Sierra Magina: Limestone mountains, olive groves, ancient history

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Enjoying a glass of wine in the sun in Ubeda, near Sierra Magina

Enjoying a glass of wine in the sun in Ubeda

Getting to Sierra Magina

As our flight to Spain descends into Malaga, we marvel at the stunning white villages and steep-sided hills awash with olive trees on the lower slopes of the Montes de Málaga – the mountain range to the north of this sprawling seaside city. It is then a 2 1/2 hour drive along the Costa del Sol, out of the overpopulated metropolis, and inland towards Granada.

Manfred at Velez de Benaudalla

Manfred at Velez de Benaudalla, Andalusia Spain

Beautiful salad at Velez de Benaudalla, Andalusia, Spain

Beautiful salad at Velez de Benaudalla

Octopus and potato dish at Velez de Benaudalla, Andalusia Spain

Octopus and potato dish at Velez de Benaudalla

Our destination, the remote and less touristic area of the Parque Natural Sierra Magina (pronounced Ma-hena). After a stunning lunch along the way, at the unplanned destination of Velez de Benaudalla, we bypass the ancient city of Granada and soon turn off to drive through olive growing country towards Belmez de Moraleda on the southeastern side of the Sierra Magina range.

Map of Sierra Magina and where we stayed near Belmez de Moraleda

Map of Sierra Magina and where we stayed near Belmez de Moraleda

We have directions to our accommodation, a converted Cortijo (farmhouse), but still, it takes a bit of time to locate it on the hillside above the main road and away from almost everywhere. This is the perfect place to disconnect, relax, and chill out.

Our Cortijo from the road leading to it, near Balmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Our Cortijo from the road leading to it, near Balmez de Moraleda

Farmhouse (Cortijo) Sierra Magina - Belmez de Moraleda - Garganton

Our farmhouse (Cortijo) Sierra Magina – Belmez de Moraleda

The perfect hideaway

Reaching our extraordinary little home for the next 5 days requires travelling by car up a narrow winding road to where it sits nestled under the 2,167m (7,100ft) peaks of the Sierra’s. The swimming pool looks out onto the mountain range of the Sierra Magina, with its pale grey stone walls shining above the olive groves and bushline. The most inviting blue water but, alas, it is still early summer and the water is icy cold. This does not stop Manfred and each day he swims a few lengths just because the scenery is too good to pass up the opportunity of enjoying these moments of bliss. Even on our last day, early in the morning, he enjoys the most amazing calmness of water, air, and scenery to take the plunge into the icy waters and make the most of this delicious place. I am content to sit by the pool, enjoy the sun and relax.

The swimming pool at our Cortijo, Sierra Magina, Spain

The swimming pool at our Cortijo

Our Cortijo at Belmez de Moraleda

Our Cortijo near Belmez de Moraleda from the swimming pool area

Manfred sitting in the front of our Cortijo in Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Manfred sitting in the front of our Cortijo near Belmez de Moraleda,

A view to behold, of Cortijo’s and white villages

The view from our Cortija, ‘Alojamiento Garganton’ and on the walk around the Camino is superb, with olive trees as far as the eye can see. The hillsides, even high up above the valley on the opposite hill, are adorned with white houses and orange tiled roofs. The small village of Solera catches our imagination and thirst to explore. We become locals as we buy supplies from the supermarket in Belmez.

Manfred chatting to a local man in the village of Belmez de Moraleda

Manfred chatting to a local man in the village of Belmez de Moraleda

We eat at the local restaurants recommended by our hosts Paqui and Felix and the tall Romanian poet and writer from the grocery shop who has lived in Belmez for 20 years. They are a wonderful source of local information and go out of their way to make us welcome and help us find our way.

Morning misty view from our Cortijo, Sierra Magina, Spain

Morning misty view from our Cortijo

Above the Cortija towards the hills, Sierra Magina, Spain

Above the Cortija towards the hills

Manfred cooking in our Cortijo kitchen, Sierra Magina, Spain

Manfred cooking in our Cortijo kitchen

A walk on the wild side

On our 4km walk along the Camino through the olive groves from our Cortijo to Belmez, we follow a rough 4WD track towards the base of the grey stone hills and pass over the old stone bridge that crosses the Rio Garganton which flows down from the high mountains and passes far below. Abandoned old stone cortijos and well kept or restored homes dot the landscape beside the road and down in the valley.

