A stroll near Ronda: Spain’s empty one-quarter

Andalucas first parque natural is moderately unknown, hitherto Sierra de Grazalema is a stupefying wild home of crests, canyons, hilltop villages and vultures

A goat farmer told me no one swims in the reservoir at Zahara de la Sierra because it’s full of fish with crocodile managers. Is that why I’m the only being in 128 sq km of cool liquid on a very hot epoch? I later learn that this manmade reservoir ( embalse ), the mountain ranges to the south of it, and the cliffs, gorges, bloom grasslands, forests and caves all around are simply, for the most character, empty. Spain has a surplus of staggeringly beautiful wild seats, but this one- nearly 54,000 hectares north-east of Cadiz, overflowing into the province of Malaga- grew the country’s first Unesco biosphere reserve in 1977. And Sierra de Grazalema grew Andalucia’s firstly parque natural in 1984.


Most foreign visitors, myself included, detect the ballpark by collision while driving from Ronda to Seville, do a double take on spotting the reservoir and the fairytale hamlet of Zahara, wrap around its crag like a wonky wedding cake, slam on the brakes, make a detour, and finish up staying- sometimes for a lifetime.

I check into a casa urban at an old-fashioned olive mill on the leading edge of village representatives announced Molino el Vinculo, eat jamon and goat’s cheese at a neighbourhood saloon, suppose living here and, next morning, wake to the seem of cockerels, lumber birds … and puffing.

Grazalema. Image: Alamy

The heavy breathing comes from three athletes and two cyclists manager up the mountain, a 600 -metre climb over 11 km of buttressed switchbacks to Puerta de las Palomas pass at 1,189 metres. I follow( by auto, with igniting clutch ), thoughts for Grazalema village, 30 instants to the south. I interrupt at the top of the pass to questionnaire the ballpark laid out below: verdant depressions, limestone spires, pinsapo ( Spanish fir) forests, more mountains. As I slam the car entrance, a stag jolt away down the scree.

Grazalema is overshadowed by some serious flowers, most notably Penon Grande. This is hiking country: many of the park’s 20 official trails start here, and most go upwards. Clearly it’s a weekend playground for Lycra-clad sporty Spaniards- the cafes in Plaza de Espana are carried with hounds, boys, bikes and beings doing stretchings.

Following a delineate from the sightseer part, I head up the one-hour Llanos del Endrinal trail, but unknowingly move on to a longer curve, and move mystified through the boulder-strewn plateaux of Puerto de las Presillas for some time. The clamber is abundantly reinforced by a extend of cool pine forest, and an hour lying flat on a slab of stone, encircled by exalted pinnacles where ibex periphery along steps. Below me is a luxuriant flower-filled hollow, and above me are whirls of choughs.

Garganta Verde. Image: Alamy

To British ears, one of the park’s claims to notoriety may explain its lack of visitors: it’s one of Spain’s wettest situates. The torrent descends mostly in winter, though. It also has Europe’s largest settlement of griffon vultures, with a nesting area in a deep ravine just outside Zahara, the Garganta Verde.

The trail to the base of the gorge is one of four where access is restricted. Even with one of the 15 lets a daytime issued by the ballpark place in my backpack, I can’t believe I’m allowed here alone. It’s like a Spielberg film set after the crew has knocked off. As sizable vultures waft across the void, I hear their wings fluttering. Aside from that, the soft tacking and clatter of a rock-and-roll drop-off and bursts of bell-clear birdsong, the primeval ravine is eerily quiet. I slide down boulders at the bottom and, rimming into the mouth of the Cueva de la Ermita, cautiously examine the underworld.

If I was into caving, canyoning, and spelunking I’d be in luck: the common is made of porous limestone, and an underground macrocosm of interconnected passageways and ponds lies beneath.( Actually, it’s the place for exhilarating physical stuff in general: a major centre for paragliding, rock climbing, extreme triathlons, and serious riding .) But the caves are too of historical sake. In Cueva de la Pileta in the east region of the park, precisely above Benaojan and below Montejaque, a lantern-lit tour divulges stalagmites, stalactites and paints of fish, goats and stick people, some dating back 25,000 times.

Village street and cafes Zahara de la Sierra. Picture: Alamy

Despite a handful of walking tours and tutor parties, Sierra de Grazalema find pretty unknown. Yet it has been inhabited for a long time. It is littered with signeds of profession, from megalithic tombs to Roman murals, necropolises and streets- the calzada romana to Ubrique, further to the south, is one of the more popular hikes in the park. The hamlets themselves, solved by Berbers, suppressed by Christians( some occupied by Napoleonic forces-out ), are is built around layers of civilizations.

Back in Zahara, the bars for the purposes of the orange trees are well-patronised: neighbours catching up after an hour apart; older boys in berets and colours boozing Pedro Ximenez; girls on their telephones, sharing tapas; small-time boys with firecrackers; a table of touring cyclists analyse maps. There’s a group of older dames up by the cemetery, gazing out over the pond.

The opinion over the reservoir from Zahara de La Sierra. Photo: Blanchi Costela/ Getty Images

Ironically, the ornament of this natural park is a dike, improved only over 20 years ago- some villagers still call it the pantano , or flood. But things are changing, gradually. Younger villagers decamp to the grassy lawns and icy waters of La Playita recreation area by the lakeshore south of Zahara on summertime periods. On the north shore, a young neighbourhood couple, Javier and Maria, extend El Mogote, a chic cafe and nautical centre with kayaks to hire and the world’s good vistum. Something similar further south may just open next summertime. Or not. For now though, as I stand at the water’s perimeter, it find agreeably wild. Croc-headed fish or no, I jump in.
* Permits from Sierra de Grazalema natural park Visitor Centre, El Bosque, juntadeandalucia.es

Where to stay

The terrace at Tambor del Llano, Grazalema.

In Zahara de la Sierra, Al Lago Hotel Restaurant has doubles from EUR1 15 B& B( al-lago.es ). All areas of the common are accessible from Zahara, but other good basis include: in Benaojan, Molino del Santo( doubleds from EUR1 15 B& B, molinodelsanto.com ); in Villaluenga del Rosario, the traditional Hostal La Posada,( doublings from EUR6 0 B& B, tugasa.com ); 5km from Grazalema, Tambor del Llano( doubles from all over EUR7 0 B& B, tambordelllano.es) offers rooms in a wild owned decided. One of very few campsites- with huts- is Tajo Rodillo in Grazalema( campingtajorodillo.com ).

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