The rain is, once again, drumming on the van roof. It’s been raining now for the best part of 36 hours and the natives, chez Ollie, are getting restless! We are currently pitched up at a great aire at the entry to the little hilltop town of Casares, a 15km or so drive from the coast. We arrived here on Thursday afternoon but, due to the shi inclement weather, we have yet to venture out. Sometimes I can see the town across the valley from our parking spot, sometimes not. The rain and mist are sweeping in and out obscuring our view.
The kitchen window is leaking and has been gaffer taped up and Ollie has been turned around the other way to protect said window from the elements! The forecast for tomorrow isn’t much better. So, this lifestyle is not all glamour let me tell you!
Oh but……………..oh but……………..the week we have just had touring the hilltop towns north of Gibraltar has been just brilliant. We left Ronda ten days ago heading down the A397 to the coast road near Marbella in search of a garage selling LPG. The drive down to the coast, winding its way down through mountains, was spectacular.
We’d spent a week touring the quiet Pueblo Blancos so, as always, coming back down to the coast was a bit of a culture shock. It still never ceases to amaze me that, in the space of half an hour or so, you can go from seeing shepherds scratching a living in the hills with a few goats and a scabby dog to humungous luxury villas, leisure complexes, marinas and tower blocks. The contrast still gets me every time!
But, back to the quest for LPG. We discovered that our aires book, which has a list of garages selling LPG in Spain, is out of date. The garage near Marbella didn’t sell LPG. Meh! Two more garages were found but the LPG pumps were out of order. Double meh! We finally found one on the outskirts of Algeciras. Lesson learnt – do more research on t’interweb – don’t rely on a book published several years ago!
So, LPG tanks brimming, we stopped overnight at the aire at La Linea de la Conception, just across the water from Gibraltar. This wasn’t in the plan as we weren’t supposed to be in Gibraltar until next week when I’m meeting up with a friend. We decided to save exploring Gib until then but we did make a quick flit over to visit the supermarket, because, well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it? And, we haven’t had any baked beans or spaghetti hoops for eleven months! Or an easter egg, or prawn cocktail crisps!
It was back to the hills we wanted to be though so taking the A405 out of La Linea we stopped for the night at the aire at Castellar de la Frontera. The aire is actually at Nueva Castellar, a new town built in 1971, 10km down river from the old hilltop town. I was confused at first as, wandering around the town, which is fine with a nice square and a few cafes, I was thinking ‘where’s the castle?’ and ‘it’s not on a hill?’. Then, on re-reading the guide book, I realised the original town was 10km away………………..uphill! Still, it was a beautiful sunny day and perfect for a bike ride!
It was definitely worth the climb up. The tiny town, enclosed by the walls of a 13th century Moorish castle, has all but been restored.
Our next stop was Bennaraba, a pueblo blanco, 50 or so km north, which has a brilliant little aire just as you enter the town.
Unbeknown to us at the time, we arrived for the start of a food festival. The little town was bustling with activity and we were able to sample some of the local produce.
We had the best beer we have tasted since leaving Yorkshire ten months ago. It would have given some of the Yorkshire real ales a run for their money that’s for sure.
There are plenty of footpaths around Bennaraba to explore the area, which we did for a couple of days, so if you are into walking it is worth a stop.
Next up, Grazelema, another Pueblo Blanco, set within the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema. Oh this one was a good one! We spent two nights there at a large lay-by below the town where wild camping is tolerated.
What a beautiful village set in such dramatic scenery.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather whilst there. Warm, sunny, clear days with views for miles.
A circular bike ride took us up and over the Puerto de las Palomas (pass of the Doves – at 1350m the second highest past in Andalucia) down into the fortified hill town of Zahara de la Sierra, along the edge of the reservoir and back up and over to Grazalema. Fantastic!
The next day, we took a footpath out of the town which wound its way up to the top of one of the peaks above the town for incredible views right across the Natural Parque. Perfect!
On hindsight, looking out of the window at the weather now, we were so lucky to have had a week of perfect weather for exploring this area. So there we are, mustn’t grumble at a couple of days of rain! It’s given us a chance to catch up on some over due admin too. We haven’t been idle, oh no!