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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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….
…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.
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.
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.
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.
The Grand Tour
Casa Cueva El Arrabal has three levels.
Main Floor – living room, kitchen, bathroom.
Second Floor – Master bedroom and bathroom along with a small balcony.
Top Floor. Large open bedroom with three single beds. The ceilings are lower up on top.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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….
Then an appetizer of roasted artichoke, with Iberian ham, pumpkin hummus, and a poached egg….
For our main courses…oxtail risotto with asparagus and mushrooms
…and tuna steak with onion confit & yucca chips.
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.
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.
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.
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.