Andalucían landscapes and wildlife have been bringing pleasure to visitors for decades. The south of Spain and especially the interior of Andalucía holds many wonders and surprises. The “real Spain” has little to do with beach resorts or whirlwind tours of Andalusian cities.
You are discovering the white town and “City of Dreams” that is Ronda and will be amazed by the beautiful Puente Nuevo, the architecture and history, the Plaza de Toros. But, take a moment to enjoy the stunning views from the balcony behind the Parador and the Paseo de los Ingleses. The mountains in the near distance are known as the Sierra de Grazalema. One of Spain’s most famous natural parks. A fabulous location to spend time be it resting, walking, bird watching or photography. Continue reading →
Olvera is known as “the King of the Pueblo Blancos” (white towns) and it was declared a Protected Area of Artistic and Historical Importance in 1983. It is a friendly town with a population of around 10,000 and has all the amenities you will need to enjoy your holiday including numerous shops, banks, internet cafe, bars and restaurants. There is also a municipal swimming pool and bar which is open during the summer months.
If you’re looking for a special place to eat while staying in the beautiful town of Ronda or its surroundings you must take a visit to the well kept dining secret, Al Lago.
Located in the picturesque white village of Zahara de la Sierra just a short drive from Ronda on the road towards Sevilla, you pass through spectacular scenery and arrive at a shady terrace overlooking Zahara´s spring fed lake.
The restaurant and its four room boutique hotel sits at the lower end of the village surrounded by mountains and olive groves as well as the lake (a great place to take a post lunch dip on hot summer afternoons). Stefan Crites, joint owner and chef, worked for 12 years as a chef in New York before deciding to move to Spain. Opting for a lifestyle change he and his wife Mona, who runs the hotel and restaurant, have built up a well earned reputation for delicious, interesting food with an emphasis on high quality ingredients and making the most out of local produce; such as the goats cheese, wild game and the cold pressed local olive oil.
This year the focus on organic, home produced fresh fruit and vegetables has really come into its own, as they have just taken on a local huerta (orchard), where they are busy planting the vegetables that will grace the tables of the restaurant over the coming months.
Stefan prefers to use quality ingredients and re-create traditional local dishes, making them lighter and more interesting. The seared duck breast gets a drizzle of a Pedro Ximenez reduction and fresh orange slices, and the classic Ajo Blanco ( a chilled almond and garlic soup) gets paired with a refreshing watermelon granita.
Al Lago caters to both Spanish families, who make up the staple audience, as well as foodies in search of something other than the standard fare available at most eateries in the area..
The menu features a wide variety of fresh fish bought to Al Lago by a fishmonger in the renowned Cadiz fish market, so don´t be surprised to find sushi grade Tuna, or exotic sea anemonies on offer. You certainly won´t be disappointed when it comes to dessert, which is sadly so often the case in many a restaurant in the area, at Al Lago all the deserts are home made, the New York style cheesecake being a firm favorite.
Quite apart from the daily lunch menu, a reasonable 12.00 per person, there is a chefs 5 course tasting menu available with local wine pairings. Stefan and Mona also host regular Indian feast weekends, that are extremely popular, serving recipies inspired by Mona´s Indian heritage.
So if the sound of lamb biriyani, coconut curried octopus or crispy squid in cumin batter with lime and chilli dipping sauce takes your fancy this is definitly a must.
For those in search of Andalucian flavour their fabulous Flamenco nights include shows by a local Flamenco groups and a six course tapas style menu where you can indulge in local chorizos sizzled in wine or potato wedges with a goats cheese fondue and crab and prawn paella.
The next special event will be a Mothers Day lunch this coming Sunday 3rd of April with a variety of treats on the menu; Home made pumpkin raviolis in a sage brown butter, or bruschetta with vine tomatoes, avocado and basil and Al Lago´s wild boar burger as well as the sweet treats of rich chocolate mousse and tangy lemon tart.
Its always best to book for reservations especially for any of the events weekends please visit the website; www al-lago.es for bookings or further information. Visit Al Lago’s website, www.al-lago.es, or email; email@example.com or ring direct on 952 123 032 or text mona on 662 052 553. Al Lago is open every day for lunch and dinner until the end of August.
Grazalema’s Tourist Information Centre, owned and managed by Clive Muir and Sue Eatock of Zahara de la Sierra Grazalema, is being talked about in the top echelons of Spanish tourism for their commitment to promoting tourism, even to the extent of sending one their team, Nuria Asensio to Madrid to work on the Cadíz stand.
Whilst cities such as Ronda are almost always represented by the mayor and councillors with support from local staff, the inclusion of Grazalema on the Cadiz stand is being widely seen as ground-breaking, that a small office in a remote village of Andalucia sees value in being represented at FITUR.
