Hiking the Sierra de Grazalema

This post is all about the photos, really, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to show you all the amazing hiking we’ve been doing these past couple weeks. Just a short drive from our Spanish home-base Suryalila is the town of Grazalema, surrounded by rocky peaks and towering pines, with enough trails of varying grades to awaken the hiker’s spirit in anyone. The panoramas are breath-taking, the wildlife abundant, and the air crisp and clear. Also the town of Grazalema offers some of the best dining and food shopping for miles. It’s fully our kind of place.

We were fortunate to have a great hiking companion in Tim, an ex-lawyer from San Francisco and an all-around great guy. We had met Tim previously in Spain and San Francisco; he loves it at Suryalila and had just come back for a month’s visit to harvest and cure the olives from the grove. But he let us pry him away from his work a few times for a bit of adventure. The three of us walked two of the local favorites: the meandering loop of Puerto de Boyar and Las Presillas, and the stunning ascent up the aptly named Torreon (the Great Tower).

The loop was a perfect introduction to the area – we spotted circling vultures (a bit ominous) and a sweet little owl, we scampered up rocky outcroppings just off the trail, and took some great photos. Barring a few steep ups and downs, the trail was fairly even and accessible to most levels. Other highlights of the walk were the old limestone kilns, the circular stone ruins of ancient shepherd’s homes, and a cool, green mountain spring captured in a well (Ross couldn’t resist a dip). After our descent from the mountains, we capped the glorious morning hike with a perfectly tender plate of lamb shoulder at the ever-popular restaurant Cadiz el Chico and some coffees and whiskey at the local bar. As we walked out of town, we bumped into some other guests from Suryalila who remarked on our healthy glow and the sparkle in our eyes. Mountain living will do that to ya.

Next up: El Torreon, a far more challenging yomp, straight up the side of the highest peak in the Sierra de Grazalema. To reach the peak, one must ascend 800 meters over a distance of 4 kilometers. The mathematicians amongst you will have already calculated the average gradient to be a respectable 20 percent. That’s 5 percent steeper than most treadmills will allow. Gyms, bah! As we climbed up and up, we met a few hikers already on their way down who promised us sights of wild mountain goats not too far ahead. Just a moment later, we spotted a few reddish-brown specimens bleating and grazing about a hundred yards away. But these were no wild goats, just the local Payoya goats who produce the rightfully famous Payoyo cheese (no kidding, there are museums for the stuff). The domestic variety is much easier to spot with their constant baying, and we were so busy watching them that we almost missed the family of wild ibex peering curiously at our backs and surely having a laugh at the silly tourists. Fortunately, Ross spotted them just in time for us to get a good look. They’re beautiful animals with menacing curved horns and golden eyes. We were struck by how gracefully and silently they picked their way along the cliffs; finding hoof-holds anywhere and leaping about with absolute sure-footedness. Eventually we reached the peak, and it was well worth the hours of sweaty exertion. Not only were we rewarded with gorgeous 360 degree views, but we got to quicken our hearts by peering over the other side of the mountain – a sheer drop into the expanse of pines below. We took some memorable photos and munched our trail mix as we greedily drank in the inspiring vista. With the sun dipping lower and the breeze whistling around our ears, we knew it was time to begin our descent. At first the downhill was a welcome change and seemed a piece of pisscake, but after a kilometer or so of joint-jarring, thigh-burning terrain, we were reminded of why seasoned hikers actually prefer the uphill section of the journey. Nevertheless, going down was just as stunning as going up, with our best ibex sightings (SEE ATTACHED PHOTO IN CASE YOU DIDN’T ALREADY NOTICE THERE IS A PHOTO OF AN IBEX AT THE START OF THE POST!!!!!! DON’T MISS IT!!!!) of the trip. [Editor’s note: it’s not always easy writing as a couple.]

Our faithful hire-car was a welcome sight as we emerged around the last twist of the trail. Sadly, that was our last hike for this trip, as the Spanish winter rains found us the following day. But we’ll certainly be back for another shot at El Torreon and a chance to explore more of the forested paths and sumptuous cuisine of our favorite Andalucian pueblo blanco: Grazalema.

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