Tag Archives: Benaojan

Nestled along the edge of a wide ravine leading from the Guadiaro River up to the plains behind Montejaque, Benaojan is from a distance amongst the most scenic of the white villages. Historically, Benaojan has always been a bit lost, but is famed for it’s local jamons (ham) and embutidos (dried meats), is very close to the Cueva de la Pileta, and is the centre of some truly wonderful nature walks.

Painting at Pileta

Pileta Paleolithic Cave Paintings at Benaojan

Just outside Benaojan lies one of the most spectacular cave systems in Spain, and in the mouth of one, several galleries of cave paintings that are as old as 30,000 years, and were created by paleolithic people of Ronda before the last great ice age. Best of all, the caves are open to the public with a local tour guide to explain the significance of the artwork.

Tours often start late while the guide waits for enough people to make the tour worthwhile, but this doesn’t mean visitors should arrive late, especially since the door to the cave is closed after a tour starts. There are three groups per day at 10am, at 1pm, and at 4pm, with each guided tour being 90 minutes.

Pileta is 670m above sea level, and the cave entrance 40m above the road so views of the surrounding land are wonderful though the walk to the cave entrance can be difficult for some people, but inside the cave visitors have no problems, acually even people with poor staminac are able to enjoy the guided tour.

The cave is owned by a local family and they also guide the tours, and even though the caves are now commercialized, you can still believe you’ve stepped into a time machine from the 19th century because members in your group are given paraffin lamps to light the way.

The caves were rediscovered after thousands of years of being closed to the world, by Jose Bullon Lobato in 1905, a local farmer who followed a group of bats because he wanted to collect their droppings to use for fertilizer. The bats seemed to be living inside the mountain, and when he managed to crawl into a small space and explore, he was surprised to discover discover pictures on the walls, pieces of ancient pottery, and human bones on the floor of the cave.

At first he thought the artifacts were from the medieval times, and thinking they weren’t important, he abandoned his search, but in 1911 a retired British colonel heard about the paintings and visited to see for himself. It’s lucky he did, because the significance of the paintings was immediately obvious to him.

Painting at Pileta

Since then, numerous discoveries of animal and human bones dating back more than 30,000 years have been made, and the paintings dated to over 20,000 years old, which proves that Ronda and the mountains have been home to people for a very long time, making the area one of the most important crossroads of human migration in Southern Europe.

Paintings you will see include pictures of cows, birds, deer, dolphins, tortoises, people, fish, and numerous lines that seem to be an ancient calendar. The precise meaning of many of the pictures has yet to be deciphered, but this hasn’t prevented the owners opening the cave to the public so you too can enjoy seeing what our ancestors wrote on cave walls.

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Ronda Walk: Mr Henderson’s Railway, Benaojan to Jimera de Libar

Mr Henderson’s Railway walk between Benaojan and Jimera de Libar is one of the most popular walks in the Serranía for visitors, particularly because it is long enough to be a challenge for some, but short enough to really enjoy the walk, see some lovely nature, and be located between two railway stops giving peace of mind if anything untoward were to happen help is close at hand.

The walk is just 7.5km from start to end, and the return walk is listed as a three and a half hour walk. The terrain is suitable for all bar those with serious health concerns, though there are two sections of the track that could be more difficult because the path has been cut into rock.

If you are already staying in the Guadiaro Valley, then simply make your way to the station at Benaojan, there is plenty of free parking nearby. On the other hand, if you are coming from Ronda, why not catch the train at 10:00, and then get the 13:49 service (confirm these times) back to Ronda from Jimera de Libar, arriving in Ronda in time for lunch.

We start the walk at the station in Benaojan, and cross the railway line where you’ll see a sign pointing to the Hotel Molino del Santo. Crossing the line takes us in the opposite direction and after 100m you arrive at a bridge over the Guadiaro river. This is an attractive area and gives a hint of how beautiful the rest of the walk will be.

We turn to the right, going in the direction of Jimera, immediately passing through a farm and some ruined sheds before we reach the path proper. From here we just need to keep following the footpath all the way to Jimera station.

The railway line enters two tunnels and crosses one rather nice looking arch bridge, whilst the river narrows to rapids in 3 or 4 places and widens in other places into a slow moving and meandering river, in between which you are highly likely to see Barbel (Catfish) coasting along in the stream.

