Puerto Serrano and Olvera

Puerto Serrano – Day 1

We sadly left Seville to head further south.  The weather turned, overcast and grey, to reflect our leaving mood, but the traffic-free roads were kind to us this Sunday morning. We headed back into the rural hills, as we planned to cycle a part of the Vía Verde de la Sierra route, an old abandoned, or more accurately never completed, railway line.  This particular stretch ran the 36.5km from Puerto Serrano to Olvera.

We arrived at the Estación at the Puerto Serrano end of the Via Verde, to find a car-park overflowing with cyclists and visitors; clearly a very popular route on a Sunday.  Unable to park in any of the available marked spaces, we abandoned Benny on a nearby dirt track, just off the side of the entry road.  We knew the car-park would clear out later, as the sun set, and we would have our pick of spaces to overnight in.

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puerto-serrano-view-from-via-verde

We had a look around the Estación and the nearby Fundación Vía Verde de la Sierra before retrieving our bikes from Benny and beginning the cycle.  The day was still a little dull and cloudy, normally ideal for cycling but not conducive for enjoying great views. The track was easygoing on smooth gravel, yet rather more winding and hilly than it should have been as a prospective train line, although we found out later that the extensive costs for the required infill to level the route was what ultimately caused it to fail as a viable route.

We passed over tall stone built viaducts and through long tunnels cut into the hills. The tunnels varied from short runs of around fifteen metres to the longest, El Castillo, at 990 metres long.  Automatic lighting on sensors lit our way through.  It was cold in the shade of the tunnels, no doubt a welcome relief in the heat of summer, but proved quite chilling for us on this overcast November morning.

We went only as far as Coripe on this jaunt, as we had to return and our legs were still feeling all the miles of walking around Seville.  We stopped a short while at the trail’s half way point of Estación de Coripe before turning back, to happily find the track mostly downhill in this direction.  We returned to our starting point much quicker than going out, completing a nice 35km cycle.

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puerto-serrano-a-and-benny

The car-park was still full on our return, so we cycled into the town of Puerto Serrano to pick up some fresh bread and other provisions, before returning to chill for the afternoon.

Once the crowds had dissipated we manoeuvered Benny into a prime corner spot in the car-park, with our door facing west, and this became our settled home for two nights.  From here we loved the peaceful solitude of being the only people staying in this free aire, with a great view over the olive groves behind and a wonderful sunset each night.

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Puerto Serrano – Day 2

As we were enjoying the solitude and views from our carpark aire, we decided to remain in the same place for a further day.  This gave us the chance to complete another local cycle, away from the Via Verde, and see a different aspect of the local countryside.

The morning was cloudless but very cold, so we wrapped up warm to begin our cycle, until the sun joined us and warmed the air.  We followed a remaining portion of the original railway line, not incorporated into the official Via Verde, but still accessible by bike, in the opposite direction.  Early on the route we encountered a tall tunnel of cactus plants, over three metres high, forming quite the formidable hedges to protect the boundaries of the properties adjacent to the route.

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Soon after the cactus ended, the gravelled but bumpy route passed through a large solar panel array and some local farms, before turning us out onto beautifully smooth local roads with fantastic views back over the town of Puerto Serrano.

From here we approached Villamartin, a Pueblo Blanco village near a large lake.  To reach the town we forded a low-flowing river, with slippery rocks under tyre and a smell of rotting vegetables in the air.  Rubbish was strewn around, giving the crossing the unfortunate appearance of a dumpsite.  The unpaved road then led into the cobbled backstreets of the town, before they opened out unto larger, smooth roads and continued upwards to the pretty main square.

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Just outside the town we followed an old road, closed to cars, into what was signed as a parque natural, adjacent to the large lake.  We passed a heavily reeded marshland, where the road became a deep sand path, lined with peeling eucalyptus trees.  We continued along here a while, before deciding it was not prudent to continue deep into what could be private farmland and, more likely than not, a dead end.  So we doubled back and found a different, and easier, route back into the hills.

We experienced a multitude of different surfaces and rural landscapes throughout the day, a truly varied array of vistas and textures, all so close to each other, like coloured squares on a sewn quilt. We passed olive farms with neatly planted rows of trees.  We enjoyed views of Pueblo Blancos from the top of the rolling hills, their uniform square,  white buildings contrasting with the yellow-whites and dusty sand coloured hillsides.

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We rode a rugged concrete road that has long ago collapsed into huge craters and needed careful route-finding to navigate.  We passed further large walls of spiky cactus plants, ripe with prickly pears that created green gorges to be passed through with sides many metres tall.  We were unsure whether they were growing wild or planted for harvesting or simply as a definitive ‘keep out‘.

Suddenly the stony path we were following became a long street of thick knee-high grass, difficult to ride through.  We persevered and after a few hundred metres of effort, popped out the other side back on gravel, as if nothing had happened. We could only think that either we were the first to use this path for many years, or that we missed a turn and crossed through an area where we shouldn’t have been, but luckily rejoined the route a little later.

