Our plans for an overnight stay in Arcos de la Frontera were scuppered as the circus was in town. Our Maps.Me app showed a free parking area on the outskirts of the town but nearly the whole car park was taken over by the circus. We had no option but to continue on to the bottom of the steep hill. We pulled into a layby for a regroup and to have another look at the maps and guide books. Handbrake on, we got out of the van, turned around and gawped at the view of the town perched on the edge of the cliff above us.
If we’d managed to get into the carpark further up the hill we probably wouldn’t have seen the town from that angle so a disappointment turned into a bonus. We finally managed to park at the bottom end of the old town after a stressful fifteen minutes of driving down narrow streets not knowing what would be coming next. As it turned out the town at the bottom was ok to drive through but it’s the not knowing and thoughts of a potential mega reverse that stress me out!
Getting up to the top of the old town was a really steep climb but it was so worth it for the views, the buildings, the patios, the narrow cobbled streets and the labyrinth of white washed houses.
A moped seems to be the best mode of transport, and there were lots of them, as many of the streets are so narrow with wing mirror scrapes on most walls!
The viewpoint at the Plaza de España, at the top of the town, is right on the edge of the cliff with a sheer drop down to the river below.
I like a bit of drama!
Yes, we liked Arcos even if we weren’t able to stay the night.
We’d had a recommendation from our English neighbours, Ken and Mo, at the aire in Rota, about a 36km cycleway from Olvera to Puerto Serrano on a disused railway line, the Via Verde de la Sierra. Thumbs up from Tim – disused railway line = flat!
We decided to park at the Puerto Serrano end, to do the ride from west to east and back, as the leaflet showed there was a slight uphill gradient practically all the way to Olvera. Not all flat then! We were able to stay the night in the car park at the station which we shared with two German vans.
The ride was quite simply. Totes. Spec. Tac!
It rates as the best disused railway line ride we have ever done.
The line itself, although almost complete, was never put into service. It was originally planned, among other things, to provide a market for the wine trade from Jerez in the Cadiz province to Almargen in the Malaga province. By 1934 the tracks had been laid all the way to Olvera but with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war everything ground to a standstill and the work was never reconvened. It wasn’t until 1995 that work commenced to reclaim the old Sierra Railway and turn it into a greenway. Four viaducts and thirty tunnels took us through the most glorious scenery. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
16km from Olvera is a rocky outcrop, known as Peñón de Zaframagón, which is home to the largest colony of griffon vultures in Andalusia, and one of the largest in Spain. Over 200 pairs have nests on the ledges but we left it for another day to cycle back with the binoculars to take a closer look at them.
Peñón de Zaframagón – there’s vultures in them there hills!
After several hours we arrived back at Puerto Serrano tired but exhilarated having had a fabulous day out. We celebrated by eating nearly half the tapas menu at the station cafe next to our parking spot!
We were so lucky with the weather as the day after our ride it turned quite bleak with some rain and a cold wind. We drove to Olvera, at the other end of the cycleway, to stay at the aire there so that we could cycle back to revisit the vultures. As it’s a protected area you can only view the vultures from the cycleway so it was a bit too far away to get any decent pictures but we whiled away an hour or so having coffee and lunch just watching from afar.
At just €2 per person, the interpretation centre at Olvera station is worth a look guiding you through the history of the railway and surrounding area with a 3D sound only film. The receptionist gave me a guided tour in English as I was the only one in there!
After a couple of nights at Olvera we made our way to Ronda. Our guide book describes Ronda thus:
‘The full natural drama of Ronda, rising amid a ring of dark, angular mountains, is best appreciated as you enter the town.’
We entered Ronda from the north trying to find a free parking spot indicated on our Maps.Me app. We pulled off the main road into a housing estate where the car thirty yards in front of us came to an abrupt halt. A man shot out of one of the houses and dragged the driver out of the car and started beating him up. By the time I realised what was happening Tim was already reversing muttering ‘we’re out of here’!
Not the best introduction to one of Spain’s spectacularly located cities! Obviously we weren’t going to spend the night at that end of the town so had to seek an alternative. We found a campsite on the southern edge of the town within walking distance of the town which worked out really well even at €19.50 per night. (Tim recovered soon enough!).
We managed to do three weeks of washing which was a load off! I was out at 7.20am pegging it onto the line in the laundry area lest anyone get there before me! Tim predictably made the Germans and towels comment!
Ronda, being described as spectacularly located, didn’t disappoint. It was one of the last towns to be wrestled from the Moors by the Christians in 1485. The old town on the south side is a classic Moorish Pueblo Blanco and very well kept. We entered the town via an old donkey track to get a view, from below, of the Puente Nuevo, the eighteenth century ‘New Bridge’ over the 100m deep Tajo gorge, which joins the old town with the new.
It really is quite a sight especially seeing it firstly from one side, then climbing up to the bridge to see it from the other side.
Choughs nest on the crags around the new bridge and we spent a while watching their aerial display. They are only seen in certain areas of the UK so that was an unexpected treat.
Across the Puente Nuevo near the bull ring is a fantastic clifftop paseo (walkway) with amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
We’d recommend Ronda but come in from the south end!
Our tour of the Pueblo Blancos is being curtailed today as we are in need of some more LPG and the only places to get it are all on the coast. Also it’s turned pretty cold up here and we are used to being warmer now! It has been colder here than at home by a couple of degrees over the last two days! Tim even wore trousers instead of shorts yesterday which is a sure sign that we need to get back to warmer climes.