24 hrs in Girona, Catalonia

24 hrs in Girona, Catalonia

The first thing that struck us as we arrived in this Catalan city was how quiet it was. I suppose we have comparisons of London, Birmingham, Paris even to benchmark it against. Few cars lingered at the lights and few people were rushing from street to street. It was lunchtime and a Friday in mid-winter, so perhaps the Spanish siesta was dawning or may be this was just the city’s quiet heart-beat.

As our exploration began, only the deep resonance of the Cathedral bells that vibrates through your veins and the odd fusion of seagulls and parakeets seem to pierce the silence. And yet Girona could so easily be missed off the travellers’ agenda in their haste to head south to coastal retreats or in the mad dash north with their luggage crammed with Rioja and Chorizo. And it is true for us too, as it has taken us until our third Spanish road trip to drop in and say ‘hi’. So what is our view of this proudly Catalonian city after our brief sojourn ? Let’s see if we can give you a flavour of our experiences and then may be it will prompt you to go and make up your own minds.

As with most cities we’ve visited in the last two years of being on the road, there’s the old and new. And of course it is generally the ancient face we come to admire, as the outer fringes of industry and high rise where people create their homes and their business, has little to offer the curiosity seeker. Girona in that respect is no different. Nestled just below the foothills of the Pyrenees, Girona is blessed by stunning surroundings however your entry to the city is made. We came from the south west, Manresa to be precise, and our route through the snow-capped, densely forested mountains was a great set up for our city tour.

In the Spanish guide books there is little space dedicated to Girona. Barcelona and Seville certainly win the competition on that score. Although don’t be fooled by its lack of representation, as when we made our way from our inner-city camper park along the edge of the Devesa Park with its plethora of larch trees, I felt the anticipation grow. Despite the railway that dissects the old from the new, yet again we were struck by the lack of noise and buzz. A quiet station, few trains, only its metalic presence gave it away.

And then our first real sight of this unassuming city, carrying a historical weight on its shoulders, emerged as we approached the river.  With copious bridges that span a trickling River Onyar before the Pyrenean snow melt fills the riverbed, we felt immediately transported  into Girona’s soul. The colourful five or so storey buildings proudly hang their Catalan flags, propaganda and washing from their balconies like it’s a natural part of their decor, giving it an almost scruffy, yet lived in feel.  It reminded us a lot of the Pontevecchia in Florence just on a smaller and quieter scale.

Crossing the bridge felt symbolic as little did we realise that entry through the archway would take us into the heart of this somewhat somber city; the facades of the river-fronted buildings belying its inner sanctum. I’ve been trying to think of an adjective that best describes Girona’s historical old town and I think somber real does it for me. The streets, whilst full of Italian-style shops selling sumptuous clothes, shoes and leatherware are generally narrow and dark. I felt as though I wanted to sand blast the streets to bring it back to its former glory. Although in the darkness lies the truth of its history, so to remove it would be to strip away some of its legacy.

The dakness aside, in contrast the city’s cathedral and monuments are almost albino white, matching the distant Pyrenean mountains that provide the backdrop to the cityscape.  With a minimalist style to their exteriors, simplicity shrouds this city. It is not out to wow you in the same way Seville does. It invites you to enter its inner hub and engage with its historical tale that spans back some one thousand years.

The main thing I learned from my guide book was to head for the Passeig de la Muralla – the city walls – as this offers a terrific bird’s eye view. And indeed what a great piece of advice. So often visiting cities we feel like ants as we try to get a full experience of the majestic buildings, somehow missing part of the jigsaw by being on the ground. Yet from above we were able to see the full picture emerge and the city’s modern day identity trying to converge with its historical father-figure.

There are a number of entry points to this upper fortress passage. We started at the Cathedral end and worked our way south. En route to its maze-like entry, we passed the Banys Àrabs, the Romanesque Baths, which is very much intact and for €2 you can gain entry to this ancient masterpiece. A point to note, during the winter this is only open from 10-2 so be warned if a visit is on your list. Sadly it was shut for our city tour. Still, onwards we climbed up the seemingly never-ending stairs that lead to the walls, where towers positioned in battle readiness gave us a lofty view of the streets below.  The walls have been lovingly and sensitively restored allowing us to walk in the footsteps of warriors who were set on defending their realm. What a terrific way to experience this compact old town.

