// S P A I N
I had visited Spain a few years ago with a beautiful girl who embraced freedom and good times. Her nostrils flared when she laughed and her giggle often instigated this sort of happiness infection that was best described as a laughter domino effect in those around her. Our time in Spain was mostly spent in Barcelona where we became human meatballs in what is known as the world's biggest tomato throwing festival (aka La Tomatina). La Tomatina is the wildest and messiest festival I have ever been to and I will eventually do a post on it one day soon.
Anyway, we heard a lot about the South of Spain when we were in Barcelona and how they much preferred a slower paced and siesta filled life. They also routinely served free tapas with alcoholic beverages ... and I am so on board with free food. Unfortunately, due to the nature of our Europe trip with busabout and the typical backpacker requirement to see as many countries as humanely possible in the three months that you could afford on a poor student budget, we couldn’t venture that way to indulge ourselves in such Southerly treasures. Instead it became a new note in my brain bucket list that I would tick off when given the opportunity.
And, true to my word, a couple of years, laugh lines and creaky joints later, I found myself booking bargain flights to Malaga in the South of Spain as I sat in my room in my new land of the United Kingdom.
Here’s a little run down of our itinerary.
D A Y 1
Arrive in Malaga
*quick tip: try to coordinate flights with your boyfriend so you don’t become a temporary resident of the Malaga airport as you wait for him to arrive.
*tip numero dos: try and tee up a boyfriend who can drive the hire car so you can live the glamorous life of a designated passenger and DJ. I conveniently found mine roaming the streets of Kent and I didn’t need to look on amazon on eBay like I do for most things.
I can’t really rate Malaga because I never actually saw it. We arrived late, hired a car, looped around the motorways for a while and then left early the next morning for a place called Torcal de Antequera. I’d imagine Malaga to be really beautiful. Although I’d need to go back there to make an informed judgement …
P.s: We hired our car from Enterprise and they were so seamless with airport pick up and swiftly getting us some wheels so we could crack on with the fun stuff. The car hire was around €85 for five days and then we added comprehensive insurance and a half tank of fuel leverage for an extra €100. The fully comprehensive insurance just gave us some piece of mind when it came to driving around the tricky corners of the villages and encountering some wild drivers on bendy bends and risky motorcyclists who left their brains in the washing machine at home. We stayed at a place called Hotel Plaza del Castillo. It was reasonably priced at around €55/night, was conveniently located near the airport and there is also an airport shuttle if you don’t have your own transportation like us. There’s breakfast available and also an on site restaurant with all kinds of traditional treats. It’s handy if you arrive late and are renown for getting midnight munchies. I think they were open until 11 o’clock or something like that and spoke good English … or good enough to understand our attempts at ordering.
D A Y 2
Malaga to Torcal de Antequera
[1 hour-ish drive]
The drive to Torcal de Antequera was phenomenal and acted as a great warm up for the eyes before they unwrapped the unique pancake-like rock landscapes of Torcal de Antequera. The parking space for Torcal de Antequera is usually jam packed but we found it quite alright to park along the road leading up to the parking area. You just have to tuck it in enough to shield it away from the rogue wing mirrors of buses carrying crowds of school children and tour groups. Also, parking is free! Either that or we somehow avoided getting ourselves a ticket and landing ourselves on the wrong side of the Spanish authorities.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking trails. Apparently there are four routes but I only saw the three on the map. A green, yellow and orange one. We chose to do venture down various view points and then decided to walk along the yellow path in the wrong direction. Whilst fun and worthwhile, we did encounter numerous bunches of excitable and overly friendly school children. We always seemed to meet inconveniently at the most narrowest points of the path and the lines of children seemed to flow on forever … and ever… and ever. I wouldn’t not do the path in the wrong direction again because it really didn’t make too much of a difference. It’s just dangerous if you’re the same size of a school kid and you find yourself getting into trouble by the teachers for straying from the group.