Bridge over the Rio Garganton, on the Camino towards Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Bridge over the Rio Garganton, on the Camino towards Belmez de Moraleda

Old abandoned Cortija on the Camino walk to Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Old abandoned Cortija on the Camino walk to Belmez de Moraleda

Beautiful wildflower of the Sierra Magina found on the Camino

Beautiful wildflower of the Sierra Magina found on the Camino

The groves of olives reach high up the mountainside and farmers work tirelessly to ensure a good crop, trimming the trees, carting the wood and old leaves away, and building stone retaining fences around the base of some trees by the road making good use of every inch of available land.

A farmer working in the Olive grove poses for a photo, Sierra Magina, Spain

A farmer working in the Olive grove poses for a photo

The olive grove under pruning time, Sierra Magina, Spain

The olive grove under pruning time

On the Camino in the Olive grove, Sierra Magina, Spain

On the Camino in the Olive grove

Superb view from the ancient fort

We take a drive just north of Belmez towards Los Cortijos de Bélmez and the 13th-century Arab fort high up on the hillside (1,010m/3,313ft). Castillo de Bélmez de la Moraleda stands in wrack and ruin; however, the people of Belmez are proud of its presence and respect the history and former protection of the region. The views are particularly stunning and although it takes but a short time to explore we linger to enjoy the expansive vista this hillock and ruin afford both the naked eye and the camera lens.

The ruins of Castillo de Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

The ruins of Castillo de Belmez de Moraleda

Looking into and through the Castillo de Belmez, Sierra Magina, Spain

Looking into and through the Castillo de Belmez

At the Castillo de Belmez de Moraleda with the expansive view of the olive groves of the Sierra Magina, Spain

At the Castillo de Belmez de Moraleda with the expansive view of the olive groves of the Sierra Magina

Two small villages near the Castillo de Belmez, Solera on the far hill, Sierra Magina, Spain

Two small villages near the Castillo de Belmez, Solera on the far hill

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Solera: A white village high on the mountainside across the valley

A panoramic view of Solera from the fort and castSierra Magina, Spainle,

A panoramic view of Solera from the fort and castle

Potted colour in Solera, Spain

Potted colour in Solera

The village of Solera calls to us and we drive the winding road up the opposite mountain to explore the small white village with its 13th-century Arab castle sitting on a rocky promontory at 1,090m (3,576ft). Finding our way to the northeast corner of the village, beyond the church and up a narrow lane lined with potted plants and a plaque noting the most colourfully decorated street in the village, access to the towers is from the south side and we venture above to the top of the castle’s fort via a tunnel and stairs.

Coloured potted pathway towards the Castle and Fort in Solera, Sierra Magina, Spain

The coloured potted pathway towards the Castle and Fort in Solera

The Fort and Castle in Solera, Sierra Magina, Spain

The Fort and Castle in Solera

Manfred in one of the tunnels to the castle and fort in Solera, Sierra Magina, Spain

Manfred in one of the tunnels to the castle and fort in Solera

We marvel at the view of the Jandulilla river valley and as our hosts had told us, “the best place to view the Sierra Magina”. They are not wrong. With acre upon acre of olive trees stretching all around the valley and up the mountainsides, white villages and Cortijos dot the landscape, this is a sight to behold. The camera clicks and we stay awhile just taking in the view.

From the fort and castle in Solera looking back towards Belmez de Moraleda and our Cortijo, Sierra Magina, Spain

From the fort and castle in Solera looking back towards Belmez de Moraleda and our Cortijo

Olive groves, Belmez de Moraleda, our Cortija away on the hill from Solera, Sierra Magina, Spain

Olive groves, Belmez de Moraleda, our Cortija away on the hill taken from Solera

Olive groves right to the very top of the hill near Solera, Sierra Magina, Spain

Olive groves right to the very top of the hill near Solera

The other side of the mountain

Albanchez de Magina is one of the main tourist towns on the north-west side of the Sierra Magina National Parque and is the gateway to hiking and other adventure activities in the area. We make a quick visit to this village with its middle-aged Christian Castillo de Albanchez perched strategically above the town on a brown rocky outcrop. You can take the steps and walk up to it; however, on our visit here we did not have time.

