Almonaster la Real is the ideal local centre for off-grid living, it is close enough to walk to, small enough not to spoil the beautiful natural surroundings.
Unbelievably friendly too. This is because unlike most places these days children grow up here, stay, find a partner, have families of their own, and there is a special atmosphere of calm and tranquillity. Like one big family, where incomers are automatically welcomed as kin.
Currently there are 800 all-year-round residents here. At weekends, and during the numerous public holidays, this number increases. Most days there are coach-loads of tourists too, drawn either by the authentic Moorish architecture (including allegedly the oldest mosque in Spain), to set out on one of the numerous (guided if required) walking/ mountain bike routes in the vast surrounding countryside, or to hunt for mushrooms and sweet chestnuts.
Facilities have therefore developed to cater for all these diverse needs.
● nursery/ primary school ● alternative school (15kms away) ● sports centre ● health centre ● outdoor swimming pool ● library ● grocery shops ● bakery ● restaurants ● bars ● banks and ATM ● post office ● social services office ● chemist ● wi-fi ● builders merchants ● car mechanic/ workshop ● all the building trades ● alternative medical practitioners ● self-catering accommodation ● three level campervan parking sites ● campsite (in nearby Cortegana) ● a small weekly market (Tuesday morning) ● computer repair ● taxi ● daily bus service to Sevilla and Portugal ● town hall ● bodega (under construction)
plus the newly opened MICRO MUSEUM, located on the path around the mosque (see map below)
· ANNUAL FESTIVALS
CRUCES DE MAYO 5-9 May
ROMERIA DE SANTA EULALIA 19-21 May
ALMONASTER LOCAL FIESTA 11-13 August
CULTURAL WEEK end of August
ISLAMICAS 13-15 October
Also, within 30 minutes by car, are most of the other essentials for resident and tourist alike. Including: vets/ 24hr emergency health care/ dentists/ opticians/ farming supplies in bulk/ etc.
As well as any number of other outdoor pursuits. Of which I would especially recommend horse riding the forest trails with PICADERO LA SUERTE.
The nearest petrol station (which also sells bottled gas) is in Cortegana (8kms).
Sevilla (airport/ AVE train) is 120kms (72 miles) away. The beach 140kms (84 miles). Border with Portugal 45kms (27 miles).
· GETTING HERE
From FARO airport (in Portugal) there are very cheap flights from the UK and other EU countries (as low as 24 euros return), however there is no direct public transport link here, so you really need to hire a car, and it is about a 3hr drive (220km).
From SEVILLA (120 km) there is a bus to Almonaster, but only ONE a day, at 4pm (except Friday when there is another later). From the airport to the Plaza de Armas bus station it’s a 10 km (35 minutes) bus ride (4 euros), then you buy a ticket (at the DAMUS bus company window) for ALMONASTER LA REAL (about 12 euros), remembering to change buses at the ARACENA bus-station.
can be checked by clicking here, though it is most reliable only for the next two days.
· TOWN MAP
· EATING OUT
In a bar/ restaurant there are basically three options. Tapas (small plates of one thing, at around 2-3 euros each), which are very cheap and usually of sufficient quantity for two to fill you up. Cold and hot. Montadito, which is like a tapa, but with bread and usually heated. Courses (raciones/ platos), which can turn out very expensive indeed, typically three courses setting you back 30+ euros a head. Bars serve tapas and montaditos all year round, but restaurants restrict them to the bar area and outside in good weather, from around 1pm until 2pm and 8.30pm onwards..
· WHAT TO SEE
Almonaster la Real is a very old settlement, people have lived here continuously since pagan times. Thankfully much of the past has been retained and maintained, which means walking around the streets is just like going back in time. Most of the houses inside are like this too. The church/ mesquita at the top of the hill gives a really good idea of all the different historical periods. The church in the town also has been lovingly restored.
There are two other chapels also. Plus a communal fountain/ spring and washing area.
Outside the town and you are immediately into the countryside, with many circular routes and others heading off to towns nearby, mostly forestry tracks. The Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche Natural Park stretches for 184,000 hectares, most of it is forested hills and mountains.
This part of Spain, being one of the lowest populated and least unspoilt regions, is in many respects pretty much unchanged from the days not so long ago when there were no roads and the only way of life was a rural self-sufficient one. Still there exists a vast array of diverse plant and wild life. Including 189 types of bird (for example: eagles/ hawks/ vultures/ peregrine falcon/ osprey/ kite/ kestrel/ owls/ and griffin). As well as the more usual other creatures: frog/ toad/ newt/ dragonfly/ butterfly/ salamander/ lizard/ otters/ snakes/ mongoose/ wild boar/ deer/ goats/ cattle/ pigs/ beech martens/ polecats/ genets/ weasels/ badgers/ bats/ wild sheep…..From the top of nearby peak San Cristobal you can see a 360 degree panorama that stretches as far as the coast (on a clear day) and Portugal.
