Travel. Spain. Western Europe
Is This Spain’s Most Beautiful Area?
Gorgeous gorges, vibrant villages, and hot spas.
I’ve visited Spain three times since 2011, so it’s not hard to tell it’s one of my favourite European countries. But I’d only been in its cities before: Barcelona, Madrid, Córdoba, San Sebastian and Bilbao in Basque country.
I’d never stayed in any Spanish villages even though I’d always wanted to see the ‘white towns’ in the mountains of Andalusia. Ronda was the town I’d heard about but we discovered it was just one of many truly beautiful villages.
Andalusia keeps on surprising us every day, every hour, every minute. After leaving Ronda, we headed towards Alhama de Granada passing through many ‘white towns’ on our way. On reaching Antequera, we headed for Paraje Natural Torcal, quite a diversion, but my daughter was adamant.
“Just another national park”
As it turned out, she was right. It wasn’t “just another national park”, but was like nothing I had ever seen before.
We drove higher and higher through the clouds, literally, and I thought if we do reach the top, we won’t be able to see anything through the thick clouds. I was wrong again.
The clouds cleared, blue sky opened up and we could see as far as the ocean. But that wasn’t all. The landscape was made up of sedimentary rocks that had weathered in the most amazing ways.
The wind was whipping around the rocks threatening to carry us off the edge so we retreated to the café for a hot cup of coffee before heading off down the mountain again.
Give me a hot bath
On to Alhama de Granada. Alhama means hot thermal springs and was the reason we were going to stay in this cute little white hill town for two nights.
The little village of Alhama de Granada offered so much more; lots of history, friendly locals, fantastic food, and wonderful views of a gorge arguably more beautiful than that of Ronda and definitely more accessible.
We arrived right on 6pm to be greeted by a lovely lady at the door, and shown to our room right up in the attic. What a room! Everything had been thought of to make our stay comfortable.
Wine and cheese time — again
The room was centrally heated to a pleasant warm and we didn’t have to fiddle with air-conditioners and heaters trying to get the right temperature. But we left the warmth of our room to sit out on our terrace and enjoy some cheese and wine.
This was starting to become a habit. A hot, hot shower with no pesky shower curtain, nor troublesome shower screens topped off quite a perfect day.
The beds were so comfy we didn’t want to wake up. I stirred myself and went downstairs to the little kitchen and made some microwave scrambled eggs and coffee.
Walking off the wine (and cheese)
My daughter headed off on a village walking tour (in Spanish) and I went out exploring the village on my own. It’s what I like to do most. I discovered the dungeons, churches, cottages in ruins, cats, horses and a not-very-friendly dog.
In the church square, a few stalls were set up selling local gin (too many bad experiences drinking gin), honey (too difficult to transport), cheese (we don’t need any more) and a home-baked goodies stall. I bought a plate of nutty biscuits that fell to pieces as soon as you tried to eat them!
At last, the hot bath…
We had been told the thermal baths were open between 2pm and 4pm, so we hurried off to find them, not an easy task. They were marked on the map about 3 kilometres from town, so we decided to drive. We pulled up outside a locked gate and walked down the driveway.
The Hotel Balneario was closed for ‘winter’ and completely locked up, including the beautiful Arab Baths that we were planning to visit.
Who closes a thermal spa hotel in winter? Wouldn’t you think people would want to soak in hot water when it’s cold?
Undeterred, we walked down to discover a small thermal pool right beside the freezing cold river where a few locals were relaxing, drinks in hand. We had to be helped in; the edges were quite slippery, and we lay back to enjoy the hot water, 40°C we were told. Good for the hair!
We weren’t the only tourists to have discovered this hidden gem, but as we were leaving the locals descended in hordes. We were really pleased we had decided to go earlier in the afternoon. It wasn’t a huge pool, and they’d be packed in like sardines.
Always the early diners
Back to our rooftop room, showered, washed and dried hair and headed out to Casa Ochoa Tertulia Bar, which had been recommended by our host. When we walked in, we were greeted with smiles and open arms and shown to a table.
We were the only people in the restaurant and Ochoa came out and put some fresh hot coals in a brazier under our table to warm our feet. Talk about service.
We ordered a bottle of verdelho and some entrée sized dishes: Iberian ham and gorgonzola, pork cooked in a special sauce, grilled calamari and a plate of grilled vegetables. All were very tasty and presented beautifully.
As we were finishing our meal, the local crowd started arriving and by the time we left, the place was hopping! Every chair and table taken, and people standing at the bar. As usual in this part of the world, we were the only early diners.
A delicious gift
As a gift, we were offered some special Alhama liqueur wine, a little like sangria but more full-bodied and alcoholic. In the wine festival time in February, many litres are drunk and as you can imagine, everyone has a good time. I think February would be a fun time for me to visit again!
Making my dream a reality
Even though I’ve visited Spain three times in the last ten years, I haven’t stopped dreaming of going again. Until I am able to travel, I am spending time attending classes to learn Spanish to make my dream a reality.
I’m looking forward to the places I’ll see, the people I’ll meet, the food I’ll eat, and definitely the wine I’ll taste — well, let’s be honest, I’ll drink! Maybe not next year, but who knows? Who wants to come with me?
I have spent a large part of my life rearing children. Now I enjoy travel and writing more than anything else. I like to focus my energy on collecting experiences as opposed to things and would rather spend my money on an adventurous holiday to a foreign land than on a fancy new car.
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