I first found Guadix a couple of years ago by accident while I was wandering around Spain with my backpack and camera. A friend in Granada helped me get a free stay in a hotel in return for photos of the place, which they wanted to put on their website. Next morning, I hopped on a bus to Guadix without knowing much about the town and I ended up in the most random place!
To make things funnier, the hotel wanted photos of their donkey and other animals for social media, so essentially, I got a free room for a donkey portrait session. Not a bad trade. But what’s so special about Guadix? Well, a neighborhood of the town is built into the rocks. Yup, you read that right. They dig caves into the sandstone formations and turn them in to houses! There are these amazing orange sandstone formations all around within and around town, forming mounds, cliffs and little canyons.
Today many of these houses are quite fancy, with beautiful kitchens, big TVs and comfortable living spaces. Because they are inside the ground, they don’t really need much heating and cooling, as they stay a constant temperature all year round. These houses are called ‘cuevas’ which literally means caves. The hotel I stayed in was like that – each room was a little cueva. It was super nice to stay in, especially in the 40ish Celsius summer heat when inside it was half that temperature without any air conditioning!
A Bit of History
Don’t worry, I had to Wikipedia this too! So, I’ll keep it short… But basically, Guadix has been inhabited at least since the Roman times. Eventually the Moorish came and of course they got thrown out by the Spaniards in the end. Wow, that was a truly terrible explanation! But the point is that all this makes for a very unique mix of architecture and cultures. The city has a massive Moorish castle right in the middle of it, but it also has a huge Cathedral, a bunch of other fancy churches and a really interesting mix of Moorish and Christian architectural elements. Then of course there are the cave houses, which are simply awesome!
Ever since that first visit, I wanted to go back and now that I live in Granada, it’s become rather easy. It’s an hour bus ride away. Hanna, Kürsat (the other two EVS volunteers) and I went on a little trip there in September, but that was actually a culinary trip that was organized for students and we just visited places making wine, cheese and olive oil, meaning we didn’t actually see the town itself. So, we decided to come back in February to see the place properly.
I’ve already seen most of what we saw, but it was awesome to be back. We explored the ‘regular’ town first, seeing the big cathedral (the inside is not worth the 5 Euro entry fee…), all the windy old streets, the Moorish castle from the outside and then we headed up to the most interesting area: the cave house district. There is a whole neighborhood which consists of these cave houses and they are very popular in the nearby countryside as well of course.
The neighborhood feels very surreal. You can just walk on top of people’s houses, because each little mound you climb has a couple of houses inside. Really, it is like a big settlement on Tatooine or if the hobbits moved out to the desert! First time I was there, it felt like a very exotic and unique place. It was hard to believe I was still in Europe. The rock formations are more reminiscent of Utah or Colorado than Europe, although since then I’ve found similar places in other parts of Spain and in Bulgaria for example! But still, this place will never cease to amaze me.
It is hard to see why tourists wouldn’t flock to a place like this: it has amazing wine, nice local cheese and other produce, an insane landscape around it, with hiking and biking trails and 4x4 routes, plus of course there is the super unique accommodation. After all, how many of you can say that you’ve slept in a cave house? Yet despite all of this, the place barely gets any visitors. Okay, I was there last time in February, but even in the summer, it felt quite empty. There are always a few tourists wandering around, but I find it perplexing why more people aren’t coming.
There is of course some tourism going on and many of the locals are starting to cater to that, with some of the cuevas being turned into AirBnBs and small businesses are popping up. Near the more popular tourist routes, there are some small cave house museums, which are essentially people opening up their traditional cave houses for photos. Some have an entry fee, and some people just invite you in and try to make a little money off postcards, selling local honey, cheese and cold beverages. It is definitely worth seeing one of these!
The locals are generally very hospitable – yes, some will try to make some money off tourism, but they are super proud of their unique houses and lifestyle. If you are lucky though, you can bump into someone who will literally invite you into their houses just to show you around. We were walking down a small dead-end street, where most tourists don’t go and a local guy walking his dogs just started chatting to us. We tried our best to keep up with our broken Spanish and soon he invited us into his beautiful cave house, proudly showing us around. He was not trying to sell anything, he was just stoked to see us enjoy this unique place. He also had the cutest chubby bulldog. Definitely a cool guy!
This kind of hospitality will of course become rarer as more tourists arrive, but the place could really use a boost – yes, there are plenty of nice cuevas, which are in great condition with all the creature comforts, but there is also a lot of extreme poverty. In certain areas people literally live in cave houses without running water or electricity. The town is littered with houses with ‘for sale’ signs on them and many are crumbling and abandoned. While I don’t have the facts for this, I’m guessing that many of the young people have moved to Granada to study in the university and then stayed for work. The place could certainly use an economic boost!
More people need to come see this unique and awesome place – and if you want to be cool and hipster, do it now before it becomes too popular. I will definitely be back with Aisling soon to explore some of the hiking trails around the town, as there is plenty of interesting nature nearby!
PS: Guadix is an excellent place to spot cool old cars!