Monthly Archives: Dec 2016

Totana and La Sierra Espuña

Almerimar & Playa la Carolina

Leaving Granada, we headed back to the coast in search of some warmth.  For the full extent of our drive, the whole coastal region we passed through, for at least fifty miles, was covered in plastic wrapped spaces set for growing vegetables and fruit for market.  It looked like the world’s largest refugee camp, with makeshift accommodations and patched up areas of ripped plastic cladding everywhere.  The white plastic wrap enclosed every square metre of available land, sometimes forced in at impossible angles or slopes and on the tightest of plots.  The need to maximise every hilly patch of dirt emphasised the added value of mass production of food on such an industrial scale, but did little for the mountain views.  It was all grotesquely impressive, the intense level of man-made cultivated intrusion and innovative subjugation of nature  – “…the things we can do!

almerimar-vegetable-plantations

We had a leisurely stay in a nice commercial aire in Almerimar, with a short walk along the local beach our only activity for the day.  The following morning we moved another short distance along the coast to spend a night on a clifftop perch overlooking the sea.  This was at Playa la Carolina, a popular off-road parking spot that had perhaps thirty motorhomes parked up in little groups all along the sea front, fitting wherever possible between dunes and clumps of ragged vegetation.  We had a bracing walk along the coastal hills, enjoying the views back across the sea and out to rugged islands.  Later we watched a wonderful sunset, enjoyed with glasses of German mulled wine, glühwein, in hand.

playa-la-carolina-sunset

playa-la-carolina-with-gluwein

Totana – Day 1

The following day we arrived in the grim, concrete outskirts of Totana, our chosen spot for exploring the Sierra Espuña, and quickly located our aire.  It was a very pleasant spot, even in the persistent rain that insisted on following us.  After several false starts and exchanges of opinion, we chose a corner spot in the camp that suited us best and settled in.  As we serviced Benny we chatted to our Norwegian neighbour about his travels and home country.  We had a quick look around the site and were impressed by the setup, with a free book exchange and honesty boxes for staying fees and electric costs.  There were maps for walks available for use, and a local baker visited the site each morning at 9am with fresh treats for the visiting motorhomers.  Not a bad place to pass a few days.

totana-benny-in-camp

totana-wet-walk-to-town

We later walked into the local town, to see what was around.  It was about a 4km walk to the main square.  We didn’t manage to see the town at its best, as usual we chose siesta time to visit and it as mostly closed.  The driving rain and our fully sodden clothes didn’t help to lift this mini-adventure to epic levels.  A few damp stalls, looking forlorn and bored, littered the central square as they wished for less rain and more visitors to buy their wares.  It looked like it may be a hiatus in a local music festival that had been otherwise cancelled or paused due to the spoiling weather.  We dripped back home solemnly and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening inside, planning out routes for use on what was sure to be a better weather day the following morning.

Totana – Day 2

We awoke to a surprisingly good sky with little cloud, and the beginnings of some sun – game on.  We drove into nearby Sierra Espuña mountains, to enjoy a long walk.  After passing through Alhama de Murcia and El Berro, we undertook a relatively long drive into the mountains, up many narrow curving roads and very hairy hairpins.  The road was clear of any traffic, which made this potentially challenging route a veritable pleasure to drive.

totana-the-ascent-begins

We began our walk from the area recreativa at La Perdiz.  Benny was securely nestled under a sprinkling of pines to keep him company and in shade whilst we were away walking.

Straight away we had a long, steep climb up through the tree line, up a scree slope on a knife edge ridge.  Soon the path passed over an area that had been terraced to create a narrow but less steep path that snaked up the mountain.  It was a hot, sweaty ascent that certainly woke up our legs, but rewarded us immediately with wonderful views over the forests and distant peaks.  Around two thirds of the way up the face, we cut right, passed through a spur in the rock and into deep shadow.

totana-a-on-path-going-up

totana-a-rest-with-a-view

The path dropped a little (we hate losing height already gained) as it mostly followed the contours of the mountain around the side of the mountain, to reach more impressively built zigzagging hairpin paths.  We followed these up to a viewpoint at the saddle of the hill, before turning left and continuing upwards to our first summit.  After such a promising start, the weather was now closing in, with intermittent low cloud hiding our path from us.  It cleared again soon after, but was definitely going to be a lottery as to whether we arrived at the summit with any view or not.

