Our drive from Cadiz to Grazalema took about three hours as we stopped in the small town of Arcos de Frontera along the way.
Oh my gosh, once again very happy that we have a small car. Robin did an excellent job getting us to the top of the town of Arcos de Fontera, through the very narrow roads. As we approached the top of the village, a local lady tells us to continue as there is parking at the top. Well, when we arrive, we get the last parking stop and I have to help Robin maneuver into the spot. He almost has to hit the wall so that other cars can get by. A wonderful mirador with great views of the valley below. We then visit the church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion. Another beautiful church. Back in the car, some maneuvering to get out of the parking lot and then get down the windy narrow streets to get out of this charming town. Beautiful countryside.
As we left Arcos, the cloud ceiling dropped and it begins to rain. The road to Grazalema is one that steadily climbs up the mountain and is very windy with no shoulder. My brother Denis would not have done well due to the sheer drop offs and our daughter in law Lisa would not have like the hairpin turns. We finally arrive in Grazalema and our GPS would not pick up the address of the guest house, or the parking area. Fortunately the owner, Andres, must know this and he had sent a link to Google maps, which really helped. The only problem is that when we arrived at the road to take us down to the parking lot, it was closed due to repairs. We park the car and proceed to walk down the street. We ask a local woman where our hotel, The Mejorana, is located. She walks down the street to show us. We arrive, only about a 2 minute walk from where we have parked the car and the hotel is all locked up. We press a buzzer and it rings four times, then stops. We then see a phone number and call. The owner, Andres answers and asks where we are, I say…the front door. He is actually in the hotel, so comes to let us in. So friendly, he takes us around the hotel, shows us our room. Nothing spectacular, but seems comfortable, albeit a bit cold. He also takes the time to explain what to see around this small town, where to go and eat and sights to see in the surrounding area. This area is known for its hiking and there are numerous trails surrounding the town. Andres tells us that the weather is about 10 degrees cooler than normal at this time of year. Right now it is only 16 and have layered on the clothes.
The guide book says the population of Grazalema is 1,650 and the elevation is 825 metres (2,700 feet). It is a very old town and the local tourist bureau tell us that this town has been continually habited for at least 2,000 years. Not a significant town, but was a stopover for merchants and they provided produce and staples to surrounding areas. It is also an area that produces cheese and honey and is also know for its merino wool blankets.
He has a binder for every room, which describes in detail, all of the hiking routes, along with ratings for each hike. The binder also has suggested driving routes to nearby noteworthy towns. One town that he mentions could be overlooked is Ronda. Funny enough most guides books say this is a must see. A friend who had been there some thirty years ago said we must not miss it. Our friend Steve, who had been in the area this past November told us not to stay here and that he found it very touristy. He is the one who recommended Grazalema and this guest house. A beautiful pool and gardens but way too cool to take advantage of these amenities.
We get settled in and head off to discover this small town. Stop at a local bar for lunch, great food. The owner of the inn gives us the name of several bars and a couple of restaurants that are worth going to. Spend the afternoon walking around the town, but a lot of the shops are closed for the siesta period. These small towns still adhere to this schedule where they are usually closed from about 2 to 5 pm and then re-open for a couple of hours in the evening.
Must mention what a small world it is sometimes. When we went to one of the local bars for our lunch, there were two men speaking english behind us. They were cyclists so I struck up a conversation and asked where they were from ……Calgary! They were in Spain for three weeks doing a self guided bike tour. Pretty sure these guys were hard core, one of them has done several Gran Fondo’s in Alberta and has even lead one of them. This area is so hilly, windy and even mountainous, one would have to be very hard core; of perhaps have an electric bike!
We had read in our guide book of a bike trail called the Via Verde de la Sierra. The trail starts in a small near here and the trail crosses the countryside using an abandoned railway system. Sounds like the Kettle Valley railway in Kelowna/Penticton area. After a couple of phone calls, Robin finally reaches someone who does rent bikes for the Via Verde, but tells us the trail is closed due to the rains that the area has had of late. Oh well!
We go eat at the landlords favourite restaurant, S’Abor. We passed in the afternoon and it was filled with cyclists from a bike tour. Some people were coming out saying it was full and that they were disappointed they couldn’t get in. Robin and I made a reservation for dinner and what a great choice. I may have said this before, but was the best meal we have had on our trip so far and so reasonably priced. The presentation was beautiful, but most importantly the food was excellent. Even given a complimentary glass of very good sherry after our dinner. They have a beautiful patio, but simply too cold for anyone to take advantage of this.
On Tuesday May 29th, we head off in the car to visit the small villages around this area called the “ Pueblos Blanco” (White Villages). Grazalema is one of these as is Arcos de la Frontera which we visited yesterday. Our landlord tells us which towns are worthwhile visiting, in his opinion. Our first stop is Zahara de la Sierra. It overlooks the Embalse de Zahara ( a reservoir). We stop here and take in the views as well as stop for coffee/tea.
One thing that I have meant to mention on several occasions is how loud the Spanish women (in particular) and kids speak. It seems like they are screaming and mad at everyone. The Spanish men don’t seem to speak as loud, they probably can’t get a word in edgewise in any event!
