Of all of the pueblo blancos we’ve visited in Andalucia (and that’s a lot…thanks, COVID), Medina Sidonia was perhaps the surprise stand out. Please don’t get us wrong, there are MUCH worse places to be confined than Southern Spain, but after 6 months even the most incredible white villages begin to seem a little less spectacular. Medina Sidonia, however, snapped us right back out of the funk. Much like Dorothy in the original Wizard of Oz, it felt as if we emerged from the tornado, only to open the door and find a black-and-white COVID world suddenly filled with technicolor. Hyperbole, yes, but Medina truly was a breath of fresh air.
Medina Sidonia is sometimes called the oldest city in Europe. We can’t vouch for the authenticity of that statement, as we’ve seen several other cities in Southern Spain claim the same title. However, there is no doubt that the city served as an essential military depot that was originally founded by the Phoenicians. Even its name points to its ancient origins: Medina (“city” in Arabic), Sidonia (meaning Sidon…who was a Phonecian), City of Sidon. This dates the settlement way back to 2nd century B.C. Second. Century. B.C. WHAT???
Planning an adventure to Medina Sidonia? Below are some great ways to spend time in this pueblo blanco!
Iglesia de Santa Maria
For such a tiny little town, the Iglesia de Santa Maria is an extremely large 16th century church, so much so that it reminded us more of a cathedral than a church. Like many Catholic churches in Southern Spain, it was built on the site of an old mosque. Walk inside and you are met with a huge, intricately carved main alter along with gothic style carvings.
The level of grandeur and intricacy of the statues and artwork definitely caught us off guard. WOW. It turns out there is good reason for such a large church here, as the high clergy and bishops of Cádiz took refuge here when Cádiz was under siege. Gotta impress those VIPs, right?
As part of the small entry fee you can also get access to the bell tower. The very tight and narrow circular staircase is a little claustrophobic (watch your head!), but the view of the entire town and green surrounding fields is definitely worth it.
- Hours: 1100 – 1400 and 1700 – 2000
- Admission: 2.5€/Adult
Castillo de Medina Sidonia
The Castillo de Medina Sidonia is only a short uphill walk from the Iglesia de Santa Maria above. It may be named “Castillo,” but the site was actually the home of at least three separate fortifications: a Roman castle, and Arab citadel, and a medieval castle. The outlying supportive structures and walls are relatively well preserved, but the central castle itself is mostly in ruin.
We were told that it would take 40 minutes to walk the property, but ended up doing it in about 25 – 30 minutes without having to rush. Once you climb to the top, its easy to see why this area was such an important military outpost, as on a clear day you can see everything from Arcos de la Frontera, to Jerez, to the straights of Gibraltar and northern coast of Africa.
On you’re way back into town, you’ll walk towards the Iglesia de Santa Maria for another dreamy view. If you time your visits to both sites right you can do them back to back. If you miss the morning slot, no worries, both sites open back up after siesta for a period as well.
- Hours: Daily, 1000 – 1400 and reopens on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1600 – 1800
- Admission: 2€/Adult, Children 12 years old and younger are free
Arco de la Pastora
One of three passageways into the original city, Arco de la Pastora (Arch of the Shepherdess) is pretty hard to miss. It’s actually right next to El Show restaurant (which we highly recommend, see below!), and the outdoor seating area looks directly up at the arch (see the tents in the photo above? Yup, that’s it!). Its name comes from in a picture of a shepherd that is found on the inside of the arch.
I’m not sure the playground (Parque infantil) that is adjacent to El Caminillo Park is worth a trip in of itself as it’s pretty small, but it is a nice stop at the end of the day to let your littles release a little energy before the drive home. We ended up finding free street parking very close to this spot and that’s how we came across it. Overall, its relatively small, but fairly well maintained and often has a little vendor selling snacks and candy.
- Hours: Daily, 0700 – 1800
- Admission: Free
Great food. Great atmosphere. Great price. Honestly we can’t recommend this fabulous eatery enough. Reservations would be a good idea as this spot does get fairly busy, but even if you don’t get around to making reservations we would still recommend swinging by and putting your name on the list as it’s a fabulous spot. Perhaps grab a drink while you wait outside or hang out and admire the Arco de la Pastura. We ate across the street under some lovely awnings. The air was fresh, staff eager to please, and the food some of the best we have had to date in Spain!
Speaking of food, as we add photos to this page it appears that our family likes orange food. Rest assured this was just some odd coincidence. Ha!
To the left, hands down the best Salmorejo we have had in Spain thus far. Honestly, if you have never tasted this cold tomato soup, you are missing out. Even Dom (who hates tomatoes) thought it was amazing. You know you are in Spain when even the soup is garnished with jamón and a generous layer of rich olive oil.
In the middle, is a prawn + octopus salad. It’s basically a delicious potato salad topped with tender octopus and shrimp. Sounds simple, but it was soooo good.
And of course, the wee ones. This eatery does not have a specific children’s menu, however, there are many choices that we feel would strike the fancy of young ones. As such, consider ordering one entree and having the littles split as the portions are generous. Ours split the macaroni and cheese and were both extremely content.
All round everyone’s belly was happy. Two thumbs up for El Show!
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 1200 – 2400. Closed Monday.
A trip to Medina Sidonia wouldn’t be complete without trying some of the town’s famous traditional dessert treats, Alfajores. Their name comes from the word “alaju,” meaning “fillings.” Made in a traditional Arab way, the cylindrical treats are made with honey, almonds, hazelnuts, flour, and spices. They are often individually wrapped, making them great to take back home or split while you are out exploring the town. You can get them from pretty much any sweet shop (pastelería), and can buy them individually or in larger packs/boxes.