totana-the-zigzags

totana-n-on-zigzags

We saw some passing Barbary sheep wander across the mountain, taking little notice of us.  A few short vertical climbs slowed our progress a little, but we soon reached the abandoned hut on the top, built with concrete walls but unfortunately with no roof remaining.  This was Morron Chico, at 1444m nearly 100m higher than Ben Nevis, and we timed it beautifully with a break in the clouds to enjoy expansive views.

totana-approaching-first-summit

totana-hut-on-first-summit

totana-we-made-it

totana-on-top

Returning down the same way to a fork in the path, we turned left again and proceeded in the direction of the next summit point, Morra De Las Moscas, at 1502m high.  With deep cloud returning to remove our visibility, we were glad the path was marked with small cairns to aid our navigation.  After a slow, deliberate climb to be safe, we reached the highest point.  Only a thick white stick held vertical by a tightly built cairn marked this summit, and we were very glad to have been rewarded with views from the lower point.

totana-second-summit-in-fog

We descended out of the cloud and back into the tree lined valley.  We passed through woodland areas with deep carpets of pine needles softening our path.  We passed by stone built snow wells, used as rudimentary fridges for hundreds of years in pre-electric societies to preserve food, these examples dated from the 16th century.  We saw the remains of six or seven beehive shaped structures, but there were 25 or so in the local park spread over several summit slopes, all set at around an altitude of 1400m.  Some of these pozos de nieves have been restored, but we didn’t get the opportunity to visit one of these, seeing only the overgrown but impressive ruins.

totana-descending-through-valley

totana-valley-forests

totana-the-ice-wells

After completing the final kilometres of the route on easy gravel paths, we returned to Benny with two summits and 16km in tough mountains completed.  We then drove to visit an interpretation centre set deep in the mountains, but managed to pick the only day of the week – Monday – that it is closed.  This was a slightly disappointing end to a great day in the mountains, but we still felt very content with our day’s activity – only dinner and wine awaited.

Totana – Day 3

The weather was similar, in a good way, to the previous day, so we jumped at the possibility of completing a cycle in the local area.  After a good day’s walking, we didn’t want to push ourselves too far, so opted to visit the fairly local town of Aledo.

totana-ready-to-cycle

Although seemingly quite close at only 10km from our campsite, we didn’t fully appreciate the steep uphills and short but difficult hair pins we would encounter on the route.  We started off feeling cold, but this didn’t last long with the steep ascents.  We climbed steadily, the road punctuated with some very steep sections, through managed forests, townsteads and small villages.  We crossed over the main road at the highest point of our cycle and enjoyed views over to Aledo from here, across the valley.

totana-view-over-to-aledo

totana-at-aledo

We continued through and over to the end of the village, to a prominent plaza.  A pretty church and tall stone tower were positioned here, demanding panoramic views out over the countryside beyond.  Near the entrance to the tower we found a miniature but still quite deadly looking trebuchet catapult that could launch human head sized boulders at enemies.

totana-bikes-at-aledo

totana-aledo-tower

totana-aledo-trebuchet

After all the efforts to reach the town, our return journey took only a few short minutes of wonderful downhill rolling, and we were back in our campsite in time for lunch.

In the early afternoon we decided to walk back into Totana, as we heard it was market day.  We hoped for some interesting local produce and fare, but found the market was dominated by the same gaudy clothes, socks, large pants and mobile phone covers that appear in every town market, so it held no appeal for us.  We wandered a bit further than our previous visit when we got soaked, now seeing a few things in the town in a different light, either from familiarity or as a consequence of the improved weather.  We never did grow to love the town of Totana; just its location in some fabulous mountain scenery.

totana-relaxing-back-at-base

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Antequera and Granada

Antequera

After Casares, we initially planned to spend a few days exploring the Costa del Sol.  We passed Estepona, then stopped for an hour in Puerto Banus, a marina town that I knew reasonably well from a previous life, but after a quick explore we decided to move on.  We then quickly passed through Marbella, Fuengirola, Benalmádena and Torremolinos, with the shock of high rise development and tacky apartments driving us briskly onwards.  The contrast to our recent mountain hideaways and peaceful mountain walks was stark, to the point where we could not find a way to reconcile ourselves to staying here.  We continued on to Malaga, where we had several options for aires and thought we might enjoy a few days sightseeing or playing at the beach, but the over-developed and over-crowded coast just flicked an off-switch in us and we had to now find a Plan C (Malaga was already Plan B).  So we headed back into the interior, away from the coast, to a town with two free aires – Antequera.

antequera-parking-at-el-torcal

We first parked up in an aire in the centre of town, outisde a football stadium.  Unfortunate timing, as this Sunday night the stadium was host to a large local derby game, and the crowds soon started to arrive in force.  With the roaring and announcements and a very long day of driving, we decided to head to the other, much more peaceful spot for the night, at the visitor centre on the top of a local hillside called El Torcal.

