In the Sierra Morena mountains, in the heart of Europe’s most populated dehesa, the low-density wooded pastureland typical of this area, lies Villanueva de Cordoba, a city of granite.
Though the town only began to take shape in the 12th century, this is not the first sign of inhabitants in these lands. Megalithic remains bear witness to settlers here between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, when there was a significant chalcolithic culture.
A crossroads since prehistory, Villanueva de Cordoba came into being as part of the Armillat route, a crucial road in times of the Caliphate, which communicated Cordoba with Toledo. It was mentioned in the 9th century by the historian, Ahmad Ibn Razi, who left testimony of the name then given to what would later become Los Pedroches, “Fahs-al-Ballut” (plains of the acorns), declaring that the acorns produced by its holm oaks were the sweetest in Spain.
And without doubt, the holm oak groves are the seal of identity of Villanueva de Cordoba, and to stroll in them at any time of the year is a moment to encounter peace and calm, where time appears to stand still, with a wealth of age-old beauty and landscape.
The streets of Villanueva de Cordoba are carved in granite, the door jambs and lintels of the houses, the wells and fountains in its plazas… Granite born in the dehesa and which comes to form the monuments and plazas, speaking to us of tradition and culture.
And after feeding the spirit, what better than to do the same with the body? And to do that, nothing better than the exquisite gastronomy based on the products of the Iberian pig, of which the acorn-fed Iberian ham is the star.
Without doubt, the holm oak groves are the seal of identity of Villanueva de Cordoba, and to stroll in them at any time of the year is a moment to encounter peace and calm, where time appears to stand still, with a wealth of age-old beauty and landscape.
Around the spacious Plaza de España, strategically located on a high zone, on what was once the Real de La Plata road which connected Pedroche with Cordoba, are to be found in the most important civil and religious buildings of Villanueva de Cordoba.
Among the civil buildings is the 18th-century Town Hall, originally constructed to serve as a granary and prison, which still preserves the original structure, with two outstanding arcades and whose granite columns support red brick arches, a characteristic feature of local architecture.
The Audiencia, the old courthouse, built in the 17th century, stands out for its sober granite facade.
But the most singular building is, without doubt, the air-raid shelter, built during the civil war, which surprises visitors when they discover it underneath the Plaza. It is divided into five naves by five granite and red brick arches, accessed through three tunnels which are still preserved today, unchanged since they were built.
The 18th-century Church of San Miguel presides over the square, with its 35-metre spire announcing the town of Villanueva from afar.
Different streets converge onto Plaza de España, all of them boasting impressive town palaces with lavish facades carved in granite. In Calle Real, the Convent of the Obreras del Corazon de Jesus stands out, with its Chapel of Dulce Nombre, a true jewel of mid 20th-century neo-Baroque and, finally, the Church of San Sebastian, the oldest building in Villanueva de Cordoba, constructed as a hermitage in 1585.
To stroll through the streets of Villanueva de Cordoba is to come face-to-face with its traditional ways of life, the wells in the plazas and the public wash houses that were meeting points. The stone crosses tell us that all roads lead to Villanueva de Cordoba and the gardens and the potted flowers in windows and on balconies tell us of the love and respect of its people for nature.
Traditional crafts are very important, especially the “navajas jarotas” (traditional local pocket knives), some with artistic horn handles, which are true works of art. Villanueva de Cordoba is also known for its leatherwork, and the last artisan tanner in all Andalusia can be found here. And we should not forget woodworking and wrought ironwork, which can be seen as you stroll through the streets.
And of course the dehesa, the finest example of the relationship between man and nature offers travellers unique experiences in a unique natural setting: walking, mycology, bird-watching, the belling of the deer during the rut, the montanera, when the Iberian pigs fatten on the acorns, horse-riding…, in short, the great variety of activities that allow you to experience and enjoy the beauty of this ecosystem.
Arriving at the AVE high-speed train station in Villanueva de Cordoba is your first encounter with the dehesa. The landscape that greets visitors as they disembark from the train is exceptional: thousands of holm oaks on gentle hillsides, too wide for the eyes to take it all in.
The dehesa with its hundreds of colours and the aroma of cistus, thyme and rosemary, framed among walls of granite, accompanies the visitor all the way to Villanueva de Cordoba.