Speaking of nature, in spring the mountains and valleys along this route suddenly come to life with the most incredibly diverse range of wildflowers, butterflies, and other small insects you could imagine ever seeing. This is hardly surprising though since the route is entirely within the Grazalema Natural Park, actually the path marks the southern boundary of the park.

Look out for goats and black pigs that frequent the area, they are quite safe and harmless but your presence will frighten them. As well, keep an eye on the other side of the railway line, where you may see Ibex clattering over the rocks on the mountains, or Griffon Vulture soaring on the air currents eagerly looking carrion.

Aside from the pure enjoyment of a great walk in peaceful countryside, the Benoajan-Jimera de Libar walk is also a truly fantastic opportunity to take some stunning photographs.

The only slightly confusing part of the walk is our arrival at Jimera. you’ll know you’ve arrived when you encounter a pedestrian crossing over the rails, however the path seems to continue on the left. To reach the station, and the bar attached to it, cross the tracks, and you’ll end the walk in a beautiful spot next to the river.

Map of the walk;

Gallery of photos from the Ronda Walk: Benaojan to Jimera de Libar

Cueva del Gato

Benaojan Walk, Station to the Cueva del Gato

Ronda Today recently caught up with Tony Bishop, the author of a new walking guide entitled “Walking in the Ronda Mountains: 30 half-day walks in Andalucía” due to be published by Editorial La Serranía in October 2010, and we believe will soon become the guide against which all others are judged.

As part of our interview, Tony kindly escorted us along the Guadiaro River from Benaojan Station to the Cueva del Gato, explaining the birds and wildlife we saw through the binoculars he provided. Tony isn’t a professional walking guide, though he enjoys nothing more than to show friends his favourite walking tracks.

The walk we did can be completed in an hour, it is only 3km, though there is a lot to see so Tony recommends 2 hours. The walk is easy and certainly within the capabilities of the majority of walkers, but in the colder months can be muddy.

Birders and keen nature lovers will be enthralled at the fauna and flora of this stretch of river, we saw Barbel in the river, and White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Griffon Vulture, Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift, Melodious Warbler, Grey Heron, and Bee Eater. We also heard Cetti’s Warbler, and Tony regularly catches sight of Iberian Ibex on the rocks above the Cueva del Gato.

Start the walk at the railway station in Benaojan, and cross the line about 100m past the station, then follow the road another 150m till you cross the Guadiaro River. At this point you’ll see a sign pointing to the three walking tracks that lead from here, we’ll take the Ronda direction.

There really isn’t much to the track, just keep following it straight ahead, you can’t miss the cave entrance as you approach it, though at the hotel Molino Quatro Paradas you should continue past the side of the hotel and not up the hill to the carpark.

Whilst the walk is relatively short, it does allow people staying in Ronda or the Guadiaro Valley the opportunity to see some native wildlife, the beautiful limestone mountains of Benaojan, and the cave entrance; the Cueva del Gato which is a popular picnic spot.

After you return, you could stop for a drink on the terrace of the Molino Cuatro Paradas Hotel, but if they’re closed, probably the friendliest barman in Benaojan is Pepe from “Bar STOP”, located directly across the street from the station. Don’t forget to try his wife’s tapas menu, it really is quite authentic and absolutely delicious. Bar STOP is especially known for the Solomillo a la Pimienta.

Between the train dropping you off and the return service, you’ll have 3 hours to explore the river and enjoy a cold drink or tapas, the day isn’t too strenuous, and is perfect for visitors staying in Ronda who have a few hours to get out of the city.

Benaojan Skyline

A Short Trip to Benaojan

When visiting Ronda, getting out into the little villages is one of the must do excursions that would render your vacation incomplete if you didn’t do, however a lot of visitors to Ronda don’t have access to a car, so Benaojan is one of the options to see an authentic white village.

Located on the southern boundary of the Sierra de Grazalema, Benaojan is convenient because both bus and train visit the village, and the trip is only 25 minutes from Ronda. My own trip saw me take the train along Mr Henderson’s railway walk, a comfortable and air conditioned journey that does however stop at Benaojan Estación, a small hamlet below the main village that requires a 20 minute walk before you see what Benaojan has to offer.

Arriving by train you’ll see Benaojan to your right and up the hill, it is a steep walk but is more or less suitable for most fitness levels except those with heart conditions. Begin by crossing the railway line and following the signs for the Hotel Molino del Santo. You’ll have to pass the little venta next to the drinking fountain at the station, and this is a great place to have a drink or some tapas while you wait for your return train.

