El Rocío, the most significant town in the vicinity of the Parque Nacional de Doñana, surprises first-timers. Its sand-covered streets are lined with colourful single-storey houses with sweeping verandahs, left empty half the time. But this is no ghost town: these are the well-tended properties of 115 hermandades (brotherhoods), whose pilgrims converge on the town every Pentecost (Whitsunday) weekend for the Romería del Rocío, Spain’s largest religious festival.
Beyond its uniquely exotic ambience, El Rocío impresses with its striking setting in front of luminous Doñana marismas (wetlands), where herds of deer drink at dawn and, at certain times of year, flocks of flamingos gather in massive numbers.
Whether it’s the play of light on the marshes, an old woman praying to the Virgin at the Ermita, or someone passing by in a flamenco dress, there's always something to catch the eye on El Rocío's dusky, sand-blown streets.