I’m a bit toasted; opt today for the 1 boot (easier) option. This means I can relax for a couple of hours before heading out. The pool is inviting, until I dip my toe in – feels like ice water. But, I’m thinking that my muscles are sore and my joints are swollen, so this could be the equivalent of a whole body cold pack. It takes me 15 minutes to slowly immerse myself, but then it feels quite nice and I swim for awhile and then dry in the sun. I feel like I’m at a Swedish spa having some kind of treatment!
Today’s hike takes us up 30 minutes by 4-wheel vehicle to the start point of the ancient silk route, used to transport the silkworm cocoons from Competa to Granada (the mule tracks actually extend all the way to China). We start at a stunning overlook over the peaks of the Sierra Almijara – you can see right out over the shores of the Mediterranean and maybe even to the ridge of the North African Rif Mountains on a clear day. We take a picnic lunch at abandoned ruins of what was once a mountain lodge frequented by silk traders – you can almost imagine the clinking of wine glasses and smell of roast pork on an open pit.
After lunch, it’s a fragrant (dense with pine, wild fennel and lavender) and exhilarating walk – mostly ridge walking, just a short section of steep, rocky uphill. Andrew keeps an eye out for big birds – and he finally rewards us with a sighting of a large group of griffon vultures (3 ft wing spans) spiraling over the ridge.
We arrive at the dirt road for our final 2 hour downhill stretch. One sighting of a group of ibex (mountain goats) keeps us looking for more as we continue on what seems like a very long end of the day (the last 2 hours are always the hardest!) We stream into the hotel in small groups and have an hour of so to shower and relax before a special guest chef serves dinner.
Dinner starts with a wonderful selection of tapas (salad with smoked salmon and avocado, toast with baked goat cheese, spicy skewered shrimp, and stuffed pasta). No worries about leaving room for the main course, I’ll plenty hungry! This is followed by an Andalucian lamb specialty served with potatoes and fresh vegetables. Dessert is the piece de resistance – almond cakes served with a delicious homemade vanilla & honey ice cream. Very sad this is my last night with the group, but tomorrow I’m off to Cordoba!
P. S. I’ve hopefully solicted the services of a “ghost writer” for the remainder of the walks – stay tuned for our special guest (aspiring stand up comedian).
Today is a warm up day – The Three Villages Walk – we’re expecting a 6 mile walk, but the elevation changes could make that seem a lot longer. The weather so far has been ideal, warm (say 75 F) in the daytime but cooling off quite a bit at night.
We start out right from the hotel with a moderate uphill climb (I’m a bit worried, as I’m out of breath in 10 minutes) but then we quickly head down through olives and almonds to the village of Archez, famous for its beautiful decorated Madéjar church.
Stopping mid morning for a coffee, Andrew relates a surprisingly huge knowledge of the history of the region, dating back to the Phoenician, Roman and Moorish rules. It quickly becomes apparent that he is somewhat of a Renaissance man – working as a mountain guide part time and an artist the remainder of the year. His knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region is only surpassed by his enthusiasm. My initial concerns about the difficulty of the walk evaporate, as he paces the group and stops frequently to point out herbs (wild thyme and rosemary) and fruit (avocado and pomegranate) and we taste our way through the countryside.
It’s then a climb on past terraced hillsides to the pretty white village of Còmpeta with the backdrop of the Sierra de Tejeda. We stop in the village square (dominated by the 16C church – stunning views to the Mediterranean) for a tapas lunch at picture postcard pretty outdoor café dotted with blue umbrellas. As long as they keep bringing the food, I’ll keep eating it! Love this way of leisurely snacking – a few bites at a time for an hour or so.
It does take a bit of dedication to keep going, although Andrew has promised a long, flat and steady mule track across to the village of Canillas de Albaida. We pass locals riding donkeys along with their produce on packs and old women dressed entirely in black (a tradition for widows). The mountain irrigation system is extensive (Roman origins) and we get a chance to fill our water bottles with sparkling, crystal clear water from the aqueduct.
Canillas is charming, with winding narrow, tiled downhill alleys past flower filled verandas and heavy wooden doors. As we reach the outskirts of the village we are serenaded by the lively dialog of an African grey parrot (check out the video, yes! it is a parrot).
On our final stretch (the Hotel Finca is so close, but SO far away) is completely downhill and then a strenuous zig zag straight uphill. We arrive around 5pm, ready for a hot shower and late afternoon rest before another fabulous dinner (at a local restaurant in Compèta). By now, we’ve bonded as a group, so the discussion is lively (US politics dominates – seems everyone worldwide is following the soap opera) and the wine is free flowing!
I arrive early at the Malaga airport. Unfortunately, the cheap flight I booked required an early departure out of Barcelona. When the group arrives, it is easy to spot our fearless leader, Andrew. He would be the fit and gregarious fellow waiting in the airport café.
We pile into our bus (mini) for the trip to Hotel Finca in Canillas de Albaida, a seemingly short 1 hour drive from Malaga. No one has prepared me (or anyone else it seems in the group) for the hairpin, edge of your seat, nosebleed ride ahead. Hopefully, we won’t see any buses that have careened off the precipice.
My room overlooks the pool and the entire valley down to the sea. A quick change and I’m out to explore the property. Later I find out that Gordon is the creative genius behind the creation of the total unique atmosphere of the inn. Lush gardens of plumbago, lemon trees and flowering terraces interspersed with little seating areas (the Moroccan influences are obvious – we’re only a few miles by ferry to the shore of Northern Africa). Lots of little rooms for relaxing including a fully stocked library (you can take home any book if you haven’t finished it) and, of course, pool side lounge.
Dinner tonight is our first group gathering – all at one long table in the lovely lounge, complete with open fire (it has cooled off quite a bit) and comfy sofas. We linger over tapas (blood pudding is well received) and a dinner of chicken roasted in local grapes and raisins. It’s been a long day, but we all chat up a little in front of the fire before retiring for the evening. Tomorrow will be our first walking day (a warm up around the local 3 villages), so we’re all anxious to get a good rest.