Continue past the hotel and just beyond you’ll see the first of Benaojan’s many small reasons to visit. Below the path you’ll see a small pool of water, which is the Nacimiento de los Cascajales, a fresh water spring that is one of the sources of the Rio Guadiaro.

Our next stop is in the village, you’ll pass several run down properties that are home to local Gitanos, who are very friendly people and will happily exchange an ‘hola’ as you walk by. At the first little plaza entering Benaojan you come across a rather dirty and run down fountain, ‘Fuente del Zuque’.

Ancient Fountain

During Moorish times this plaza was where the local market would be held, the zoco, a modern word derived from the Arabic souk. It was also a popular livestock watering station, and is historically important for being the former laundry of the village, Benaojan used to have a soap factory, and this fountain is where local ladies would wash clothes and blankets.

As you wander the streets of Benaojan you will see several factories of local pork products, and the best is a little shop at the end of the main street, in the direction of Montejaque, the shop is called Jamones Isidoro, and everything sold is made in Benaojan, from legs of ham (Pata Negra), to chorizo, and other products, and everything is hermetically sealed making it easy to take home.

Benaojan has the appearance of a modernish village, in fact people have lived near Benaojan since pre-historic times and one of Europe’s most important sites of paleolithic cave paintings is just 4.5km away at the Cueva de la Pileta, though the people who inhabit the village are a more recent wave of migrants.

Prior to the Christian reconquest of Andalucía, Benaojan was a small Moorish village, part of the defensive tower line that defended Grenadine Andalucía from Christian incursions, and her people were herders and lumber merchants. The village is named after the clan leader Ojan whose people settled the area after 712 AD, thus naming the village Benaojan.

Church in Benaojan

After the Christian conquest a Moorish uprising effectively spelt the end of Muslim people in the Serranía de Ronda, and Benaojan was not spared, in fact the entire village was cleared and on the 6th November 1571, 60 families loyal to the Spanish crown were given alotments to rebuild the village as they saw fit.

The Mosque was destroyed, and in its place the Christian church built, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, evident by the octagonal shape of the nave and squashed outline of the church which is completely surrounded on all sides by homes.

The church has undergone several improvements since it was first built, notably in the 17th and 18th centuries as the population of the village boomed, and then again in the 1940′s to restore the church after the devastating effects of the Spanish civil war. Within the church the original gothic vault near the main altar can still be seen.

In the upper streets of the village you will also see several narrow alleys where the rock outcrop covers the street and seems to push the houses down into the valley below. In fact the village is generally quite stable, and those rocky outcrops you see have been in place throughout the occupied timeline of the village.

As you wander the streets, do not miss seeing the painted fountain, Puente Pintada, the most important of Benaojan’s many fountains, and the one which gives the main street its name, Calle Fuente. This little fountain has been retiled and decorated by the Asprodisis Association, but has been in use since ancient times, and was the main fountain on the road between Cortes de la Frontera and Villaluenga del Rosario.

Be sure to appreciate the karst mountains surrounding Benaojan while you are here, most are still growing as Africa pushes under Iberia. To return to Ronda, simple retrace your steps back to the station, or at around 1:30 you could catch the bus outside the Unicaja bank.

Holiday Season Rain Worst Since 1947

The last two weeks of 2009 saw a deluge of rain falling on the Serranía de Ronda, and a Yellow Alert declaration in Ronda. Rainfall in the week prior to Christmas was described as the worst since 1947 when 12 people lost their lives from drowning or lightning strikes. Flood damage is expected to cost many millions of Euros in insurance claims.

Rainfall on certain days exceeded 80 litres per square metre, whilst winds of 70km per hour were common, gusting in exposed places. Over the entire two week period an estimated 450-500 litres fell depending on location, though most days saw only moderate rain which unfortunately kept the river levels up resulting in further damage as rainfall became heavier.

In Ronda the worst affected area was the Llano de la Cruz and La Indiana districts with several homeowners reporting flooding inside the home and water damaged furniture and white goods. The through road in the Hoya del Tajo (the valley situated below Ronda), is still closed to traffic due to a bridge spanning the rio Guadalevin being submerged. Another road in Ronda, the Camino de los Tejares was closed twice as a nearby stream flooded a depression in the road, requiring a bulldozer to clear silt and mud.

