hiking Andalucia

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 16/17th May. Alfarnatejo to Villanuevo del Rosario (22km) to Archidona (23km)

After a day off the trail we got a lift back to where we had walked to last time we were here together and promptly went off route somehow. Instead of a level hike around the hill between Alfarnatejo and Alfarnate we followed the path that went over the top of it. So we found ourselves looking down on the town we were supposed to be climbing into.

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After the huffing and puffing of the climb we needed coffee when we got down there and so we gate crashed what turned out to be some old folks day centre thinking it was a bar. They didn’t seem to mind, I guess we fitted right in.
It was a funny old town anyway

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and we moved on down the road surrounded by grain fields and poppies.

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We took a dirt track leading straight up the mountain ahead of us

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where traffic is banned and the rocky slopes are being planted with oak. The air was thick with the scent of Spanish broom and a wealth of wild flowers grew despite the dry conditions and an altitude of over 1100m. The views back over towards the south and the flat high plains were impressive.

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After cresting a pass and passing down through Aleppo pines we stumbled upon an old campsite, accessed from the north, that was now an outdoor activity centre with tree walks, zip wires and climbing walls.

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There were signs of other outdoor activities in the shape of abandoned loud speakers and campfires.

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From here we began to climb to the ravine at Llano de la Cueva, the highest point at 1385m of the entire 660km GR249 route.
A delightful path led us up through woods of oak and hawthorn with more Aleppo pine and Spanish Terebinth to little fields cleared of stones where small herds of sheep sheltered from the sun.

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There were the tell tale scuffling and rootling of wild boar too but no signs of the Ibex or Roe deer that live here.
We climbed past another old threshing circle marvelling at farming grain at 1200m. Looking eastwards from here we could see the empty quarter of the Central Limestone Arch and in the far distance, snow on the Sierra Nevada’s.

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Climbing up out of the woodland towards the pass at 1385m it remained lush, with a plethora of colourful or spiky plants still roughing it out. There was also a stone construction we thought must be to catch water.

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Pausing for lunch and self congratulations at the summit we looked westwards along the mountain chain, admiring the rugged splendour of it all.

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To the north we could see our destination but had to follow a long looping track down past the Mirador de Hondonero and another picnic site and bird observatory.

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There were big patches of Dehesa oak woodland and great spots for rock climbing like the imposing Tajo de Madera cliff face.

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We arrived at the little chapel of our Lady of the Rosary just outside the town.

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After collapsing in the plaza for awhile with cold beer and crisps and shopping for dinner our kindly Air b+b host Gustavo picked us up and whisked us in minutes to a lovely old cortijo set in the olive groves.

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A restful night under the ancient beams and we were off down a track through the olive groves back to the village/town. The flowering is dramatic this year and I pity those with a pollen allergy.

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A cafe con leche and tomate tostada set us up for our last days hike this trip. 23km to Archidona across a different landscape to the mountains so far.
We left the town by a gentle waterside path leading us through the huerta, a fertile area of crop growing.

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This was the humble beginnings of the mighty 166km Guadalhorce river and the path gradually moved away from it along a constant corridor of flowers.

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Soon enough the surroundings moved from the poetic to the prosaic as we passed under the motorway to a landscape of abandoned developments and collapsing fincas.

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But before long we were walking away from the mess of man and up into a wilder space, a big area of shrubby Dehesa with cistus and potentilla.

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It was a beautiful area and I could see why some obviously wealthy finca owners had chosen it to make their gardens and erect their tents.

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Plain farming folk were here too with their sheep and goats, their grain and their oaks.

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Some of the olives were looking pretty industrial level Corp.

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We climbed higher, passed the olives, to an area where pines had been harvested from the steep hillsides after a fire.

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The view back was over the vast prison

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The view forwards was down into the Hoz de Marin and we climbed along its edge through the strangely coloured gypsum and clays.

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Before dropping steeply down through a pine forest on a track destroyed by mountain bikes.

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Our destination came into view between the trees

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and reaching the valley floor we crossed the river and walked along a lovely shady path before the last gruelling 100m ascent into town.

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We realised why the last climb had been such hot work when we saw 33• degrees on the thermometer sign.

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And so a few days rambling over we plan our return to Ireland and maybe our return to the GR 249.

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