Once in Villanueva de Cordoba, at the Tourist Office you will find all the information you need about all the possibilities on offer in the city and, especially, the dehesa: routes, activities in contact with nature and traditional fiestas that will make you feel you have always belonged here.
At the traditional fiestas, you can enjoy truly original experiences. Many of these are ancient festivals that have come down from generation to generation and are the reflection of a culture forged over centuries.
The Romería de la Virgen de Luna, a pilgrimage declared to be an Andalusian Festival of Tourist Interest, is held twice a year, on the Monday of Pentecost and the second Sunday in October. It is not just another pilgrimage. To follow the route through the dehesa to the Sanctuary of La Jara is to enter into communion with nature.
The year begins with the Day of San Sebastian, the patron saint of olive growers, at a place called the “alto del santo”, where there is a popular dance at which the Brotherhood of San Sebastian invites all of the visitors to jump over the bonfires.
The Easter Week and the Crosses of May are can’t-miss events for visitors seeking a different experience in spring, full of the smell of incense and the colours of thousands of flowers that cover the decorated crosses in the streets or in the patios and rooms of the houses.
With autumn comes the Day of San Miguel, the patron saint of Villanueva de Cordoba, and the Los Pedroches Acorn-fed Iberian Ham Fair, to which visitors flock from all over Spain for the sole purpose of tasting the excellent acorn-fed Iberian ham.
But coming to Villanueva de Cordoba is to learn about the dehesa in all its glory: while in autumn and winter it overflows with fantasy and romanticism in the frosty, misty mornings, in spring it shows its splendour, full of life, and the summer is the time to enjoy its nights, its clear, starry skies whose quality will lead to its declaration as a “Starlight Tourist Destination” in the near future.
Acorn-fed Iberian Ham is, without doubt, the gastronomic flagship not just of Villanueva de Cordoba, but of the entire Los Pedroches district. For this reason, the Los Pedroches Acorn-fed Iberian Ham Fair is held in its honour every October.
The Iberian pig, bred in freedom on the dehesa, gorges on acorns during all of the montanera fattening period in autumn, which is why during the matanza, or slaughtering season, they give the most excellent products. Once in the kitchen, they are turned into exquisite dishes such as fried sucking pig, pork shoulder, feather loin, pork jowl, etc,
Another must-try dish on any visit to Villanueva de Cordoba is “Salmorejo Jarote”, a cold soup whose special ingredient is partridge.
And dessert has to include the traditional sweets, rosquillas (fried dough rings) and cagajones (fried dough balls) with honey or sugar, still made today to celebrate weddings and baptisms – don’t leave without trying them.
The AVE high-speed train station at Villanueva de Cordoba is the doorway to Los Pedroches. A district made up of 17 towns, it offers no end of opportunities to the traveller, with monuments like the Monastery of Santa Clara in Belalcazar, the most important in the province after the Mosque in Cordoba, which owes its name to the castle which still boasts an impressive keep, the Church of San Juan Bautista in Hinojosa del Duque, the cathedral of the mountains, whose spire was constructed by Hernan Ruiz, as was the Church of El Salvador in Pedroche, in whose narrow streets we can still breathe the mediaeval air of Muslims and Christians. Another essential visit is to Dos Torres with its main square, the Plaza Mayor, whose arcades face the Church of La Asuncion. The town has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest, with the category of Historical Complex.
Alcaracejos, Añora, Belalcazar, Cardeña, Conquista, Dos Torres, Fuente la Lancha, El Guijo, Hinojosa del Duque, Pedroche, Pozoblanco, Santa Eufemia, Torrecampo, Villanueva de Cordoba, Villanueva del Duque, Villaralto and El Viso are all built of granite: houses, wells, fountains, walls, crosses, churches, hermitages, and all offer the visitor unforgettable landscapes, age-old traditions and exquisite gastronomy.
And you cannot leave Los Pedroches without visiting the Cardeña Montoro Natural Park, part of the Natura 2000 European ecological network, a habitat of the Iberian lynx, which you may see roaming in the wild or stalking a rabbit. The park offers many activities and options for you to enjoy it.