Arcos, first spied from the road (Route A382), is like a white ship cresting a gray sea, its superstructure the church spires and castle towers. Sitting atop an enormous stone promontory, three sides of which drop some 500 feet to the encircling Rio Guadalete, Arcos is approached by the fourth. As you climb to the upper reaches your route shrinks to a one-way passage so narrow that your car must pass under the twin eaves of the flying buttress of the church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion.

Still climbing, you make a sharp uphill right to enter the Plaza de Cabildo, the heart of Arcos. On three sides of this square is the town hall fronting a privately owned 11th-century castle, the basilica of Santa Maria and the Parador Casa del Corregidor. Running the full length of the fourth side is a mirador, or balcony lookout, given an unprintable name by locals. Almost everyone who steps to the railing utters the same `Holy expletive!` You stand transfixed at the edge of the precipitous escarpment, looking far below into a valley of green farmland along the banks of the river with its two bridges, and beyond that to vineyards, olive groves and ranches cupped by encircling hills. On the distant horizon, the notched peaks of the Ronda mountain range crown the view.