In the mountains, near the sea

After all the hustle and bustle, crowds and excitement, of Semana Santa, my family and I went to the sierra for the last part of the week. I still kept tabs on the pasos in Seville, where the forecast for Thursday meant that it was unlikely that the Madrugada - processions which leave their churches in the small hours of Thursday night/Friday morning, and the high point of Holy Week for many - would happen this year, for the second time in a row. However in the end they did go out, which was excellent news.
We stayed in a small village called Cortes de la Frontera, in the Parque Natural los Alcornocales, which is part of the Serranía de Ronda. This is an unspoiled part of Andalucia, south-east of the town of Ronda itself, with rugged grey mountains, and tree-covered valleys. Many of these trees are alcornoques, cork-oak trees, and there's still a thriving industry harvesting the thick bark from the trunks.

This is a part of Malaga province which is very popular with walkers and bird-watchers; in nearby Gaucín, a famous pueblo blanco on a hilltop looking down towards the sea, there are signs showing the local fauna everywhere.

There are plenty of hiking trails criss-crossing this densely forested area, which is very sparsely populated - the roads are correspondingly under-maintained and full of holes and cracks. It is whispered that much EU funding destined for these winding countryside byways has "disappeared" - all part of the various municipal council corruption scandals of recent years.

These are big, wide landscapes; you can see for miles along mountain ranges, across valleys, and down over rolling pastures all the way to the sea. It's a very heartening sight - I don't even live in a city, but I still feel enclosed; when you're in this area of Andalucia, out there there's nothing around you but trees, and the open sky. It's a real tonic for the soul.

And I've barely even mentioned the towns - Gaucín (a short, if twisty, drive across the valley from Cortes) and Casares (down the mountain from Gaucín) are both Moorish settlements with spectacular hilltop settings above the sea, watched over by castles, and are famous for their artistic communities. Sadly, we chose the wrong time to visit Gaucín, as everything was closed for the big toro de cuerda fiesta, where men try to grab a piece of rope tied to a bull's horns, as it runs through the town. (I didn't say stupid. Did you?)

From Casares, it's an easy drive down the hill (though on roads in a terrible state) to the sea. Many people who know Andalucia well, or who've lived here for years, will be thinking, "Yes, I know all this already, so what?" But I've only just discovered this part of Malaga province, so I want to share my discovery with you.
What's your latest discovery in Andalucia?
Blog published on 9 April 2012