Estimates are that over 200,000 people from the travel industry and interested holiday makers passed through the doors of Spain’s premier tourism expo, with a very high number of those visiting the Cadiz stand, including Andalucia’s Minister of Tourism Luciano Alonso.
Grazalema of course isn’t just a village, and the tourism office offers free advice to travellers about all of the Sierra de Grazalema, Sierra de Cadiz, and the Serranía de Ronda with special emphasis on sustainable eco-tourism and the preservation of traditional customs.
Grazalema’s mayor, María José Lara and her council took the very forward thinking decision to award the contract for managing the Tourism Information Centre to local expats Clive and Sue, a decision richly rewarded with innovative ideas such as the traditional industry exhibition including flour mill, wool spinning, and bread-making workshops being organised for visitors to the area.
Commenting after the event, the mayor said “It was our goal to represent Grazalema at FITUR, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Clive Muir and his team”.
Representation at FITUR 2011, with all of the attendant costs that it implies, is a huge step forward for the Grazalema Tourism Information Centre, and it is hoped will generate thousands of additional visitors to the area, and should benefit Grazalema’s many hotels, restaurants, and other tourism industry operators.
Almost every visitor to the Serrania de Ronda will hear about the beauty of Grazalema in the Cadiz province, technically the village is located within the western reaches of the Sierra de Cadiz that also includes the villages of El Bosque, Zahara de la Frontera, Algodonales, and Olvera, and is the north-eastern tip of Cadiz province.
Grazalema is one of the famous white villages of Andalucia, considered by many to be amongst the most beautiful, and given that it is broadly in the centre of its namesake, the Grazalema Natural Park which is equally as famous, it is hardly any wonder the village has such a reputation.
Around 2,000 people still call the village home, with a few hundred of these being counted in the hamlet of Benamahoma, though at varying times in the past the village population has been both bigger and smaller. The origins of the village are not completely known yet from Roman ruins in the vicinity we can be reasonably certain that at the very least a Roman settlement centred around the villa Lacidulia must have existed.
During the Roman era the legions of Scipio are thought to have built dwellings on the hills of Clavijo beside the villa, which is presumed to have been home to one of the generals in Scipio’s legion.
However the name of the village can be certainly dated to the Islamic period, known first by the Arabic name Raisa lani suli, then Ben-salama meaning the son of Salama, and at the time of the Christian reconquest in 1485 by the Duke of Arcos the name had changed to Zagrazalema, which quickly become Grazalema as the existing population converted to Christianity and the Castillian language.
Aside from the gorgeous natural park surrounding the village, Grazalema is mostly known for its textile industry which in the 17th century employed several thousand people making wool blankets and ponchos, a tradition that continues to this day albeit with significantly less artisans.
At its height the industry was considered one of the most important in Spain with Spain’s king Philip V awarding special privileges to the workers within the industry, many of whom worked from home using loans provided by the mills. The industrial revolution of the 19th century decimated Grazalema and put thousands of workers out of a job as large factories in the north of Spain began to produce blankets quicker and more cheaply than hand woven blankets could be made.
Within the village it is still possible to purchase locally made Grazalema wool blankets, scarves, and other items of clothing that are made locally, and surprisingly Grazalema handmade woollen items are not overly priced, thus making an excellent gift to take home for visitors.
Local cheeses made from goats milk are regaining their popularity as more and more visitors discover the village and start to demand organic and hand-made cottage industry products in place of mass produced cheeses. The cheeses from Grazalema, the most popular being Payoyo made at Grazalema’s Hotel Payoyo are full flavoured cheeses owing to the richness of the milk produced by local goats, however anyone who sees the grassy hills of Grazalema might understand why, this is one of the wettest areas of Spain and typically averages around 2000mm of rain per year.
The rainfall benefits other industries in Grazalema, notably honey collectors and the tourism industry which has sprung up since the declaration of the UNESCO Biosphere, the Grazalema Natural Park. Of particular importance is the surrounding parkland filled with pristine mountains and walking tracks, endemic species of wild flowers, and an area noted for the huge variety of birdlife that makes Grazalema its home or passes through on annual migrations to Africa.
Grazalema is widely considered one of the most beautiful of the white villages of Andalucia, it is the heart and soul of the Grazalema Natural Park, and is only 30km from Ronda so makes a wonderful day trip, in fact you would even have plenty of time for a visit to other local villages, or just enjoy walking the countryside.
The Grazalema Tourist Information Centre, owned by Clive Muir and Sue Eatock, is a must, it is here that you’ll pick up maps of the area, find out about events happening during your stay, get permits for certain walks, and discover the history and culture of these mountains.
Entering the office you are immediately struck that this isn’t just a regular tourist office containing a counter overflowing with brochures and little else. The counter itself is quite small which encourages the staff to get out from behind it and mingle with visitors in a pleasant interchange that makes you feel welcome to the village.
