The Ronda-Pilar de Coca loop (PR-A 71) is a wonderful walk for exercise junkies and visitors to Ronda alike, it’s a circular route that takes us about 9km out of Ronda, past vineyards, oak groves, an old aqueduct that supplied Ronda with water, the Pilar de Coca spring, and finally the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves and the Serranía de Ronda.
This article is part two of the Ronda to Virgen de la Cabeza walk. Please make sure you have also read part one.
To complete this walk you need to of average fitness. This walk is not suitable for people with heart conditions as the ascent at the end is steep.
Almost every keen walker who visits Ronda also walks to the Virgen de la Cabeza cave church across the valley from the Puente Nuevo, but most then turn back and return the way they came, yet the walk through the valley below is fantastic and for those game to try it should be a must do activity.
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.
Michelle Obama, the wife of President Barrack Obama, and First Lady of the United States recently visited Ronda as part of a 5 day holiday in Spain, and Ronda Today is proud to provide her complete itinerary.
Arriving in Ronda, Mrs Obama first enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the Casgo Antiguo, Ronda’s old Moorish city, where she visited the Casa Don Bosco and admired their view of the Puente Nuevo, Ronda’s most iconic monument.
The cave church outside Ronda, known as the Virgen de la Cabeza, is a 10th century hermitage built sometime around 970-980AD, and is just a short walk out of Ronda. Most people should find this Ronda walk easy to do and gets you out of the city for some of the most spectacular views of the Ronda skyline you could imagine seeing.
We start the walk at the Almocabar Gate in the Barrio de San Francisco and walk along Calle Torrejones, passing the Bodega San francisco and further on the road the restaurant El Predicatorio which are on our right. Around 500m from the old walls of Ronda we encounter a small white roundabout in the street, and 100m further an intersection with a sign pointing to the right for the ‘Ermita Rupuestre Virgen de la Cabeza’.
From the jacket, “At the Strait of Gibraltar, where Europe touches Africa, Spain shoes its rugged side. The jagged mountain chain that lies at the very southern end of the peninsula is one that harbours many delights. Dense, fern-draped forests alternate with unexpected bare mountaintops and dazzling steep cliffs. Flowery rock fields on windswept crests overlook picturesque white villages amidst green oak groves. These are the Sierra of Western Andalusia, an enchanting region with an incredible natural diversity.”
The first thing that stands out when picking up a copy of the Crossbill Guides Andalusian Sierras, is the heavy paper, and full colour photos and maps. The quality of the paper makes a huge difference to your enjoyment of this guide, which should accompany you in the car. Buy a second copy to keep on the coffee table, for easy reading at home.
At 208 pages, this is a meaty guide that is also only slightly wider than a paperback novel, and very easily fits in a daypack when you’re walking or hiking around the district. Though district might be too localised a description, since the area covered in Andalusian Sierras stretches from the Bay of Gibraltar, through the Alcornacales, Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves, Torcal and Ardales-El Chorro parklands.
Visitors to the area are often struck by the contrasts between differing parts of Western Andalucia, that in such a small geographical area there can be so many ecosystems bordering each other. The terrain is unique in being the meeting ground where Africa is pushing into Europe, with high limestone mountains, rolling sandstone hills, and low fertile valleys.
Needless to say, the flora and fauna of the area can differ quite substantially. In Andalusian Sierras we are first introduced to the landscape, written in an appealing descriptive style, and heavy on facts. Climate and geology is discussed first, and includes schematics of the terrain explaining the various habitats to be found.
For the infrequent visitor to Andalucia, a book with 30 walks of the Serrania de Ronda is useless. Far batter to invest in Andalusian Sierras: From Malaga to Gibraltar (Crossbill Guides) with 14 excellent walks covering a wider area, that take in a broader variety of habitats. The majority of visitors to Andalusia are after all, only here for a week or two, and it would be a shame to not experience El Torcal, Grazalema, or the lowland walks of the Campo de Gibraltar near Tarifa.
Nature lovers who travel the world in search of new experiences will thoroughly enjoy the treatment of the the natural spaces in Andalusia by the Crossbill Guides Foundation. Whilst this guide only covers the nature of Malaga and Cadiz provinces, anyone familiar with the district would confirm that the native and migratory flora is amongst the richest in Europe.
Pages are colour-coded, and roughly divided into four sections, Landscape, Flora and Fauna, Walking Routes, and Tourist Information and Observation Tips.
The walking routes are graded, include a map, description of terrain, colour photos of highlights, and itinerary. The routes are; bird Migration along the Strait of Gibraltar, the Southern Alcornacales, the Northern Alcornacales, Climbing Aljibe Mountain, El Pinsapar Spanish Fir forest walk, Salto del Cabrero, La Garganta Verde, Along El Bosque river, the north slope of the Pinar mountains, the karst landscape of Villaluenga, the fir forest of Luis Ceballos, the hight mountains, El Chorro, and walking in the Torcal de Antequera.
The back of the book gives a species list for plants, mammals, birds, invertebrates, and reptiles. Curiously, the editors have decided to provide English, Latin, German, and Dutch, but not Spanish. This isn’t a huge oversight, but does mean when speaking to Spaniards about fauna and flora, you’ll need to use the latin name to find common ground.
By TRISTAN CANO author of Historic Walking Guides: Gibraltar
The Via Verde de la Sierra is one of 20 so-called ‘green routes’ which chart a trail of disused railway lines across Andalucia. Forming part of a proposed rail route across the Cadiz Sierra between Almargen and Jerez de la Frontera, it would have connected the cities of Malaga and Granada. Although much of the groundwork, including tunnels, viaducts and railway stations were completed in the early 1930s, the project was never finished and lay in neglect until 1993 when the line was renovated for use as a walking and cycling route.
