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Published: November 28th 2006
The Sorts of Days that I Dream of… A Drive through the Hill Towns of Spain
Today started as the usual “check out of the hotel, moving on to the next place” sort of day. We repacked our backpacks, which we are strangely enough getting worse at; and then got some breakfast. After breakfast the day began with us driving our faithful Bimmer out of Arcos.
A quick note about the Spanish road system: First the positive, Spain has an incredibly well maintained and easy to drive road system. All of their roads are well paved and generally are well laid out. Now the bad, Road signs have no directions on them. You never see, A-374 EAST. It’s just A-374 to the next major town which you should know because, of course, you are from Spain and know all of its towns. Also, the road names (or numbers if you’d rather) never stay the same and must change pretty frequently since they are all wrong on our Michelin map. The good news, it’s hard to get lost in Andalucia (this region of Spain) because eventually you’ll end up in the ocean - Atlantic or
Back to our day’s adventures, we headed east today with the plan of hitting a few small towns on the way to our final destination, Ronda, the largest of the White Spanish Hill towns.
After driving wildly around Arcos, getting gas (40 euros a tank) and navigating through the mess of roads in the area (see paragraph above) we were on our way with the idea being to drive through Zahara and Grazalema on the way to Ronda. Our idea turned out to be an inspired one…thank you Rick Steves!! Small Towns with Glorious Mountain Beauty
Once off the main roads and into the countryside Kel and I were both amazed by the beauty of our surroundings. Zahara, the first town we wanted to visit, is surrounded by mountains on three sides and has a small Moorish castle directly above it on a large rocky hill. The windy roads that approach Zahara give you a sense that the people who first settled this town must have created a trail to get in and out of the mountains and that the trail they originally created was paved to make the roads.
stopped in Zahara to visit a small olive oil factory. We walked into the factory and the owner immediately greeted us and asked us if we wanted to see the factory floor. We, of course, said yes. Upon entering the small factory the smell is enough to make you salivate. The olive oil presses, which were working away, were amazing. Multiple rings of 3’diameter mesh pancakes are filled with olives and then placed in a stack of about 150. These stacks are then placed on a hydraulic press which smooshes the rings together with incredible force causing the oil to dump through the mesh rings and into a trough.
The owner then took us into his shop and gave us taste of this fabulous olive oil. I’ll tell you this stuff is to the olive oil you buy in stores in America what diamond is to glass. The oil itself is milky because it hasn’t been processed. Literally, they press it and then bottle it. The olive oil we see is processed and almost as clear as glass which takes all of that tasty sediment out of the oil. Man it was good.
From Zahara we traveled over
a huge mountain to get to Grazalema. The trip over the mountain was a very slow one because we had to take roughly 25 switchbacks at about 40 kph (about 27 mph). The drive was well worth it because of the views of the valleys on both sides. Look at the pictures, they tell more of a story than I can.
Grazalema, which is on the other side of the mountain from Zahara, is a small white stucco village nestled in a valley. It’s the sort of town that old men sit around in all day and play cards. We parked near the main square and walked to a nearby café. Lunch consisted of a smorgasbord of tapa: serrano ham, locally made cheese, fried peppers, lamb kabobs and the ever prevalent patatas fritas. The whole table was full and it barely cost 20 euros. You can eat really well for cheap in small towns.
On our way out of town we stopped at a couple of local shops. We’ve been really good on this trip and have bought nothing in order to keep our costs low and because we can’t bring much with us but we have a
couple of rules about buying stuff on trips. The one big rule is that if you find something really unique that you really like, you buy it if you can because if you pass it up you’ll never see it again. The last shop we entered was a leather purse shop. The owner of the shop creates each purse by hand from the skins and creates each one only once. Kel found a really cool hand bag that wasn’t too expensive so we went ahead and bought it. We figured this would just add to her collection of unique bags and jewelry that she has purchased on our trips. It’s a really cool way to commemorate trips because every time you use something that you bought while traveling reminds you of that particular trip. Next Stop Ronda
The next stop after Grazalema was Ronda, our final destination for the day. We arrived there in less than an hour and entered the town in search of a hotel room. Ronda is an incredibly confusing town to drive in which is only exasperated by the fact that major construction was going on throughout the city. After multiple attempts
at finding hotels we were interested in, we were starting to get fed up. We had seen the whole town via car and were not very impressed…so we left and headed for the coast instead. Marbella Here We Come
Spain is very similar to California in that the Mountains are almost directly on the coast. We drove through some huge twisty mountain roads and as we descended we were directly on the coast. Marbella is a playground for the rich. It has expensive shops and beautiful beaches. I will leave you hanging when it comes to Marbella since we will be here for the next day or two. I’ll give you the lowdown in tomorrow’s update.
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