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Our final stop of the trip, and the only major city, was Cordoba, high on June’s list of “must sees”. Straight into the Aire (well almost, just the one one block circled a couple of times) which amazingly is situated just across from the San Basilio gate to the old city. It was also the La Fiesta De Los Patios De Cordoba when many of the old Cordoban houses open their doors to their stunning flower filled patios (or courtyards) to the public.
Having parked to the satisfaction of the car park boss we headed straight into the main part of the old town around the Alcazar and the Mezquita ca
therdral. Both pay homage to the City’s previous rulers – the Romans, the Moors and then the Spanish creating a unique blend of faiths and history.
First stop was the Mezquita (entry €8 each) now a Catholic Cathedral but on the site of former mosque, once considered the most important place of Western Islam. The combination is overwhelming and if only the followers of both religions could come together as harmoniously as the architecture. Another case of the photos speaking more than any words we could write……
From there we wandered around the old Jewish quarter before going to the Alcazar (entry €4.50) which although built as a palace fortress for the Christian has a Moorish inspired garden. Not quite the Alhambra in Granada, but still beautiful.
Our final day before beginning the journey back to the UK. We headed back into town and decided to take one of the City Sightseeing Red Bus Tours to see if there were any other parts of the city we had missed. It turns out we hadn’t and much of the rest of the city was very much like most modern Spanish cities with the big department stores and international chains. We spent the afternoon wandering the maze of white-washed buildings which make up the old town doing a little shopping on the way. A temperamental fridge meant that we had to throw away a considerable amount of food earlier in the day so we had the perfect excuse to go out for dinner that evening and the perfectly balmy evening meant we could eat outside at the Restaurante Puerta Sevillle (also recommended for drinks on the way back to the Aire following a hard day’s sightseeing!).
Having found the missing Aire in Antequera we parked up and went alcohol harvesting in Mercadona… It was a fruitful harvest and we added money to the local coffers. Not much though as the booze was quite cheap.
Following the inevitable coffee shop stop we wandered up to the Castillo de Papabellotas ( Alcazaba). Full of history and, as so often the case in this part of Spain, linking the Spanish with Romans and the Moors. A word on entrance tickets – buy the combined ticket at the Alcazaba which also gives access to the Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor next door.
As tonight was going to be a late on we grabbed a bit of rest in the van before heading out to the Lobo Park. This had been recommended by a couple of friends and we were booked in on the 4th May…. Full moon.
The park has a few other animals but the main attraction were the wolves….. Daniel, the guy who runs it, describes it as a place where wolves social behaviour are not changed and this allows opportunities to study them.
As we started the walk the wolves started howling and talk about atmospheric…. Daniel was totally dedicated to these animals, you could tell from the passion they were a great part of his life. We managed to see a Hudson Bay male, that had been rescued from a zoo, a female Tundra, Iberian and Eurasian.
After the walk we wild camped and were woken to the the howls of the wolves and shrieks of the peacocks
Leaving Finca we, as normal, chose a minor and then the yellow and green squiggly roads. They were turning out to be the most exciting and fun to drive.
After a quick shop to stock up the cupboards on the outskirts of Antequera we dropped into the Dolmen caves on the northern edge of the town. These are two megalithic monuments which date from around 2500 BC. We had been told to go to the visitors centre first to view the short film explaining how the structures were made. This is a free site to visit and well worth it. Being able to actually go all the way into them was something we could not have imagined being allowed to do in the UK
From there we headed off to El Torcal which is a National Park in amongst a vast eroded limestone area on a high plateau. Having ‘sussed’ the hours etc out we headed back to the nearby campsite ‘Camping Torcal’
Driving into the complex the hairs on the back of our necks were getting a little prickly. It seemed more of a ‘trailer park’ with some rows of permanent caravans even having names. It just didn’t seem the right place for us….
A quick U turn and we headed to Antequera to search for an Aire that was shown on one of the apps we have. For the first time ever we couldn’t find it and it certainly wasn’t at the given co-ordinates. Our only remaining option was to go to a campsite at Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra. This lake is know for the hundreds of flamingos and was on the list of places to drop by on our way to Cordoba.
The lake was a 2k easy stroll and about that many photos were taken!
The next day, a Sunday, we headed back to El Torcal. We booked a ‘red route’ guided tour for €8 a piece (there are other walks accessible without a guide and clearly signposted). While the guide only spoke Spanish (fortunately we both have a good understanding of the formation of Limestone) he did take us around to several quite large Ammonite impressions and we were able to get the gist of some of what he was saying. The Limestone Karst is really stunning and inevitably several have been given names although we reckon a psychiatrist would have a field day with those who came up with the names!
Following the guided trip we had a wander around the two unguided ones before returning to the van and Bob having his scotch on the rocks.
Plan A; Get up early and get there for when it opens and try to get a ticket? or
Plan B; follow the old adage Mad Dogs and Englishmen and go midday just as the locals are settling down to their siestas?
