Spain Spring 2004: 'An Andalucían Adventure'


You would have thought that we'd have learnt our lesson by now, 40-odd fairly easy miles walking along the Catalan coast in April/May 2003 followed by 172 miles hard trek from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean during August/September 2003 should have got the walking bug out of our systems. Unfortunately we seem to have become totally hooked on this way of spending our holidays...

So, once again, we found ourselves at Birmingham Airport with e-Tickets for the MyTravel Lite flight VZ7011 to Málaga. Check-in was a dream, the flight left on time and arrived on time. Even our luggage arrived at the same time as we did! As pre-arranged we were met by a driver from Taxi Mari Cruz Melgaiz who swiftly and very efficiently drove us the sixty-five or so kilometres from Málaga Airport to the town of Ronda which was to be the start of our adventure. We planned to walk off-road to the Atlantic coastal port of Tarifa, the most southerly point in Spain, just west of Gibraltar.


Wednesday April 21, 2004: Ronda

Our first two nights were to be spent at the Hotel San Gabriel in Ronda old town. Our "Superior" room on the ground floor was excellent with an elegant four-poster bed and a huge walk-in shower. The SanGabriel doesn't cater for evening meals so we ate dinner in the Restaurante Don Miguel which overlooks the mediaeval Puente Nuevo bridge across the deep El Tajo gorge of the River Guadalevin, the narrow stone bridge that separates the old town from the new.

The small dining room at the San Gabriel has a corner devoted to photos and memorabilia associated with a family of famous matadors; the Ronda born Antonio Ordóñez, who died in 1998 and who was a friend of both Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway (his rivalry with Luis Miguel 'Dominguin' Gonzalez Lucas in 1959 featured in Hemingway's writings and his father Cayetano Ordóñez was the model for the character 'Pedro Romero' in Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises' ) and Antonio's grandson Francisco Rivera Ordóñez born in 1974 and fighting today. We discovered that the hotel even has its own strange little mini-cinema!

Linda Lashford and David Lanfear

Thursday April 22, 2004: Day 1 - Ronda circuit

Today we eased ourselves in with a short circular walk which started and finished back at the Hotel San Gabriel. It was very hot and so we were grateful that the walk started by heading gently downhill into the gorge enabling us to get some fantastic views back up to the Puente Nuevo some 1000 feet above. Walking north through the valley we eventually climbed back up onto the ridge on the outskirts of Ronda new town. In a small square at the back of the main shopping area we ate a late sandwich lunch accompanied by a couple of very welcome beers. Claire learnt from the waitress that in order to get a mint tea in Spain one should order 'poleo menta', this solved a problem that had been bugging her since our walk along the Catalan Coast a year ago! Mike had forgotten to bring his trusty Swiss Army knife with him so we bought a replacement in the town - a good move which was to prove to be a life saver later in the week!




Day 1: 10.1 km, 10.1 km in total


Friday April 23, 2004: Day 2 - Ronda to Benaoján



Although we had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Ronda we were pleased to hit the trail and after breakfast headed SW towards Benaoján. Woods, goats, many ups & many downs, wonderful spring flowers and our first sight of some of the spectacular birds that we were to see often during the holiday. The highlight was without doubt seeing several salmon trout vainly trying to leap up a weir on the river Guadiaro just outside Benaoján. We reached the Hotel Molino del Santo in time for a beer before dinner. A converted mill with a wonderful fast, turbulent mill-stream running alongside, the waters of which were diverted into the outdoor swimming pool - much too cold for us to try! We stayed in a very quaint, private and very well equipped self-contained Moorish-styled terraced apartment in the grounds. Through the honeysuckle lined paths to the restaurant where we had a leisurely dinner, Mike had spinach with Benoaján sausage and mushrooms followed by pork in a brandy cream sauce, Claire had aubergine, mushrooms and tomato au gratin followed by grilled salmon. A nice bottle (the first of many!) of Marqués de Cáçeres Rioja meant that we slept like logs.

