After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast at a central hotel in Ronda, we drive on to Cortez de la Frontera where we will stay in a rural hotel, whatever that may mean. The road there goes via Grazalema, El Bosque, and Ubrique in the Andalusian mountains, a distance of almost 90 km. Just in time for a day stage on narrow and winding roads. We also expect to have time to stop at several viewpoints along the way.
We do not know much about the villages we will visit, it may be a surprise. The first village we are going to is called Grazalema and along the way there we come into a large forest where cork oaks grow and almost all the trees lack bark on the trunk and sometimes even on the lower branches. The trunks are completely red where the cork has recently been removed.
Grazalema is a small cozy village with white two-storey houses along narrow alleys on a hillside in Andalusia and surrounded by cork oak forests. Because it is so clearly signposted to the parking lot, it is probably a village that has a lot of visits from tourists when it is a better season to hike in the mountains around the village. I saw on the map that there were hiking trails up on the mountain by the village.
Since we are here in November and the low season, there is plenty of space in the parking lot. There are some small shops along the narrow streets and at the open spaces are restaurants. We enjoy morning coffee at a café near the square where the Toro de Grazalema sculpture stands.
El Bosque och Ubrique
After Grazalema we drive on to El Bosque. The road there offers breathtaking views with miles of views of the valleys.
Since the road goes a little bit outside El Bosque, we choose not to stop here but continue towards Ubrique which looks like a slightly larger city. When we get there, we do not see a restaurant along the thoroughfare that looks inviting or has patios. We continue happily towards Cortes de la Frontera, where it at least looks like there are restaurants where you can sit outside and eat.
The road continues to meander along mountainsides and offer more beautiful views and large cork oak forests. We drive past a closed restaurant before reaching the Cortes de la Frontera.
Cortes de la Frontera
When we arrive at Cortes de la Frontera, we have not had anything in us since morning coffee. So now we are very hungry and looking forward to food, but first, we will check into the hotel. When we get there it is locked to the reception! We had said we would get there around three o’clock, and now it’s a few minutes to three. We wait a quarter of an hour and then we look up the phone number of the hotel. Someone who can only speak Spanish answers and we try to say that we are waiting to check-in. When the call is over, we are not sure that the person has understood that we are waiting. We’re starting to reason about what we should do now. Start looking for other accommodation or go to Estepona and sleep on the boat. Before we decide, a woman comes and apologizes for being late. We are the only guests in the hotel and it feels a bit lonely to stay there. They will keep the hotel bar open until ten o’clock tonight, unfortunately, they can not serve any food, only drinks, and snacks.
We get our room that looks pretty new. The decor is spartan and it’s cold in the room, but there are extra blankets.
Now we need coffee so we go out to the village to find a café and see if we can find more open restaurants than the one we drove past at the entrance to the village. We find a cozy café in the middle of the village where we have our afternoon coffee before continuing to look for restaurants. After coffee, we continue to look for restaurants but all are closed.
However, we find a bullring in this small village and a nice gathering place under a roof. The arena is not as big as in Ronda, but still, the village is not big. It is now that we are beginning to understand how important bullfighting has been in Spain.
Since we have not found any other restaurant when the clock begins to approach half-past four, we go to the open restaurant we saw at the entrance to the village. When we get there and happily ask if we can order dinner, we are told that the kitchen has just closed and they can not serve us any food today. We are welcome tomorrow and now they can serve drinks and snacks to us if we want. They do not think there is another restaurant open in the village, maybe a bar where we can eat tapas.
Well, then there will probably be no food today then! We’ve only seen one bar and we do not know it to visit.
When we’re on our way back to the hotel, we take a road we’ve never been before. Here there is an open door in a house and outside there are two small tables and a menu on the sidewalk. On the side inside the gate, there is an open door with billboards for beer. From inside the room we hear voices and we peek in through the door. It’s a small bar with some men standing around a slot machine. They drink beer and talk while one of them tries to get a jackpot on the gaming machine. This bar was not included in Google Maps!
When we go in we get everyone’s looks at us and when the bartender comes out of the kitchen we ask if they can serve something to eat. They have some tapas and she tries to explain what they consist of. We try to understand but it is difficult with Spanish, so we point to a few different tapas in the menu and hope for the best. We each take a bottle of beer to drink and some bread. It tasted good with food and also it was cheap. Probably not many tourists come here!
When we return to the hotel, the bar has opened and the family that owns the hotel is there. The silent TV is on and shows football matches from the Spanish league. Their oldest child seems to be studying and their youngest is using a smartphone. Dad works at the bar and we each order a drink and some peanuts that we sip on while watching people and TV. Not much happens, after half an hour the mother will probably be in the family. At nine they start closing the bar and we thank ourselves and go up to the room where we watch TV, find a movie but it is dubbed into Spanish.
In the morning when we leave the hotel, there will be no water from the tap in the bathroom! The reception is unmanned and we can not bear to call them. Fortunately, only the toothbrushing is left and we use some of our drinking water. When we get out we get the explanation, there are some old men standing by a hole in the street and water is flowing out of the direction, probably the water that is going to the hotel.
The hotel does not serve breakfast and we hope that there will be some bar along the way where we can stay. We will drive to Genalguacil via Gaucin and Algatocin. This road offers fantastic views and nice villages. There will be breakfast against a sunny house wall in Algatocin where they have good toast and as usual here in Spain, good coffee with milk, ”cafe con leche”.
Of course, Genalguacil is also located on a hillside and has many narrow and hilly alleys. The alleys meander and there are many small open spaces where there are sculptures, pots, and plants. It is a very cozy village and there is an open restaurant near the entrance to the village with a nice view of the valley below the village. Here we find a vacant table in the sun at the edge towards the valley below. Here we enjoy a good lunch before we drive on towards Estepona.
Forest fire in the mountains above Estepona
Between Genalguacil and Estepona, there has been a huge forest fire up in the mountains a few months earlier. It devastated over 7,000 hectares of forest and where we went there were large areas where the forest was burned with black trunks and yellowing treetops.
All roads we went on were paved and in very good condition with good signage. I understand that it is popular to ride a motorcycle here, with almost no gravel or pebbles on the roads. As soon as it has rained, they seem to check if stones or gravel have fallen on the road and we saw some road works where they cleared the roadway or provided the mountain slopes with safety nets against falling stones. The roads offer many fantastic views over the mountain valleys with white villages on the slopes. From one of the viewpoints (Mirador del Genal) we looked all the way down to the Gibraltar cliff and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco on the other side of the strait. It’s about 80 miles there, so we really had clear air that day.
The mountain area around Genalguacil is called Bermega with almost 1500 m high mountains. There are not many places on earth where such high mountains are so close to the sea. That might explain why we got to experience really cold nights in Estepona, down to 4-5 degrees.
It’s time to continue towards the Balearic Islands and we start sailing towards Cartagena, which we plan to be the last port on the Spanish mainland. We have only planned to sail during the day so the first stage will be Fuengirola, then we have planned to sail to Del Este, Almerimar, and then Cartagena. In total, we have planned to get there in about 2 weeks if the weather does not become completely different from how it has been so far.
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