Hotel Al Lago is a delightful boutique hotel on the edge of the lake at Zahara de la Sierra, with just 4 rooms, but each sumptiously decorated for the discerning traveller. Add to that the world class gourmet restaurant operated by the husband and wife owners of Al Lago and you’ll discover a haven of culture and class in the very heart of the Grazalema Natural Park.
The Ronda area is a cyclists delight and challenge, with spectacular views, and treacherous hill climbs as well. In fact the Serrania is a popular training destination for cyclists preparing for long distance road races and triathlons.
For holiday makers we have a choice of route length, from 30km to 130km, some of them relatively easy to complete, and others aimed at professional cyclists who know their capabilities. Continue reading Cycling from Ronda and around the Serrania
Sometimes you just want to go to the beach, but staying near Ronda means a one and a half hour drive to the coast for the closest beach, however, not too far away at Zahara de la Sierra is La Playita at Arroymolinos, a fresh water pool made into a man-made beach.
From June until mid September the little beach is open, and is only a 25 minute drive from Ronda, or 10 minutes from Zahara de la Sierra or Montecorto. Located under Monte Prieto, the views of surrounding mountains make La Playita a truly isolated place, yet just a few minutes from civilization.
The Hotel Arco de la Villa sits right on the edge of the mountain in the beautiful white village Zahara de la Sierra, very close to the old Moorish fortress, and surrounded by the Grazalema Natural Park. Built in 1998, the hotel provides comfortable accommodation and views of the lake at Zahara that cannot be matched.
Sixteen double rooms and one single room are offered, all rooms being air conditioned, and include a television, phone, and Wi-Fi Internet. Within the hotel there is a restaurant serving local cuisine, and in the village guests will find a decent range of other restaurants including modern contemporary styles. Reception is manned 24 hours, with staff knowledgeable about the local area.
Nestled under the mountain that gives the village its name, Zahara de la Sierra is one of the pueblos blancos of Cadiz province, and is only 30 minutes drive from Ronda, or an hour from Jerez de la Frontera. Completely within the Grazalema Natural Park, and with the district’s largest lake at its base, as well as the beginnings of the Garganta Verde walk just outside the village, Zahara is rightly quite central to experiencing the Sierra de Cadiz.
Arriving in the village you are immediately struck by the sight of the fortress tower sitting on a narrow plateau at the top of the mountain rocks, and the white buildings wrapped around the mountain base which makes Zahara a popular village to photograph from afar with some of the best views being at the southern end of the lake on a clear blue sky day.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.