Walking - Via Verde of Olvera

Via Verde - Olvera

The town of Olvera where this via verde begins and continues to Puerto Serrano. © Michelle Chaplow .
The town of Olvera where this via verde begins and continues to Puerto Serrano.

Possibly the most beautiful vía verde in Andalucia is the route between Puerto Serrano, west of Algodonales on the Ronda-Sevilla road, and the former bandit haven Olvera, sitting on its dramatic pinnacle north-east of Ronda. Curiously, the military regime led by General Rivera between 1923-29 decided that the region's agriculture industry needed a light railway between Almargen and wealthy Jerez de la Frontera (perhaps tellingly, General Rivera's home town.). So private enterprise paid for a rail line to be laid along the route. They only got as far as the 38km between Olvera and Puerto Serrano before it went bust. But they managed to build six dramatic viaducts and twenty-four tunnels before the project went belly up.

What private enterprise lost is nowadays our gain. The beauty of all vias verdes is that, unlike roads, railway lines cannot follow the contours of landscape. Where cars whiplash around mountain hairpins and rollercoaster through hilly terrain, a train line needs to keep roughly on the flat and straight. More; they like going right through things, rather than around them, unless the object is insurmountable. Hence the number of viaducts and tunnels between Puerto Serrano and Olvera. The engineering involved in this abandoned railway, with tunnels sometimes half a kilometre long, is, for its era, astounding. (If a little dark and damp at times; take a torch.)

The real beauty of most vias verdes, however, is that they are usually routed far away from habitation and roads. The Puerto Serrano-Olvera route, particularly, forges through primeval countryside, in cuttings and raised sections in the middle of wild landscape, farmland, mountains, scrub, valleys, water meadows, forest. No cars, few people, just you and whatever nature happens to be doing in that particular section of the route.

The trackway is flat and at times covered in Tarmac - sometimes rangers' cars patrol along the route - but there are one or two mysterious dips, including one near Olvera with a dip like a rollercoaster ride; probably the site of a dismantled bridge across a winter storm flood-stream. Most of the twenty-four tunnels have push-button lighting systems, but not all; in one, a friend with better night-sight had to lead me by hand through the rock-strewn murk.

A proper hat, good walking shoes or boots, sunblock, water, food and glucose are essential for a walk of this length. The 38km route on level ground should not be too difficult for an experienced hiker too complete in one day. There is an alternative; joining the route at Coripe, where the distance is only 26km. Coripe also has the benefit of a road/car connection, and also a restaurant and bar.

The true beauty of the Puerto Serrano-Olvera ruta verde is the opportunity to see parts of the landscape you might not see as an individual. Like all rutas verdes, it involves organising transport to and from one end to the other - which is where an organised walking group such as Pasos Largos comes in handy - but the magnificent landscapes, not least an Andalucia that few others have glimpsed, reward the stiff limbs, the long hot bath, and the stiff drink after that long bath.

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