 


Day 2: 12.9 km, 23.0 km in total


Saturday April 24, 2004: Day 3 - Benaoján to Grazalema


After a late start (blame the Rioja) we set off up a steep dusty road leading N from Benaoján to the next village of Montejaque, another quiet, small 'white town'. In the middle of the village we met an elderly English lady who was also on an Inntravel walk but was walking alone. She was heading downhill in the opposite direction to us, we exchanged pleasantries and marvelled at her courage for tackling a trek like this by herself. The terrain became very barren as we climbed SW up into the Sierras. The heat was intense and shade was sparce. We stopped for a picnic lunch-break as a stiff cooling breeze got up and then we turned NW to continue our climb. After crossing the high pasture lands we climbed too high whilst crossing one mountain pass and found ourselves trapped by a seven foot high wire fence at the bottom of a VERY steep field - thank goodness for the newly acquired Swiss Army knife which enable a swift dismantling (and repair afterwards, of course...) of a section of the fence to allow us to get through and escape. We saw many small birds on this walk including rock martins, firecrests, swifts, swallows & cole tits.


Eventually we reached the outskirts of the town of Grazalema and to our dismay found ourselves faced with a daunting climb up a steep roughly cobbled ancient Roman road to get into the town. The climb seemed to go on forever, we were well tired by the time we reached the top. We found the 'Villa Turistica', our destination, on the far side of the town. By the time we got there it was quite late. The restaurant was packed out with what seemed like most of Spain and the meal was not the best we'd had!







Day 3: 20.3 km, 43.3 km in total


Sunday April 25, 2004: Day 4 - Grazalema to Zahara de la Sierra


Today we walked north from Grazalema heading for the white town of Zahara de la Sierra. The day was again really hot and the walking was hard, our knees suffered and Claire began to show signs of overheating as we neared our destination which overlooked a huge man-made lake (Embalse de Zahara Del Gastor). We found our bed for the night at the Hostal Marques de Zahara in the main square of the town.

As things cooled down during the evening we located the local Pharmacia and so were able to stock up on various medications to ease the aches & pains. A very pleasant hour or so so drinking beers with the locals sitting outside a bar in the square followed by a meal served by a VERY silent waiter back at the Hostal rounded the day off. Room 101 had a small balcony above the main entrance overlooking the square where the locals caroused until the early hours. Claire was able to wash through some of our clothes which, luckily, we were able to hang out to dry on the balcony overnight. These sort of domestic things are important when undertaking a trip like this otherwise you find that people you meet seem to ignore you even more than usual :-)


Day 4: 17.3 km, 60.6 km in total


Monday April 26, 2004: Day 5 - Zahara to Prado del Ray

A little DIY chiropody ...

Left: Claire attempts a little DIY chiropody ...

Another long day was in prospect. It took forever to get the bill sorted out and paid at the Hostal, eventually we were able to get a taxi to take us to our starting point at the tiny hamlet of Las Casas some five miles west of Zahara. We followed an old drover's trail towards the west around the northern boundary of the Grazelema National Park before heading south to the outskirts of the town of Prado del Ray. The walking was relatively easy but it was again very hot and poor Claire suffered somewhat. Many wild flowers and birds along the way, notably several nightingales and a sparrow hawk, frogs, huge black beetles with orange stripes and gigantic flying grasshoppers! We found the 'Huerta Dorotea' just outside the town, our room (#7) was very small, rather shabby and very basic with a miniscule bathroom, the restaurant was quiet but we had a very good meal; we both had a smoked salmon salad then Claire had Chicken in a white wine sauce and Mike had Roast Lamb shank. Yet another bottle of Marqués de Cáçeres Rioja ensured that we slept reasonably soundly...



Day 5: 20.5 km, 81.1 km in total


Tuesday April 27, 2004: Day 6 - Prado del Ray to El Bosque

An easy stroll today, initially retracing our steps for a few kilometres back up the hill from the outskirts of Prado del Ray and then heading south east towards the small town of El Bosque. We were booked into the Hotel Las Truchas, named after the speciality served in its restaurant - local trout baked with almonds and ham. As the walk today was short we arrived at the hotel at a very civilised 2.30pm. Our room was pleasant enough with a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool. Later in the afternoon we strolled into the village to the Information Centre for the Grazelema National Park where we were able (despite the late hour) to collect our official (pre-booked) entry permit to enable us to visit the Pinsapar Reserve the following day. Only 15 people are allowed to enter the Reserve on any one day. We were devastated to hear the weather forecast, it was going to be wet, wet, wet, cold and misty. Back to the hotel for dinner (guess what!) in a huge almost empty dining room (apart from lots of flies - yuk!). We booked a taxi to pick us up in the morning to take us to the start of Wednesday's walk and, after a few drinks, had an early-ish night.