Back down at street level, we found the river again, where still few people graced the pavements. Yet a handful of hardy Catalonians brave the crisp winter’s grip that has taken Spain by surprise this year, sit outside for their early afternoon beer. Shops selling an enticing array of pastries more suited to a French boulangerie border the streets, reminding the visitor of its neighbour’s influence on its language and culture.  Having thought we were finally getting to grips with Spanish vocabulary, arriving in Catalonia is another challenge altogether for our foreign tongue. So many variants remind you that the locals here are set on creating individuality and independence even if they have been ruled against it.

The Jewish quarter was one of the largest communities in Catalonia back in 13th century, living harmonious alongside their Christian neighbours. Although after racial attacks, a massacre and persecution, the Jewish population either converted or were expelled from the country. Their community is called the Call, translated as the ghetto and museums today tell of their harrowing story whilst the street, with its intricate alleyways and cobbled lanes still hold their sombre secrets. It is a street with little light, which somehow seems befitting and symbolic of their story, with buildings leaning precariously close together as if in some sort of constructive solidarity.

It felt odd to me as we left the solemnity of the street’s ghostly past that the faint and gentle sound of a street musician should break the historical spell, as he played to his unappreciative audience on the steps of the Cathedral. Except for me who felt compelled to offer him rapturous applause for his musical talent.

The Cathedral like so many, regales in its architectural glory with steep steps climbing to its doorway, as if forcing you to make the commitment to reach its religious sanctuary.  Sitting strangely alongside its Jewish neighbours, this city paradoxically shows how two different factions of the community can coexist.

One final pièce de resistance, if my French isn’t completely out of place in a Spanish write up, is La Plaça de Independence, just on the other side of the river. A huge square with café-lined archways that set the scene for a small yet power symbol of the fight for independence back in the early 17th century. Whilst today dogs walk, cycles create wheel-track patterns in the sand and Instagramers look for the ultimate pose, there is a strange message carried through the ages about fighting for your right for liberation. A fight that still is very much alive, if not yet a battle won.

And so this university city with its throng of youngsters, musical festivals and weekly markets does have plenty to offer for a day’s visit. Modern one side and ancient the other, an eclectic mix that offers the visitor an day of intrigue, good quality walking and an insight to city holding onto its historical identity.

So how would we sum up Girona? Whilst it may not sparkle like its Spanish siblings, Girona has character and with its compact streets and bird’s-eye fortress promenade, it offers up a unique perspective of a yester-year that gently asks to be remembered. We are glad we came and we would definitely would recommend a visit here, although it did leave us sadly wanting. Whether it was the austere feel, the dark streets or the quietness, there was something missing for us. That said, come make up your own mind – it must be experienced even if only for its city walls.

Our Recommendations for a visit to Girona

  1. Come in spring or autumn as there will be more life to the place and it will certainly feel warmer.
  2. Start your visit in the morning when you will experience the smell of Girona from the plentiful Boulangeries.
  3. Do tie your visit into a Saturday as the market in Devesa Park is one of the largest I have ever seen with hundred of vegetable and clothes stalls. Markets are always a great way to experience the ‘real’ city and its locals. And Girona’s population is incredibly diverse.
  4. Do the City Wall walk first so that you can gain a real perspective of the place.
  5. Experience at least one of the many restaurants as Girona is famed for its classical Catalonian fare.
  6. Visit museums before 2pm as they tend to close for siesta.
  7. Avoid using the ATMs in town – every one I tried wanted to charge me commission. So come prepared with plenty of cash.
  8. Hotels are just on the outer edges of the old town and are within walking distance.
  9. If you come with your camper as we did, then there is a dedicated and secure car park right in the centre of the city within 10 minutes walk of the old town. For €12 you can stay for the night and it has full services as well.  41.983905 2.813767
All things Greece

All things Greece

As I write about our Greek adventures for a magazine article this week, I have noticed how many posts there are on Facebook about heading to this luscious land this year. I’m sure it’s always been a popular destination – after all who wouldn’t want golden sands, white washed, cobbled-stoned street villages and azure blue seas! I’m in!

