Andalucian Adventures – Part Two

Los Pueblos Blancos.

Ronda has been a great place to spend Christmas. There is a wonderful vibrancy about the place, especially in the early evening when hundreds of people throng the main streets, drinking in bars and cafes, strolling about as the sun begins to set. There are bodegas, tapas bars, restaurants and cafes, all drawing a crowd which can make it difficult to get somewhere to eat so it is just as well that we had made a booking for Christmas Day at one of the best restaurants in town – Casa Ortega. We opted for the Roast Local Kid Goat and a very fine bottle of red followed by Strawberries and Cream. Very traditional!

But Ronda is set amongst stunning mountain scenery and makes an excellent base for exploring the surrounding sierras and, in particular, Los Pueblos Blancos, the famous ‘White Villages’ of the region.

All of these villages are testament to more unsettled times than today. Foreign invasions, civil wars and local disputes have all left their mark and you can see in each village enclave the defensive imperative required for their survival in times past.

Occupying a high position gives a natural defensive advantage so a town like Zahara was built high on a rocky hill. Audita castle was built at the topmost level, just one of the line of forts built to protect Ronda during the Moorish occupation. The capture of Zahara in the 15th Century was important for the conquest of the whole Ronda area for the Castillian Spanish.

The main square in Zahara
Audita Castle
Embalse de Zahara looking a little low despite this being winter

Grazalema, which lies within the Sierra de Grazalema, is another spectacular hill town. It has two distinct neighbourhoods, the term ‘jopo’ (figuratively : bull’s penis) being used to distinguish between the two. The ‘Japones’ (Big Bull’s Penis) lived in the Barrio Alta (High Town) and were obviously the posh element. The ‘Japoches’ (Small Bull’s Penis) lived, of course, in the lower town and no doubt did much of the work. Nothing changes, eh?

Grazalema – Barrio Alto, though no sign of any bull’s penis

Perhaps the most amazing of all the Pueblos Blancos is Setenil. Here the inhabitants, instead of building on a mountainside, went the other way and dove into the earth. Setenil is built into a gorge and is famous for its cave dwellings – houses built into the rock.

The ‘cave’ houses of Setinel

With villages like Zahara, Grazalema and many others you face a steep uphill slog to reach the centre. In Setenil it’s an equally steep downhill trek and one much more troublesome for old knees, of which more later.

Setinel – it’s a long way down
Setinel’s narrow streets

But it is a fascinating place. Tiny roads and alleyways, houses crowding one another and those ‘cave’ dwellings. We visited it on a sunny, warm Christmas Day and were amazed at the number of people walking the streets and eating in the bars, cafes and restaurants. So much not like a Christmas Day back home in the UK.

We came to Andalucia not merely to visit picturesque villages but also to do some hiking. The first few days we hiked several steep and challenging trails, first between Cartajima and Parauta in the Sierra de las Nieves and then a very tough, rocky walk from Grazalema.

Parauta was a slightly whacky place. I still don’t know the significance of the dining chairs adorning the buildings

But this is where the old knees come in, for I have had a bad recurrence of a problem with my left knee. I can walk uphill alright but going downhill is agony and even a walk downhill into Ronda at night has become an ordeal. So we are now having to restrict ourselves to level-ish terrain of which there is precious little. I’ve been to a physio in the hope that a massage and some exercises can help. I certainly hope so as we are shortly moving to the Sierra Nevada which is likely to prove even more challenging from a walking perspective.

My nemesis in Grazalema – a very tough walk on rocky ground.

3 thoughts on “Andalucian Adventures – Part Two

  1. Fabulous pix as always, Rob!
    Setinel looks like the sort of place Sally & I would love to visit. Glad the weather was so kind on Xmas day.
    Hope your knee settles down very soon.
    Perhaps try Norfolk next holiday?

    Liked by 1 person

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