EL Rocio Village
This is a strange outpost of the Wild West, with wide, sandy streets lined with houses complete with broad verandas and wooden rails for tying up horses. It is famous for its annual Romería, the Rocío Pilgrimage at Pentecost when it is overflowing with a seething mass of a million pilgrims, either on foot or with horses and decorated carts.
A first hand account of El Rocio, travelling from Triana in Seville. More >
One of Europe's most important wetland reserves and a major site for migrating birds. More >
For the rest of the year, it is has become ever more popular as a location for holidays and weekends and m any have even chosen to live here. Many of its larger buildings are dedicated to the various Hermandades (Brotherhoods), which have increased to 117 in total, and are only used at the time of the Romería and a weekend during the rest of the year that a Hermandad visits the Virgin.
Owners of most of the houses found in El Rocío rent their properties throughout the year except during the Romería, where they themselves will stay there. There are however plenty of houses that can be rented during the Romería as well. It is interesting reading the tiled plaques on these houses, which are dedicated to the member of the family who built them.
Legend from the Middle Ages states, that during the fifteenth century, a hunter from Villamanrique de la Condesa went to the settlement of Las Rocinas to graze cattle or to hunt. There, among brambles, he found the image placed in a wild olive. The beautiful figure wore a white linen tunic and was attractive even for the most libertine imagination. In that same place, they decided to build a temple in honour of the Virgin.
The houses surrounding the Ermita were constructed for the pilgrims to stay in and with time and the increasing numbers of pilgrims, more and more house were built.
THINGS TO SEE
It is worth a visit purely to soak up this rather peculiar and unique atmosphere.
Ermita de Nuestra Señora de El Rocío
Its size completely at odds with a village the size of El Rocío, dominates the main dusty square. Destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, it was rebuilt in the 1960s. Inside is the wooden figure of the revered Virgen del Rocío.
Sala de Velas
Due to the insatiable demand to light candles in the church, you can only pay for electric 'candles' inside. However, there is a small room at the lake side of the church, called Sala de Velas (room of the candles) if you want to light a wax candle, costing 50 cents each at the next door kiosk. The ceiling and walls are stained black with smoke from the multitude of candles lit here every year. A fan is on constantly to dispel the smoke, while industrial quantities of wax cake the candle holders.
Around the church are lots of souvenir shops selling pilgrimage-related paraphernalia. This is also the place to buy the latest fashions for the pilgrimage. Fashions change yearly and the only way to ensure that your flamenco attire is at the cutting edge of El Rocío trend is to buy it here and not elsewhere in Andalucía.
Chozo El Toruño
In Plaza del Acebuche we can find the last vestige of architecture in El Rocío marshlands, the Chozo El Toruño. These types of huts were built entirely with local plant materials like chestnut, and some even had mud walls.
Casa de la Cultura
This Culture House holds an enormous amount of information. The library is on the first floor, where many books have been kept on shelves within enclosed cabinets and you will find wood desks once used by studying students. The library offers some computers for those who require them. Located in Plaza del Comercio.
Centro Ornitológico Francisco Bernis
A wonderful hide where you can observe many species of birds any time of the year. The centre is dedicated to the scientific study, conservation and protection of birds in their natural habitat and comes equipped with binoculars and telescopes for birdwatchers to use to see ibis, herons, flamingos, ducks and even the Spanish imperial eagle. On the ground floor holds information panels to involve both children and adults, and the attentive, caring staff are ready to answer any questions. Located on Calle Sanlúcar.
There are a handful of places to stay, but during the time of the El Rocío Pilgrimage it is impossible to find anywhere to stay without booking well in advance and the prices of the rooms soar astronomically.
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As El Rocío sits right on the north western edge of the Parque Nacional de Doñana, it is in an area rich in wildlife. The village itself is located on the Marismas del Rocío, a marshland area where there are many birds, particularly in spring, including flamingoes, herons and storks. Near the church running alongside the wetlands is the Paseo Marismeño, an excellent birdwatching spot.
El Rocío is also a good base to explore the park. The nearest entry point to the park is only about 10km away from El Rocío at El Acebuche. About 1km south of the village just off the main A-483 road to Matalascañas is the Centro de Información Las Rocinas, an information centre about the Parque Nacional Doñana. From this centre are some short walks with bird watching hides.
El Rocío is located 66km from Huelva. To get there, take the H-31 leaving Huelva and onto the A-49 towards Seville. Take Exit 50 onto the A-483 and continue on passing Bollullos par del Condado and Almonte until you reach El Rocío.