As we had a glorious 3 months there touring in our camper, a month of which was in Crete I thought it would be worth putting together a resource that captures all of our experiences, lessons, places we visited, and camper stops just in one place. A one-stop shop if you like. Of course the normal caveat applies – we didn’t visit everywhere – you can’t possibly in three months, although we gave it a good shot and managed to get to see a diverse range of places on Islands, mainland and the Peloponnese. So sit back, relax and soak up the goodness that is Greece.

 

Interactive Route Map for Greece

This map gives you a good sense of our places of interest and our camping spots with co-ordinates, if camping is your thing. Just click on the dots for more information.

Getting to Greece

There are many ways to get to this gorgeous land;

  • Flying is the most obvious, either into Athens or into one of many inhabited islands.
  • Or you could take the ferry from one of five ports in Italy; Venice, Ancona, Trieste, Bari, Brindisi to either Igoumenitsa in the north of Greece up by the Albanian border or Patras, gateway to the Peloponnese.
  • Alternatively you could drive, one of two routes depending on which part of the world you are living in of course…..
  • Either you can drive south through Italy, Croatia, Albania and Bosnia (although there may be insurance limitations on your vehicle for the latter two –  meaning you have to rely on getting a Green Card at the Border, so do check before you travel.)
  • Or you can take the Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria route, dropping into north-east Greece.

We took the ferry from Spain to Italy, as we spent winter there and then hopped across the Adriatic Sea from Bari to Igoumenitsa. You can read more about the ferry options from Spain and Italy by clicking here for our comprehensive blog.

Greece Mainland – it’s a must 

Many of us when we think of Greece immediately conjure up the iconic images of the lslands, steeped in glorious sunshine and to-die-for beaches. And whilst it’s true, they are certainly devine – (who wouldn’t want to see Santorini at sunset?), there really is so much more to Greece. The mainland in particular is a jigsaw of diverse pieces that, when put together create a map of historical intrigue, natural wonders and an authentic off-the-beaten-track perspective.  Here’s our highlights, just to whet your appetite;

Metsovo Lake where your only neighbours will be the sheep dogs and the odd bear or two, if you are lucky to see them. In an incredible landscape high up in the Pindos mountains and with a little hop, skip and a jump you can check out Metsovo – a characterful mountain village that thrives on local tourism and agriculture.

Kastoria a byzantine town hidden in the mountains with its own mirror lake. A town that has prospered historically under the fur-trade banner and more recently attracts international rowing athletes. And if caves are your favs, then you seriously need to go see the Dragon Cave, which is the third largest and longest in Greece, with seven underwater lakes and chambers like you have never seen before. And then there’s the bird life which with its 100 plus pelicans, grebes and warblers you will be in ornithological heaven. Here’s a glimpse of what is in store for you at Kastoria.

Kerkini – the place where land succumbs to water as this wetland nature reserve protects hundreds of bird species and where water buffalo wallow in the bogs creating their delectable cheese.  Take the sunrise boat ride to see the birds in their natural habitat and be bowled over by this preserved landscape. .

Meteoraa surreal and atmospheric place that looks like something out of a James Bond movie-set. Where sandstone rocks rise to the sky with six monasteries atop. An early morning visit benefits you with swirling mists and shafts of light caressing these magnificent buildings that make you wonder at their engineering feat. It’s a busy place, so beware of running the gauntlet with the caterpillar procession of coaches. Make the most of your trip by following our free guide. And don’t miss the incredible drone footage that we captured.

Parga and Lefkas – the west coast of the Greek mainland offers a town that Italy’s Cinque Terre would be proud of with its colourful terraced houses overlooking its double bay. And Lefkas, the only island you can drive to, is more like something out of an Indian Ocean brochure, with its white sand beaches.

 

PELOPONNESE – AN AFFAIR WITH THE SEA 

So many visitors flock to the Peloponnese, three fingers and a thumb of the most spectacular coastal scenery you will see. Coves, bays and headlands will greet you here, with the earthiness of nature’s battle and yet the grace of a seagull. Don’t miss out on the Diakopto Railway that will take you to the mountain village of Kalyvita, scene of the WW2 Massacre in 1943 and then the Corinth Canal which tells a whole different tale. The ancient delights of Epidaurus with its Amphitheatre and Healing Sanctuary will no doubt impress or perhaps  its coast will have you exploring the underwater cities with your kayak or snorkel. Methana and its volcanic delights reminds you how fragile our world is and how the earth’s core still runs the show from beneath the surface. Climb up to Methana’s largest volcano via its lava paths and even enter into its shaft – it’s like being on the moon and the scenery isn’t bad either.  Check out our video here and our blog.

