& Portugal July / Aug 2011
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So here we are again - summertime, which means we get go frolicking in foreign parts once more with Wesley and Morticia, although this year's summer tour is different in a couple of ways. Firstly, it's Wee Jim's last year of teaching as she officially retires in Sept so this will probably be our last trip in peak holiday time. Hopefully we'll now be able to do our travelling outside of the school holidays which is something that we've never been able to do in the 40 years since we met and got married! In fact we've booked a cottage up in the wilds of Scotland for mid September after the schools have gone back, which will be a first for us. Secondly, there was no bike ride for us this year. When this trip was organised we had the Harley which I didn't really fancy doing a long tour on so we booked a hire car, although Wesley & Morticia still planned to go on their bike as usual (Moto Guzzi Stelvio this year). The Harley has now in fact been sold and replaced with the BMW which we could have gone on had I known at the time that I was going to get it but ce' la vie and all that. Another thing different for this year is that young Wesley Junior joined us for the first week while we were at the villa, he's almost as mad as his dad so we had double chuckles.
When Wesley and Morticia first suggested that we go with them on their trip to Spain, followed by a road trip north and into Portugal, I must admit to not being very keen. Mostly because they'd booked a villa for the first week in a small town not too far north of Malaga / Marbella and the "chips with everything" culture and pissed up European holiday makers in abundance didn't really appeal. However, Wee Jim thought it would be nice to go so I succumbed and agreed to it. The photos that follow illustrate just how ignorant I'd been about this beautiful part of Europe, take the time and trouble to get out of the main holiday area of the "Costa Whatever" and Andalucia offers up some of the most photogenic scenery in Europe with deserted mountain roads that are a biking Nirvana. Unfortunately Wee Jim and me were in a dodgy Portuguese hire car. As a plus, the upside of going by car enabled me to pack all my "proper" SLR camera gear though, so I came home with some of the best landscape shots I've taken in a long time.
The Villa & Teba. This is a sleepy little backwater community set on an Andalucian hillside, there's quite a Moorish influence here so it has the ubiquitous castle which occupies the highest point of the town. Directly below the castle is the Villa La Calera which was to be our home for the next 7 days. We arrived here hot and sticky after the flight and then having to fight our way through the usual customs and baggage scrum. After that we had to go through the stressful exercise of picking up our hire car from Faro airport where we had difficulty finding the "El Cheapo" car hire office, which turned out to be an anonymous white portacabin in a corner of the car park! We then had the 200 odd mile drive east into Spain to get to the villa by which time the brakes on the car were starting to make worrying noises.
The Villa La Calera nestles on an outcrop of rock beneath Teba Castle
Looking out from the villa's balcony through soft morning light towards the Ardales Lakes. These 3 lakes were formed by damming the 3 rivers of
Guadalhorce, Teba, and Turron. At the nearby El Chorro Gorge there's a large hydro electric plant that utilises the water.
The patio at the villa and a Teba street
From Teba Castle the view is superb but what caught my eye most of all were the fantastic roads.
My list of "Things to do before I die" has just grown.... I've got bring the bike over here.
El Chorro Gorge
The El Chorro Gorge lies about 20kms south east of Teba. The gorge is a vast steep sided geological feature, the river of which was dammed in the early 1900s allowing the river Guadalhorce to create one of the 3 Ardeles Lakes. High above the river Guadalhorce, which runs along the bottom of the gorge, is the Camino Del Rey (The Kings little pathway). This incredible, narrow walkway is precariously pinned into the canyon walls where it gets to 300ft above the river in places. It is now in a state of disrepair with large sections of it missing but climbers still risk their lives to venture up & walk on the crumbling structure. It was originally built for workers on the hydro electric construction to get materials to the site, but in 1921 King Alfonso XIII walked the footpath for the inauguration of the dam and it was known ever afterwards as the Kings little pathway.
The bridge at the El Chorro Gorge. The Camino del Rey footpath is to the bottom right of the bridge. Wesley Junior and me foolishly tried to get on it but the
closer we got to it, the more we realised that it would be almost impossible without proper climbing gear - and a death wish!
This was the point at which we saw the bits of it missing & reconsidered any plans to get onto it
There's a rail tunnel that climbers use to get through into the gorge and pick up the walkway
from the other side but the police lay in wait some days and arrest anyone found doing so.
This bridge was used in the film "Von Ryans Express starring Frank Sinatra, the scene were
he died was filmed here - apparently.
The narrow inlet on the right of this photo is the entrance to the El Chorro Gorge
The view from the road on the opposite side of the river offers a
tantalizing view into the virtually inaccessible gorge
Click for video of the Camino de Rey
Included with the kind permission of Anne Fox - Kelly
As we leave El Chorro on the road west towards the southern lake, we turn off onto a winding, narrow road which climbs ever higher until it eventually emerges at a mountain reservoir overlooking the village of El Chorro. The views from up here are incredible as we look down on where we've just driven from.
Back to the serenity of the lakeside
The lovely ancient Andalucian town of Ronda sits perched on a high plateau over the Guadalevin River. Over millions of years the river has carved out the deep El Tajo Canyon of which the town occupies both sides. These are linked by 3 bridges, the newest of which is the 120m high Puente Nuevo completed in 1793 after almost 40 years in the making. Ronda is one of the most spectacular towns to visit, it also has one of the oldest bullfighting rings in Spain.
The start of the El Tajo Canyon Puente Nuevo (New Bridge)
The steep cobbled road leading down to an earlier bridge, the Puente Viejo, and at the very bottom of the canyon the original 12th century Moorish bridge
The El Torcal region of Andalucia is not disimilar to the limestone pavement area found around Malham Tarn in Yorkshire, England. Geographically it was made in the same way, i.e it was once a sea bed millions of years ago. It's now quite a mountainous area reached by a steep drive which passes through something resembling a lunar landscape to reach the top.
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