Castle on the hill in Albanchez, Sierra Magina, Spain

Castle on the hill in Albanchez de Magina

We did not find a suitable place to eat and left quite disappointed in the lack of cuisine in this attractive little town with lovely tree-lined narrow avenues and park space.

Parque National Sierra Magina

A landscape dominated by the Spanish ibex this is also the home of wild boars, holm oaks, gall oaks, olive trees, and cherry trees. The Sierra Mágina Nature Reserve covers an area of almost 20,000 hectares and has a very rugged landscape due particularly to its limestone rocks.

Across the olive groves on the Camino at Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Across the olive groves

From the Camino the view through the olive grove to the village of Solera on the far hill, Sierra Magina, Spain

From the Camino the view through the olive grove to the village of Solera on the far hill

A day in the city of Ubeda

An important regional settlement, Ubeda is a small city just to the north of the Sierra Magina ranges. It boasts a bunch of Renaissance 16th-century churches and palaces which offer open spaces in the ‘squares’ either within or outside the boundaries of these beautifully preserved buildings.

A Renaissance building and square in Ubeda, Spain

A Renaissance building and square in Ubeda

Renaissance tower on a church in Ubeda, Spain

Renaissance tower on a church in Ubeda

Along with its close neighbour, Baeza, the large number of monuments and graceful renaissance buildings provide the flavour that attracted the artistic set in the mid-1950s. In 2003, these twin towns were named UNESCO world heritage sites. A place of pre-Roman settlement, in the early to mid 800s, Ubeda was besieged and ruled by the Muslims until 1233 when Ferdinand ‘wrested’ it from them and, along with the Christians and Jews, these three factions co-existed here for a long time.

A street in the city of Ubeda

A street in the city of Ubeda

Agriculture, in the form of olive growing and cattle ranching, form the main industry in the area; however, another industry successful for many centuries, is pottery and we enjoy rummaging in a large pottery shop where several potters were working at their wheels. We chat with the famous Tito, (Juan Martinez Villacañas) who keeps the traditions alive in his open workshop and we carefully select and purchase a hand-painted bowl to take home to New Zealand.

Tito at his potters wheel in the museum shop in Ubeda, Spain

Tito at his potters’ wheel in the museum shop in Ubeda

Hand painted pottery in Ubeda pottery shop and museum. New work drying in the sun, Ubeda, Spain

Hand-painted pottery in the Ubeda pottery shop and museum. New work drying in the sun

At the pottery shop - pottery museum in Ubeda.

Hand painting at the pottery shop museum in Ubeda.

Time to leave

We pack our bags, hand over the keys, and chat to Paqui before carefully driving back down the long and winding road.

Manfred and Paqui talking outside the Cortijo just before we leave Belmez de Moraleda, Sierra Magina, Spain

Manfred and Paqui talking outside the Cortijo just before we leave Belmez de Moraleda

About to leave our Cortijo at Sierra Magina

About to leave our Cortijo at Sierra Magina

Passing through a small rural town along the way to the coast and our next adventure on the Capo de Gata, we stop and find a farmers market with fruit and vegetables, clothing, shoes, and other items for sale. We choose some nice produce and happily make our way along the country roads to the highway where we leave our memories intact and turn our mind to the next encounter with nature.

Buying fruit at a small rural town just out of the Sierra Magina area on the way to Capo de Gata, Spain

Buying fruit at a small rural town just out of the Sierra Magina area on the way to Capo de Gata

 

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

As a young adult, I wanted to travel and write - I now get to do both. In the interim, I became a registered nurse and gained a Masters in Health Science and bought up a family of 4 children - who live scattered around the world, providing me with destinations and stories. I also practice and teach Accunect, a holistic healing practice based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I practice meditation and enjoy my collective and extended family of Oneness and Buddhist friends. My husband loves to cook and we explore the food of the world, particularly Mediterranean cuisine. This myriad of experiences feeds and inspires my writing. We are always researching and planning the next trip.

Read more at teresaglobaltravels.com

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