Andalusia has a distinct flavour. The air is heavily scented with a combination of pine, heat and a miscellany of olive groves, wild-growing figs and cork trees. The sun beats down relentlessly in summer and for this reason, the village of Álora is one of Andalusia’s pueblo blancos – or white towns.
Spend a little time in Álora, walking the beautiful streets and perhaps indulge in Sopa Porota – a Garlic broth with croutons. Álora is credited as the birthplace of the Malagueñas style of Flamenco and if you are here in July, be sure to attend a night at the annual Festival de cante grande.
Above the town sits Álora’s castle, having been built by the Phoenicians, expanded by the Romans, nearly destroyed by the Visigoths and then at last, altered by the Moors. This knowledge gives you a glimpse of the many hands and cultures it took to build Andalusia – perhaps Álora’s castle is a mere snapshot, with its Moorish doors hinged to Phoenician walls.
There is a route along the Rio (river) Guadalhorce from Álora to El Chorro that takes your through tropical orchards, so now add the scent of Mangos to the miscellaneous smells that dances on the warm air. It’s delightful. The road also takes you along old water channels and as you approach the dam wall that leads to El Chorro, you will get some sweet relief from the proximity of a cooling breeze, blowing off the Embalse tajo de la encantada. (This is a curios name, as it translates to “Haunted Pit Reservoir.”)
El Chorro is situated on the Eastern bank of the Embalse tajo de la encantada. Here you can camp, swim, visit a supermarket (or a mini-market) and even stay in the luxurious La Garganta, which is an old flourmill that has been converted into a luxurious hotel. If the accommodation here forces you to dig a little too deep in your pockets, definitely indulge in the delicious food and an ice cold beer from their terrace restaurant.
There is a walking trail, called the Caminito Del Rey (the king’s little pathway), which has been referred to in the past as the world’s most dangerous walkway. This perhaps hints at the origin of the dam’s name, Embalse Tajo de la encantada – Haunted Pit Reservoir – for how many have perished here in its close proximity. However, it has recently been rebuilt and turned into a beautiful and relatively safe walkway.
Above El Chorro a second reservoir is located near the sight of the Bobastro City walls. It was from this hilly terrain where a little Christian rebellion fought the Moorish rulers in Cordoba. When you look at the Catholic makeup of Spain these days, this was obviously part of a bigger movement. Further up the peak there is a second reservoir and also a sign-boarded viewpoint. In the distance, you might spot the high-speed train heading to Madrid from Malaga.
Continuing your drive towards Ardales, you finally get respite from the heat in the cool blue waters of the Guadalhorce reservoir. There is something childlike in the joy of jumping into a cool body of water on a hot summer’s day. Here, you can go a step further, renting a pedalo fitted with a slide and pedal to the deeper waters. It is great for families, but also perfectly acceptable behaviour for adults of all ages in such warm weather. There are excellent barbeque and picnic facilities, so should you want to spend a day at the lakes, there is really no reason not to. The restrooms are relatively clean and there is plenty to explore on foot. You can also drive further along the road for some nice restaurants and some more great views of the lakes. What a way to spend a day.
Andalusia has a distinct flavour, but it is not her food or wine or beer or paella; it is the way she makes you feel. Of course the food is delicious, the wine some of the best and the beer, well, the beer is worth writing home about; but it’s this softer underbelly that makes you return time and time again. Viva Espana.