· bar/ restaurant EL RINCÓN DEL CURRO
Everyone in town says this is the best restaurant in the area. Sadly I haven’t been able to confirm that yet, but intend to try their tapas at the next possible opportunity. They have a menu totally in english.
· THE MCINNES ENGLISH LIBRARY & MAIN LOCAL LIBRARY
The former bequeathed by a former resident and added to by english residents, this small library of 2000+ books in english is a veritable treasure trove. Part of the main library which has just been relocated and hopefully will be open to the public very soon.
· Moroccan café AL ANDALUS
The owners Malika (who is Moroccan) & Pepe (Spanish) have probably the best place in town for a drink/ snack, meal. Open every day and all day/ evening. The view from their terrace can’t be beaten. Their Moroccan mint tea is to be recommended, and coffee is the Portuguese DELTA brand (the best). Opens at 9am. Earlier breakfasts (to suit any diet) can be arranged by phoning the day before (00 34 627 794 162), same goes for full meals. Vegetarian friendly.
Small modern apartment block with everything you need for self-catering from 2 adults +.
· bar/ restaurant LAS PALMERAS
Opposite the holiday apartments. Can be pricey and service slow.
· bar/ restaurant/ hotel CASA GARCIA
The hotel is closed currently but hopefully will re-open soon.
· holiday house CASA LA TORRE
This is a lovely place to rent for a couple of days, except for one tiny thing, its proximity to the church and its clock/ bells, which chime every half-hour, deafening.
· butcher CASA LLANES
I don’t buy meat so can’t comment.
· bar CAFÉ CON ARTE/ cafeteria EL SITIO
Both sadly have closed, but fingers crossed a new owner will be found soon.
· bar ALMONASTER
Very popular with locals, the tapas are good and cheap, can be noisy when busy. Closed on Mondays.
· newsagents/ shop MANUELA
Owner Manuela speaks excellent English (though has a hearing problem so please speak clearly and slowly). Sells daily newspapers and magazines, plus all sorts of household items/ stationery/ and clothes.
· post office
Note: ONLY open for two hours a day (8.30am-10.30am).
· bakery/ grocery PANADERÍA
For fresh fruit & vegetables this is the best bet, but with only two deliveries a week (Monday & Thursday) you have to be there early. Tiny choice of groceries + frozen food + alcohol. Their bread is not the best and the cakes tend to be expensive/ light on substance.
· bar SOCIEDAD UNIÓN AMISTOSA
Opens earliest and all day every day.
· chemist FARMACIA
Next-day or 48hr delivery of most things if not in stock, including homeopathic remedies.
· mini-supermarket TOVAR
This is an old photo, the supermarket has been totally revamped since. As always excellent service, from its owners Evaristo & Juani and very well-stocked (don’t forget to look downstairs as well), with cheese cut to size at the vegetable counter.
· events venue PLAZA DEL LLANES
Where most outdoor concerts and half of the annual CRUZ DE MAYO take place.
If you have any problems using this during the bank’s opening hours, the manager Eduardo speaks perfect english. If your card doesn’t work come back later, as it is totally dependent on the internet signal, reception (as with mobile phones too) is not good here.
· tobacconist/ shop ESTANCO
Tiny and difficult to see what they have in stock, but has a little bit of everything so well-worth asking.
· town hall AYUNTAMIENTO
Has copies of the local free newspaper VIVA LA SIERRA and the monthly what’s on guide for Sevilla EL GIRALDILLO. At least one of the staff speaks english.
· computer repairs S.I.S.H.
Rafael (Rafi) is a whizz-kid and god-send for sorting out problems with new (and not so new) technology (including phones), so if you have any problems you can feel safe in his hands. If the shop is closed ring the bell, he lives upstairs.
· grocery/ hardware CASA ALFONSO
A very strange place, part old-fashioned grocers part hardware, run by a real old Mr Grumpy who would rather you not be there.
· bar/ restaurant MESÓN ISABEL II
Under new management. The food in the past was always good (and some of the menu in english), but I’ve always found the space too claustrophobic to relax, and been short-changed on several occasions. Vegetarians catered for.
· crafts/ gifts TALLER DE CERAMÍCA
An Aladdin’s cave of locally made things, if not open ask at MESÓN ISABEL II
·natural spring FUENTE DEL CONCEJO
If you don’t like the taste of mains water this is perfectly safe to drink.
· bar/ restaurant/ accommodation POSADA EL CAMINO
This is a short walk from the town. The bar has a very nice atmosphere, especially in winter, apparently the food is very good.
There are three designated areas, two on the main road, one just out of town (near Posada El Camino) which has the best views, and all level enough for campervans.
· OPENING TIMES
Please be aware that opening hours of shops and bars here is very erratic (even the locals can’t work it out), so expect the unexpected, according to the season/ fiestas/ and local & national holidays.
for a real taste of what it is really like to live here, these videos are a perfect way of sampling the creativity and energy. Made by my friend Carlos, the first is a lighthearted look at the cooking of his grandparents. In spanish but easy to understand. The second is, well just have a look, it is beyond translation.