We started our day in the town of Olvera where we were staying in the charming Casa Andalus on Calle Maestro Amado. Like many of the other white towns in the vicinity, Olvera’s roots are Roman and the town went on to flourish during the Muslim occupation of Spain. It has a Moorish Castle constructed on a rocky crag high above the town which, like parts of our own Moorish castle, was built during the 13th Century Nasrid Dynasty. Some of the original Moorish walls and their supporting buttresses remain intact, but most of the Castle was built after the reconquista. Another noteworthy building in the town is the twin-towered neoclassical church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación whose impressive façade dominates its surroundings and was built on the site of a former mosque.
We followed the short though steep path from the town centre down to the Antigua Estación Ferrocarril which marks the starting point of the Via Verde. This hotel offers bicycle rentals and is the last opportunity to pick up refreshments before you reach the Estación de Zaframagón, 15 km along the route. The reasonably flat terrain makes the route perfect for cyclists and we opted to hire bikes, although plenty also chose to follow the route on foot. We were immediately impressed with the scenery, a distinct patchwork of brown and green fields with endless olive tree groves looking like blobs of green paint on a watercolour just asking to be painted. The Via’s thirty tunnels are a feature of the journey and we overcame nine of these before reaching the first official rest-stop at Estación de Navalagrulla. Although we had enjoyed a slight downward gradient thus far and barely broken into a sweat, we would be following the route in reverse on our return later and enjoyed a welcome respite, noting the need to conserve as much energy as possible.
As we got closer to the Estación de Zaframagón, the landscape began to transform from arable land into forests of Spanish Firs. We were transported through mountains and river valleys with the help of immense viaducts and increasingly lengthy tunnels. The viaduct at Zaframagón offered inspiring views of the Peñón de Zaframagón, an impressive 584m-high limestone outcrop with sheer cliffs, and the verdant valley below strewn with delightful stone ruins. Overhead we saw our first venue of about a dozen Griffon Vultures. Two hundred breeding pairs live in these mountains and there is a nature centre dedicated to them at the nearby Estación Zaframagón which includes a video feed showing live footage of the vultures on the opposing rock face. The centre closes daily at 16:00 and a vending machine, which is available until that time, provides another opportunity to get much-needed refreshments before reaching the town of Coripe. Although we had originally intended to end our cycle at the Zaframagón we were feeling relatively spritely and decided to soldier on to the next Estación.
The Guadalete and Guadalporcún rivers join at around the 26 km mark of the route but the Guadalporcún meanders alongside the cycling track all the way from Zaframagón to the Estación de Coripe which has also been transformed into a hotel and restaurant. There is not much happening in the town of Coripe itself which is about 2 km from the track however a small diversion from the Coripe Viaduct takes you to the Chaparro de la Vega. This supposedly 700-year old Holm Oak of enormous dimensions is an Andalucian National Monument and plays its part in local traditions by providing a meeting point for the villagers of Coripe on their annual pilgrimage during the Fiesta del Virgen de Fatima, their patron saint.
Following Estación de Coripe, the route continues to the third and final hotel at the Estación de Puerto Serrano which adjoins the town of the same name. However having already cycled 22 km we were acutely aware of the 200 metre height climb on the return route and set off on the arduous journey back to the start. About 2 hours later and with tired legs and saddle sore beginning to rear its painful head, we arrived at the hotel at Olvera, dropped off our bikes and were happy to place our feet firmly back on terra firma. Our walk back to town was slow but pleasant, not only for the sense of achievement we felt for having completed our long cycle, but also due to the beautiful purple and pink Sierra sunset that accompanied us on our way. We were aware that our legs would soon be stiffening up, so grabbing a quick shower at Casa Andalus, we headed out for an early dinner at the lively Restaurante Lirios before retiring to what was always going to be an excellent night’s sleep.
Though predictably sore and stiff from the previous day’s cycle, we opted for an early rise and a trip to the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios which overlooks Olvera from a nearby hill. This sanctuary, built on the site of an 18th Century hermitage is apparently visited by 300,000 devotees each year who bring offerings to the Señora in fulfilment of their vows. The interior of its colourful chapel is a pastiche of numerous gaudy styles dominated by a shocking amount of gold plating, and stands adjacent to stunning courtyard overrun with potted plants. A room upstairs was undoubtedly the most interesting, housing the devotions deposited by visitors: hundreds of photos, items of clothing, locks of hair and numerous other knickknacks set down often in memory of long passed loved ones.
Next on the agenda was the village of Zahara de las Sierra where the remains of a castle recall its day as a Moorish outpost. Despite its small size (population of about 950) thousands of visitors are attracted to Zahara each year by its picturesque setting perched atop a mountain, overlooking a valley and a man-made crystal blue lagoon. After a quick photo stop, we moved on to Setenil de las Bodegas, possibly the most unique town in the area. After driving through twice, we finally managed to find a parking space to explore this fascinating town where many of the houses are built into the walls of a huge mountain gorge. Setenil shows evidence of human occupation for at least 2,000 years but was possibly occupied by troglodytes long before then.
Olvera can be reached either via Ronda (taking the E-15/AP-7 in the direction of San Pedro de Alcántara and then the A-397 to Ronda, followed by the A-374 and following signs for Olvera) or via Jerez (taking the A-381 to Jerez/Los Barrios/ Seville and then the E-5/AP-4 to Seville, before taking exit 80 towards Arcos de la Frontera). Casa Andalus is a ‘self-catering’ house which can be booked by calling Karen/Andrew on +34 951276249, mob. +34 689665342). Bicycles can be rented at the Antigua Estación Ferrocarril hotel at the start of the Via Verde at the price of €15.00 per day.
Photos from Olvera’s Via Verde
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.