Southern Spain

Words: Ollie Horne
Photos: Richard Gaston

In a valley of the Rio Ubrique, surrounded by tall hills and rocky escarpments, sits the Pueblo Blanco of Ubrique. Hemmed in by steep cliff faces, the town’s slanted terracotta roofs jostle for space beneath the limestone slopes, covered in olives and oaks. Narrow cobbled streets and stone steps lead through the clusters of homes and shops, their white plaster walls reflecting the heat of the burning Andalusian sun. The earthy smell of leather and the hum of machinery emerge from within the low buildings. For over two centuries, the town has protected the secrets of master leather production, and today, more than half of Ubrique’s population is involved in the industry.

As midday shadows shrink from the hot stone, the central plaza lies empty. Flags on the balcony of the town hall hang limp. Orange trees line the main Avenida, their bright fruits peering between the leaves. A dark rock protrudes from the white walls of a home, like a living crag slowly reclaiming the alley. On Avenida de Jesulin de Ubrique - named for the town’s celebrated matador - the dusty floor of the bullfighting ring wobbles and vibrates in the unrelenting glare.

Rugged countryside surrounds Ubrique, where the national parks of Grazalema and Los Alcornocales meet. Hiking trails peel from the town and into the hills. A Roman road, uneven with rough stones, cuts its unwavering line through a limestone rise, leading to the ruins of an ancient town, squat in the dust and grass. Below the precipice, an arroyo valley is blanketed in cork trees. Above, Spanish firs line the slopes of the chalky hills, while griffon vultures turn lazily in the blank sky.

The sun is slow to dip below the hills; its late rays retreat up the steep ridges above the town. As the air cools, chairs and tables appear in the plaza and along the avenue. The town gathers below the glow of streetlights, while waiters flurry about their tables with tapas and wine, and the last reflections of the sunken sun disappear from the jagged cliff face.