Hiking the GR7 600km through Andalucia
A meander through cities, hill towns, olive groves and mountains all the while eating and drinking.
Day 1 – Travelling – Bristol to Ronda
After months of anticipation and, indeed lots of hard work over recent months at VENGA and the pub, we are finally off. George picks us up at the unearthly hour of 3.30am for our sleazyjet hop to Malaga. Bristol airport is a grown-up airport these days, all shiny and wannabe Terminal 5. I like it. Given we live 10 miles from its tarmac, I’m always slightly disappointed that we don’t know all the other passengers.
Bus to Marbella. Easy once you know how. Which we didn’t.
We missed the 10.30 as the ticket girl in the booth was on her mobile and held up her imperious free hand to quieten the annoying English customer. Once off the phone, she announced the bus ‘is gone’. I knew this as I watched it depart through the glass over her shoulder with Chris’ efforts to stall the driver having no success.
The 90-minute wait didn’t matter at all. It’s just so good to be here. Coffee in the sun, people watching the taxi queue. Bliss.
With time on our hands, I return to the booth and purchase onward tickets from Marbella to Ronda. The girl is charming (and charmingly, not on the phone). “Is 2 o’clock. This is OK?”
“We have all day” I reply. My clever irony is lost to the European divide (plus my inability with Spanish).
The bus is stunningly punctual, and we are dumped at Marbella bus station for our next 90-minute wait. Our first epicurean experience is battered squid. so ‘battered’ in fact that it resembles oversized soggy alpabetti spaghetti. Being away from work is clearly working wonders as I decide I quite like it.
The Ronda bus departs 3 minutes late, but I think the driver made that up plus another hour on the hair pinned drive up the hills. He had a most excellent air horn with which he blasted every cyclist toiling up the inclines.
Our rucksacks are suspiciously heavy as we walk through Ronda to our hotel. We’ve treated ourselves for the first 2 nights. Beautiful room with its own terrace pool. I suspect we will miss it from our tent next week.
Day 2 – Mooching in Ronda
It’s not normal to have a ‘zero day’ at the beginning of a long-distance walk. However, Ronda (and probably we) deserve it. Ronda is beautiful. Stunning. A charming enough town in any situ but here perched on towering cliffs like a Greek monastery, it’s remarkable too. I first came to Ronda in 1986 with mum & dad -my first calamari, my first Sangria, in fact my first time to Spain. I’d just joined the police and probably thought it highly uncool to be away with the folks. My memories though are all good; they were both lovely. They always were.
A lie in followed by coffee and churros.
The Cafe Alba on Carrera de Espinel boasts churros as the house speciality so where better place to start.
Picture 2 – Coffee, chocolate and churros at Cafe Alba.
Zero days are definitely not zero calorie days.
Ronda is busy with tourists; not the costa type, more the Alhambra ones yet it’s so cheap. The feast was €10.
It’s festival time here. The Spanish do love a festival. There’s lots of them and they are lots of fun. This one is the festival Romantica and the streets are busy with chatty groups and dressed up kids. Later the crowd lined streets are treated to neighbouring villages parading past in fine attire. There is endless musket fire as antique weapons are discharged into the sky. There’s eating too…
Picture 3 – The Romantica festival markets at Ronda.
Gorgeous croquetta from a stand; 5 perfect fried bundles of joy for €3. A Cruz Campo beer to accompany at €1; Jamon, naturally and then the surprise of the night: the best crisps I have had in my life! Patatas fritas fresh fried in a huge cauldron of glistening oil. Crisps? I don’t want crisps! I only bought them because the stall holder let me take a photo of her coconuts.
I’m pretty certain I had an Anton Ego moment eating Ratatouille (yay, Disney) (If you don’t know; watch it soon)
Time will tell if this is the culinary high of the trip!
After much more musketry and peasants’ revolt we retire to a Galician Pintxos bar where the marvellous moustachioed proprietor proceeds to engage me in numerous conversations of which I do not understand a single word. The gestures clearly indicate a proudness regards his array of pintxos piled high on the bar although his fingernails slightly less so. Yum yum I mime with what I have always believed to be the universal ‘knife and fork eating’ I’ll have Two please, sign language. Our plates remain empty. Perhaps this isn’t a bar at all but a museum. Eventually a waitress serves us vino Blanca and flavour bombs on bread.