Based on how hot is has been and the fact that today was a bank holiday, Plan A was decided upon so after a short walk from the campsite, we were at the ticket office at 8.50am chatting to a very nice security man who told us to come back at 10am when the manager arrived…. As nothing was open in town we sat by the lake and as the crowds began to arrive we strolled back to see our chances of getting a ticket. A quick chat with one of the staff soon confirmed that the chances of that today were zero but there may be some tickets available through the hotel in town. We’d heard this through someone at the campsite but were given the impression that the hotel was essentially charging for the free tickets. However the deal was that the hotel did have tickets for its own clients – either those staying at the hotel or those using the restaurant with a minimum spend of €25 per person. Well with having missed the shop yesterday we decided to have lunch in the restaurant – a good decision in the end!
So with tickets in hand, we went back to our new best friend, the security guard, and with the prerequisite helmet we were finally on the walk. Initially a gravel track alongside the reservoir, the climb to the official start was very gentle and then came a series of wooden staircases to get you to the level of the walkway. The new path has been built over the top of the previous one but the footpath no longer has bits missing and there is a wire fence along the outside edge for the entire length. You can see why they closed the previous walk as in places you would have been walking on rusted girders (although you would have been clipped on to the wire attached to the cliff face) and sadly in two places there are memorials to people who had died on the route, once as recently as 2010.
The Camino had been a bucket list item for us and was it worth it? Absolutely! It’s difficult to put into words the jaw dropping height of the rock faces either side of the gorge and sheer overwhelming force that is Mother Nature.
It is only a very short walk on the main section and very easy to walk back to the point from which you started (although you can carry on to the second access point and take a bus back) which for us was just in time for lunch and a very cold beer!
From Ronda we aimed to get to El Chorro. This started with us driving along an unopened duel carriageway and being let in to the traffic flow by a very nice workman – a sign of the day to come……???
The maps in Spain on our TomTom or the paper map tend not to be overly reliable. We had found the location of a supermarket and marked it as a destination…. Thankfully we didn’t follow the route as it tried to take us across a wooded field.
So abandoning the shopping for a bit we aimed for Setenil de la Bodegas. This is a pretty little town where lots of the houses are built into the overhanging cliffs, giving them rock roofs. But we still had to negotiate the village of Arriate. A narrow village to say the least but confidant we could get through we just followed our noses….. Until we came to a Y junction where one option was narrow and the other very narrow. Bob was about to take the very narrow one (always up for a challenge) when another very nice Spaniard directed us to the correct road…at this point there were a few vehicles going through and when we saw a builder’s lorry taking this route we tucked in behind it.
No further mishaps and as we zig zagged along the main road through Setenil there was parking on the left more than wide enough for us.
After a quick skirt around the edge of the town to see the church we dropped in to the busiest part of the town for a coffee. It must have been pension day as the average age of the locals was well into the 80’s
Back on board we headed to El Chorro via a vast plain like area cut through limestone outcrops.
Just after Ardales we left the A357 for a green and yellow squiggly road which had several road signs saying ‘Atencion Carretera En Mal Estado’ Meaning that the road was in a bad state! Yep we will agree with this; they had done their homework this time.
This took us to Alora where we took another green and yellow squiggly towards El Chorro. To find the campsite Finca la Campana (http://fincalacampana.com/en/) we crossed the dam, drove through the station carpark and took a ‘minor road uphill. Then we turned off onto a even more minor road to the site. Well if we we can do it in a motorhome, anyone can do it in a car.
The site consists of a couple of chalets and two areas for motorhomes. After an initial ‘have we got this right’ moment we decided to stay. And we are so glad we did it is beautiful. Quiet with a small but well stocked shop where you are trusted to write down in a book what you had taken. The owner Jean has been here for 15 or more years and offers climbing, caving and lots more outdoor activities but we were here for the Camino Del Rey…Walk of the King.
This route was initially built in the 1920s to access the dam and hydro electric plant. It fell into disrepair and was officially closed in 2000 although people still walked the disintegrating ledges with ropes etc. It has now been repaired by the Spanish Authorities. Getting access is a bit of a lottery at the moment as it only reopened in April with the official website crashing many times and tickets currently free. When we tried to book tickets we ended up with having a slot to walk the route but no proof! Chatting with Jean we found that often people managed to get access by just turning up. So that was our plan for the next day!
First can we say Ronda is a stunning little town. Now we have to justify that sentence… To be honest that is easy…
A 20 minute or so walk from the campsite saw us in the old town. One of the main locations folk all head to is the stunning Puente Nuevo. It is an 18C bridge that crosses a deep gorge and is seen often in leaflets about the town.
After a few phots taken we grabbed a coffee at the Restaurante Don Miguel that overlooks the bridge. Two coffees for under a fiver with a view like this!