Here’s a few snaps of our time there
Torcal de Antequera to Antequera
[30 minutes drive]
We left Torcal de Antequera with a place called Antequera in our sights. It was only 30 minutes drive from Torcal and the drive was again pretty phenomenal. We chucked our stuff in our hotel room when we arrived and headed out to explore the delights of this homely Spanish niche. We stayed the night at a hotel called Hotel Antequera by Checkin which set us back about €60/night and included a freezing cold pool we felt obliged to jump in and a generous buffet brekky the next morning.
Antequera itself was a true gem! Lemon trees lined the streets and it turned out that picking lemons made for a thrilling afternoon adventure. The smell of the lemons incited that tastebuds prickling sensation you get when you smell something sour and they tasted so … (as cliché as it sounds) lemony. I would steer clear of the oranges growing on trees in the streets as they left a rather sour impression on our tastebuds and a post traumatic orange fear lingering in our minds. We wandered through the village and stumbled upon a church, some cute streets and seriously (head spinningly) strong sangria. This was my first and favourite sangria of the trip. I don’t remember the name of the café/shop/corner store (or if it even had one) but it was near the Arco De Los Gigantes lookout and had service to match the quality of the beverages. The lookout is pretty spectacular too! Especially at sunset. And especially with a few sangrias in the belly!
Our dinner ventures led us to looking on tripadvisor for places other travellers had recommended. Among the lesser refined options was this place called Casa Paco where the medium rare steaks came out rarer than a good nights sleep at a hostel and the caesar salad was served with enough sauce that you could dive in (literally). The wine was cheap but was very easy to drink. I’d 100% recommend it if you are in the area and a little stuck on dinner options and fairly good at food charades (just kidding… thankfully they do have a poorly translated English menu for us simple and single lingual people). Also we worked out that ordering a well done steak usually equates to a medium rare steak for those meat eaters out there!
Here’s some more snaps of the streets and delights of Antequera
D A Y 3
Antequera to Sierra de Huma
[1 hour drive]
Sierra de Huma is a mountain which, according to a blog I found on google, is accessible via a challenging hiking track. Getting there involved a one hour drive from Antequera to a parking spot somewhere near El Chorro. My google directions sent us along a very bumpy road where we encountered a very confused runner who was probably thinking that a car should not be tackling these ‘roads’ … let alone a mini hired car (sorry Enterprise). But we were equally questioning his sanity levels for running along this mountain in the near middle of a scorching day. If you’re thinking about doing a hike around Sierra de Huma then I recommend going into El Chorro and going past the train station instead of cashing in on your luck charms on this risky road we took. We learnt about this alternative road through good karma we received after giving some very flushed and exhausted Irish hitchhikers a lift back to the train station in El Chorro.
Here are some directions for my recommended route to the parking lot with the address ‘Diseminado Poligono 1, 42, 29552, Málaga, Spain’.
The D R I V E
Starting at the El Chorro train station
1. Head north from the station along the Barriada Estacion del Chorro road
2. 150 metres: turn right at the fork and continue to follow the road as it stretches uphill
3. 1 kilometre: Continue along on the gravel road. After 1km, the road will split again, and here you need to turn left and continue for another 3 kilometres.
4. 3 kilometres: follow the road for 3 kilometres and then turn right
5. 600 metres: turn left
6. 170 metres: arrive at the parking spot!
These directions are obviously as sketchy as the Spanish roads so it’s probably a little easier to just pop in the destination address to google maps and let your phone be your guide!
sweet antequera streets
We did eventually make it to the car park and surprisingly were both in one piece. I’d much rather follow the above directions if I were to do it again. The directions for the actual walk served us well until about ten minutes into the trek where we were both lost and without a clue where these directions were trying to send us. Instead of giving up and heading back to the car, we decided to consult google maps and make our own hike to see Sierra de Huma. Here’s what we did if you’re ever feeling like bumping up your step count and feeling some serious quad burn:
The D R I V E
The H I K E
The H I K E
1. 10 minutes: Follow the gravel road to the right towards Abdalajis. Walk until you come to an old cabin/house where there is just the foundation left.
