Gaucin: Balcony of the Serrania

LAST UPDATED: 4 Oct, 2013 @ 09:05
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Gaucin: Balcony of  the Serrania

IT’S called the balcony of the Serrania de Ronda and it’s not hard to see why.

Perched high on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery, the views from Gaucin stretch across not one, but two continents.

In fact, on a clear morning, Gibraltar lies brooding off the coast in the distance while across the short straits you can practically see the Moroccans getting ready for the day. It’s hard to believe that Africa is so close.

Gaucin has also long been one of the hippest places to live in Andalucia.

A select holiday spot for the likes of the Sainsbury family, Fatboy Slim – and allegedly once Princess Diana – it has also become a popular town for many cultured expatriates – up to 300 – who have chosen to settle here.

It is this interesting and varied group of northern Europeans – many of them artists, photographers and writers – that gives the town a distinctly creative and prosperous air.

So organised are the dozens of artists, that they organise annual open days of their studios every year to show off their work.

Gaucin is only 30 minutes from the Costa del Sol, but it feels a million miles away.

It may not have the attractions of the coast below, or the key tourist sites you find in nearby Ronda, but what it does have is a raw beauty and unspoilt countryside that sucks you in.

Small enough to remain untroubled by supermarket chains (one of its best food shops Pura Vida is strictly organic, local produce) you can’t even get an English newspaper. Oh! apart from the Sundays at the petrol station when a friend of the owner personally goes down to the coast to buy them.

There are however, plenty of fantastic bars and restaurants and the narrow streets and shady squares are a great place to hang out in summer.

Wander around and enjoy the jumble of whitewashed houses – many of them quite grand – lorded over by the historic Arabic castle the Castillo del Aguila.

Then take a ride out into the nearby countryside, where there are a host of excellent hotels or restaurants for a meal or somewhere to lay down your head.

Even better, get up early and take one of the superb walks that go in circular routes around the town. The countryside here is some of the best in the region and views are not in short supply.

The history of Gaucin is fascinating and pretty turbulent by anyone’s standards.

Archeological remains indicates a settlement here that dates right back to pre-historic times.

Subsequent ‘visits’ by, among others, Iberians, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and the French have all contributed to a troubled history for the village.

The town’s position at the head of the stunning Genal valley always made it subject to frequent attack.

Yet these invaders, together with the ’invasion’ of northern Europeans in the last few decades, have all helped to weave the rich tapestry that is modern-day Gaucin.

But these newcomers are no trailblazers. Gaucin has been watching foreign tourists – and particularly the British – come and go for centuries.

Gibraltar was the key to Gaucin’s early popularity with the British. From the late 18th century, many of those whom the Empire had dispatched to the Rock chose to spend their summer breaks in the cool of the mountains and away from the claustrophobia of Gibraltar.

Ronda was a favourite destination, which led to British engineers to be commissioned to build a railway from Algeciras all the way to Ronda in the late 19th century, stopping conveniently in Gaucin.

But, even before then a famous hotel, the Hotel Nacional, was putting up tourists inside its historical four walls.

Run by a popular local figure Dona Clemen, it became an institution and only finally shut half a decade ago.

Previously known as the Hotel Ingles it is appropriate that the visitors book was dominated by British comments, such as one by a Royal Artillery captain, who wrote that he was “satisfied” with his stay in 1882.

These days the tourists tend to be a little bit more gushing and, while discreet, many of them come back time and time again. It is not hard to see why.

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