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Four days walking in the Sierra de Aracena

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Apr 1st, 2011, 10:42 AM
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Four days walking in the Sierra de Aracena

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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Apr 1st, 2011, 10:49 AM
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Thanks for posting another interesting walk! I'll have to see if I can find that type of ham at home since I hate taking Omega 3 capsules. LOL

BTW - if you forget a tag the editors will put one on for you if you ask.
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Apr 20th, 2011, 07:49 AM
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I know this isn't a very high traffic part of Spain, it's squeezed in between the main Andalucia sites to the south and Extremadura to the north, but it is a glorious place for spring walking. I just put my pictures on the web in case you're looking for this kind of R&R.

https://picasaweb.google.com/laurie....cenaMarch2011#
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Apr 21st, 2011, 02:42 AM
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Great report, it really got me inspired! Will definitely go to this area, perhaps already next spring.
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Apr 21st, 2011, 06:19 PM
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Hi, kimhe, you seem to be familiar with almost all of Spain, I have learned a lot from your posts, so if this is one of the places you haven't been, I think that if you go, you will be wondering why it took you so long to get there! It is just a lovely place, lots of white villages, great restaurants, and beautiful scenery.

I thought I'd add a bit of information about the hikes we took.

The first one is posted on the web, and was one of our favorites. It is a circle, and it started and ended in Alajar and went through Los Madroneros (abandoned, with some signs of rehab) to Linares de la Sierra (great restaurant), and back to Alajar. Most highly recommended http://www.andalucia.com/rural/walking/forgotten.htm

On our secodnd day, we did another circle, this one also from Alajar, up to Fuenteheridos, down to Castano del Robledo, and back to Alajar. VERY nice, great restaurant in Castano, lovely waterfall, a few ups and downs, but nothing strenuous.

Our third day was a circle from Almonaster (where the mosque is) to Cortegana and back to Almonaster. Just lovely!

And finally, on the fourth day, we started in Aracena and headed east, to Corteconcepcion and back again, another circle, a very manageable 8 km round trip.

Deatils are all in the guidebook by Guy Hunter Watts. I am "directionally challenged" and get lost very easily, but his directions were stupendous. He has six hikes in the Sierra de Aracena, we were only able to do four, but we enjoyed each one immensely.

I know that everyone heads to the "pueblos blancos" further to the east and south, and they are beautiful, too, but this is a bunch of pueblos blancos off the beaten track and they are untouristed and connected by great walking paths. And they have some spectacular restaurants.
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 02:15 AM
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Thank you so much, looking forward to go there, sounds wonderful!
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 03:12 AM
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Thanks so much for posting this report.

I remembered an article in the NY TImes that discusses this region; see if it is of interest:


http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/11/06...n%20ham&st=cse
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 07:55 AM
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Hi, ekscrunchy,
That's a great article, and very well describes my own sensation about the scenery: "subtle charm, rather than lunge-for-your-camera splendor." The area has added a few
restaurants since that article was written, which might make it more attractive for foodies like you.

The towns in this region range from small hamlets to big towns, nothing remotely resembling a city. But there is a lot of local life going on -- we spent some time on a Saturday morning in Almonaster before our hike and after visiting the mesquita, lots of people out and about, and the pretty plaza mayor was buzzing. Upon our arrival after the hike, it was late afternoon (7 pm) and the post-comida crowd was gearing up, so once again we saw a very nice slice of Spanish life.

And I can now confirm that the cheese we bought in the factory in the poligono industrial outside Aracena has met the high standards of my foodie daughter. There are two in particular -- one is a "manchego-like" sheep cheese that she says is fantastic, and the other a goat cheese -- apparently there's been a real resurgence of an artisanal cheese movement in the hills of Aracena. We bought from a more industrial source, but it is still a small operation.

All in all, a highly recommended place for a 4-5 day stay. Laurie
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 09:08 AM
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Thanks for the great information about this area.
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 09:52 AM
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Hi, lin,
I know you're a walker and have done some of the Camino, at least I think I'm remembering that right. Aracena is actually on a "spur" of another Camino, the Via de la Plata. Though most people who walk the Vdlp start in Sevilla, there is an option of starting in Huelva and joining the Vdlp in Zafra. That route passes through Aracena.

For me, this was a great opportunity to do some walking with my husband, who is not up for the long treks I do. We found that the trails here have lots of ways to combine and add on longer loops, so we had the prefect combination of walking together till he had enough, at which point he'd go back to our lovely Finca la Fronda outside Alajar, and then I would keep on walking for another few hours. There are lots and lots of walking opportunities for people of all levels of interest and abilities, though nothing is going to be a real challenge for the hard core alpine walker!

Buen camino! Laurie
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Apr 22nd, 2011, 04:14 PM
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ha ha ha.. "you're a walker!".

Not really. But I certainly enjoyed what I did and wish we would not wait to do "El Camino" again to do some shorter jaunts. I might get a copy of that book!
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