Europe

A Cave House in Spain’s Setenil de las Bodegas

Nineteen beautiful whitewashed hilltop villages dot the landscape of Andalucia in a region northwest of Malaga and east of Seville.  These are collectively known as the Pueblos Blancos or White Villages of Andalucia.  Each has its own character and distinctive beauty. During our recent month-long stay in Spain, we spent 3 days driving through this region, gawking in wonder as each successive village appeared around the corner.  But what stands out most about our time exploring the Pueblos Blancos was the night we stayed in a cave house in Setenil de Las Bodegas.

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Discovering Setenil

Setenil de las Bodegas wasn’t originally on my radar for our 3-day road trip through the White Villages.  I had planned on using Ronda – perhaps the most famous Pueblo Blanco – as our base to explore the area. I found a perfect Ronda apartment rental with a spectacular view overlooking the town’s famous bridge.  But, it was only available for two of our three nights.  After finding a place with this view….

A view from an AirBnb rental of Ronda Spain and it's famous Bridge.

…I wasn’t willing to even consider a different rental in Ronda. So, I started looking for a night’s rental in a different White Village for our third night. 

Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the closest White Villages to Ronda on the map, so I Googled more information about it first.  I found that it’s famous for its many cave houses and cave businesses lining a ravine that cuts the town in half. Dating back as far as prehistoric times, the natural caves in this area were used for dwellings. As the centuries passed, and the hillsides here were occupied by the Moors, and then the Spanish, the caves were enlarged and house fronts added.

Cave houses line the streets of Setenil De las Bodegas in Spain

Once I saw the images of this unique town, I immediately knew that we not only need to stay there, but that we needed to stay in a cave house in Setenil.  

And luckily, I found a great one on Booking.com with availability on our intended night – Casa Cueva El Arrabal. 

Upon Entering a Cave House

Casa Cueva El Arrabal is located at the bottom of one of Setenil’s oldest and most historic streets – Calle Herrería.  This steep street descends along a set of stairs with cave houses on one side and not-cave houses on the other.  Higher up on the very same cliff sits what remains of the town’s 12th century fortress and the town’s cathedral. 

Cave Houses line the streets of Calle Herreria in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain
The outside of Casa Cueva El Arrabal - a cave house rental in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Our host Elisa met us upon arrival, and when she opened the door, we were amazed at how modern this cave dwelling was.  Of course, I had seen pictures online, but still….you never know for sure with a vacation rental until you enter and actually see it for the first time. I was especially surprised at how spacious it was. 

Entering a cave house rental in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

The back wall of the entire house is mountainside. The chisel marks made while creating a bigger space are obvious.  Many of the cave houses in Setenil were natural caves first, then enlarged over the centuries to created bigger more comfortable dwellings.  Plaster and drywall meet chiseled rock wall to create a beautiful and unique living space.

Chiseled walls of a cave house in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

The Grand Tour

Casa Cueva El Arrabal has three levels. 

Main Floor – living room, kitchen, bathroom.

Looking down on the main level of Casa Cueva El Arrabal - a cave house rental in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain
The kitchen of Casa Cueva El Arrabal
The main level bathroom in Casa Cueva El Arrabal - a cave house rental in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Second Floor – Master bedroom and bathroom along with a small balcony.  

The master bedroom in Casa Cueva El Arrabal
The master bathroom in Casa Cueva El Arrabal - a cave house in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Top Floor. Large open bedroom with three single beds. The ceilings are lower up on top.

The upper floor of Casa Cueva El Arrabal - a cave house rental in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Everything inside this cave house was top quality – floor tiles, railings,  bathroom fixtures, bedding, HVAC, appliances. It also featured lots of floor lightening to accentuate the beauty of the rock walls.

And it was spotlessly clean!

Plus, Elisa clearly understands the needs of travelers.  Amenities can be hit and miss with vacation rentals.  But here, the kitchen was well stocked with coffee, tea, spices, and even a few small snacks. The bathrooms were well stocked with soap and shampoo. 

We loved our 20 hours in this cave house in Setenil de las Bodegas, and both agreed that it’s our favorite vacation rental of all time.

Clicking here takes you directly to Casa Cueva El Arrabal’s Booking.com page.

Wandering Setenil

What did we do in Setenil?  Well, a place like this begs to be wandered.  Other than the castle tower, there aren’t a lot of landmarks here (and it was closed when I passed by).  I was absolutely content to just wander and explore and photograph this unique town at various times of the day during our short stay.

