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11 min.

El Rocío is different. It’s like a small parallel world in the heart of Andalusia and I deeply love it!

I actually postponed this post for years as I’m pretty jealous of this village… I know, it’s silly, but when you fall in love with a place, and it becomes your own refuge to refuel, you’d want it to stay just the same.

El Rocío is a dusty small village, the end of the road from Seville and in the other direction from the Portuguese border. A road that sees thousands of pilgrims riding or walking or driving to town to worship the Blanca Paloma (i.e., White Dove) in a massive pilgrimage.

My brother moved there almost by mistake. He was driving on his way to Conil de la Frontera and stopped in El Rocío for the night. When he woke up the following morning, he realized he ended up in an almost surreal place and decided to stay longer… much longer!

With his first messages, he started to send me pictures of a lovely village, looking like a western movie set, and then a short video of stunning horses all around, and I thought, “this must be the place.”

This is my fifth year flying there as soon as I can, to relax and escape reality.

About El Rocío

El Rocío is part of the municipality of Almonte, just a quick drive away, and to me is one of the most charming places in the province of Huelva, which I would recommend anyway.

The village is surrounded by marshes and swamps and is the main door to the Doñana National Park. It’s a small world where horses have the priority over everything else, where religious ardor keeps impressing me, where you can smell candles everywhere, where streets are sandy – and a bit dusty – where pretty small white houses follow each other and brotherhoods headquarters stand at every corner, where cowboy boots and Seville style sensual dresses color and enhance the atmosphere, where beer costs nothing and guitars play night and day during weekends…

Sightseeing in El Rocío is really worth it, even if you’re not a horse person nor a religious one.

What to see in El Rocío

Well, first of all, I recommend you slowly walk from one sandy alley to the other, enjoying every pretty house tiny detail, the public horse training spaces scattered all around, and cool people having a cold beer at the counter, on horseback!

Do enter some souvenir shops around the church: they sell souvenirs related to the pilgrimage and the latest flamenco outfits and horse riding accessories.

Hermitage of El Rocío

The first visit needs to be to the shiny white Hermitage of El Rocío, a monumental cathedral conceived as an Andalusian farmhouse, topped by a locksmith cross. Built between 1963 and 1969 on the main square, it attracts more than one million visitors every year.

Inside, you can see the impressive baroque-style altarpiece housing the most revered image of all Andalusia: the White Dove, Our Lady of Rocío, the town patron. It was sculpted at the end of the 13th century, originally in Gothic style. It was destroyed during the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt again in 1969. She is dressed in rich fabrics, following the Austrian court fashion.

Across the street, they even built a Candle Room, where people line up to lit the wax candles bought at the kiosk next door. It’s impressive: thousands of candles, that light, smell, and dyed black ceiling and walls, and that religious fervor. I’m agnostic but always found this place touching.

The City Hall

The City Hall is on the Virgen del Rocío square and was once a Dominican convent. The facade shows the coat of arms of the Medina Sidonia.

Church of the Assumption

It’s a 15th-century parish church on the Plaza del Rocío, rebuilt in the 17th century, Baroque’s predominant styles.

Marismillas Palace

Located in the heart of the village, this palace is the favorite holiday residence of the presidents of the Spanish government and foreign Heads of States visiting Andalusia.

Plaza del Acebuchal

It’s the square surrounded by cool bars and restaurants, pretty hotels, and presided over by a centennial wild olive tree of impressive proportions. Well, all around it, there are several others I really find huge!

Puente del Ajolí

Before entering the village, you cross the Ajoli Bridge, or Puente del Rey, where pilgrims traditionally gather to sing along the Simpecados during the Camino.

On the pavement, you can see the plates with the names of the different Brotherhoods that cross it on their pilgrimage to the Blanca Paloma.

The Paseo Marismeño

The Swamps Walk starts in front of the Hermitage and ends almost at the Camino de la “Raya Real” entrance in the forest.

All along, you get signs with pictures and descriptions helping you fully enjoy your bird-watching experience as El Rocío is home to many different species and beautiful flamingos.

Francisco Bernis Bird Observation Center

If flora and fauna are your passion, you can visit the Francisco Bernis Bird Observation Center, located 350 meters east of the Hermitage of El Rocío on the Paseo Marismeño.

The center – closed on Monday – will provide you with plenty of useful information and even with high-quality binoculars to observe the different species that inhabit the park.

Horses in El Rocío

I told you, horses have the priority here, and this is why I love this place, named since 1992 Aldea Internacional del Caballo (i.e., International Horse Village).

Upon entering the village, you realize right away that alleys and squares are actually sandy paths, where horses and horse-drawn carriages move freely and effortless.

On each side, lovely white houses line up, with pretty flowery balconies supported by cast-iron columns, courtyards, and beams for horses to be secured.

Bars and taverns have outdoor tables at the appropriate height for riders to enjoy their beers and meals without having to get off the horse.

To me, this is an idea of paradise and, unless you really don’t like horses, I recommend a ride till the entrance of the Doñana National Park, along with the pilgrims “Raya Real” Road, passing through the pine forest know as “El Chaparral” to the Vado del Quema. A relaxing and cool experience, allowing you to see deers and other wild animals.