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puerto-serrano-n-in-dusty-countryside

On the hills, different soils ploughed together created the look like they were painted with a wide brush in a lazy sweep, striped and blended, using simple muted colours.  Tractors perched awkwardly on the steep dusty hillsides, looking like discarded toys on a sand dune. Tiny tufts of bright green grass broke up the sandy hillsides.  Fine gravel paths leading to small white storage buildings branched off from our route.

Smooth new tarmac farm tracks provided the easiest cycling of the day, but were all too brief before the next bumpy off road stretch. The roads were peaceful though, with very little traffic.  There was a sign advising us that the area was a ‘zona de galgas‘, with an accompanying picture of a dog.  We were unsure what this meant but remained wary in case it was a warning of wild dogs, although we later found out it means greyhounds.  We’re still not quite sure why it was necessary to mention it.

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puerto-serrano-n-at-lunchspot

We saw occasional white fincas, each surrounded with wooden fencing and tall pine trees, neat and ordered like an oasis in a desert.  We stopped for lunch overlooking a small, white building, looking like a lonely tent in a desert.  Single trees stood lonely on sandy ridges, in the centre of large fields, providing the only shade for miles around.

On our return we saw olives being harvested with two men laying out netting to catch the fruit whilst a third used a petrol powered vibrating rod to shake the trees and drop the fruit.  From here we descended back into Puerto Serrano on the main road, enjoying the smooth downhill into town, to complete a very varied and interesting ride of 56km.

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Olvera – Day 3

From our lovely, empty aire at Puerto Serrano, we left for the short journey east to the opposite end of this stretch of this Via Verde – the town of Olvera.  On the way we had a short detour into the village of Algodonales to pick up some provisions, just squeezing through their very narrow streets, before arriving late morning in Olvera.  We gladly found the aire had space available, with only two other motorhomes currently in residence.  The denoted spaces were over-generous, not that we were complaining, and the area could have easily accommodated several more motorhomes if marked differently.  We reversed into the prime corner spot, leaving lots of space around us to spread out into and relax.

We had a wonderful sun trap, with our door facing south east and our new patio area outside catching direct sun for the majority of the day.  We visited the restaurant to pay the €7 for our stay, then rather than get the bikes out immediately, we walked into Olveda to see the dominant church and Moorish castle at the top of the hill.

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It was a short but very steep hill into the town from the aire, leaving us breathy and sweaty by our arrival.  We made our way up through the town, passing the Christmas decorations, the town hall and from there following steps up to the church.  From the plaza in front of the church we were rewarded with incredible views over the town, nearby dusty rolling hills blanketed with olive groves and other pueblo blancos in the distant hills.  The castle was unfortunately closed on Mondays but we made plans to visit it another time.

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olvera-town-overview

We enjoyed a few hours exploring the town before heading back to the Estación de Olvera to relax and plan our next move.  We decided not to cycle, but to leave the remaining portion of the Via Verde until the following morning.  Instead, we played a while on the outside exercise equipment before resorting to sunbathing in our camping chairs with a cold beer.

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Olvera – Day 4

Today we cycled the Via Verde route again, this time in the opposite direction, from Olvera back to Coripe.  We had a very cold start, and the air definitely didn’t feel like any heat was going to be injected soon; it was more like what we’d expect from an early morning cycle in the UK than in southern Spain.  From this direction there were lots more tunnels, 20 in total from this end to Coripe.

Entering each tunnel the temperature suddenly dropped a few more degrees, from the already chilled morning air.  This made our bare arms break out in goosebumps and involuntarily shivers run along our flesh.  When back outside, we would slow down to linger in the short patches of sun, where the direct heat was very welcome, but speed up to work harder when stuck in long portions of shade.

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The route dropped steadily downhill all the way to our turn-around point at Coripe, the point we had reached a few day’s previously cycling from Puerto Serrano.  We lost around 260m height in total over 22km, meaning the return leg was going to be more of an effort; at least we’d keep warm.  After a short break at Coripe, we headed back again, content we’d seen the full extent of this Via Verde.  The original stretch from Puerto Serrano was definitely prettier, with more open views across the countryside, and less tunnels.

olvera-view-of-castle

olvera-the-church-from-the-castle

After returning from the cycle, we packed away the bikes and walked back up the hill into town, this time armed with sketchbooks and intent.  First we paid the €2 to gain entry to the castle, allowing us to explore the full complex and extensive museum.  We climbed to the highest ramparts and enjoyed panoramic views over all the town and for miles around, before enjoying the detailed models and information boards on display.

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olvera-town-at-sundown

Later we sat at the front of the church and attempted to sketch the Castillo on the hill opposite, with dubious results.  It was a lovely time of day, the soft late afternoon light making the whole town glow with an inner warmth.  The air was rather colder than the view suggested, but for a pleasant half hour we sat and sketched, as curious locals came to inspect our drawings, with polite nods and mutters of ‘muy buen’.  A fine end to our day.

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olvera-castle-sketch

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