Andalucia. A land of white-washed villages atop olive and almond clad hills. We’d left Seville to explore these “pueblo blancos” and the more rural parts of the province. Our trail led us to Olvera, where we’d found a charming little house in the old part of the town. Owned by an Australian lady who’d managed to contact her local manager, the very helpful Frank, and fit us in at very short notice – we’d booked the night before!
Olvera, one of the many pueblo blancos in Andalucia
Agriculture in the area seems to be dominated by olive production, with almonds a very distant second crop. Some valleys were wall-to-wall olives, with trees growing in what often seemed really inaccessible places. Perhaps they are one of the few crops that tolerate the harsh, dry conditions.
En route we also passed a lake / reservoir. It was incredibly low, down perhaps 15 metres on its usual level. We were told by Frank that they haven’t had much rain here for about 5 years.
Olvera was a pretty place, somewhere between a village and a town, with winding streets that led up to the church and, above that, the old castle. The houses were all white-washed with orange pan-tiled roofs and, in the older part of town, cobbled streets. Our house was down one of these, arranged over three floors with a tiny little terrace, sadly without a view, on the top. Not that we used the terrace much; it was now in the high thirties every day and this little sun-trap was way too hot most of the time. But the house was reasonably cool, despite its lack of air conditioning, and we spent 5 days there, exploring the village and the local area and just chilling. It was Angela’s birthday and we had a nice meal out in the newer part of town to celebrate.
View up to the church and castle
View down across the town
During our stay we visited Ronda, another hilltop town but one which spanned two sides of a gorge, linked by a phenomenal bridge.
Ronda – not a place for those with vertigo!
The incredible bridge
Parking in the town was a nightmare, with queues for every car park and a complicated network of one way streets that had us going found in circles for about half an hour. We very nearly turned back but then found an empty space at the side of a road and claimed it as ours. As with many towns in this area Ronda has a long history of occupation that includes the Romans, Moors and various denominations of Christians. It has an architectural heritage to match, along with a very impressive bullring. Bullfighting is very popular in Spain and even some of the smallest villages we visited have their own bullring. We had no intention of attending a bullfight. The whole idea is, to be honest, pretty appalling to us. Animals bred to be brutally slaughtered in a pubic arena. Hmmm. We weren’t at all sure about even visiting the ring itself but here they also had a museum and we thought we should have a look to perhaps understand it more.
Statue outside the bullring. A strange veneration of the animal that is slain inside
The bullring itself was a fantastic space with the large central ‘stage’ open to the elements and surrounded by a full, covered, double-layered amphitheatre, with arches holding the two layers up. The steps between the floors were prettily decorated with blue and white tiles. It really was a great building but we couldn’t escape the thought of what happens here and the museum brought that fully home, with many pictures, from old paintings to modern photographs, depicting the history and the ‘art’ of the bullfight.
We left with a distinct feeling of unease and made our way through the town, across the bridge and took the track down to the foot of the bridge. It was an awe-inspiring view up to the top of the gorge and the buildings perched above.
Back up at the top we wound our way down to the other side of town and the old Arabic baths. It was a bit of a trek but we were glad we made it. They were really interesting. The building today is just the ruins, although still pretty intact. But there is an excellent video in English and Spanish which brought the baths to life. Rather like a modern spa, they included a hot room, a warm room and a cold room, with water heated at one end and making its way slowing through the sections. The remains had a great feel to them and you could really imagine what it might have been like washing and relaxing in these surroundings.
On our way home we passed through the extraordinary village of Setenil de las Bodegas. Some of the houses are built into the rock and one of the roads actually goes through a tunnel in the rock, with houses on both sides. Really surreal.
Setenil de las Bodegas
Back at base we tried to extend the car rental; as the Landy had been delayed we needed another week. Gareth phoned the rental company but they could only give us 5 more days over the phone. To get more we would have to go to Malaga and speak to someone direct. It was a bit of a pain but we could divert there en route to Granada, our next stop. So after our 5 days in Olvera we headed to the coast and to Malaga airport. Our trip came close to ending on the journey. We were on the motorway when we heard an odd noise, like something skittling over the top of the car. Gareth looked over his shoulder to see a car swerving across from the central reservation (the noise must have been his tyres on the rumble strips) and fishtailing towards us. He quickly swerved our car out of the way and onto the hard shoulder while the other driver struggled to regain control of his. He came within inches of us. A very near miss and it took a little while for the adrenalin to settle, I can tell you!
At the airport, we drove into the car park where our sat nav told us we would find our rental company. We were absolutely staggered by the number of cars here, all rental. Every car hire company you can name had a section and we must have driven past thousands of cars before we found our section. Extending the period was quick and straightforward and we were soon on our way. We decided to take the coast road, hoping for a pretty drive along the sea front. What an eye opened that was. Once upon a time this must have been an unspoilt strip of the Mediterranean, but those days have long gone. Beaches stuffed to the brim with people sunbathing, backed by dense rows of holiday apartments, hotels and restaurants, interspersed with amusement arcades and shops full of tourist tat. Our idea of hell but lots of people obviously enjoy this kind of holiday. We were pleased to be heading back inland towards Granada. We had heard so much about this city and the fabled Alhambra palace and were excited to see it for ourselves.