Day 6: 9.6 km, 90.7km in total


Wednesday April 28, 2004: Day 7 - El Bosque to Grazalema

As forecast the day dawned wet and dismal. We had planned to visit the Pinsapar Reserve in the heart of the Grazelama Natural Park. The taxi arrived on time and dropped us off some 10km away in the mist near the entrance to the Reserve. Armed with our official permit we set off zig-zagging steeply up through the woods to the top of a ridge high above the valley of the Arrayo del Pinar river. The clouds were low obscuring what would have been magnificent views. It was also cold, damp and windy - so different from our last week!  The area was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1977 and is home to the magnificent rare prehistoric Pinsapo pines. The southern flank of the valley is densely covered by these fantastic trees. The weather eased somewhat as we walked the trail west just below the ridge until we entered the edge of the pine forest. There were no signs of the many resident birds and animals although wild flowers were plentiful. We had hoped to see eagles and Griffon Vultures amongst others, sadly we were to be disappointed.

As the weather closed in we decided to cut our losses and retrace our steps back out of the Reserve. Heading down into the town of Grazalema (where we had stayed a few days ago) we found the Hotel Casa de las Piedras near the centre of town. In the evening the hotel restaurant was lively & buzzing as we had dinner with a very amiable Dutch couple, Anke & Paul who were also on a walking holiday. After soup and salad starters we both had the excellent veal escallopes. The wine, needless to say, flowed freely and we all had a splendid evening...

Day 7: 11.3 km , 102.0 km in total


Thursday April 29, 2004: Day 8 - Grazalema

Our first rest day since leaving Ronda. A cold and windy day spent strolling around Grazalema doing a little shopping and having a simple café lunch. Claire wrote the obligatory postcards and we relaxed for most of the afternoon sat in front of a blazing wood fire in the hotel lounge catching up on some reading. Dinner in the evening in the Hotel Casa de las Piedras restaurant was again shared with Paul and Anke. Pork for Mike and chicken for Claire. A glass or two of Carlos I top quality Spanish brandy finished off the evening nicely!

Day 8: 1.9 km, 103.9 km in total


Friday April 30, 2004: Day 9 - Grazalema to Villaluenga del Rosario




T

In the morning we said goodbye to Paul & Anke. At last, it was time to head south towards the coast. Low cloud, wind and cold at first but the weather improved as the day progressed. A very pleasant trek with several challenging climbs and descents. Saw many wild flowers including wild paeonies. Several times we ran the gauntlet through herds of goats and black Spanish pigs. Claire's blisters were improving thanks to the special plasters bought in Grazalema and eventually we wound our way down the final hill to the village of Benaocaz. In the main village street we found a bar called ' La Palmera ' (The Palm Tree), arriving at just before 6 o'clock. It had been pre-arranged that we would be met by a taxi-driver in that particular bar, and that happened exactly as planned! The taxi took us some 5km to the nearby village of Villaluenga del Rosario where we were to spend the night at the Hotel La Posada.


La Posada was a two-star inn which had recently been renovated. It was small and friendly, the rooms were cosy with shuttered windows overlooking the roof-tops of the village and with views to the mountain ridges beyond.

Day 9: 11.3 km, 115.2 km in total


Saturday May 1, 2004: Day 10 - Villaluenga to Cortes de la Frontera



A long hard walk today over the mountains. It rained constantly with the now usual low cloud and strong winds. We kept getting tantalising glimpses of what on a clear day would have been spectacular views but the low cloud was relentless and our spirits were not high. Most of the day we were trudging through sticky cloying mud and we arrived at our night stop in a very bedraggled state!