At Galatas, just a little further round the coast you will gasp in amazement at the first real sighting of a traditional Greek village. The island of Poros, which is just a €1 ferry ride away is a delight for fisherman, sailors and visitors as you wander the cobbled streets and immerse yourself in authentic Greek culture. It is a pretty surreal place only really captured by our drone – the pictures simply don’t do it justice…  Here’s our blog on the area…

And the ancient capital of the Peloponnese, Napflio with its mesmerising coastline and crystal waters will lure you and surprise you with its three castles, suggesting its historical prowess. The old town is stereotypically Greek with its alleyways linked by magenta bougainvillaea, cafe culture and cobbled stairways leading to the real Greek lifestyle rather than the tourist one. And don’t miss the mind-blowing ancient citadel of Mycenae, just 20km drive north where you will be transported to 4000BC and will get to gasp in humility at the advancement of this age with their water system and jewellery making capability. All of which would look at home in our high street shops.

The Peloponnese Thumb is a great introduction to the area and a delight to behold.

 

Camping in Greece

Firstly let us say that Greece is wild camping paradise and as long as we are respectful and aware of our surroundings, you can pretty much overnight anywhere. We found some amazing spots, partly thanks to our Greek wild camp guide  – Mit Dem Wohnmobil auf die Peloponnese. Although it is in German, the co-ordinates and pictures are more than enough to go by in choosing a home.

We also followed pins that have been collected by previous campers such as Peejays, although we also found our own spots along the way. This is one of our favourites at Porto Cheli on the Peloponnese.

As you’ll see from our interactive map, there are a fair few camping options and whilst campsites are not profuse in Greece, they do exist. Bare in mind that many of them are only open from mid April until mid-end October. That said, if you’re happy wild camping, then going into an official site will only become necessary to off load and fill up with a bit of washing on the side.

Water filling up is easy – every beach and marina have showers that you can fill up from and many mountain villages have fresh water springs. So you’ll never go without. For black waste we had a number of solutions for this. First was to go to a Garage, where they often had outside toilets. In exchange for diesel they would give us permission to off-load, given that we don’t use chemical products in our toilet. Secondly, we would ask permission from campsites that we found along the way, whether we could use their facilities. Despite always offering to pay for their services, they rarely took it and were very happy to help. We were only refused once and we kind of understood why.

Getting by in Greece

Life is very easy in Greece. There’s no need to rush and the weather is generally great even in Spring, except for the afternoon wind that always springs up like a bad smell, every day. Although let’s face it, it was a warm wind!  Driving was pretty good on the whole, although some of the roads left a little bit to be desired. We learnt that when searching for a place to stay, to park up and explore on foot rather than risk taking the van and getting stuck. It happened once and we didn’t repeat the error.

Eating out is cheap and delicious and one of the best places in Europe to get lamb.  The cost of living is pretty much the same as Italy and France. Still with the amount of wild camping you will do, you will definitely be in pocket.

During our first month we learnt plenty – and so we gathered all our lessons in one place so that we can easily share these with others. We also have compiled a ‘Getting By in Greek’ document, which is included in this blog that will help you master some of the language basics – the Greeks, much like any nation love to hear visitors speaking in their tongue. Click here for our insights and your Language Guide.

And so there we have it – Greece in a nutshell – at least based on our experiences there. It really is a fabulous love affair with the landscape, the culture and the people.  Want to know what all the fuss is about? Then go and start your own Greek Odyssey. It will enrich you, entertain you and enthral you. Your visit is callin you….

Antio sas!

 

 

Travel’s Classroom – Conquering Fear at Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Travel’s Classroom – Conquering Fear at Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Travel’s Classroom

Conquering my fear at El Caminito Del Rey, Spain

Integrity is so important when you write about your travel experiences; and even more so when you proclaim the importance of living life beyond fear – as we do. So when I had the chance to walk my talk I took up the challenge!

