WHILE Griffon vultures and crag martins dominate the skyline in the Genal valley south of Ronda, there is another rather different species enticing tourists in – Smurfs.
I began my foray into the verdant valley on 9 km of twisty, turny concrete, descending from the San Pedro-Ronda road to Igualeja.
Chestnut tree-covered slopes eventually give way to this picturesque pueblo, nestling at the foot of the valley.
It is the region’s largest village with a population of around 1,000, and boasts the source of the Genal river nearby.
Said to be Europe’s cleanest river, crystal clear water trickles from a cave before becoming a steady stream.
Venturing deeper into this fertile, green valley I arrived at Pujerra, a hidden gem of a pueblo that wears its individuality proudly on its sleeve.
For the few tourists who make the journey, there is a well sign-posted woodland trail with picnic tables, a beautiful central plaza and the remains of a deserted medieval community.
Every November the village holds its chestnut fiesta, with the delicious, nutty smell of roasting chestnuts wafting all the way down the valley.
Next up was the village I was most excited to see for myself, Juzcar, which seems to firmly divide opinion between visitors.
Juzcar is in many ways the same as other beautiful pueblos in the region with its quaint smattering of houses perched on the side of a mountain, surrounded by lush forest. Except for one major difference – it isn’t white – it’s bright blue.
In 2011 the town was painted ‘Smurf blue’ by Sony Pictures to publicise the release of the new Smurfs movie.
Although initially intended as a temporary change, Juzcar’s transformation into a blue village and tourism hotspot began to seriously boost the area’s economy.
And when Sony offered to repaint the village white, the residents voted in a referendum to keep it blue, and retain their status as the world’s first and only Smurf village.
And when this blue vision first came into view I couldn’t help but smile – it is genuinely unique and surprisingly attractive.
Wandering its streets feels rather special, and while there is not a whole lot else for tourists to do when the initial smiles subside, I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to keep Juzcar blue.
The residents certainly seem to have embraced it too, with miniature Smurfs visible clambering on roofs and windows, hiding in doorways or behind chimneys. But don’t be put off – the serene atmosphere and gentle, laid-back village way of life still prevails here.
The road out of Juzcar climbs back up out of the valley towards the small hamlet of Cartajima, which is undoubtedly blessed with the most glorious backdrop in the region.
The view from the main street takes in vast layers of craggy limestone ridge tumbling down into a sea of rich greenery, speckled with pueblos.
An earthy smell permeates the village’s steep, narrow streets, while the church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, stands boldly at its highest point.
From these high-up vantage points you can spot a multitude of birds, including swifts and blue rock thrushes, as well as choughs, rock doves and blackcaps.
But after a swift bird-spotting session my dip into the valley came full circle and I was soon back out on the main road to Ronda, ready to swap the sleepy valley, Smurfs and birds for the bustling market town.