2. 10 minutes: Walk 20 meters past the foundation and take a left on to a small path. You will follow this path until it splits.
3. 1 hour: Keep to this trail and don’t turn right where it splits! You’ll end up going downhill and repeating step two again!
The path is mostly straightforward and there’s not much of an incline once you’re done with the initial calf burner. There are a few fences that you need to jump over/duck under and you might encounter herds of goats along the way if you’re lucky. We walked past a farm house but it turns out that we probably should have taken the left at the fork (just before the dog with a lot of bark behind it) and trekked uphill. We went to this little windy viewpoint just past the farmhouse first before realising our mistake. But like penicilin, the best mistakes are unreal and so worth it. We did eventually turn back and embrace our Miley Cyrus climb attitudes to tackle the upward climb. We reached the top and then turned around after five or ten minutes once we realised that our path was once again heading downhill and we’d happily accept defeat before our legs went on strike.
4. 1 hour and 15 minutes: Go the same way back. It’s a little less time because you’re going downhill instead of fighting gravity.
*the directions that I found online had said something about walking up the hill with La Huma on your left hand side and that it was quite tricky to stick to the path 100% of the time. It goes on to say that you’d follow this “path” until you come to the top of the hill. Then walk until you come to a fence that has many planted trees on the other side. Go to the left on the path which goes along the fence and follow the natural upwards increase to the mountain. It is very steep here. At the top take a right to get to the highest point where you will see a small cement “block”.
I can’t vouch for this last bit so take no liability (or offence) if you choose to follow these instead. Let me know if you do and you stumble across some quality view gems though!
hiking to the top!
Sierra de Huma to Ardales
[45 minutes drive]
Having survived our impromptu hiking escapade, given a few hitchhikers a lift and revived ourselves with some sweet H2O, we were set to tackle the roads again and make our way to the next spot. We were awarded a little tip top tip from the Irish hikers that we should check out a place called Ardales on our way to Alora. And I am so glad we did! It’s a perfect spot to grab a drink and some ice cream… and then another refreshment if you feel so inclined. There’s a central square surrounded by pubs and the atmosphere is very Spanish – beers were flowing, people were frolicking and some cheesy music filled our background space. It’s a perfect little pit stop if you’re on the search for a time filler and post-hike soul replenisher.
Ardales to Alora
[30 minutes drive]
From Ardales we then went to Alora. The roads were windy and sometimes there was more missing road than there was there road. The drive as a whole was however jam packed with forever a field filled with differently coloured rows of what we assumed (and now know) to be olive trees planted in a fashion that was most appealing to my OCD mind. Finding our hostel was pretty easy … but finding somewhere to park was a whole other story! We ended up parking in a main square and walking up (and up and up and up) to our hostel from there. The hostel was called Hostal Durán. Though it wasn’t anything spectacular, it was homely, provided unreal views of Alora and was a steal price of around €40/night. The owner didn’t speak much English but was so welcoming and gave us an entertaining tour of our cosy room in a language that can be explained as mostly Spanish, sometimes sketchy English and sprinkled with a few awkward gestures here and there. He explained that the shutters came up and that we should get “insert image of slightly rounded Spanish guy making camera gestures and clicking noises” at the time when the sun sets. After a slight mishap with the shutters and the same round Spanish guy making us look like rookies when showing us we had to lever the shutters up using this device next to the window (it’s like we were real tourists that had never had to siesta in the afternoon when the sun was at his most intense), here’s the view we unveiled ...
Our dinner spot in Alora was again moulded by internet suggestions we found on our iPhones. It seemed that this pretty little village was staying pretty silent even when siesta time had come to an end. We stumbled upon a cute restaurant down a little curious alleyway that would have just looked like another residential street if we were none the wiser. The food was very yummy, the wine was kind to the pockets and the place oozed with Spanish charm… and all of these make up for the less than perfect service of the very non-stop waiter who was running the table showing, beverage providing, order taking, order delivering and order paying show. The place was called Casa Abilio and probably one of the few places you’ll get some borderline fine dining during the quieter seasons in Alora.