The day ended at the Hotel Restaurant El Gecko in the village of Estación de Cortes de la Frontera and very welcome it was too. The hotel was pretty good and we found to our surprise that it was owned and managed by Brits. Even the bar was run by a couple of very cheerful Geordie lads! We had a splendid meal in the busy Dining Room, Claire had an avocado, bacon & tomato salad and Mike had chicken liver paté, we both followed this with a delicious Thai Red Chicken Curry! Everyone in the restaurant was very friendly and chatty, we had a good evening. We were able to borrow an extra heater for our room to help dry out our clothes. The shower in the bathroom was interesting... [Inntravel sadly no longer appear to use this hotel. As of Spring 2006 the hotel was up for sale...] [UPDATE:  June 2009 Now open again with new owners!]


Day 10: 8.7 km, 133.9 km in total


Sunday May 2, 2004: Day 11 - Cortes de la Frontera to Hotel Salitre

Today it rained. It started as we stepped out of the hotel door at 8.30am and didn't stop for more than 24 hours. What should have been a day of spectacular views from high mountain ridges turned out to be damp, dismal, depressing and at times downright dangerous. Most of the time the rain was horizontal stair-rods and it was freezing cold. We simply put our heads down and got on with it. Plenty of goats, pigs, some donkeys and lots and lots of thick, brown, sticky MUD! The rain was relentless and at times the walking over wet rocks high up on the ridges was treacherous. Visibility was often close to zero and we both felt pretty fed-up. We were, after all, supposed to be enjoying this holiday! After 12.6 long, long kilometres we arrived finally at the Hotel Salitre. Our clothes and rucksacks were soaked through.

All night long a terrific thunderstorm raged, rain was driven by the wind under the French windows of the balcony of our first floor room soaking the carpet and curtains and the electricity failed at least four times. The noise of the storm was deafening and we got virtually no sleep. Not a good day!

It couldn't get any worse, or could it...?

Day 11: 12.6 km, 146.5 km in total


Mon/Tue May 3/4, 2004: Days 12/13 - Benarrabá


Eventually the night was over and the next day dawned. It was raining. Despite our best efforts our clothes and rucksacks were still soaking wet. We had had virtually no sleep. It was not too difficult to take the decision to abandon the day's walking and to seek a lift with our luggage to the next night's stop at the village of Benarrabá. It was weird to arrive at the next stop at the Hotel Banú Rabbah at 10 in the morning - they were not, of course, expecting us so early and so we had to kick our heels for several hours in the hotel lounge before our room was made ready and we could start to get things dried out. We strolled in the drizzle down into the town and bought beer and snacks for lunch. Later in the day the rain eased and so we explored the little town more thoroughly.

We ate Monday evening in the Restaurant Kabila back in the hotel, starting with a wonderful thick asparagus and almond soup followed by chicken breasts stuffed with blue cheese. A very nice bottle of a 2001 Cune Rioja Crianza finished the evening off well.

We rested up again on Tuesday, lots of reading on the terrace at the hotel whilst enjoying the views and the improving weather. Evening meal again in the Kabila, an excellent orange and avocado salad followed by pork for Mike and lamb chops for Claire with yet another bottle of the Cune Rioja.



0 km on Days 12/13, 146.5 km in total


Wednesday May 5, 2004: Day 14 - Benarrabá to Hacienda La Herriza

It was good to set off again, all clothes now well dried out and our spirits lifted by the enforced rest. We got a lift in the hotel's minibus some 10 km to the start of today's walk, fairly easy, mostly downhill initially. Inevitably it started to rain and the clouds were again low obscuring the views. Much wildlife including griffon vultures. Cold and windy and the last km or so was along deeply mudded tracks - a taste of things to come...

The very unusual Hacienda La Herriza was a small collection of two story cottages arranged on two sides of a courtyard and swimming pool. Very basic but very comfortable, a downstairs lounge with TV and an upstairs bedroom with balcony and a good bathroom. In the main building was an excellent and quite up-market restaurant that we found to be virtually deserted. We had a superb meal, Mike had deep fried goat's cheese in honey followed by a bacon & pea risotto, Claire had goat's cheese with tomatoes followed by Farfale with broccoli, almonds and lemon juice. We topped it all off with a bottle of our favourite Marqués de Cáçeres Rioja.


