Trench Foot and Damp Trousers in Cazorla
Sierra de Cazorla - day 3
On our third and final full day in the Sierra de Cazorla, we had decided to trek to the source of the Rio Guadalquivir, the second longest river in Spain whose entire length stays in Spain. Andrew’s Aunt had done some research into the area, and this was one of the items of interest that she had come across, and so we felt we ought to go and have a look.
The cloud had not shifted, and to look out of any of the hotel windows simply meant looking into an endless white/grey void beyond which could have existed anything. Never ones to be outdone by a little drizzle, we set off on the marked route that lead from the hotel grounds to the river source. Given that we had no visibility, we had no idea whether this walk involved any steep climbs, but nothing was to deter us.
The path was wet. The track along the Rio Borosa that we had followed yesterday managed to remain well drained, despite the weather. Here the story was different. Rainwater coursed down the path, and created muddy rivulets. The drizzle was also fairly persistent, and within a relatively short period of time, Andrew discovered that his trusty walking shoes let in water, and my trusty walking trousers were far from waterproof. Ah, what’s a bit of damp….wet…..actually dripping. Having walked down a sloppy hill, gradually getting more and more wet of foot and limb, we decided to call it a day, and trudged back up to the hotel trying to decide on an alternative source of amusement and exercise for the day.
We had read that the villages to the north-east of our location were worth a look. Hornos, and in particular Segura de la Sierra both make it into the travel guides and the latter is described as ‘one of Andalucia's most picturesque villages’. Now that is some claim, so probably worth an excursion, and this meant a drive through the Park, past the large Embalse de Tranco and into the Sierra de la Segura. We would be bound to see abundant wildlife, glorious villages, and there’d be plenty of charming hostelries along the way. As Andrew and I both learnt from upbringings in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the scenery may be absolutely breathtaking, but this counts for little when you can barely see the nose in front of your face for cloud. We drove and drove…..for over an hour, saw neither a deer nor a goat, nor the view. We managed to catch glimpses of the reservoir which looked forlornly empty due to severe lack of rain - oh, the irony. There were not many hostelries, either, to provide cheer.
We faced another challenge, too, as Andrew’s trusty 8 year old walking shoes had decided, due to the effects of copious amounts of rainwater and a pair of old trusty walking socks, to unleash 8 years’ worth of stored aromas.
We had no idea what landscape we drove through, but I would pause to say that we both knew that it was absolutely glorious, and we had just been unlucky to have visited during the 3 days after Christmas when the weather was not in our favour. It was very far from grim, as we loved every moment of our stay, and will most definitely return. Whether we return to Hornos is another matter. The location of this village is superb. It is perched on a jagged peak and the views, on a clear day, must be majestic. The village is quiet and untouristy, and for us the main draw was the Iglesia Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, modestly tucked off one of the small squares, its door beckoning us to enter. Dating from the early 16th Century, the interior of this small church is a wonder, and contains a still vivid, 9 painted panel altarpiece dating from 1589. The rest of the village was underwhelming, but after an hour’s drive in the rain, we may have not given it our full attention. Sadly, on this visit, we decided to bypass Sierra de la Segura and find the fastest route back to the hotel for a warm-up by the fire.
There are not really any fastest routes when it comes to the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas, and that is precisely why it has remained so natural and unsullied and beautiful. The rural roads around Jaén Province are also not in nearly as good condition as the roads around Granada. In fact, as we crossed the boundary between the two provinces on our way home, the difference was quite marked! Another hour or more, and we finally made it back to the hotel. We never did get to see the source of the Rio Guadalquivir, but don’t tell Andrew’s Aunt. That’s on the list for our next visit.
That evening, we had our third room, and another suite. The staff had given us this room as it had some of the best views of the hotel, out over the mountains. We could see a fir tree and lots of swirling cloud. Andrew’s soggy and malodorous shoes had to find a new home, along with the damp socks, out on the balcony for the remainder of our stay.
That evening, we had another well-judged dinner in the starkly-lit dining room. The game here proved to be a highlight - the dry-cured venison was delicious, the pork was good and the venison loin was scrumptious. The staff in the hotel, without exception, were hugely welcoming and by that third night, we really felt at home. It was rather lovely playing games in the salon beside the blazing fire; the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, just what we needed.
We left the Parador de Cazorla feeling slightly deflated; it felt as though we had just spent several days in the company of very good friends, and didn’t want to leave. To make the journey bearable, we had decided to take a short detour to visit the two small towns of Úbeda and Baeza, both Unesco Heritage Towns boasting Renaissance architecture to satisfy the hungriest of architectural historians. These two towns have long been on our list, and both are absolute gems. Post-Christmas torpor had evidently blighted the local populace, as there were very few signs of life, and the sky remained sullen. However, the tranquillity allowed us to weave our way through unbelievably well-preserved little alleyways, where rich stone walls were punctuated by ornate timber doors, and peephole windows. Archways frame views, and over parapets could be seen the promises of oasis-like gardens and courtyards. These small towns felt very much like Córdoba, but the Moorish influences do not dominate here - this is very much a Christian Renaissance hub, where history is around every turn.
Úbeda and Baeza
Úbeda is the larger of two, and has an apparently thriving commercial heart. The area is famed for its emerald-green ceramics, and shops invariably held a collection for the tempted browser. Just off the gorgeous Plaza Vázquez de Molina, we found a restaurant/bar called Llamame Lola that Andrew had found on TripAdvisor, and this charming, chic little place served us the best Artichokes either of us had ever tasted. The wine, too, was quite delicious. We loved Úbeda, and have already decided that a stay in the Parador hotel here, housed in the Palacio de Deán Ortega, is on the cards.
Olive Oil is another big product here, and it would have been rude had we not invested in a flagon of the gorgeous stuff, along with a packet of air-dried venison and other small items…..
Baeza is much quieter, but its little maze of tiny lanes, and magnificent architecture, are fascinating.
The drive back home was much quicker, as we stayed on the motorways. Surprisingly, this brought it home to us how close this area actually is to Granada. A 2 hour drive on uncluttered roads is nothing when the end goal is a part of Spain that seems so far removed from reality that you have no option but to lose yourself in its magic. Part of me wants to keep this gorgeous area a secret, but the other part of me is crying out to tell every visitor to Andalucia that this is an area that you can’t afford to miss. Clouds notwithstanding, Andrew and I had come away for a little escape, and it was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped, if not more so.