D A Y 4
Alora to Caminito del Rey
So we didn’t end up doing Caminito del Rey because apparently you have to book well in advance if you want to test out your vertigo capabilities with a cliffside stroll. So if you’re reading this and you want to try it then I suggest going and doing it as soon as you know your travel dates! This is one thing I am sad that we didn’t get to do … but it’s on my edited bucket list for when I return. I’ll leave the link with some helpful information and adrenaline inducing pictures below:
The walk was supposed to take around 3 hours to cover 8.1 ish kilometres and would have accounted for our morning if we lived in an ideal world of turning up and jumping aboard the adventure train. Instead we had a breakfast adventure in Alora that we won’t dwell on too much. We did learn that you can’t always trust google map café suggestions though and sometimes it’s best just to stick to the main square and accidentally order plates and plates of patatas bravas…
P.s: there’s a little viewpoint around Caminito del Rey that’s a gem find and there’s a few walks around the area if you’ve got some time up your sleeve. The viewpoint is called Sillon de Rey and there’s a car park just near so it doesn’t involve much effort if you just want instant view points.
Caminito de Rey to Ronda
[1 hour drive]
I had heard many mixed reviews about Ronda. Some of these included it being wonderful whilst others had said that is was nestled near an industrial site, sold overpriced tourist souvenirs and expensive food (and sangria) and there were masses of tour groups that overcrowded the streets and photobombed scenic shots. I had seen so many mesmerising snaps of it on the gram and from friends so I had to take the risk and test it out for myself. We arrived in the afternoon and had some quick afternoon beverage shenanigans at a place off the main touristy strip. I forget the name of it but it wasn’t anything memorable or somewhere I’d rush back to visit. It did serve sangria that quenched my thirst and allowed us to sit and people watch for a while. It’s so easy to turn down a few streets to steer away from the touristy spots and it’s so worth the extra effort!
The crazy thing about Spain is that you quickly fall into their way of life so seamlessly. Whilst we could have gone to dinner straight after our drinks, we felt the need to go back to the hotel, nap, snack, snack some more and then venture out for dinner when the sun started to fade away from its sky duties and rest it’s eyes for the night. That meant we were heading out to dinner at around 9:00ish most nights, finishing eating at around 11:00 and then tucking ourselves into bed after midnight. And this night was no different. We decided to stray away from our usual tripadvisor tips for one night and take a wild chance at restaurant roulette in Ronda. It seemed to have a lot more hustle and bustle than the places we had stayed previously and we thought we would have far more success on our search for food. The first place we tried had a bit of wait so we ventured on. Walking back and forth, forth and back and then repeating this a few times more, we ended back where we started… just with a longer wait…
This place was called Restaurante Las Maravillas and it just so transpired that every minute we spent waiting for our last Spanish supper was well worth it! We finally indulged in some traditional paella amongst so many amazing side dishes and followed the main act with a sweet number that was comprised of a dangerously chocolate brownie and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. The place was packed (hence the wait) but the service didn’t suffer at all. Our food was served in a reasonable time and our stomachs weren’t left making grumbling whale like noises for too long. Also, we think our bill was reasonable given our meal did include a few drinks and the restaurant was on the trendy side and located quite centrally. I’d happily return if I were ever to go back to Ronda … except this time I would wait it out the first time rather than seeing if there was something better on offer!
D A Y 5 (and our last day)
The perk of a late night flight is that you have a whole extra day to explore. But, at the same time, the disadvantage of late night flights is that this whole extra day of exploring often leaves your eyeballs hanging out of your head and a serious feeling of bed gravity in your boots. We could have probably booked a flight for around 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening and I think I would have been happy with the balance of seeing everything but not feeling like I’ve completely emptied out my energy tank. In saying that, however, I am grateful for the whole extra day to explore and fill our adventure cups with some delicious Spanish juice!
