We woke early after a peaceful night camping in the forest with just the sound of an owl hooting. It was another blue sky day in southern Spain and we wanted to start exploring the nearby Sierra de Grazalema natural park. Our first stop was Embalse de Zahara, a beautiful opaque blue reservoir and just above it was the little village of Zahara de la Sierra. In typical Andalusian style the houses were all painted white but we’ve realised we prefer the more rustic medieval villages in the north as these white villages lack character and it’s all rather repetitive…we also don’t understand why they choose white, I guess it helps reflect the sun off the buildings in summer but my god does it glare in your eyes. On the plus side the village was built on a rocky mound so it offered a fantastic vantage point down to the blue lake. The opaqueness and vibrant colour made it look like a glacial fed lake but I think it gets this colour from the clay floor which gives the water a milkiness.
We strolled around the village for an hour and then drove around the lake looking for a spot close to the water where we could take our boat out for a paddle. We ended up finding a lovely spot where we could also camp with a view of the lake out our side door. Sadly we weren’t the only people there, three french motorhomes were already parked up. One of the owners walked past us and had the audacity to say “bonjour” which makes me furious. I think you should only say hello in the language of the country you’re in. So Craig replied back to her with a jolly “hola” and this 60 year old women had the cheek to laugh which we thought was very immature. She had no idea what country we were from so she must say bonjour to every Spanish person she meets. Bet the locals love her for making zero effort!
Anyway, the weather was scorching so we had lunch outside in the sun before getting Roland our rowboat ready for her first paddle in 8 months. It was a bit windy when we set off so Craig had a hard job paddling but after thirty minutes we tied up to a tree sticking out the water and relaxed in one place. The wind completely calmed down and the water looked like glass with all of the hills reflected in it.
When we got back to the pontoon Craig jumped into the chilly water before we had the boring task of packing the boat away. It was lovely and hot back at Helga so we sat in the sun with a gin and tonic but the bloody french neighbour began playing tv loudly. So we did something we would never do and played our music, just enough for her to hear it and soon enough her door shut and we turned our music off and were left in peace. In fact as we ate dinner all we could hear were the cicadas outside and it sent me right back to memories from our travels around hot countries. It’s our first time on this trip that we’ve heard them and I just love that tropical sound.
We woke early the next day to explore more of the natural park. There’s some really steep and wiggly mountain roads around this area but I picked a route that seemed to avoid most of the drama. So we made our way up to the white village of Grazalema which sits at almost 900m elevation and is nestled between mountain peaks. We continued the drive past the village and up a 1300m mountain pass where we did a short walk. We followed the Sendero del Cerro Coros route which offered us a fantastic view of Zahara lake below us. We also got a glimpse of the other side of the pass where the road looked like a rally-track.
Back down at Grazalema we did our second hike which was much longer and led us up towards the rocky peaks. As soon as we passed through a gate we were met by a large white donkey. It was just standing in the middle of the path and didn’t seem scared of us or aggressive so we risked a stroke and realised it was the friendliest donkey. It had the softest fur and happily stood there while we stroked the sweet thing. The hike headed uphill and it was a bit of a challenge in the sweltering heat. It was probably only 20° but that was hot enough for me, hiking here in summer would literally feel like you’re hiking in the pits of hell. We passed a group of chamois grazing the land with a large male rearing up on his back legs so he could reach the leaves on a tree.
After a long day hiking we slept very well, minus the irritating noise of some low branches from a tree tapping our roof when the wind blew. The next morning we took a stroll into the town but we opted for the scenic route which involved a rocky hike up a hillside where we got a fantastic view of the mountains and a football pitch nestled below the peak which I thought was very cool. We saw more chamois on a rocky mound and walked beside a tiny lake before we descended down a sketchy path into the village.
Later that day we peeled off the main highway and headed along a country road, stopping beside an olive grove for a fried egg sandwich. There was a short trail leading off so we followed it to a lake which had absolutely no water left in it. Spain’s having a huge drought and we’ve noticed all of the reservoirs are low but this was the first empty one we’ve come across. The trail led down to a cave complex which is 8km long and in the dry season there are 25 lakes inside with the largest one stretching 114m. You aren’t allowed to enter the cave as that’s saved for professionals but the river flows out and forms a pool at the other end of the cave so that’s where we were heading.
It was a short walk from the carpark and they usually charge an entry fee but in the off season it’s free, hooray! The pool looked incredible with clear turquoise water, tropical plants and flowers surrounding it with the huge cave entrance at the back. Best of all we had the place to ourselves so we got into our swimmers and jumped in. The water wasn’t even as cold as we expected so I was able to spend a long time swimming. It was delightful and when we headed back to Helga she’d made some friends – a huge flock of sheep surrounded her.
The next morning we set off to Ronda to have a little look at the very popular town built atop a deep gorge. We ended up on the most ridiculous road made up of stones so poor Helga was shaking all over the place, but we eventually found a spot to park. We walked to the viewpoint of the gorge to begin with and it was quite impressive actually, a bridge spanned across the gorge and connected the old town with the new. There was a river through the gorge which dropped down a waterfall before continuing through the valley. Ronda was strangely busy considering it was siesta time and there were even shops open, all touristy ones so we felt like we were in a busy holiday destination. To be honest I prefer more local feeling towns without the tourist tat but it was nice for a brief stroll and we got some great views across the other side of the bridge where we could see restaurants and houses sitting precariously on the edge of the gorge.