They say that the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain, but, to be more accurate, it stays mainly around Grazalema, a mountainous village located in the province of Cádiz. If the thought of rain is already putting you off coming to explore this remote area, stuck half-way up a mountain, let me explain why I keep finding the desire to revisit a region of Andalusia like no other.
Big, pointy mountains
If you’ve reached middle-age, or were raised by Northerners, you’ll probably appreciate a good walk – something that this area has plenty of. From running up mountains, to slipping down paths into huge gorges, to stumbling round beautiful pueblo blancos, nipping into the nearest bar for a quick beer to recharge yourself, Sierra de Grazalema has all sorts to offer
Unless you’re Ray Mears, having a rental car is a must. With the ability to nip from village to village, you can experience a lot more than if you attempt to only use public transport or a pair of legs. Plus, I can’t describe how much fun it is, weaving your way up and down mountains with breathtaking scenery to enjoy along the way.
El Torreón (1654m) is a mountain worth climbing. The views are amazing and, considering you can start off from Grazalema village (at 812m), is easily achievable within an afternoon. When you approach the top, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a small basin that looks something akin to a scene from Lord of The Rings or Narnia. It’s especially surreal if you happen to be there when the mountain is shrouded in mist, although if you’re hoping for a good view from the summit, this isn’t ideal.
After you’ve completed the final hurdle, which is to scale a small amount of rock-face, you’ve reached the top. This writer highly recommends taking a small bottle of whiskey for this moment, to ensure that you stay warm in the event of cold winds. Oh, and a camera and snacks might be a good idea too. Once you’ve finished enjoying the view, head back down for a well-deserved spot of grub, sign language with the locals (if you can speak thick, Andalusian Spanish, the sign language won’t be necessary), and a good night’s sleep.
Another must-see is along the road that connects the two villages, Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra. Along this road you will pass a point called Puerto de las Palomas (1189m), where the tarmac cuts between mountain peaks. From here you can see for quite some way in several directions and, if you have a couple of hours to spare, you also have the opportunity to walk around the summits of said peaks, with great views of local lakes, griffon vultures flying at eye level, and more sheep droppings than you can shake a stick at.
If you don’t like walking in an upwards direction at the beginning of your trek, then I can’t recommend la Garganta Verde (the Green Throat) enough. This walk has great views at the beginning, as you descend into the gorge, followed by an amazing adventure, walking along dry riverbeds (in late spring / summer), and surrounded by huge walls of limestone. You should set off earlyish as, once down on the riverbed, it’s quite easy to carry on walking for quite a while, as the setting is out of this world. There are caves to explore, huge boulders to traverse, not-so-sure-footed mountain goats to prod with a stick and echoes to be made in this cathedral of a place.
When to visit
The best time to visit is either from late February to early June or from late September to early November – visit outside these periods and you risk melting under intense sunlight, being denied entry to various parts of the park, or simply receiving strange glares from locals for not knowing that nobody in their right mind would want to walk up a mountain in heavy rain or 45 degree heat. Of course, if you’re English, I’ll understand for trying…
Bear in mind
It’s important to remember that most of this area is a natural park, situated in a very arid region of Spain (I know I said it gets a lot of rain, but that’s a lot by Spanish standards, so…not much), and, therefore, protected by strict Spanish laws. Permits are required for some of the walks (free of charge), and camping and fires are strictly prohibited, unless in specially designated areas.
Interestingly, the oft quoted line from My Fair Lady, translated into Spanish, is, ‘La lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla’ (the rain in Seville is a pure marvel) – another, highly inaccurate assertion, which you will notice if you ever try walking along the streets of this city in anything other than waterproof footwear with very good grip.