Low cloud was dropping in shortly after we arrived and within a few more minutes the entire mountain took on a spooky, eerie quality, looking moody and dark.  The temperature dropped rapidly and for the first time we had to turn our heating on and leave it running all night, for fear of our systems freezing.  The next morning was still a white-out, and we found ourselves the filling in a sandwich between two huge tourist buses visiting for the day.  We walked over to the visitor centre, only 20 metres away but not visible from our parking spot in the morning mist and low cloud, to find a café full of forlorn tourists who had paid for a bus trip to El Toral, only to see nothing.

antequera-moody-el-torcal

antequera-toursit-buses-swamp-benny

We spent three days in total around Antequera.  Although the weather was generally poor, the parking was free, the town centre pretty and there was free wifi available locally.  The main bonus was that there was an official Benimar garage located in town and we managed to have a few nagging issues with Benny looked at and repaired under warranty.  The walk around El Torcal in the one short weather window we had was a definite highlight, and worth waiting for.  From here we drove straight to Granada.

antequera-el-torcal-walk

antequera-n-in-el-torcal

Granada

Our initial impressions of Granada were of a large and sprawling city, spread wide across the valley, below the backdrop of impressively craggy and snowy mountains.  On approach, it looked larger than Seville, but this was no doubt because we never had a vantage point there where we could see the suburbs stretching out behind the more compact centre.  The rain fell incessantly as we drove in, slightly dampening our spirits.

granada-approaching-granada

Despite this, we caught a local bus from our campsite in La Zubia to the Palacio de Congresos de Granada to begin our visit. We crossed the River Genil and headed through parks and tree lined streets, dodging puddles bouncing with the persistently dropping rain. It seemed much more gritty, urban and real than previous cities we’d visited in Spain; political graffiti, rundown buildings and rubbish strewn back streets, when away from the main historic centre.  It may have been the rainy grey day that influenced our initial assessment, emphasising the grey underbelly and dark corners.  A brightly shining sun can help to hide a multitude of issues and make everything look new and clean, or lead the observer to overlook faults.  The city as seen in the worst of conditions may be the most honest viewing.

granada-old-city-gate

granada-view-of-alhambra

No visit to Granada would be complete without seeing the Alhambra, but with tickets needing to be booked one day in advance, that was to be our main activity the following day.  Seeing the historic city centre was our main goal this day.  We had a look at the Catedral de Granada with the adjacent, attached, Iglesia del Sagrario.  The small streets around the quarter were filled with tourist shops selling the usual trinkets and postcards, although mostly empty as the rain dripped sullenly off their projecting awnings, usually in place to protect browsers from the sun.  To get our bearings a little, we decided to head for a high vantage point to look out over the city.  We walked up and through the narrow backstreets of El Albaicín, enjoying the climb and the maze-like routes as we reached various viewpoints, each offering a different perspective over Granada.  The Mirador de Los Carvajales was the first reached, a small park area with neat benching and shade trees that opened up to view across to the impressive walled complex of the Alhambra opposite.  This far south in Spain the colours of autumn were just catching up and the tall trees around the walls looked beautifully varied in reds and yellows, even through the dull hazy drizzle.

granada-selfie-with-alhambra-behind

Continuing up through the residential streets, raindrops dripping off our hoods, we received odd looks from locals suggesting that we were definitely gringos locos for being out in such weather.  After much wandering, we reached the Mirador San Nicolás and found we were not the only mad tourists today, as a large group on a tour were positioned here, also enjoying the view.  This was definitely the largest and most impressive mirador we found in El Albaicín, looking out over both the Alhambra and the central area of Granada.

granada-granada-cathedral

Undaunted by the rain, we proceeded further up the hill, where Mirador de San Cristobal was the next viewpoint reached, on a corner near a large road leading up the mountain behind.  This was a small area with a less impressive view over the Alhambra, so we didn’t linger too long.   We walked back down this hill a short distance, before turning left and dropping quickly down a long set of winding graffiti-covered steps and back to the city centre street level.  We found a small local café and enjoyed lunch out, a rare treat for us, whist the rain finally subsided outside.  We walked back through the same streets of the centre as before, but this time with the sun appearing.  Certain plazas took on a different feel with the new-found brightness, and we felt glad to have seen them in varied conditions, allowing both the comparison and understanding that first impressions do not always tell the full story.

