Our first towns in Spain

Our first few stops in Spain have been of the sleepy, small town variety. We’re in Seville now, which we are loving, but wanted to share a bit about a couple of the towns in the Huelva province we visited when we first crossed the border.

El Rocío

This is definitely not a sleepy town during Holy Week, but in December it’s a dreamlike Wild West town. The first hint that this place might be a little bit different from other places we’ve visited was when we turned off of the smooth pavement of A-483 onto…sand. This town isn’t paved. It’s just sand as far as the eye can see. And the shops all have hitching posts outside of them for tying up your horse.

A horse and its rider outside the main church, the Ermita del Rocio. Photo by T.

This is the home of Spain’s largest religious pilgrimage. Seven weeks after Easter, on the Pentecost, this place becomes a raucous party. Travelers from 115 hermandandes (brotherhoods) descend on the place to pay homage to the story of a miraculous wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. As the story goes, a hunter found the statue in a tree and made off with it, intending to take it home. When he stopped for a rest, the statue miraculously returned to her tree.

As we’ve learned from past pilgrimage sites, the location of a miraculous appearance will not remain untouched by human hands for very long. A chapel was built on the site of the tree, which means that the tree got chopped down, and now there’s a massive church on the site.

That statue there in the middle is what all the fuss is about. Photo by T.
This is what the town looks like on Holy Week. The small statue gets dressed up in golden finery and is taken out on a silver palanquin to visit all the houses of the brotherhoods. Photo via.

Probably needless to say, but I’m glad we were here when it was slow. The land that this site sits on is also a National Park, and the wetlands around the town were lush and gorgeous. It was quite peaceful. If you like the hustle of a big party, you can consider making this pilgrimage. Most people walk or ride in elaborately decorated covered wagons.


There’s really only one reason to come here, but it’s a very fine reason indeed. Hidden under the streets of this small town is a massive cave complex. It’s called the Gruta de las Maravillas (Grotto of Wonders). You can only get in on a guided tour, which is a bit of a disappointment, and they don’t allow photographs inside, which is an even bigger disappointment.

While on the tour we only saw 10 percent of the full cave complex, but it was stunning. There were dozens of lakes and massive stalagmites and stalactites.

Our guide took pity on us and let us snap a few shots at the very end of the tour.

An underground lake in the Cave of Wonders. Not great photo by T.

Up next will be several posts about Seville. It’s a wonderful city and we loved everything about it…right up until I caught a nasty cold. But I’m back on my feet and will get caught up on the posts in the next few days, hotel internet connections providing.


  1. Do you know anything about the origin of the name El Rocio? (I don’t know how to do accent marks on my phone.). I remember that Don Quixote’s horse was named Rocinante so I wonder if there’s a horsey connection


    • Sorry it took me a while to get back to you on this one. It’s unclear to me how the name El Rocio came to be associated with this town. Our guidebook associates the name with the tree where the statue was found, but El Rocio translates to “dew” in English. It may just be that the people called the area El Rocio, since there are marshlands all over the place there.


  2. I’ve heard about the El Rocio festival but had no idea that the town is not paved, or about the horses and hitching posts. Wow, there is SO much to learn about Europe. Are you travelling by car? I’m looking forward to reading your posts as you travel.


    • We mostly travel by bus or train, but we rent a car from time to time if there are a few things we want to see in close proximity but don’t want to be tied to the bus schedules. Take public transit as much as possible. It’s cheaper and often faster.


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