Recent work by La Empresa de Gestión Medioambiental (Egmasa) in cleaning up clogged and overgrown streams and rivers in the Ronda district was credited by Remedios Martel, the councillor for the Environment in the Málaga Province, with preventing widespread flooding in low lying areas of Ronda. A further consequence of cleaning the rivers in Ronda was that flooding was felt downstream in other parishes where cleanup efforts hadn’t been as extensive.

In the Guardiaro valley massive flooding and extensive damage to trees, roads and houses was reported along the banks of the rio Guadiaro amid reports that rising river levels and high winds had caused chaos in low lying areas and on mountain roads. Some homeowners reported flood waters of upto one metre in their homes, whilst in Jimera de Libar at least two cars were submerged by rising water.

The Atajate-Jimera de Libar road was closed for two days whilst workers cleared fallen rocks and mud. On the A-366 Ronda-El Burgo road a small section of the road had to be closed for repairs when a rockslide damaged the edge of one lane. The A-373 between Cortes de la Frontera and Berrueca was also closed for a few hours as high winds knocked over a tree.

In the first week of January 2010 many of Ronda’s car parks remain closed due to the risk of landslides or falling trees, they being El Castillo, Alameda del Tajo, San Rafael, and San Lorenzo. None of Ronda’s underground carparks were affected by flooding.

Older residents of Ronda remember flooding in 197 that breached the lowest of Ronda’s bridges, the Puente Arabe near the Arab Baths, and the terrible loss of 9 lives between Montejaque and Benaojan in the same year when 9 people were drowned. Closer to Ronda 3 people were killed when a small cabin they were sheltering in was struck by lightning. We can be thankful the rains of December 2009 weren’t as destructive.

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Ron Morley, Benaojan Artist

Ron Morley, born in London 1938, painter in oil and occasionally watercolour.

Before his retirement in 2005 he worked freelance as a magazine and newspaper designer, moving around Fleet Street, London, in the cut and thrust of tight deadlines and graveyard shifts.

He now lives in Benaojan, Andalucía, and with a complete change of lifestyle, has time to ponder and tentatively paint.

His subject matter is close at hand and all engulfing, and for the moment it is enough to paint simple village scenes, explore the narrow streets, relish the blue skys and delve into the deep shadows.

He loves the medium of oil, working with its richness and depth gives him huge satisfaction and a freedom he never knew in the black and white rigidity of the British press.

More of Ron’s work can be seen at the Hotel Molino del Santo, Benaoján Estación.

Gallery of Ron’s Paintings

To display larger images, click the thumbnail

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Christine Ellingham Acrylic and Watercolour Artist from Benaojan

All her life Christine Ellingham has been painting and drawing, in fact her entire working career has been devoted to creative pursuits. Born in Buckinghamshire in England, Christine studied art at Banbury College of Art with emphasis on life drawing and draftmanship, before completing studies at Hornsey College of Art.

Many artists struggle to find work, but Christine was lucky to start her career in the comic industry drawing picture strips in the 1960s. Drawing scenes from girls adventure stories that were serialised in newspapers. As an artist Christine had the flexibility to work almost anywhere if there was a post office in the vicinity, and during the early 1970s she moved to Spain.

It was whilst living in Spain that she lost the use of her right hand to ‘Focal Dystonia’, forcing her to learn to draw with her left hand. These were troubling times for Christine but allowed her to develop her skill, initially with illustrations.

As an illustrator Christine has drawn for ‘Woman’s Own’ and ‘The Lady’ amongst others, and has accepted commissions from BP, the Royal Mail, and British Gas. During the 1980s and 1990s Christine worked for several fleet street newspapers illustrating politicians and royalty, as well as providing food and financial illustrations. Most recently she has designed coins for several national mints.

Retirement allowed Christine Ellingham and her husband Ron Morley to relocate to Spain again, and has given Christine the opportunity to really develop her painting, in stark contrast to a career of illustration.

Her first love is water colour, though she finds herself mostly using acrylic on canvas, and whilst she does complete local landscapes, she has said that still life appeals to her more at the moment, though like any artist reserves the right to use any media that captures her imagination.

Christine is a regular exhibitor at Ronda’s Artesanía Market, and has permanent exhibitions on display in the Hotel Molino del Santo in Benaojan, and Hotel Molino del Puente outside Ronda. She also takes part in exhibitions organised by Ronda’s Casa del Cultura and in the Andalucian Soap Company Shop.

Commissions are not accepted at the moment.

Gallery of Christine’s Paintings

To display larger images, click the thumbnail