The Pueblos Blancos have a close relationship with the natural environment that surrounds them and the products obtained from it. To highlight only the gastronomy of the Sierra de Cádiz would be an understatement, as many municipalities have for centuries been involved in the artisan tradition, which is a fundamental part of the local economy.
Through the Artisan Route we will visit different villages in the region that have become benchmarks for the quality of their exports. The route will take us through the towns of Villamartín, Arcos de la Frontera, Algar, Prado del Rey, Ubrique, Villaluenga del Rosario and Grazalema.
Our starting point will be Villamartín, a municipality which, due to its close links with sectors such as livestock farming, preserves a strong tradition of saddlery. From centuries ago, to the present day, the production of articles related to horsemanship has been going on for centuries. Boots, saddles and chaps are just some of the most popular products on offer in local shops.
The ceramics industry has recently taken off in Villamartín. Boosted by its development in the streets and squares of the municipality, production is being exported to different parts of the international geography. It is worth mentioning the work carried out in the Puerta de Villamartín, located in the French town of Bellegarde, twinned with the town of Cádiz.
Arcos de la Frontera, a municipality which, in the craft sector, has achieved optimum levels of development, making a niche for itself in the market recently.
In Arcos different types of craftsmanship are carried out, of which the most outstanding are:
Ceramic work is very popular in the town, where different pottery workshops have been producing different styles for decades.
Wrought-iron work has been a feature of Arcos for centuries. And the fact is that such a traditional element in Andalusian architecture as ironwork cannot be missing in local manufacture.
The manufacture of products from esparto grass and palm as a trade is still preserved in the town. There are many shops selling items made from this raw material.
We can also find paintings and engravings, miniature farm implements and shops where you can buy typical Arcos pastries.
Craftsmanship in Algar is based on the leather industry, which has been growing and prospering over the last few decades. The Pielrovi workshop, which has worked with major fashion brands, is located in the centre of the town, where you can buy products made with top quality raw materials.
The next stop on our tour is Prado del Rey, a small village in the region that specialises in two craft sectors. On the one hand, the ancient tradition of chair making, a rustic type of work using beech and pine wood and vegetable fibre, is maintained. Although it is true that in recent years new models have been experimented with to diversify production.
The leather goods sector also stands out, which has been emerging in the town since the 1960s and is now the main economic driving force. The origin of this development comes from the search for workforce in Prado del Rey by the leather workshops of Ubrique. At the end of the seventies, many of the craftsmen decided to create their own workshops and today there are 60 companies established.
We could not do this route without visiting Ubrique, a town that has earned worldwide recognition for its great tradition of leather work, which dates back to the period of the Caliphate’s greatest splendour. The importance that leatherwork has acquired in Ubrique is evident in the construction of training centres such as the Escuela de Artesanos de la Piel, the Movex Foundation and the creation of the Permanent Exhibition “Hands and Magic in Leather”.
The Junta of Andalucía recognises the merit for the experience, influence and contributions to the sector of some professionals through the Master Craftsman distinction. In Ubrique, this title has been awarded to Juan Luis Casillas Lara.
After passing through Ubrique, we will go to Villaluenga, a small town where the cork work stands out, thanks to the wealth of cork oak groves in the surrounding area. All kinds of products are made from the bark of these trees, from furniture to decorative items.
The abundance of sheep has also stimulated the production of wool products and especially the manufacture of cheese. The raising of the payoya goat, a breed native to the hill region, has become part of the local culture. Several shops in Villaluenga are dedicated to the production and sale of Payoya cheeses, which are handmade and of great flavour and quality. If you visit Villaluenga at the beginning of April, you can visit the Andalusian Artisan Cheese Fair and throughout the year the Cheese Museum is open to the public.
Our tour of the best artisan production centres in the region will take us to Grazalema, our last stop. The low temperatures ecosystem and wet winters that makes up the Sierra of Grazalema Natural Park has become the ideal habitat for the Grazalema Merino sheep. This breed is used for meat, wool for making blankets and cloths and, above all, for its milk. Dairy products, of which the cheeses are the most popular, have earned an international reputation.
Made from Merino sheep’s and Payoya goat’s milk, the artisanal production has become a valuable heritage passed down through many generations.
To get a closer look at the process of making blankets and fabrics, we can visit the Grazalema Textile Museum.
One of Andalusia’s renowned Master Craftswomen resides in Grazalema, Montserrat Hidalgo, who has dedicated more than three decades to ceramics. The distinction, awarded in 2012, recognises her promotion of the craft, her training and knowledge acquired and her involvement in competitions and fairs.