We didn’t skip continents, Wizard of Oz style but we did find ourselves in Little Texas without my ruby slippers…. The Tabernas Desert peddles itself on its past life as a Spaghetti Western filming area and it’s looking as rundown and dusty as the films portray. We used it as an overnight stop and avoided the €33 each entry to the ‘Theme Park’ nearby to witness a cowboy being thrown out of a bar. Anyhow, we’d been to the real thing at Pioneer Town so a faux touristville park wasn’t for us. To be fair, the landscape was exactly as the film tin suggests and was still epic!
Travelling in the South East area we are naturally seeing different landscapes and that continued through Almeria. As noted, it is very like Death Valley, high, sharp edged, eroded mountains, arid land and a slight breeze carrying dusty sands. It is very wild west with lots of small seemingly deserted towns peppering the landscapes. Further to the west of the region we planned a few nights that became five as we enjoyed the area. Finding a campsite which only took 2 vehicles at any time between Terque and Bentarique we were in a gorgeous spot among the Orange trees on a small finca. Jigsaw was in her element in the trees, we were just scratched! Free oranges, fantastic mountain views, idyllic! Heading out on the bikes we landed at Bar Yolanda and toasted our luck!
The Andarax river valley area has a string of charming villages a few miles apart. The villages all have Roman origins, when baths were the main focus it seems but it was the current appearance, white walls, narrow streets and bougainvillea colour are undoubtedly Muslim era. The whole area is full of swathes of Orange trees and Olive trees, the late afternoon aromas of Orange blossom at this time of year are glorious. Being close, we were able to get out on the bikes a lot and explore. Alhabia is very well known for its cave houses and they are scattered around the small town, evidenced at time by the unique hoodoo style chimneys. They certainly bring a distinct character to a town that is more alive than some of the others. Emerging from the narrow car free streets on the bikes there is a town carbuncle however, a huge unfinished development of holiday apartments looms, grey. Apparently the developers sold the flats off plan and ran off with the money leaving a shell of a building that will no doubt someday be demolished, if it doesn’t fall down. Its already been there over ten years. On a tiny track we found The Virgin Mary Caves, a couple of tiny caves, a tad unsettling but very much alive with visitors evidenced by lit candles. It is supposed to have healing qualities to visit so attracts coach tours for the vigil.
Being in the area for Andalucia Day we undertook a ‘Fiesta Crawl’ cycling from village to village to take part in whatever we could find. Everywhere had parties of some sort involving the whole village, music, paella, cerveza etc. We took in Bentarique, Illar, Instincion, Ragol and Canjayar along the valley before heading back to karaoke, Spanish style at Bentarique and becoming well versed at “no puedo cantar, lo siento” It was a lovely day, exploring and being welcomed into small communities with free drinks and food. Thank goodness we were only 1 km away and downhill, at the end of it!
The area has some great cycling. We headed out on a track through a tiny village called Huecija and it felt like we just climbed and climbed through some incredible landscape changes. We did, the altitude app had us at 3615ft at Enix view point among the wind turbines. From there we could see the sea, the town of Vicar and beyond, the vast swathes of greenhouses producing Europe’s fruit and veg. Google Earth is a good way to see its scale. Anyhow, a great ride, a lot faster on the return but fulfilling. We learnt about Orange tree management and why they look like donuts from above, post harvest.
Laroles in the East Sierra Nevada is quiet at this time of year but a summer holiday mecca for many Spanish as being high up it’s cooler. They leave the frazzling temperatures at the beaches to the Northern Europeans. An area with lots to do for outdoorsies so we headed out to photograph a waterfall (well one of us anyway!) The issue with waterfalls generally as there’s only one way to get to them and its normally up so after a couple of chocolate pandas from the local Panderia we slogged vertically to get to the trickle… Actually it was a stunning hike but to be frank, I did expect something more impactful given the hype! There was a 1000+ year old Chestnut Tree though that made it all worthwhile! Anyone interested, its the ‘Castaño Milenario’ walk. Lin, we found a horse for you!
Heading west through the mountains of Sierra Nevada we passed one of last years stops at Orgiva heading to Alcala la Real. The landscapes changed again, a long and twirly route through valleys eroded in a way that they looked like fins of rock followed by greener agricultural areas and snow capped mountains. Getting past Granada there was a distinct shift from the small co-operative olive farming we’d been seeing to it being on an industrial scale. Millions of trees in straight lines looking like neat pin cushions. We wondered if they needed to import bee’s like the Americans do in California, to pollinate all the almond trees. We had visions of Queen Bee in her private jet flying over, the worker bee’s travelling by DHL cargo just to gorge themselves in Europe for two weeks! We do have some serious conversations at times, piqued by the wonder of travel, like how are olive trees farmed on this scale (You Tube is good for the answer) or the life cycle of an Almond, when looking close up at the flowers. Broadens the mind as they say!
A fantastic place off the normal trail is Priego, which knocks a Baroque punch. It has 7 Baroque Churches in less than a half square mile although, being Sunday, it seemed its the ugly modern one that’s open for worship. Curious! Clearly a town that proudly celebrates Semana Santa, every church has information about it’s role in the events, detailing the rituals, sculptures and symbols, even down to the ‘Nazareno Penitents’ dress-code and timing of their processions. We are seeing this information everywhere. The architecture was very different all over the town and there were quirks everywhere. There was one set of stairs we weren’t prepared to climb though!
The pretty whitewashed streets of Barrio de la Villa behind the Castle and Iglesia de la Asuncion were adorable, again medieval and Muslim features everywhere. The colours of the blooms accentuated the walk in the deserted alleyways. It’s very well kept, serviced originally by textiles and silks but more so now from the economics of olives and agriculture. It has a great buzz about it compared to other smaller towns that are ruing the loss of their young folk to the cities. Anyhow, Priego was a delightful place to visit, quiet but so beautiful to wander.
Talking of quiet… next stop was Cordoba…. that’s a blog in its own right!
For the cat lovers among you, Jigsaw is fine. She’s come across quite a few other travelling cats and has seen off a few others. She’s getting quite adept at climbing tree’s and not so adept at getting down from them. She maintains her liking for rolling around in gravel and showing off to any human who wants to meet her. A Spanish lady even gifted her a little toy, you know how she can be charming at times with her blue eyes! One day she took ‘play’ to another level, trying out a trampoline and thinking about a slide.