El Caminito del Rey in the Malaga region of southern Spain is a notorious gorge walk, which is famous for perhaps all the wrong reasons. Once crowned one of the most dangerous walks in the world, with death-defying climbs, 100m + impenetrable gorge walls and narrow, suspended boardwalks with only a small piece of concrete and a few planks of wood supporting you. It all sounded pretty frightening to me as a girl who loves to feel safe and not take un-calculated risks. Although, you know the sensation you can get when, however scary something is, there is a perverse desire to do it irrespective of what is going on in your stomach? Call it ego, call it foolhardiness, call it what you wish, although there is something inside of us all that just wants to conquer and accomplish. Perhaps it’s just that insane human trait that needs to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to feel alive.

On first viewing, from the safety of the road, you can look up to the famous Eugenio Ribera’s Aqueduct and get a sense of what the walk would be like. And from afar the boardwalk paths that hug the magnificent rock faces of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes – Gorge of the Throat, look too incredible for words. Tiny lines that seem to decorate the rock, with ant-like images of walkers who have taken up the challenge of hiking El Caminito del Rey.

I felt a mixture of ‘OMG I couldn’t possibly’ to ‘Yes, come on! I’ll have me some of that’. In truth I’m not sure which one came first, the fear or the anticipation, although one thing is for sure, my desire to try the walk was greater than my fear – at that point!

Later that night I started to do some research to identify what was involved and whether I was fit enough to do it. I found this great website which is full of information, images and a place to book up your tickets.  The pictures looked incredible although strangely they started to engage my fear with their terrifying suspension, boardwalks seemingly hanging in mid air, without any visible anchors! Except  I rationalised that hundreds of people do this walk every day, so surely it must be safe.

Still there was something inside of me that still wanted to do it. So I pitched it into my hubby who took one look at the website and fuelled by his vertigo said, ‘Not a chance in Nelly’ or words to that effect. So there was my dilemma – I could do it, although I’d be doing it alone.  When my mum offered to buy it as part of my 50th Birthday, I jumped at the chance. We love to buy experiences and not gifts that will hide away in a cupboard unused.  So what a perfect present.

My fears were three-fold; was I fit enough, was I courageous enough and how would I fare alone? Myles and I have been travelling Europe in our camper full-time for two years now and it has been an incredibly enriching experience for this little Miss Safety girl who used to like her roots. In that time I’ve learned the basics of seven languages, toured through US on the back of a Harley Davidson, driven up and down mountain passes and kayaked down rapids. Surely my confidence was great enough that I could tackle this walk – which is after all only 7.7km (that’s about 5 miles in UK money).

Although having made a commitment to myself – and my mum, I was determined to give it a go, as life is just too short not to have amazing experiences. So I tentatively pressed the send button on my €18 online ticket purchase and preparations for my walk began. As always, I knew that the journey would be so much more than treading the boards – it was about overcoming my fears.

The day arrived and we found a great wild spot to camp for the night, only 10 minutes drive away. So with my body strapped and wrapped as if I was about to climb Kilimanjaro, Myles dropped me off at the entrance for the walk. Not being completely clear as to where I would meet my group, I set off to the anticipated rendezvous point. It was strangely emotional as I saw our camper drive off, leaving me there. I was so used to doing things together – being alone left my inner child feeling vulnerable, although in truth I had little time to indulge her as my first challenge was slap bang in front of me. A low and seemingly long tunnel with no lights and a no Torch App on my phone. It felt so symbolic. I was in the dark, not knowing where I was going and with a long path ahead of me.  And yet contrary to that, the pinhole light some 1/2km away really was ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’; hope that my darkness would soon end!  With affirmations running in my head about how ‘I am strong, confident and capable’, I forged ahead, talking nervously into my GoPro that would record my journey.

With the tunnel nailed, it took just another 10 minutes to find my rendezvous point at the main Control Centre. I’d chosen to go for a 10.00am Guided Walk, so that I was guaranteed to be with others and have the relative safety and humanity of like-minded souls. Donned with safety hats, which I must admit didn’t fuel my confidence, and a Ref-Link radio and ear phones, we were ready to start our journey.  Now there was no going back. With Marcelo, our Spanish Guide who translated into English for me, we were on our way, into the depths of this little known Caminito, whose soil had been blessed by a King almost 100 years ago.

The boardwalks – of which there are two sections both of which are about 1.5km each and have been skilfully reconstructed after the death of five people. A complete refurbishment of the walk took place between 2000-2015 making it a safer place to walk.  Whilst the height is breathtaking and the views beyond adjectives, the catwalks are very secure, wider and more robust than I imagined. The wire fencing and cables keep the suspended paths secure and there is simply no way you can fall or wobble. The website photographs certainly conjure up a walkway from hell in your imagination, which is simply not the reality. With each step I grew in confidence and my nervous chatter into the GoPro subsided into a mindful silence as the scenery in front of me took my breath away.