From there we headed towards one of the other bridges that cross the gorge but at a much lower height. On the way to Puente Viejo there are several viewing places and I think we tried them all.
The lower of the three bridges is called the Roman Bridge but this is more anecdotal than factual. It certainly a Moorish input.
Next was the Baños Arabes. This reminded us of very similar baths we had seen in the Moorish quarter Granada.
We diverted from the town tour for a few minutes as we grabbed a Geocache but that took us to the old town walls that give a good view out to the south.
Lunch time saw us taking Tapas on the edge of Plaza Duquesa de Parcent….along with a beer and sangria. All for £22.
After a visit to Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor we wandered the lanes and back streets before going to the Secret Mine at Palacio Del Rey Moro. This is an old structure dating back to 14th century and involved taking 365 steps down to the river below the town. We were right at the river level and it was beautiful and tranquil. One of our guide books said the long climb back up will probably make you wonder if it was worth the stiff entry fee. At 4 Euros each we felt it worth every penny and even managed to grab a drink in the cafe at the top after the walk out.
Having seen a signed 3.9km walk in the town yesterday we decided to have a wander into the forest before we left for Ronda.
All I can say is that the Spanish Cartographers must have been to the same school as the French ones based in Saumur. It ended up more like 5.1km And I didn’t have the benefit of a Pilot to blame for getting lost.
Still it was a really nice wander among ‘the best cork oak groves in El Genal’.
From there we headed to a campsite on the western edge of Ronda. At 24.50 Euro a night not as cheap as the past couple of nights but on the edge of the town and with the Euro rate as it is we are not complaining. Also we had quite a bit of entertainment watching several folks wandering from pitch to pitch before making that life changing choice.
When you look at a map and see roads like this you know it is going to be a good day at the wheel. On top of that Bob’s birthday too. Woken to tickets to Supertramp at the O2 later in the year the day’s started good….. and just got better.
Leaving the aire at Olvera we took a short drive to a car park in the town itself before having a short wander. Most places were closed as it was Monday but we did manage to take a few photos.
From Olvera we headed along a minor road to, one of the many white house towns in this area, Zahara (well worth a drive to the reservoir even if you don’t do the drive through the mountains).
From we took the CA-9104 to Grazalema. This road was on our list as it looked full of twists and turns in the mountain. On top of that we were told by someone in the know that it was a spectacular route. And it was….. without doubt a brilliant road…. one for ‘driving’ even if it was a 4 tonne Motorhome.
From Grazalema we continued on to the ‘leather’ town of Ubriqiue. The intention was for June to have a little purchase or two… However that was not to be…. Very few places to park and one of our routes took us towards a road closed sign with the diversion down a very narrow, steep lane with a blind bend at the bottom. As Bob started to reverse a local indicated that we could do it even in our van…. so putting trust in the Spanish we gave it a go…. it was fine and saved reversing 100 yards or so in the narrow streets. So after a quick lunch we left sin purchase and continued towards tonights stopover – an aire on the outskirts of Benarraba. As we arrived we joined two other motorhomes already there and took a wander into town.
Does not fall mainly on the plain we can tell you…..
Leaving Caceres we had planned to visit the Cascades del Hueznar, Merida and then onto an aire at Benarraba via Zahara and Ubrique (famous for its leather goods). However it rained….. and when we say rained we mean RAIN of the stair rod variety
Looking at the map a revised plan was concocted with us ending at the small town of Olvera. Within that last 50 or so kms the country side became more of ‘our country’. Mountains and rolling hills…….
The aire in Olvera is by a converted rail station where the track has now been turned into a ‘Green route’. The Via Verde starts from the car park and heads off to Puerto Serrano, 38 km in total. Bikes can be hired from the start (not today though as it is Sunday and most of Spain appears to be closed). Still that didn’t stop us having a brisk walk along the route for the first 4km.
Later start today as no driving but still managed to catch the 10.00 bus from just outside the campsite and get into town with a coffee in Plaza Mayor by 10.45.
Caceres has a nice little old town with fair bit of history. It is a town where there are fortified house, palaces and towers. As we wondered the narow streets we were grateful that it wasn’t mid summer when we are sure these streets would be packed.
Not a full day for us but well worth a visit. Back via the bus after a quick top up at Lidl…
Lets start by saying I do know a bit about wiggleys… Electric currents, are to some of us, wiggleys. I have studied wiggleys quite a bit and even have a City and Guilds Full Tech in Telecom wiggleys British Telecom were in fact going to pay me to go to university, in the day, to study and get a degree in wigglyology. That was until I found that there were two types of wiggleys real ones and theoretical! In the real world there are things called the fringe effect but in the theoretical world these do not exist. In their place are imaginary things like spot charges. Keep with me I will get on to our travels….. promise.
Being a practical person I couldn’t hack this and banged out, I was not going to sell my soul. BT were not happy and called me top a meeting….with NO coffee.