One of the prettiest villages in the Sierra, Alájar is overlooked by the towering Peña de Arias Montano, a dramatic rocky outcrop with a church and belfry. From the Peña is a stunning view of Alájar, its fields of olive trees and the gently undulating plain south of the Sierra.
The houses in Alájar huddle around a tiny paseo (square) and its narrow, cobbled streets radiate outwards from here. Like the neighbouring village of Linares, many houses in Alájar have their own unique cobbled portals. There are many well-preserved houses here with architectural elements typical of the Sierra.
The village has a large church, the 16th-century Iglesia de San Marcos, its size a reflection of the large population that lived here in the 18th century when the church was enlarged.
Although it can crowded at weekends and holidays, the Peña de Arias Montano is a tranquil place during the week with superb views, abundant springs and good picnic spots under its cork oaks. The Ermita de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles was built on the site of a Medieval temple and has had several additions, most notably in the 16th , 18th and 20th centuries. Its interior was nearly destroyed in the Civil War and the 13th-century figure of the virgin has been restored. In the 16th century Philip II's confessor and theologian, Benito Arias Montano, came here on retreat. In 1576 Philip II himself paid a visit to the Peña and meditated here in a cave subsequently called the 'Sillita del Rey' (the King's Seat).
It has a wonderful whitewashed belfry set on the edge of the cliff away from the church. There is also a small visitor's centre with information about the life of Arias Montano.
Unique family owned shops.
On 8 September there is an exuberant and colourful pilgrimage here, when the surrounding villagers come on foot and horseback, with decorated carts, for a day of drinking, eating and singing.
La Posada is a small, friendly hotel in the centre of the village providing breakfast made from organic, local ingredients. Just outside the village, signposted from the Santa Ana road, is El Molino Río Alájar, with delightful cottages for rent. Halfway between Alájar and Santa Ana, 2-3km from each village, is a shady campsite, Camping Cortijo, with a bar. A footpath linking Santa Ana and Alájar skirts the edge of the campsite.
There are many excellent bars and restaurants here, including Bar El Corcho, with a unique interior covered in cork creations. Other good restaurants are El Padrino with a great terrace and El Molino, housed in a beautifully restored mill.
The street of Manuel Siurot.
From Alájar are several excellent walks. There is a walk to Linares described by Guy Hiunter Watts as "The walk of the forgotten Hamlet" and on to Aracena via Los Madroñeros.
You can climb the steep footpath up to the Peña (worth it for the marvellous view) and then continue on to Fuenteheridos on the GR-47 path.
From the hamlet of El Calabacino west of Alájar is a 5km footpath up to the small village of Castaño, which skirts round part of the Cerro de Castaño through chestnut woodland and has some superb views. This hill has the highest peak of the Sierra, at 959m. It's possible to return from Castaño, around the northern section of the Cerro Castaño if you want to make a full circle, heading on the track towards Fuenteheridos, called La Urraleda. This brings you out onto the Fuenteheridos-Peña road. Turn right towards the Peña and you come to viewpoint, El Puerto de Alájar (880m), with magnificent views south of the Sierra. The road winds sharply down to the Peña and back to Alájar.
Hotels in or near Alájar
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