Hundreds of vultures circle overhead, gliding on the thermals and the sound of the river coursing its way thunderously through the narrow gorges makes the walk an orchestral symphony for your senses. My fears simply didn’t have any space to control me.

With a glass viewing platform to test your nerve, tales of 19th Century sailors who worked in the gorge to satiate your inner historian and the sight of 23 million year old fossils – your anxieties soon disappear.  The blend of ancient and modern Caminito stories are mesmerising and make your efforts to tackle this walk, so worth it.

And what of my fears? They evaporated within 30 minutes when I saw how easy the walk was both in terms of safety and my fitness. The most strenuous part of the hike is actually the 2km after leaving the gorge to El Chorro. And given that even with a few stops along the way for drinks and photos, it’s no more than a two hour walk from one Control Centre to another. And I would add, this is done at a gentle amble rather than a Rambler’s purposeful stride.

Then there is a strange sense of disappointment when I reached the final bridge as I realised it was over and that my return from the hidden canyons of Narnia meant I was back in the real world. And then I reflected on my feat – not my feet that had trodden the boards with the deftness of a gazelle – no the feat of my achievement and completing this incredible walk whilst learning about its secrets.

Fear paralyses us in so many ways with its deep-seated presence somewhere in our guts. It holds us back from living our life to its full potential and from doing things that could bring us joy, happiness and untold riches. Fear is only a figment of our imagination, developed into scenes of horror by our minds and is so rarely the reality. When we push beyond our fearful voice we can experience beauty beyond words. What is life, if not to embrace all of its faces and to learn about the extraordinary story that the world has to offer. Movies and encyclopaedias have their place, although they cannot begin to replace our participation in all that this magnificent place has to offer.

El Caminito del Rey? Come! It’s amazing.

 

Recommendations for your trip based on my experiences

 

  1. My visit was in January 2018 and it was cold although quite sunny. You are in gorges for 2/3rds of the walk, which don’t get much sunlight, so do wrap up in layers. The paths were dry, although if there has been rain, ensure you wear robust footwear.
  1. I suggest that you book your tickets on-line through this website rather than buying at the Control Centre, as you may risk not getting the time slot you want, as it does get booked up. Then you’re having to wait around.
  1. You can choose half-an-hour slots, from 9.30am up until 3.00pm.
  1. The earlier times are good, as you can park more easily and get a quieter experience, although the trips are scheduled in 15 minute slots so you are never on-top of one another.
  1. Only take a small rucksack with water and snack bars. You have a couple of short stops for refreshments, although there are no facilities (including toilets) once you are in the gorge. There are though toilets at the Control Centre office and again at the end of the route in El Chorro.
  1. Your phones have no signal in the gorge until you reach El Chorro, although there are plenty of people around if you decide to walk alone and you need help.
  1. If like me, you are walking alone, going with a group with your own Guide is great as you get to learn so much more and ask questions. It felt like a more rounded experience than just simply just doing the walking. Tickets for going alone are €10 and with a Group are €18.
  1. The walk is one way – north to south and not circular. It STARTS at Ardales – North Entrance and finishes in El Chorro – South Entrance.
  1. This North Entrance though is NOT where you meet up with your Group. You have two routes to take to get to the main entrance, where you present your ticket and rendezvous with your Group. You can either go the 1.5km route, which takes you 20 minutes where you go through a long tunnel of 1/2km. Alternatively you can go on the 40 minute route which is about 2.7km and it has a shorter tunnel. So if you dislike the dark and feel claustrophobic, then you will need to factor in the longer route or simply take a torch with you.
  1. You need to rendezvous with your Group at least 15 minutes before your scheduled slot, as you need to register and go through a safety briefing. So make sure you allow enough time to walk there and arrive in plenty of time.
  1. When you arrive at El Chorro there are scheduled buses that run throughout the day that will take you back up to your car, if you parked it at the North Entrance. Alternatively you can park at El Chorro and catch the bus up to the starting point. It costs an additional €1.55 for the bus.
  1. Your Guide will leave you at the bridge at the end of the Gaitanes Gorge and you will walk the final 2.1km back to the Control Centre alone. Strangely this is one of the more strenuous parts of the walk with lots of steps to negotiate. Refreshments and toilets are available at the end.
  1. And finally, if you’re in the area for a couple of days – I would strongly recommend doing it for a second time to really appreciate the walk. I was aware of my sense of awe and photograph taking and I think for a second trip, I would certainly have a more connected experience.
  1. If you travel with a camper, there are a number of spots you can stop for the night that are close by. There is an official campsite and a number of wild spots you can stop at safely for no cost:
  • Ardales Camping – official campsite a few minutes south of the walk’s Northern Entrance. It didn’t look very open when we visited in January 2018.  (36.919983 -4.80424)
  • Olive Branch Camping – El Chorro. Official camping close to the Southern Entrance – just for tents.
  • Wild camping for camper vans at Tajo de Encantada reservoir – Bobastro. 15 minutes away from the Northern Entrance (36.898139 -4.774677)
  • Wild camping at El Chorro – Southern Entrance, beside the river and in shade. Requires either driving to Northern Entrance or getting the Shuttle Bus in El Chorro (36.906272 -4760189)
  • Wild camping at the Guadalhorce Reservoir just 10 minutes away from the Northern Entrance – (36.945964 -4.789012)