Later at ‘Tapas Toro’ we dine on salt cod tortilla, sublime, more like fritters really along with delicate fried aubergine slices doused in sugar cane honey; now that’s coming back on the menu at Venga for sure. Plus Jamon. There’s always Jamon.
The staff are enjoyably grumpy.
Ronda; I love you. Apart from anything else, you remind me of time with my dad.
Day 3 – A gentle start – Ronda to Molino del Arco – 5km
The idea was to have a ‘shake Down’ day. Test the new back packs; sort any chaffing, that kind of thing. I’d planned about 5 miles to Arriate but due to the combined anomalies of Booking.com and my middle age, we ended up just strolling 2 miles.
Leaving Ronda we are treated to 20 dancers performing on the sun dappled steps of the main town church. A fitting send off.
Descending through open woodland below Ronda we experienced our first river crossing. Boots off; lots of mud
The first GR7 information board encountered doesn’t bode well either…
Picture 5 – An official GR7 information board
On the total plus side, Molino del Arco Hotel is stunning. Besides as Benidorm’s Madge would say ‘I’m on me holidays’.
Day 4 – Arriate to Cuevas del Becerro – 22km
Up reasonably early. Away by 8:30 and we retrace our steps to pick up the trail back in the valley.
After 5km Chris smells pastries in the air. I’m really not kidding about this; she can small them miles out.
We are in the little town of Arriate and a few corners further on we find a shop selling the most welcome pain au chocolat ever eaten.
From Arriate things get rural very quickly. We have met very few people as yet but we deduce the ‘proper’ way to greet those that we do quite quickly.
In the UK when hill walking one typically greets a fellow hiker “mornin’” thus efficiently leaving out the unnecessary and indeed, un-British ‘good’
Mornin’ is also used commonly up until about 2pm. After this ‘hello’ is normal except when meeting Northerners when it’s ‘afternoon’ or just ‘noon.
In 40 years of UK hill walking 90% of people I’ve met have been from the north of England. True.
In Andalusia it is the ‘day’ that is dropped thus ‘buenos dias’ just becomes ‘buenos’ I like it. Very unlike us in England. Try it next time you are on a walk. Just say ‘good’ to everyone you meet.
Some 5km after leaving Arriate the GR7 proudly dumps you on a fast, busy and undoubtedly dangerous main road. It is followed for an uphill 5km. Initially you can walk alongside it on an overgrown path but then the way is barred by a fence and a wall where after many brown envelopes changed hands, a new golf course was built.
At this point you walk in the road itself, swaying to the cross draught of every coach. It’s quite hairy.
Of course, the view of the golf course would be nice. If they ever built it which, being in the notoriously corrupt Malaga province, they never did. 20 Miles of GR7 and mountain reserve lost forever to a doomed ego project.
Picture 7 – Crossing the mainline at Parchite
Having survived the road of death, traffic is soon forgotten as things become very pretty very quickly
The flowers are varied and beautiful whilst the grasses remind of when I was a kid. Huge stems with seed pods and kernels almost like wheat. The type that took many a fun minute to dissect piece by pod. I don’t know where these grass types have gone in England.
We descend steeply to our overnight stop; Cuevas del Becerro.
It’s one horse-ish but pretty and very, very tidy. Every house has tiles on its front wall to the height of a metre. Doors and windows are polished daily it seems.
At first it all appears to be houses but then we find bars interspersed amongst them. Only discerned by the noise within and a solitary, dusty Cruz Campo sign outside. We pick one with the further luxury of seating and an umbrella
At Bar la Tabarrera we select Cruz Campo. Naturally. €1 a pop.
Picture 9 – Food & Cruz at La Tabarrera
After we add pork steak, a huge plate of tender squid, Patatas Bravas and fresh Anchovies along with 3 more Cruz; €14.
I know it’s vulgar to quote prices but I can’t quite get over it yet.
The accommodation is a way back so we ‘stop off’ a little on the way.
Bar 1 – “vino tinto por favor”
Slower; “vino tinto por favor”
Really slow; “vino tinto”
“Ah, Vino tinTo” with an unnecessary edge to the T in my opinion
Cue tiny goblets filled to the brim with Campo Viejo. 80 cents.
Bar 2 – a dozen teens playing dominoes for cash bets
We have Cruz ‘0’ to play it safe.
Bar 3 – “Pub Chaplin”
No vino tinto (hard T or otherwise)
No vino blanco
Cue massive gin tonicas.
Bed by 7pm. Rock’n’roll.