Today I had the pleasure of journeying to the Genal Valley, specifically along the Ronda-Algeciras road until the turn off for Jubrique, and then towards the Genal river to wet my feet, followed by a stroll around Genalguacil admiring the art and relaxing in a local bar with a cold one, before returning to Ronda.
Gaucin at the Southern end of the Serranía de Ronda is more than just a village in the middle of nowhere. This attractive white village founded by the Romans, and then expanded and heavily fortified by the Moors who named their village Gauzan, an Aran word meaning strong rock. These days Gaucin is better known as a haven for international artists who flock to the area for the peace and tranquility afforded them.
With a population of 2,000 and a few more scattered outside the village, Gaucin is large enough to have a small town centre, with markets, butchers, fruit shops, clothing, banks, and other miscellaneous traders. In fact many of the residents are able to buy everything they need on a daily basis in the village without having to travel to Ronda or the Costa del Sol.
At 626 metres, Gaucin is also high enough above sea level that the weather is noticeably cooler in summer and winter than the coast, which makes the village almost ideal for many foreign residents who choose to setup home, and then proceed to rip out the modern features of their homes and replace them with traditional wooden beams, tiled floors, and rough painted walls; to the endless amusement of Spanish residents.
For visitors, Gaucin is considered one of the prettiest of the pueblos blancos, malaga’s white villages, with narrow warren-like streets strewn together as if a large ball of twine had been dropped and houses built in the gaps between the string.
This may in fact have been intentional for two reasons. First, the castle above the village, perched on the crest of El Hacho mountain was of strategic importance from Roman and most especially in Moorish times, and narrow winding streets make an attack more difficult as soldiers have to first battle from street to street before reaching the formidable castle defences.
The second reason is more practical and perhaps more believable; narrow streets at odd angles from each other prevent the hot Sahara winds from overly heating the village houses in the summer, and in winter offer some protection against the cold northerly winds. Certainly other Moorish towns without a castle have a similar pattern so it isn’t impossible to assume weather played a bigger role in the town layout.
The castle of Gaucin, named Castillo del Aguila, the Eagle’s Castle, is an impressive structure visible above the village from many miles away, and is open to the public in the mornings and early evening. Great birds of prey such as eagles, vultures, and kestrels have always inhabited the mountains of inland Andalucia, so it is hardly surprising the castle would take its name from the eagles which can still be seen to this day circling the parapets.
Within Gaucin visitors will also see the church of san Sebastian built in 1487, on the ruins of the mosque destroyed when the town was taken by Christian conquerers. As well, Gaucin is home to a large convent built in the mid 1700s though abandoned in 1835 and now used by the town hal for concerts and other local events. Recent renovations have sadly destroyed the historic interior.
However, by far the best reason for visiting Gaucin is not for the monuments of the village, it is instead the streets and people of the village that will appeal. A simple walk around the town centre will impress how friendly the villagers are, whilst those with a penchant for the quaint will absolutely love the cute windows filled with flowers, or the tiled frescos adorning doorways and walls, or the cobbled streets that could tell a thousand stories.
Gaucin isn’t on the way to anywhere, the village is a destination of itself. Some choose to stay, others only pass through, but no visit to Andalucia will truly be complete until the soul of villages like Gaucin has touched your heart.
I recently had the pleasure of staying at Los Castanos Hotel in the Genal Valley south of Ronda. The hotel is in the centre of Cartajima, a very small village about 15km from Ronda and can be reached on the Ronda-San Pedro road, just follow the signs for Cartajima.
Di and John, the hosts at Los Castanos welcomed me in Ronda, a service they often provide for guests, and we had lunch in a favourite bar on the outskirts of Ronda before heading to the hotel to settle in and get to know the area.
My first impressions of arriving at the hotel were coloured by the weather, walking to the main entrance with my head down to avoid rain drizzle hitting me in the face, and then looking up and seeing the church belfry towering over the hotel which looked quite small, yet is in fact very large.
With a handful of rooms it is easy to think of Los Castanos as a small hotel, but entering through the 18th century doors and turning to view the salon immediately impresses on you how large the hotel building is, certainly more than big enough for couples wanting to get away and relax for a spell.
I was taken to my room by Di, with good intentions of giving me the grand tour, she showed me the facilities, the bar fridge, the tea and coffee, air conditioning, emergency procedures, then the phone rang; we were in the midst of the great Icelandic ash cloud and several of Di’s guests weren’t able to return home or were stuck in transit, so as needs must my tour of the terrace was cut short.
This worked in my favour, I had the chance to throw open the bedroom window and terrace doors, and simply stand on my own private terrace whilst I soaked up the sounds and smells of Cartajima and the Alto Genal. Nearby I heard men chatting at the Ayntamiento, and over there the sound of rushing water, I later discovered Cartajima sits on the edge of a small valley with a lively stream coursing its way through.
A keen walker I am, so a short adventure around the village was called for, and with camera in hand, I claimed my right to explore the nooks and crannies of the village, discovering places many of the locals may not even know – actually that’s a lie, but I thought a nice turn of phrase nevertheless.
Cartajima is very small, but sits in the heart of some of the Serranía’s most spectacular scenery so I understand why Los Castanos get so many walking guests. Birdwatching around these parts is a favourite activity, and you’ll often see twitchers parked on the side of the road staring at the mountains.
Several evenings Di cooks for guests, and on my night we had all decided to stay in, and what a surprise, five of us were entertained by John over pre-dinner drinks around the fireplace, and then Di called us to our places. Normally guests eat at separate tables, but as we were all enjoying the company we pushed and dragged our tables together much to Di’s amusement.
The entree was a delicious miniature red pepper filled with cheese and what I think was fish, certainly the blends of tastes made it difficult to identify individual ingredients, however they came together in spectacular fusion.
The main course was a dish I’ve never tried before, beef squares with prunes cooked in a traditional Moroccan stewing dish known as a Tajine, then served with Cous Cous and a side of green salad. Di is very modest so blushed like a school girl from our compliments, deserved as they were; her beef and prune tagine is something I’ll be requesting on my next trip.
I stayed up late talking to another guest, a chap who had recently founded a new publishing house, and I believe we stayed up till 1am sipping a rather nice red bought locally, I believe from Bodega Joaquin Fernandez.
Before breakfast the next morning I wandered the streets of the village as it started to wake, and explored parts of the valley with it’s olive groves and almond trees, all the while serenaded with bird song. I’d slept well, Los Castanos have very supportive mattresses on their beds, so I was ready for a climb and the hills above Cartajima were not going to defeat me, and I’m glad I did because the views from above looking over Cartajima toward Parauta are well worth seeing.
If you’d like to stay at Los Castanos Hotel with Di and John, here are the hotel contact details;
Los Castanos, Calle Iglesia 40, Cartajima 29452, Málaga, Spain
Tel: (+34) 952 180 778
Mob: (+34) 696 081 354
|7 Rooms||Disabled Access||Parking Nearby||Wi-Fi Internet|
|Breakfast in Room||Terrace||Pets Allowed||Air Conditioning|
|Central Heating||Hair Dryer||Gay Friendly||Bar|