Arcos de la Frontera is a small town that is part of Spain’s Pueblos Blancos, arguably its most popular white village. This probably isn’t a city that I would have ever even heard of before my visit, except that I know someone who actually did live there for a year. Bless her soul, could not be me.
Arcos is an absolutely adorable hilltop town that has a lot of smaller neighborhoods at varying altitudes. The Pueblos Blancos name is absolutely accurate in that there is no building in town that is painted a different color. It’s worth a stop, which is why it has become a massive tourist destination. So much so that day trippers have stripped the town of its siesta culture. Even some of the best locally owned Spanish places stay open in the hottest hours of the day to accommodate the influx of people that clog up the city’s cute streets every day.
Less touristy areas of Arcos have the markings of the kind of small town life that makes my skin crawl. Weird bars and nightclubs, cheap pizza, and a lot of things closed on Sundays. I get the feeling that aside from being overwhelmed by constant crowds in such a small town, it would also be kind of boring in the way that leads you to drink.
One of the biggest problems with small towns like Arcos de la Frontera is that they lack all the amazing conveniences of modern living. Uber doesn’t work there. There’s like one guy driving taxis on the weekend and you have to have his personal phone number to find him. If you simply walk everywhere, you have to constantly drag yourself up the local hills in the ever-increasing heat.
Leaving Arcos is even more inconvenient than getting around it. It’s a vomit-inducing two hour bus ride to Sevilla which would be the best international airport hub. And the nearest large grocery store is in the Barrio Bajo neighborhood, which is only accessible by a ridiculously steep 40 minute hike or a bus that sort of comes whenever. I’m not young enough or old enough to want to live like this.
Of all the places I’ve ever been in Spain, Arcos definitely has the nicest and most genuinely helpful and warm people I’ve ever met. Locals come out to restaurants and put on a whole flamenco guitar show for everyone because that’s what they do for fun. Get drunk, eat tapas, and jam. But unfortunately, it also has a fuckton of tourists that come in large groups and crowd public spaces. And that is a big turn off unless I can avoid it by living in a fabulous residential neighborhood which doesn’t exist in Arcos. It’s either touristy city center or sleepy local suburb. Not for all the nice people in the world could I put up with that.
The food in Arcos was excellent and fairly authentic but there are probably like 3-4 decent places to eat on a regular basis and then just dozens of garbage places that cater to tourists or to the local young people who want pizza and kebab after a night out at the one nightclub. I’m kind of a foodie so having so few quality restaurants options is a dealbreaker. There is also no trace of international restaurant and fast food chains, so you really have to commit to the local fare because you’re two hours from the nearest Starbucks.
The most attractive thing about Arcos is probably the cost. You can live in a furnished two-bedroom for €400, for Christ’s sake. Imagine being able to pay less than €5000 annually for your housing. Of course, other costs are low. The bus is €1, restaurants are cheap, even touristy ones. But you get what you pay for. A basic apartment with few conveniences and over 100 km to anything exciting.
Total livability score 2/10
It gets a couple of points for cuteness, but I could never live in a city as small and also touristy as Arcos de la Frontera.