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Trip Report Four days walking in the Sierra de Aracena

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I posted this once but forgot to tag it. So excuse the double-posting.

My husband and I spent four really beautiful days in the Sierra de Aracena, not really a mountain range, but a bunch of hills in southwest Andalucia, sort of in between Sevilla and Huelva. I don't have the talent of recreating the great meals we ate, but I can give names of some really outstanding restaurants in the area.

We were there in mid-March,the weather was perfect, and wildflowers were starting to sprout. I'm sure that in a few weeks, it will be glorious. This is an area with many well-marked trails and good directions are available in English in a book by Guy Hunter Watts, Walking in Spain. There are easy ways to combine walks to make larger loops, or to shorten. One of his walks is on the web here: http://www.andalucia.com/rural/walking/forgotten.htm
(it was one of our favorites)

Our base was the Posada Finca la Fronda about 2 km outside of the cute small town of Alájar. http://www.fincalafronda.com/ It's a great place, very comfortable and everything is built to a very high standard. The place is run by a retired couple, a British expat and his Spanish wife. Their son is becoming quite the chef and serves dinners at night (very reasonable at 20 euros a person). Breakfasts can be taken outdoors on the patio with just glorious views -- homemade whole wheat & millet bread (yum) home made croissants, honey from their bees, good fruit, etc.. All rooms have private patios with views overlooking the sierra, we sat outside and watched the sun go down over the town of Alájar and had a glass of wine most nights. They have an honesty bar, and their house wine is decent.

Though the hosts aren't walkers, they know the trails well and sent us on our wayevery morning with very clear directions. They have many copies of the book in English, which you can buy or borrow. Several trails past right by the hotel, which is convenient.

There are two not-to-be-missed restaurants. One is Maricastaña, in the town called Castaña del Robledo. It's not open all the time, but we had a Saturday lunch there out on a terrace with stunning views and there were mobs from Sevilla, coming for lunch. (our hotel made a reservation for us, luckily). The other is Los Arrieros, in Linares de la Sierra, another fantastic place. Neither is cheap, but not outrageous, entrees in the 20-euro range.

The nice thing about the walks is that many of them are circular, and go through a variety of towns. None of the towns is really a must-see tourist destination, but there are many pretty white towns dotting the landscape. It's nice to go through them on your walk, take a break, have a drink at a café and then head back to the hills.

The main town in the region is Aracena, but I'm glad we didn't stay there. Alájar is much more central for walking in the region. Aracena isn't too special either, though it has a nice castle on top and a nice square -- and the Pastelaría Rufino was a great place for a big snack after one of our walks. (it's right near the main square and we found it because of the line out the door). But it is confusing to drive in. If you go, don't miss the cheese factory, on the outskirts of town in the industrial park, we stocked up on two really delicious cheeses, one sheep, and one goat.

Though I am not a big meat eater, this is the home of Jamón Ibérico, the ham that is made from pigs that only eat chestnuts. We had it several times, and it is pretty yummy. One of our hosts told us that the fat in jamón ibérico is omega-3, because the type of fat depends on the food the animal eats. I was skeptical, but a short web search bears the claim out. In any event, it is delicious, and the fat melts in your mouth, just like they say.

The most touristy town in the area is Almonaster el Real, which has a fully in tact mosque that is said to be the oldest mosque in Spain. It's small and human-scale, nothing like the one in Córdoba, and there are some beautiful old marble slabs with carvings, some ancient carved capitals, and those mosque arches are incredible.

This is a nice untouristy area of Spain, lots of quaint places, good food, and beautiful scenery. I will try to find the list of the walks we took -- we really saw a lot of the countryside and avoided the roads. All of the walks are mainly on wooded paths, so it's very peaceful and quiet.

This would be a very nice break to stick in the middle of a tour of Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada, or just a nice week's destination in itself. I'd recommend the springtime. Though it's not as hot in the Sierra de Aracena as it is in other parts of Andalucía, it gets up to 40º which is way too hot for walking.

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