Day 14: 17.9 km, 164.4 km in total


Thursday May 6, 2004: Day 15 - La Herriza to Jimena de la Frontera




A long trek today which started wet but brightened up as the day went on. A lot of walking through meadows carpeted with wild spring flowers including a several km slog steeply uphill in deep mud across one huge field through a large herd of cattle. That climb seemed to go on for ever! Met several Brits during the day including yet another route note writer for Inntravel. Eventually the white town of Jimena de la Frontera appeared on the horizon - right at the top of a steep hill in the distance.


Jimena was a small bustling town with some of the steepest streets that we had so far encountered. We found the Hostal el Anon, a quaint and unbelievably rambling collection of old buildings, all interconnected. We were booked to stay here for two nights. The hostel, owned by an ex-pat American lady, had a wonderfully rustic bar full of European railway memorabilia and boasted an excellent restaurant. A very pleasant vine-covered roof terrace provided us with our first views of the Rock of Gibraltar, far away to the south. Our room was basic but cosy, drying our washing in the small bathroom was an interesting exercise. We chatted to a very friendly English couple, Dave and Rosie, over dinner. Claire had a Greek Salad followed by Chicken in Almond Sauce and Mike had Chicken Liver Paté followed by Coronation Chicken with Rice. An excellent bottle of Corona de Castilla Crianza 1998 complemented the meal admirably.



Day 15: 21.8 km, 186.2 km in total


Friday May 7, 2004: Day 16 - Jimena de la Frontera


The sun came out and stayed all day although it was still cold. We spent the morning wandering around enjoying the town and the afternoon found us reading on the sun terrace. In the evening we shared a table at dinner with Dave & Rosie and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The wine flowed freely, as it always seems to when we are around!



Day 16: 0 km, 186.2 km in total


Saturday May 8, 2004: Day 17 - Jimena to Los Barrios


A very hot and very long day's walk with some very difficult stretches. Parts of the day were very tortuous indeed due to a great deal of sticky cloying mud on the trail. We trekked through thistle pastures and around the edges of several huge wheat fields. Mike managed to sink up to the top of his boots twice in the mud. The wildlife was amazing; deer, nesting white storks with young, frogs, tadpoles, crickets and many booted eagles. All the while we could see the Rock of Gibraltar growing larger by the hour in the far distance.



We eventually reached the fortified town of Castillo at 18.30 hrs expecting to be met by a taxi. No sign of the taxi - the only cock-up of the whole trip. We found some beers in a bar in a local hotel and, after several phone calls, managed to establish contact with the taxi firm who eventually turned up for us at 20.00 hrs! We travelled in Mercedes luxury for some 30 minutes south to Monte de la Torre near the town of Los Barrios. This was an amazing 'country estate' very reminiscent of the days of the Indian Raj. Our hosts were Sue and Quentin who were cattle farmers on a grand scale. She is English and he is half Spanish. Their property was truly amazing, Edwardian magnificence which extended to all the rooms and furniture. Our bedroom and bathroom were wonderfully antique and authentic. The owners and their two Labrador dogs made us so very welcome.




We ate that evening in the nearby town of Los Barrios at the Restaurant Al Andalus, we both had vegetable soup then Mike had veal and Claire had grilled Monkfish with new potatoes, spring onions and red peppers. At the end of the meal we had a long wait for a taxi, the driver then got completely lost and we eventually arrived back at Monte de la Torre at 01.30 am! We were, needless to say, somewhat glad to get to bed...


Day 17: 25.1 km, 211.3 km in total


Sunday May 9, 2004: Day 18 - Monte de la Torre

A totally surreal day, a chance to indulge in what we imagined the colonial life must have been like. Sue and Quentin went out for the day leaving us with the complete run of the property. Mike cleaned our boots and we explored the extensive and exotic gardens and watched the white storks that were nesting in several of the high tree


A cold lunch of Cheese & Tomato sandwiches, a Smoked Mackerel & Sweetcorn salad which Sue had prepared for us in advance and a bottle of Marqués de Cáçeres Rioja. The Labradors were our constant companions everywhere we went and we sat on the patio at the back of the house in the afternoon reading, relaxing and enjoying the wine. Claire sunbathed later by the secluded swimming pool. We were fascinated by the comings and goings of the storks in the garden and by the constant clattering of their beaks as they fed their young. This was by far and away the most enjoyable rest day of our whole holiday!