You can book a tour at the Info Tourist Office downtown or at your hotel front desk.

Saca de las Yeguas

A horse-related impressive centuries-old traditional event is the Saca de las Yeguas (i.e., Take out the Mares), scheduled every year at the end of June.

During the weekend, ranchers gather mares and foals of the wild herds in the Doñana marshes and take them to Almonte through El Rocío. There, they mark the foals and trim their mane and tail. Some are sold, but most are returned to the marshes.

© La Malvasía

La Romería de El Rocío

The famous massive pilgrimage occurs every year on the Monday following Pentecost (50 days after Holy Saturday).

The peak of the celebration is on early Sunday morning, after the parade of endless carriages adorned with flowers when camps are lit with candles and torches, and believers drink, sing, and dance to the rhythm of tambourines and flamenco guitars.

Pilgrims reach the village on horseback and carriages through four different caminos: the Sanlúcar road from Cádiz, crossing the Doñana National Park, and the Plains from Almonte, the road of Moguer from Huelva, and the Sevillian road.

Every seven-year then, on the night of August 19 to 20, the Blanca Paloma is carried on shoulders along the 15 km road of the Plains, between pine and sand, to the Church of the Assumption in Almonte. To make this journey, the Virgin abandons the Queen’s usual dress for “Pastora,” the travel suit used in the 17th century.

The White Dove comes back to the village nine months later, a week before the pilgrimage when almost a million pilgrims move to El Rocío.

© Oficina Turistica Almonte

This tradition, dating from 1813, thanks to the Virgin for having rid Almonte of French troops during the Napoleonic invasion. The next one is in 2020!

Parque Nacional de Doñana

One of the main attractions of El Rocío, beside the pilgrimage, is the Doñana National Park: beautiful lagoons, dunes, swamps, weeds, wild animals – such as the Iberian lynx – and 27 km of virgin sandy beaches.

The park was established in 1969, then enlarged. In 1994 it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO and became a Biosphere Reserve.

You can access it only by joining a guided tour. There are several options, from the classic group tour to the private ones. No matter which one you select, I recommend you book well ahead!

Where to sleep

I can recommend two different accommodations in town: el Pequeño Rocío, right outside the village, and the Hotel La Malvasía, an old manor house right downtown, with its own stables.

The first option is a big hotel, with rooms and several sizes of apartments. The first time there, I rented a two floors apartment with my dad, and it was tremendous and convenient. Their breakfast is quite basic, but dinner is always excellent!

The second one is more intimate and romantic, having you feel part of local traditions and mood. Plus, it’s right in front of one of the many public equestrian fields, and you can spend hours admiring stunning Andalusian horses warming up or training.

Where and what to eat

Local food is actually typical Andalusian food, but I recommend prawns, lobsters, and seafood in general. My beloved soups: goose-based Sopa Marismeña, the Sopeao (same ingredients as gazpacho), and the local Almonte stew. In El Rocío you can even taste alfajores with dulce de leche!

Restaurants and bars are scattered all around the village, and they more or less offer the same menu, but at different levels… here are those I recommend:

Restaurante Toruño is on the Plaza del Acebuchal and has beautiful stained glass windows with views of the marsh.

Restaurante Cristina, with tables outside and a good choice of grilled meats and seafood. Their soups are excellent!

La Taberna del Rey, perfect for a pit-stop on horseback. Their sandwiches are yummy, and they serve a good lager beer.

Bar La Garrocha, on the main square, is also a good option for a quick drink or some tapas.

Restaurante Aires de Doñana, on the other side of the marsh with views of the marsh and the hermitage.

Getting there

There are regular buses from both Seville and Huelva. From Sevilla, you get direct buses (one hour), but from Huelva, you have to take a bus to Almonte (just over an hour) and then from Almonte to El Rocío (about twenty minutes). The whole trip costs less than € 10 with Damas.

Day trips and visits around El Rocío

A short drive or bus ride from El Rocío, you have plenty of sightseeing options, from Palos de la Frontera to Almonte to never-ending golden beaches and of course Seville and Huelva

Almonte is a small town with a pretty historic center and the interesting Museo de El Rocío that should be visited before visiting the Parque Natural de Doñana.

Scattered all along the Huelva coastline, there are eleven watch towers, designed by Felipe II and completed by Felipe IV, to protect the coast from pirate attacks. Five are under the Almonte local administration: Torre de la Higuera in Matalascañas (an inverted tower collapsed into the sea centuries ago), Torre del Asperillo in Castilla and Torres de San Jacinto, Carboneras and Zalabar in the Doñana National Park.

If you are a beach person, this is also a perfect destination as in a few minutes you can reach beautiful sandy beaches: Matalascañas is ideal for long walks on the waterfront, surfing, or relax and enjoy its dunes and pine forests; Castilla reserved as a nudist beach as is Mazagón.

Close by you also get the Dunar Park of Matalascañas, near the beaches, with its Marine World Museum.

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.

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