Check out our bird’s eye view video of this stunning walk. Amazballs.

Beyond the Beaches of Malaga

Beyond the Beaches of Malaga

Spain; the image of its Costas, tavernas and golf courses, enticing holiday makers to indulge in the heat of the summer and the warmth of winter. So many flock to her southern shores and soak up the Spanish rays and revel in the delights of her sandy beaches and rocky coves.

Although we are learning with our latest visit to this beautiful country, how diverse her land is beyond the Costas.  For sure the gently lapping waves of the Mediterranean that play their melodious tune – even as I write this blog – it is appealing. I love being by the sea and have this eternal swing of affections between mountains and the coast. Although there is so much more on offer as we stepped back from the romance of the sparkling blue waters.

We have had the last week in the mountains just north of Malaga – an area completely new to us and what a joy it has been. My love affair with these geological genius was nourished wholesomely this week and what a Christmas Tree of gifts it wrapped up for us.

Below we have created one of our interactive maps that reveals our sojourns and offers you a glimpse into what lays behind one of the most popular holiday destinations in western Europe. Click on the map to explore what stands behind the veil of mountain majesty.

Mijas – Pueblo Blanco

A stone’s throw from Torremolinos and Fuengirola the authentic air of Spanish customs fills your lungs. Not more than 30 minutes from the coast, this white village (although really more of a town these days) clings to the mountain-side.

Centuries of history fill the quaint cobbled streets, that in the sunlight blind you with their whitewashed walls and blue decorations, so typical to this region of Spain.  In fact evidence of prehistoric fortifications can be seen in the town’s walls. Ocre tiled roofs frame the vista as you look out to the sea beyond and step inside the defences built to protect them from rebels back in 800AD.

The Mirador view-points that are positioned around the outside of the town give you a coastal fix, if being away from the beaches feels like torture. It offers a reminder of how close you are to the golden sands, yet still in the heart of authentic Spanish culture. Perhaps your visit could coincide with the roars from the semi-circular Bull-Ring that is pretty unique or you simply wish to watch the mosaic fountains rise and fall to the sound of the wind.

Simply walking around the maze of alleyways that the town offers you, will have you reaching for your camera to encapsulate the image of this historical civilisation away from the high-rise. The main square is filled with cafe-culture bars with their obligatory sunshades and Sangria or perhaps just a cafe-con-leche will suffice. Either way, walking around this charming village is a delight and one of those must visit places.

Mountain Route – Circular tour

From Mijas you can then take the route directly into the mountains with your focus on the tranquility that these off-the-beaten-tracks offer the curious explorer. Heading up towards Álora, this white town and dominant fortress resembles a camel with its humps. With the fortress on one side and a church on the other, the town has settled in between the protective space of the valleys. We didn’t stop although it seems like an interesting place to look at depending on your timescales. For us, the call of Mother Nature was in the air and so we motored on through the Valle Abdalajis towards Antequera. This is a beautiful drive on twisty, turning roads through gently rolling hills full of olive groves.  Whilst Antequera itself was not a destination, it did give us the gas we needed, so it was a necessary diversion and offered some historical interest with its castle.