Here’s a sampling of what I saw…

Case houses and businesses underneath a giant overhanging cliff in Setenil de las Bodegas
The White Village of Setenil De Las Bodegas in Andalucia Spain
Cave restaurants line Calle Cueva del Sol in Senentil de las Bodegas
Setenil de las Bodegas at night
The remains of a 12th century Moorish castle overlooks the Andalusian White Village of Setenil de las Bodegas
Setenil de las Bodegas at sunrise

Eating in Setenil

Like everywhere we went in Spain, Setenil had plenty of restaurants to choose from.  The highest concentration of these are located on Calle Cueves del Sol – down in the ravine that cuts through the center of town.  On this street, the restaurants are double-cool….cave-restuarants recessed under a huge rocky overhang. 

Restaurants line Calle Cueves del Sol in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Dinner at El Mirador

Our host recommended that we try El Mirador for dinner.  I had already noted its high 4.8 Google rating as I was tripping our visit, so it was already on my radar. 

But El Mirador is located on the bottom floor of a cliffside hotel, not in a cave on Calle Cueves del Sol. We decided to opt for what we hoped would be the best food in town for dinner, saving the still-important cave dining experience for breakfast the next morning.  Had it been daylight, the restaurant has a great view of the valley and hillsides on the other side of town.

Restaurante El Mirador in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

We were the first customers of the evening, walking in right as it opened at 7:30. Even after a month in Spain, we never grew accustomed to the Spanish way of eating dinner at  9 or 10 or 11. 

The chef was running a little late that night due to unforeseen circumstances.  The owner apologized and spent time at our table explaining the menu to us.  He spoke excellent English, personally arranged to have English copies of the menu printed for us, and guided us through the restaurant’s philosophy, along with some of his personal menu recommendations.  

El Mirador’s concept is basically farm-to-table using only the best locally sourced ingredients. The food was excellent and so was the service.  

We started with a plate of local sheep and goat cheese….

A plate of cheese at El Mirador

Then an appetizer of roasted artichoke, with Iberian ham, pumpkin hummus, and a poached egg….

The roasted artichoke entree at El Mirador in Setenil

For our main courses…oxtail risotto with asparagus and mushrooms

Oxtail risotto at El Mirador in Setenil

…and tuna steak with onion confit & yucca chips. 

Tuna Steak with onions and yucca at El Mirador in Setenil

Food in this part of Spain is much less expensive than in the United States.  Even fine dining.  This meal cost around $65 including two glasses of wine, a large bottle of mineral water, and the 10% service charge. 

Breakfast at La Bodeguita

For breakfast, we absolutely made it a point to eat on Calle Cueves del Sol.  It was a chilly morning and so we opted for a table in the sun with a great view along the street.  

Eating breakfast along Calle Cueva del Sol in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

We enjoyed a great version of the typical Spanish mid-morning breakfast – toast with crushed tomato, olive oil, and salt.  Throw in two coffees and we spent a whopping $6.   

Typical Spanish breakfast of toast, crushed tomatoes, olive oil, and salt at La Bodeguita in Setenil de las Bodegas Spain

Parking and Associated Adventures

Elisa recommended a large underground parking lot on the opposite side of the hill on the outskirts of town called Parking Los Caños.  It was free.  There was a gate and a booth for collecting payment, but the gate was up and the booth wasn’t manned.  I don’t know if this is usual or not – we were there during off-season.

Street parking is not available near the house, and I would definitely not recommend trying to drive on the narrow streets of central Setenil anyway. I watched many locals drive their cars backwards up certain streets to reach their tricky destinations.  

It’s a 250 meter walk from the parking lot to the house.  It’s not a flat walk however.  In fact, we had a bit of an adventure getting there. Google Maps took me up a steeper hill and then down all the stairs of Calle Herrería …with all our luggage.  The flatter route is at the south end of the parking lot where the wooden staircase is.   

Stairway leading up from Parking Los Caños to the town of Setenil de las Bodegas in Spain

Based on personal experience, our upper and lower backs strongly recommend finding the house and the easier route first.  And then haul in your luggage. 

Be Aware of Siesta Time

Businesses in Setenil de las Bodegas very clearly observe the Spanish tradition of late afternoon siesta shutdown.  By the time we parked, struggled through the streets with our luggage, and situated ourselves inside the cave house, it was 4pm.   

I went out to find a nearby market for a quick snack, and struggled to find much open.  In the bigger Spanish towns we stayed in, we could always find stores that didn’t close during the late afternoon hours.  

This was more difficult in the smaller Setenil.  At first, I thought perhaps, the whole area was mostly residential.  But as I walked around again in the early evening, businesses began to show themselves for their evening hours. 

A Cave Base?