Then on to Olvera and we try to get into the town of Setenil, but the street that leads to the top of the village is being worked on, so we simply drive on. Beautiful vistas everywhere and the countryside is diverse. Wheat fields, olive groves, goat and sheep farmers, mountains and valleys. Our last stop of the day is Ronda, and yes….this place is very touristy. We stop here for lunch, take in the views and then go visit the bull ring.
After visiting some of the other “white mountain villages” today, I do believe that Grazalema’ s inhabitants have taken great care of their homes and have made extra efforts with the beautiful plants and flowers in front of their homes. The majority of the windows on the houses are encased in iron bars which allowed windows to be left open without bandits being able to enter in ancient times. These are still there today and lots of plants and flowers hanging off of them.
One thing that is very unique in these mountain towns is the doorways. In Cordoba we saw courtyards and patios. Here they have an outer door, a vestibule which is usually decorated with tiles, then an inner door and some of these entrances are lovely indeed. Also, a lot of the outer doors have studs on the doors. This is said to be an Arabic decorative style. They say that these studs originated in India and the Arab world. Originally they were large and vicious looking to deter robbers and big animals!
Very cool again today, most of the time about 16 degrees and when the sun came out, would reach about 19. Back to the guest house and we make a cup and tea and sit in the living/common room. We visit for some time with an English couple who have just arrived. Great dinner out again; at such a reasonable price. Find it amazing that such good restaurants in such a small town.
Wednesday, May 30th and I go downstairs early to get a cup of tea. I run into Andreas and I ask him how long he has run this guest house. He tells me that he was born and raised in Grazalema and years ago he moved to Madrid for four years and met his wife there. He missed the mountains and the small town so much, his wife agreed to move to Grazamela. He told me that she was reluctant at first, but now loves it here and they have children. He tells me that it is a great place to raise children. He said that when they moved back 18 years ago, he took out a BIG mortgage and bought this home. It took him a year to renovate it, put bathrooms in each room and upgrade the electric system.
On Wednesday May 30th, we head out for a hike up the hillside from the town. This was one of the hikes recommended by our host Andreas. We head out, dressed in layers, as is cool again this morning, only 16, very cloudy and a few showers. The detailed hike information that Andreas provides for each guest is in a binder and each detailed map and hiking directions are laminated so that you can take it with you. Great for us since we don’t really know the area and the trails in the area aren’t really well marked.
As we are walking up one of the streets, we run into a couple from New Zealand staying at the same guest house. We strike up a conversation and share travelling stories. It is so funny that most people we run into who are driving, have stories to tell about their driving experiences. This couple said that in one small town, they were trying to find a place to park. An elderly gentleman came along and he actually insisted he get behind the wheel and he drove them to the parking lot. He asked for 5 Euro. They said that during their stay in this village, they saw this gentleman several times helping other tourists and always getting 5 Euro!
They were travelling for 5 weeks and said they got quite a chuckle when they contacted their daughter to see how she was doing at home. She has just finished her second year of “Uni” (this is what they call University in Australia and N.Z.). They asked if there was anything of importance in the mail, “Mail” she says. She is supposed to be looking after things when they are gone! She was also astounded as to all the leaves that had fallen on the deck, she had never seen this before. Not sure that she realizes what Mom and Dad do around the house!
We walk to the top of the village and find the trail head quite easily. This hike takes us about two hours and is quite nice, up in a forest above the village. Andreas told us that their spring is about a month late, but notwithstanding, we saw lots of wildflowers. Many similar to what we would see in the Rocky Mountains, but some very different. At the head of the trail an information board shows the type of flora and fauna in the area. Of note, they indicated that the area was known for its orchids, especially a specific orchid (nicknamed the bee orchid) as it has the same colours as a bee. Because of its colouring, it attracts bees and the flower has a sticky substance so the bee automatically pollinates the orchid.
I go a little crazy taking pictures of all the flowers, but some were so unique. Really enjoyed our hike, especially with the views of Grazalema below us. Also came across an abandoned church, very interesting.
Stop for lunch at a small bar and although it is cool, we opt to sit outside. Stop at a store that sells local goods and pick up some locally produced wine. We have also tasted some of the local cheese, which is very good, as is the wine.
OK….my wine consumption has gone up….heck I haven’t even been drinking at home….you only live once, and I am on holidays. White wine seems to be ok with my medication but do miss my red wine!
Late afternoon and I go downstairs to the common room of our guest house to get a couple of glasses of wine. Sitting in the living room is an older couple who arrived yesterday and I had heard them speaking French at breakfast this morning. I asked them if they were from France and they said they were from Belgium. They were from the southern part of Belgium where French is spoken. I told the gentleman that my French was a little rusty and at times I forgot words. I was so taken aback when he told me that if he spoke English the way I spoke French, he would give English lessons. Wow, that was flattering! Great to be able to use my French, we spoke for about 15 minutes, then I said I had to go as my husband was waiting for his glass so he could have his wine. A delightful couple.
Various picture of Grazalema, a lovely quiet “white town”.
Pictures from our hike above the town of Grazalema.
It really has been nice to spend time in a small village and a small guesthouse where you can get to know your fellow travellers.
Off to Sevilla tomorrow, May 31st, for four nights.