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra – Wetland Paradise

Our ultimate destination was Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, the largest lagoon in Andalucia, where it is said that this natural inland lake crystallises because it is fed by underground springs that pass through mineral deposits. And so, because the lake is saline it has become a haven for birds – the Greater Flamingo especially where they use the wetland to breed.

Now we’ve seen some sanctuaries for these magnificent birds through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Romania, although there was something adorable about this place. Our stop for the night was in a parking area for a Mirador, which offered staggering views of the entire lake over to the town of Fuente de Piedra although we couldn’t really get up close and personal to the birds. That required a Guided Tour from the Visitor Centre.

Although what it did offer, which is something unique to all the places we’ve visited, was the sunrise and sunset ritual of the flamingoes. As the sun begins its daytime journey the flamingoes have an inbuilt trigger that sets them off south – to where, we never did learn – although the cacophony of the flock as they set to the skies was incredible. And then the same at twilight, their return followed the same path – almost as if returning to the roost after a day of play – somewhere, who knows where.

Andalucia’s Lake District

After tearing ourselves away from this wetland haven, we ventured south west through Campillos and into the Guadalhorce Natural Park. Think England’s Lake District and you have an image of what this region looks like. Three massive man-made reservoirs that are nestled in the bosom of the mountains with their azure complexion is a sight to behold.

Winding your way through the mountain passes with water on either side of you just begging you to stop for a while and take a picture or two – with bridges across the dams and restaurants imploring you to visit for a cerveza, this is a lovely place to drive.  From the direction of Campillos, you can access the famous Gorge walk of Caminito del Rey and take the route downhill to El Chorro. Alternatively you can start at El Chorro and do the path the opposite way.  You need to book a visit here and you can walk with a group from one entrance to another, with a shuttle bus taking you to your starting point. If you want to camp, then there is a wild camp option at El Chorro (36.906272 04.760189). It’s a short, up-hill walk to the entrance and we saw plenty of campers here when we visited January 2018.

Bobastro Fortified Village

Although we took a little diversion before reaching El Chorro. Off the main road, there is a sharp turning right towards Bobastro Village ruins. This road is a dead-end drive although it is absolutely worth the deviation and we found an amazing wild spot up by Tajo Encantada. You wind your way up through the mountains, reaching the entry point to the ancient 8th Century fortress remains of Bobastro.

This has amazing history, which for €3pp in season (it was free for us), you can climb up to the pinnacle and see the remains of the village.  In truth until you get to the church there’s not much evidence of buildings per se, although the church is particularly interesting and amazingly its arches are still in tact. Information boards in Spanish and English tell you about the rebel stronghold and how they lived on and in the rocks.

Moving on up the road you continue to follow a snaking path until you discover a reservoir hidden deep in the mountains and it is here you will find a couple of wild camping opportunities. The first is as you arrive at the reservoir and the second is further up the hill on the right-hand side. The views over the valley are stunning, as are the sunrises. Don’t be surprised to find a wild goat or two nibbling around your van as this is their home too. Out of season this was a very quiet road and the restaurant at the far end, where there is a viewing point, was shut. We suspect that in the high season that there is more traffic and passing places, the further up the road you go, are few and far between.

El Chorro and Caminito del Rey

After a windy although otherwise peaceful night, we continued on our journey through the mountains, passed the Hermitage and then on towards El Chorro. Whether you decide to do the Caminito Del Rey walk or not, looking at the gorge bridge from the safety of the road side, is still a sight to behold. One day we will do it – in fact more like – one day I will do it – Myles’ vertigo would have something to say about his attempt at this epic walk.

The drive from El Chorro back around to Álora is delightful, if not a little narrow at times and coaches are inevitable on this main road into the mountains. So do drive with caution. Still the landscape of the valley floor with its mountain backdrop is gorgeous and lemon groves and olives trees litter the countryside with the neatness of a patchwork quilt.

This circuitous route up through the mountains has been a delight and we would highly recommend it as a detour from the high-rise seaside resorts of Costa del Sol. Sunny it might be and beaches galore, although nothing as authentic as history, wildlife and raw nature at its best.

If you love to get off the beaten track and go where few others go, then this is a route extraordinaire.