Could Setenil be used as a base for exploring the area and other White Villages?  Absolutely!  We loved Ronda, and staying next to the bridge was an unforgettable experience. But, staying at this beautiful cave house in this wonderful town of Setenil was also unforgettable.

So, in retrospect, we would have switched things around. One day in Ronda and two days staying at what is now our favorite all-time vacation rental – this cave house in Setenil de las Bodegas. 

You can click here read about another great experience we had while traveling in Spain – taking a Cooking Class in Seville. And here to read about 3 Great Day Trips from Seville or about Searching for the Best Alhambra Viewpoints

And you can click here to read about another favorite vacation rental of ours – The Sevier Valley Ranch & Cattle Company in Southern Utah.

31 Comments

  • Peggy Zipperer

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting this post and it did not disappoint! This is definitely my kind of town and accomodation. I am in awe of these pictures – the home, restaurants and the ravine are beautiful. And Calle Cuevas del Sol is darling! Adding this to my future Spain itinerary for sure.

      • RJ

        Those cave houses look interesting, I’ve seen the odd one in other places but not on that scale. The cheese platter looks delicious too.

        • thethoroughtripper

          Cave house communities can definitely be found in other parts of the world, and the Sacromonte district of Granada also features cave houses and restuarants, though not nearly as cool as Setenil

  • Becky Exploring

    I loved reading this article, Steven! Setenil looks like such a cool town. I’d seen a couple of your photos on social media and wondered how exactly those buildings were in a cave but seeing the photos in this post helped me visualize it better. The way the cave overhangs Calle Cueves del Sol is so picturesque and I would love to have breakfast there. Your accommodations looked wonderful and I especially loved the tilework in the kitchen.

  • kmf

    Beautiful and so cool! I really want to visit the white villages in Spain. And definitely adding Setenil de las Bodegas and a cave-house stay!

  • Paul (Paul Passing Through)

    Such a unique place! It looks like such a scenic and memorable place from your photos and descriptions. Are all the dwellings manmade then or are there some where its natural cave? I’m also curious if there are any special enhancements to the architectural supports that you noticed during your stay? BTW, I want that cheese platter!

    • thethoroughtripper

      I think that the original cave houses were natural and then manmade caves were added over the centuries. Ours didn’t have any additional supports that I could see, but I could be wrong about that

  • Elena at TravelByExample

    A great example of how something good comes out of something bad – you couldn’t book a hotel for three nights, but then you got a chance to discover Setenil de las Bodega 🙂

    Such a great experience staying in the cave house. Though I feel I would be consious walking under the rock hanging above my head :))

    • thethoroughtripper

      I wondered about the same thing, but I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. Our was quite spacious. We toured some smaller cave houses in Granada, and those would have been difficult to stay in

  • Stefan

    For cavers like E & me this little village seems to be the perfect place. I love how you can see the bare rock wall from inside the dwellings and how whole streets appear to get swallowed up by the rock face. As usual, your blog post contains lots of lovely food. I’ve recently been experimenting with oxtail, so that oxtail risotto with asparagus and mushrooms would be a dish would be top of my list.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Oxtail is such a common ingredient in Andalucia. We had it a few times. This oxtail was cooked the best of any. Very tender.

  • Mitch - Very Tasty World

    We visited Ronda and Seville on a short trip earlier this year, and we clearly missed out by not visiting Setenil. What a wonderful place. It’s amazing how the mountain dominates so many of the streets and buildings. The cave house looked like a brilliant place to stay. I wish I had eaten before viewing the pictures of your dinner – I’m feeling very hungry now!

    • thethoroughtripper

      I remember seeing your pictures of Ronda on Instagram and they really whet my appetite for our trip a few weeks later. Shame you didn’t get a chance to see Setenil, but there is so much to see in Andalucia

  • wendy white

    Ok so I am saving this for when we visit Andalusia, a big item on my Europe bucket list. I would have thought of staying in Ronda but this looks incredible. I absolutely want to stay i this cave house in Setenil de las Bodegas, it looks so cool and an amazing experience.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Setenil is so close to Ronda that you could definitely stay there and just pop over for a day in Ronda if you wanted

  • Vanessa Shields

    Wow what a cool and unique place to stay! It’s incredible how they built the homes and stores into the mountain side. I’d love to stay in one of these one day! Oh and that food looks so good…

  • Angelica

    Hello! Found your post trying to finalize our Spain itinerary. Thought we were going to stay in Ronda but your post has me torn! I have saved the link to Casa Cueva but do you have a link to the apartment you stayed at in Ronda? Would love to compare. Thanks!

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