People who think of Ronda usually think of a ginormous bridge that transcends gorges and provides gorgeous views that really should belong on a postcard that you reserve for your favourite nan. This famous bridge is called the Puente Nuevo and spans the 328-feet-deep El Tajo gorge, linking El Mercadillo (The Little Market), the newer part of town, with La Ciudad (The Town), the old Moorish quarter. It did take 40 or so years to build and the lives of 50 construction workers so it’s magnificence is earned and warranted. It is, however, not the only thing to see in Ronda!
The Bullring (Plaza de Toros)
The bullring opened in the late 1700s and remains to be used annually for Ronda’s exclusive bullfight in September. It’s just a short stroll away from the Puente Neuvo and it’s 120 metre drop view of the El Tajo gorge. It was on the pale sands of this historic arena that a new kind of bullfighting was forged by Francisco Romero in the 18th century. Romero introduced the now-iconic red cape, known as the muleta, and faced the bull on foot, whereas before matadors had performed on horseback. Outside the arena are statues of Antonio Ordonez, another important Ronda bullfighter and of a life-size fighting bull, which better enables you to understand how hard it must be to keep still when one of these half-tonne animals is running at you. There are several daily tours of the bullring and you can learn more about the interesting rituals that transpired during these times.
Walks around the El Tajo region
There’s an abundance of walks around Ronda where you can walk off your buffet breakfasts or make room for some lunch! On the side of the old town, a little country path takes you down the hillside and under the great bridge itself, via some slightly hairy sections that resemble a much lower but less well-maintained version of Malaga’s terrifying Caminito del Rey. On the side of the newer part of town, a better-maintained pathway takes you across one of the quaint older bridges that the New Bridge was meant to improve upon, and back up the other side of the gorge past the Casa del Rey Moro. Both of these undemanding walks provide an abundance of spots from which to contemplate the untamed beauty of Ronda’s location.
Juzcar to Malaga airport via Marbella
[1 hour and 45 minutes]
There’s a few different routes to choose from when travelling back to Malaga from Juzcar. We chose the coastal route that gave us a peek of the beach and teased us with salty ocean waves. It was nice but I’m sure you’d be a winner with whatever way you chose!
We arrived a little early so we pitched up at a beach near Malaga and had a goodbye drink to drown our sorrows for having to leave our little Spanish escapade behind and accept reality was anxiously awaiting us on the other end.
And to finish.
This trip, like many of those that I’ve had before, has taught me that:
I like living a life with less. Less stuff, less clutter, less stress, less discontent. But, at the same time – I like a life with more time, more meaningful relationships, more time for things that matter the most, more contentment. And so I’ll continue to explore more of these things that matter the most to me and share these things and moments with you along the way.
Juzcar - the real life Smurf village
Also, slight disclaimer … we may have driven to this spot … but we did see numerous of keen beans with their boots and hiking poles out and about!
Here’s some other things that were on the list but we didn’t get the chance to check out!
1. Baños Arabes (Arabic Baths)
2. Mondragon Palace
3. Santa Maria la Mayor Church
Ronda to Juzcar
[35 minutes drive]
Juzcar is another village in Andalusia. But, unlike the other whitewashed villages in Spain, this one is blue. The transformation of this village is owed to the fact that every single building here was painted blue: houses, the Church, the cemetery and the Town Hall, to embrace the premiere of the world-renowned film - The Smurfs 3D. This was intended to be a temporary project … but the idea caught on so well that Juzcar even started to organise a series of events and trade fairs related to the cheerful theme and there was later a local referendum to keep it this way.
I eventually did uncover why Sony chose this sleepy Andalusian village for their smurf premiere during my research for this post. Apparently Juzcar has a long mycology tradition and the Smurfs are especially known for their craving for mushrooms. Each autumn, the picturesque area surrounding the village is brimming with all kinds of delicious fungi, making for a paradise for mycologists and nature lovers. But the Smurfs village is also an excellent destination for culture, food, and outdoor adventures, with a good variety of hiking trails, culinary tours, and cultural excursions all year round.
It’s fun to walk around and take photos and if nothing more than to say that you’ve been to a real life Smurf village! We strolled around, had an ice cream and then went on our merry way with Malaga airport in our sights!