In fact the centre aims to be much more than a tourist office, it also contains the largest bookshop in the Serranía for Iberian nature lovers, a place where local craftspeople can sell their wares, a gallery for local and international artists with an affinity for the mountains of Ronda, and in the very near future a museum of traditional industries.
The day I arrived in the centre I was immediately impressed with the photographic display of insects by Steve Jones that cover the walls of the central staircase. There to the right an exhibition of local artists from Olvera and the Guadiaro Valley, and to the left, the shop.
The shop is worth a browse, it might seem incongruous in an official tourist office, but give pause for thought, everything on display (aside from the books) is locally made by artisans resident in Grazalema and the surrounding area. Whilst every item has a price, this is also a fantastic display well worth taking a few minutes to peruse.
You’ll be able to see displays of grass mats and flower baskets, traditional designs of ceramics, wool blankets and scarves, turned wooden bowls, olive oils and wines, Andalusian soaps, therapeutic oils and herbal infusions, and much more.
For the future, Clive told Ronda Today he is converting the current gallery space into a local museum where he hopes visitors to the village will be able to make their own pottery and wool bags, and just maybe, even grind their own flour. This is all part of a bigger plan to reinforce Grazalema as a destination rather than just another village people pas through.
Tremendously exciting times are ahead, so when you visit Grazalema, don’t forget to stop by the tourist information centre and have a look around.
Grazalema Tourist Information Centre,
Plaza Asomaderos, 3
A joint exhibition of the Artist Andalucia group from the Serranía de Ronda and Northern Cadiz yesterday launched their most recent exhibition at the Grazalema Tourist Information Centre using the large gallery space to full advantage. Two of the artists were particularly pleased that sales of their works were made on the first day of opening.
A very large crowd of visitors descended on the Tourist Centre to see the exhibition, with Clive Muir, owner of the centre estimating over 500 people made it for the first 4 hours of opening. Guests included large numbers of expatriate residents and Spaniards from Grazalema interested in seeing such a large exhibit.
Patricia Lane, a local artist from Montejaque in the Guardiaro Valley was first to sell a piece, nearly two hours before the exhibit opened with the buyer sneaking into the exhibit space to get claim their desired painting. Patricia confided to Ronda Today that she was absolutely shocked, but delighted all the same since she had a goal of selling just one painting, luckily extra paintings were on hand to avoid an empty space as guests, friends, and art afficionados started arriving.
Another local artist Alan Pearson of Olvera also sold one of his works, an event which excited all of the artists who rarely have the chance to celebrate the good fortune of one of their own since most other galleries and artists markets of the Serranía seem to be poorly frequented.
Christine Ellingham, a prominent Benaojan artist stated to Ronda Today that she was immensely excited to be associated with the exhibit in the Grazalema Tourist Information Centre because the owners are so active in promoting locally produced goods and that the spin off for artists is fantastic.
For several months Grazalema hasn’t had a functioning tourism office, however this is all about to change with the appointment of Clive Muir and Sue Eatock as the new owners of the centre. Central to the Sierra de Grazalema, the village is around 25 minutes drive from Ronda.
This weekend (Feb 27th and 28th 2010), Andalucía Day weekend, sees the grand opening with nibbles and wine to celebrate Clive and Sue’s new ownership of the centre. All are welcome, and this is a fantastic excuse to get out and enjoy nature.
The Grazalema Natural Park is one of Spain’s most spectacular, and worth a visit, though almost everyone who knows the park will recommend staying for several days to truly enjoy seeing all the park has to offer. From walking, birdwatching, flower and butterfly appreciation, to quaint white villages such as Grazelema, Zahara, El Bosque, Montejaque, Cortes de la Frontera.
Clive and Sue are locally acknowledged as being amongst the very few who know the park well, the proof of this being the excellent Grazalema Guide they publish; a new Spanish language website for the tourist information office has been created, turismo de grazalema.
The tourist information centre is located in the main car park of the village in Plaza de Los Asomaderos which is just behind the central plaza, and offers maps and guides of the area, an artist exhibition space, and local products for sale.
Clive and Sue have also employed two long time staff members from the previous information centre, Lourdes and Nuria, and all share a passion for the park, Northern Cadíz, and of course the Serranía de Ronda.
Walking passes to visit the ecologically precious parts of the Grazalema Natural Park are also available, Garganta Verde, El Torreon, El Pinsapar and Llano de Ravel, so to avoid disappointment and unnecessary delay be sure to visit the information centre first before setting off on your day’s travels.
Clive and Sue are also partner owners in Iberia’s largest nature forum, the Iberianature Forum, where experts and enthusiasts with a love of the nature of the Iberian peninsula can get together and discuss their passion.
Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages