We have just returned home from a relaxing two weeks in the Spanish Lake District, feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world again. After working in Iceland (and loving it) we decided that we would like to have some summer sunshine and chose to go back to the place we have spent a lot of time over the past few European winters. We have made some great friends there and we also wanted to see the area in a different season. We went on a number of day trips and wanted to share these experiences with you.
If you really want to explore the surrounding area, you will need a car. Whenever we are looking to book a hire car in Spain we go through Do You Spain.
This is a great comparison website for car hire, not just in Andalucía, but for the whole of Spain. They are consistently the cheapest provider that we have found, as they guarantee to search every car rental company in Spain for the best rate, and save you money. A word of caution though — be sure to read all the small print from each car hire company. Things to check include the out of hours collection/drop off fees, maximum mileage allowance and the excess insurance premium.
Where to Stay
During the summer, the Costa del Sol is very popular and very crowded, but just an hour north of Malaga lies the Spanish Lake District – Ardales National Park. Sitting on the edge of this park is El Chorro, a tiny village at the end of a world famous tourist attraction. This is one of the stops on the Seville – Malaga train line, and where the world famous Caminito del Rey ends (and starts if you get the train, with a connecting bus service).
During the winter months (October to May), El Chorro is full of rock climbers, who come in their thousands to play on the 2000+ sports climbing routes available within walking distance. Through the forest and surrounding area, there are lots of downhill mountain bike trails, and El Chorro is also on the route of a number of long distance paths. Most notably the GR7, which is part of the longest path in Europe; European T, rail E4, which covers some 9000km from southernmost Spain to Greece.
View of El Chorro
We choose to stay at The Olive Branch for the family friendly welcome and atmosphere. They have accommodations to cover every budget from camping to a family apartment. Having stayed here on many occasions we have experienced most of the accommodations available and this time we were in Room 4, with fantastic views of the opposite mountains from both the front door and the bathroom window. This is a rustic property, with just a five-minute walk to the closest climbing crag, and ten minutes walk from the train station. In the winter, the swimming pool can be a little chilly, but this summer it is as warm as a tropical ocean. We enjoyed drinking cider and gin and tonics whilst enjoying the beautiful views. It was a great place to relax after a day (or half day) of exploring.
Great Bathroom View
Six Things to See and Do in the Area
It is wise not to plan too much for any given day during the summer. Although the weather can appear a little cloudy in the morning, this soon burns off and by 10 am the temperature rises steadily. The Olive Branch had a thermometer outside their home and whilst we were there it burst! The maximum temperature in degrees Celsius read 50, and as the day heated up and went beyond this, the glass broke and the red liquid flowed out (Are thermometers still filled with Mercury?).
Summer time is when each town has it’s feria and we were there for the start of Alora feria. This was a weeklong festival in the center of the town, with a huge fair ground, market stalls, rock concerts and parties.
1. Caminto del Rey
The first and most obvious excursion you simply have to do is the Caminito del Rey. This was once the most dangerous walk way in the world after it fell into disrepair when it was no longer used as the hydroelectric workers’ path from Ardales to El Chorro. Sadly, being so dangerous, there were fatalities and access was closed in 2000. Following a $6 million refurbishment, the path is open again and the new breathtaking 1.9-mile boardwalk clings to cliffs 100m above the Guadalhorce River in the Garganta del Chorro gorge. The walk is one-directional and starts in the north and meanders back towards El Chorro. A bus service runs throughout the day from El Chorro train station to the restaurants above the lakes in Ardales. From here it is a 2.7km walk through woodland to the actual start of the walkway.
You can book your tickets here.
2. The Spanish Lakes — Ardales National Park
Malaga's Lake District is actually three reservoirs created by dams built across the Guadalhorce River Gorge, which is called the Garganta del Chorro. The lakes are a short drive from El Chorro and are a beautiful turquoise blue colour surrounded by woodlands. During the summer months there are many activities to do on the reservoirs including children’s inflatable obstacle courses (big children are allowed too), kayaking and canoeing, stand up paddleboards and pedalos. This is a great place to relax for an afternoon, with a dip in the water when the temperature gets too hot. You will see many Spanish families bringing picnics and enjoying themselves around the tables and lounging on the sun beds.
Read more about the Lakes here.
In between the Lakes and El Chorro is the Bobastro Ruins. These ruins are an intriguing place to wander around. They were once an ancient village carved out of the limestone rocks, with a church, a castle and some dwellings. The village was constructed in the 800s and destroyed in the 900s. Not all the site has been excavated yet and it is believed that more lies underneath the surrounding woodland. We chose to wander around by ourselves, however, there are guided tours and maps available. The panoramic views across the valley from this location are beautiful and both the mountain and rock formations could have you transfixed for quite a while.
To read more about the history of this site, click here.
4. El Torcal
El Torcal Nature Reserve is famous for unusual limestone rock formations, often with a stacked appearance of multiple flat rocks. Located about 40 km east of El Chorro, in the direction of Antequera, the area is just over an hour drive away. The park is 17 square km's of the most stunning and impressive limestone landscapes in Europe. We walked around the park and were impressed at the sheer size of both the area and the rock formations. As the site sits over 1000m above sea level and the surrounding valley, the views are very impressive. There is a café on site for post walk drinks and snacks, but if you visit in the summer, be sure to take a hat, sun cream and some water around with you because despite the height above sea level, the temperature is still very hot in the open spaces.
For further information, including how to get there, click here.
5. Sentenil de las Bodegas — Grazelema — Ronda
We wanted to visit Ronda, and decided to make a long day trip of it. Looking at the map, we decided to do a circular trip, stopping first at Setenil de las Bodegas, along to Grazalema and then circle back to Ronda. Driving time was just under four hours and broken up nicely with multiple stops for viewing the scenery and topping up on water.
Sentenil de la Bodegas, in Cadiz, is famous for houses that are built into the surrounding overhanging rocks. It is a striking town to wander around and get a real feel for Spanish life. There are many restaurants by the river which are perfect for watching life go by and soaking in the atmosphere.
The drive to Grazalema goes through woods of cork trees. These are the trees from which wine bottle corks are made. The harvesting of the cork doesn’t harm the trees as only the bark is extracted, and a new layer of cork grows, making it a renewable supply. The trees have a distinctive appearance as once the cork has been taken, the under layer is a vibrant orange. The cork is usually harvested from near the ground, up to roughly 1.5m.
Ronda is famous for the Punte Nuevo, and this is where we headed straight for. In all honesty, we didn’t explore much of the rest of the town, but spent a while seeing this bridge from various different angles. The bridge was built in the 18th Century and stands at over 100m above the gorge below.
Malaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso in 1881 and is now home to Museu Picasso Malaga. He is often said to be the most influential artist of the twentieth century and a stroll around this museum should be on any tourists’ must-see list. There are a massive number of other museums and monuments around town, including the 11th Century Alcazaba fort. The Alcazaba fort was built on a hill in the middle of the city, overlooking the port and has lovely views across the Mediterranean sea. A large number of these attractions are free on Sunday afternoons. Being a pizza lover, my favourite Italian restaurant in Malaga is the Terra Mia, in the city centre, which did not disappoint again this time.
Things to see and do in the area
Walking the Caminito del Rey
A short video we made on a previous trip to the area.