pig farming and ham, one of those culinary delights so Huelva, because not in vain Huelva is the third Spanish province in the production of Iberian ham.
Next to the museum, at the end of the Gran Vía de Aracena that starts from the Plaza del Marqués de Aracena, is the Doña Elvira Square. A nice raised square with a pond in the center and a lot of shade around it. A nice place to sit and rest a few minutes after visiting the Ham Museum.
Grotto of Wonders
One of the most attractive places to see in Aracena and that attracts thousands of visitors every year is the Grotto of Wonders. Caves on three levels located under the castle hill. They travel through guided tours through rooms known as the Sultana Bath, the Cathedral or the Chickpea Room.
In them you can see different formations such as stalactites, banners or gurs in caves that reach 50 meters high and in some of which there are underground lakes of transparent waters that look turquoise under the light of spotlights that illuminate the caves.
At the end of Pozo de la Nieve street, where the access to the famous Aracena caves is located, is the Gruta de las Maravillas Square. It is chaired by a beautiful sculpture of two young water carriers surrounded by tile benches with murals that represent different places inside the cave.
At the bottom of the square, another of the places to see in Aracena: the laundries of the Council Fountain. It was used by local women to do laundry until the 70s of the last century.
St. Peter's Square
Right next to the previous square is the Plaza de San Pedro. A place surrounded by tall palm trees and orange trees. This part of Aracena was inhabited by Jews and Moors. Today the square is dominated by the white hermitage of San Pedro, a temple built with the intention of Christianizing the Moors who inhabited the neighborhood.
Touring the historic center of Aracena, we immediately began to realize that there were sculptures of various styles on the streets. Later we discovered that they are part of the Andalusian Open Air Museum of Contemporary Art. It was inaugurated in 1986 and has more than 30 sculptures that are exhibited in the Plaza de San Pedro and surroundings. They are works by different authors and are made of different materials, such as bronze or iron.
St. Lucia Square
Leaving behind the places to see in Aracena in the center, it is worth walking north from the Plaza del Marques de Aracena. You have to take Campito Street to reach the Plaza de Santa Lucía, another of the town's square where you can see one of the hermitages of the town. It's about the Hermitage of Santa Lucia, a Mudejar-style building from the 15th century which gives its name to the neighborhood in which it is located.
Very close to this square is the white Plaza de Toros, chaired by a sculpture dedicated to Manolo González, figure of the bullfighter and owner of the Monte San Miguel estate, where the house of the first Marquis de Aracena is located. It is worth going around the square, because from the back you get a nice view of the town.
Santo Domingo Square
From the north of Aracena we go south, to the Plaza de Santa Domingo. In this square is the Church of Santo Domingo. In that place was the Hospital of San Sebastián first until in the sixteenth century it became a Dominican convent that was active until the nineteenth century. Today the church is the only thing left standing, and after a recent restoration it is used for concerts and exhibitions.
But the best thing about this square is not the church if you don't views from the Castle and the Priory Church.
Jesus Maria convent
Just a few meters from the previous square is this convent that was home to the closing Dominican nuns from the 17th century until 1975, when the place became a ceramic factory. Today the convent is one of the best hotels in Andalusia: the Convento de Aracena Hotel. Definitely the perfect place to sleep in Aracena. Its old church has become a pleasant hall for hotel guests, as has the old sacristy. In what was the low choir, place from which the nuns heard mass, an attractive bar has been installed.
The rooms are spread over several levels and next to what was the orchard of the nuns, Huerto NUN has been installed, a restaurant where you can taste the best cuisine on earth. So whether or not you stay at this hotel, at least take a walk outside and stroll through the areas open to visitors.
Among the places to see in Aracena there is one that is not in the town but that surrounds it. I speak of the meadows. Those fields where cork oaks and holm oaks grow, being the ideal place for grazing cattle. It is where the Iberian pig is raised, but also a source of natural resources for the local people. In the pastures of Aracena not only pig herds can be seen. There are also bees, mushrooms and wood to feed the fire in winter. Without forgetting the cork, something that not everyone knows that it obtains from the bark of the cork oaks, bark that takes 9 years to be separated from the tree to get that cork that, among other things, will cover many of the wine bottles that reach our tables
We toured part of the meadows of Aracena for one morning, we did it on electric bicycles, the only way to travel in a short time several kilometers around this town that gives its name to the Sierra de Aracena. With the eBike Aracena bicycles we pedal first until the source of the Odiel River, a perfect place to fill the canteen before continuing on through holm oaks, cork oaks and bushes through the Huelva fields. This small bike rental shop is just behind the Plaza de Santo Domingo, they help you choose the most suitable route for your taste and the rental price per day is € 35.
What to see in Aracena: timetables and prices
There is a combined entrance to visit the Grotto of Wonders, the Ham Museum and the Castle of Aracena. If you are going to visit the three places, you will be interested in getting the Tourist Aracena Card:
- Adults: € 12
- Group of up to 20 people: € 10 per person.
- Over 65 years, people with disabilities above 33% duly accredited and children from 6 to 12 years: € 9.
As for schedules, keep in mind that these vary throughout the year and that both the Grotto and the Castle can only be seen with guided tours.
- Winter (October to May): 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 16:00, 17:00 and 17:45 hours.
- Summer (June to September): 11:30 a.m., 12:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
The opening hours of the museum are every day from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Visiting hours from Monday to Friday:
- With audioguides from 11:15 to 13:15 and from 16:15 to 18:15.
- Guided tours at 13:45 and 18:45.
- Holiday visiting hours, Saturdays and Sundays:
- With audioguides from 11:15 to 13:30 and from 16:15 to 18:30.
- Guided tours: 11:30, 12:30, 13:45, 16:30, 17:30 and 18:45.
Grotto of Wonders
The opening hours to the public are from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and the general admission price € 10.
So far my selection of places to see in Aracena. A beautiful place that I knew little about and that has certainly been a pleasant discovery for us. And you know Aracena or some other place in this part of Sierra Morena that you want to recommend to other travelers?