Day 18: 0 km, 211.3 km in total


Monday May 10, 2004: Day 19 - Los Barrios to Pelayo


We were very sad to leave Monte de la Torre. After an excellent breakfast, Quentin took us in his FWD some 10 km to the start of our walk. On the way we talked about the differences between beef farming in the UK and in Spain. He was due that week to move his herd (about 500 head) from the high woods down to the pastures for the summer. He dropped us off at at Hoyo De Pedro, we bade him farewell and set off down the track through the forest toward the south. The magnificent Rock of Gibraltar was ever present off to our left as we wound our way down a rough track towards the outskirts of the village of Pelayo. The weather deteriorated as the day went on and it was quite gloomy in drizzle by 16.00 hrs as we arrived at La Huerta Grande. We spent the night in La Casa del Espia ("House of the Spies") where a bunch of Italian spies was reputed to have lived for most of WWII and from where they reported on the activities of the Allies in the Straights of Gibraltar.

That evening we ate at the Restaurant El Bosque alongside a nearby busy main road. We were the only customers but, despite that, the food was surprisingly good. We walked back in the dark. Heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight.


Day 19: 14.7 km, 226.0 km in total


Tuesday May 11, 2004: Day 20 - Pelayo to Tarifa

As we left La Heurta Grande next morning the heavens opened. We had been made to feel quite unwelcome in the café when we sought some breakfast and our picnic lunches, so we were quite pleased to get on our way. This was to be our last day of walking and we aimed to reach the Atlantic coast port of Tarifa by the end of the day. We had left Gibraltar behind by now and our new ever present landmark became the other of the Pillars of Hercules on the other side of the Strait, Mt. Acha at Ceuta in Morocco. After slogging through several unbelievably muddy fields we found ourselves at last at the coast. The coastal winds on the cliff paths were horrendous, no wonder we had come across so many wind turbines collected together in huge wind farms on the hills above us. We struggled against the wind along the cliff paths skirting a prohibited military zone for most of the way. Out to sea a huge thunderstorm was raging and we eventually worked our way down into the port town of Tarifa. It didn't take long for us to find a restaurant/bar just down the road from our hotel where we had the now traditional celebratory end-of-walk beers. This had been a fairly gruelling trek, marred by poor weather for most of the time. Nevertheless, we had both thoroughly enjoyed our trip and our spirits were not dampened in any way. We had walked for a total of:

247.5 km (154 miles)


We were booked into the Hotel Misiana, its most ususual interior was strangely modern, in a rather naff way, with distinct Moorish influences. We had a very comfortable, strikingly decorated, room on the fourth floor with views overlooking the rooftops of the town. Now that the walking was over we planned to stay for two nights to relax and unwind. [Inntravel no longer use this hotel on this walk (as of Spring 2006 and the hotel appears to have been completely refurbished as of 2017)]

Eventually we took a taxi to Málaga Airport and then flew back to Birmingham on Thursday May 13, much refreshed and already planning our next trip!


Day 20: 21.5 km, 247.5 km in total



As with all our walking holidays to date we arranged the trip through Inntravel who are based on the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire. They provided maps and suggested route notes, arranged all flights, taxis & accommodation and transported our luggage efficiently between each stop. All in all on this trip we trekked some 247 km (154 miles) in 20 days of walking and stayed in 16 different hotels/hostels. We highly recommend Inntravel, their service is second to none and we'll be using them again…!





Our Walking Holidays Spring 2003 - Spring 2004
km
miles
total km
total miles
Spring 2003 'Along the Catalan Coast'
67.6
42.0
67.6
42.0
Autumn 2003 'From the Pyrénées to the Med'
277.0
172.1
344.6
214.1
Spring 2004 'An Andalusian Adventure'
247.5
153.8
592.1
367.9