Day 2 – Alhambra

granada-a-reads-environment-posteres

Catching the same local bus into the centre, we first stopped off to check out the writing and photography of a display set up in a local park.  It was an installation dealing with environmental concerns and issues, and how individuals can be effective in being part of the solution.  The photography was beautiful and poignant, and the underlying ideals simply stated and well-written; combined they made a collection of powerful, moving statements.  From here we walked up through the town, to reach the main entrance of the Alhambra complex.

granada-autumn-at-alhambra

I had been in the Alhambra before, over fifteen years ago, under very different circumstances.  It was an organised bus trip from a beach resort, in the height of summer and was over 40 degrees C.  All I could remember was the oppressive heat and terrible crowds, along with a few vague memories of certain attractive corners and spaces within the main palace.  This time it was damp and dull, and this at least ensured both the air temperature and the crowds were reduced to manageable levels, making for a very different visiting experience.

We collected our pre-ordered tickets and proceeded into the complex, then first on to the higher positioned GeneralLife building.  This both avoided the several tour groups heading straight for the Alhambra centre and afforded us wonderful views back over the walled portion of the complex.

granada-view-over-gardens

granada-alhambra-doorway

In the short moments it took us to collect tickets and walk up the hill to the Palace of the GeneralLife, the clouds parted.  We could see across to the Partial gardens and the Nasrid Palaces from our vantage point in the gardens.

The weather was now altogether different, so we were very glad that we waited to visit this day.  The sun was trying hard to come out, with blue sky slowly winning its battle with the grey clouds.  This helped lift our whole visit, with a wonderful quality of light hitting certain corners or trees as we passed, adding another dimension to everything.

granada-walking-to-generallife

granada-view-through-arches

After exploring the Palace of the GeneralLife and enjoying the expansive views over the city of Granada and the Alhambra, we headed back in the direction of the latter.  We passed across the bridge leading through the gate in the stone walls, before walking along a tree lined avenue that passed the convent.

granada-alhambra-civic-building

granada-alhambra-church

We arrived at the Santa María de la Alhambra church, then looked around the Palacio de Carlos V, a circular civic building, with intriguing columns of polished concrete with exposed aggregate, that houses museums and fine art galleries.  We sat a while in the Plaza de los Aljibes to eat our lunch and enjoy the warm sun on our backs, surrounded by hundreds of screaming kids on an educational school outing, before joining the queue to see inside the Royal Palaces.

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granada-palace-plaza

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granada-decorative-arches

These were the portions I remembered from my previous visit – intricately carved plasterwork and colourful tiled mosaics in elaborate patterns, all similar in execution to those in the Alcázar, recently visited in Seville.  Each room seemed to be more complex and beautiful than the previous, culminating at the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions) and the Sala de los Reyes (Hall of the Kings).  After exhausting all corners of the palaces, we ended up outside in the gardens, still with many plants in bloom.  The flower beds and neatly arranged squares were dominated by tall black poplars with deeply bright yellow leaves, a delight in the midst of other autumnal highlights.

granada-palace-cloisters

granada-palace-tiling

The final stage of our visit was to the Alcazaba, the military complex and oldest part of the Alhambra.  This area was the dominant feature of the Alhambra when viewed from the city; tall, robust yellow stone with high towers giving exceptional oversight over the surrounding lands.  The walled enclosure was surrounded by landscaped gardens and tall trees, the soft edges blurring the concepts of security and beauty.  The highlight was the Torre de la Vela, the tallest watchtower at the end of the sharp end of the complex, commanding views right over the city to the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains beyond.

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granada-view-over-cathedral

granada-view-from-towers

We walked slowly out of the palace complex, trying to absorb all the details.  Afterwards, we walked again up through the El Albaicín, to revisit the miradors with views over the Alhambra, now that we had more of an understanding of the internal geography of the complex.  The sun was now out, offering a very different viewing experience than the murky grey of the previous day.   We picked out points opposite where we had recently stood.

granada-view-of-gardens