SAUNTERING merrily between two rows of fairytale cave homes, we could so easily have been in J.R. Tolkien’s mythical Shire for short people.
Except there are a few key differences between Guadix and Bilbo Baggins’ underground home in Middle Earth.
For one thing, these cave homes are inhabited by humans, not hobbits.
There’s no need for horse-drawn carts, either, as a regular bus service takes visitors here from Granada city in just over an hour.
And, possibly most crucially of all, there is a tourist train in Guadix – one of those annoying little road trains which crawl along at a snail’s pace, belting out tinny pop chants.
The sprawling town is rather bleak on first impression, possessing none of the Shire’s verdant green hills. Well off the beaten track, the surrounding landscape is almost Martian, its crumbly ochre and muddy brown earth resembling the surface of the ‘red planet’.
I arrived in the balmy spring sunshine with my mother, during her Easter holiday visit, when we needed to escape from the city’s populous Semana Santa processions.
Guadix proved to be the perfect antidote. As we stepped off the bus into this apparent ghost-town, there was quite literally no-one around.
We followed signs to the Barrio Troglodyte and within ten minutes of arriving in the ‘cave district’ we were passing a bizarre landscape of whitewashed chimneys poking up through the sparse, hilly terrain.
Two years in Andalucia have taught me that this region packs plenty of surprises but we hadn’t been quite prepared for what we saw in
As we ventured deeper, passing the occasional hire car filled with equally open-mouthed visitors, we came across circular hobbit-style doorways cut into rock faces with wonderfully maintained front gardens, just like those in the Shire.
Clearly, the residents of Barrio Troglodyte are as cave-proud as Bilbo and even more hospitable. Most owners will happily invite you in if you show a polite interest.
In one area close to the church and dinky Visitor’s Centre, several caves are regularly open for visitors for explore.
The appeal of these quaint subterranean dwellings is undeniable. The lack of sunlight might put some people off but during the searing heat of a Spanish summer it’s a positive advantage.
Of course, the real benefit is the cosiness they provide during the region’s stark winters. I was told the cave homes are even more beautiful at that time of year, when the landscape is covered with a soft blanket of snow punctuated by chimneys billowing smoke.
And forget dripping stalactites and rising damp. Most caves are fitted with the latest mod cons including fitted kitchens, television and wifi connections, while some are positively luxurious.
Two shiny BMWs parked outside one residence would suggest that owning a cave home is a mark of prestige.
We explored the entire area on foot, literally trampling over people’s underground homes, winding past cave-speckled hills along footpaths and tarmac roads.
Just as Bilbo’s Shire has its Green Dragon pub, there are various cave hotels and B&Bs offering weekends away with a troglodyte twist, some with private pools, while day trippers have a choice of places to eat including a formal restaurant in the cave district.
We opted for a more rustic option, an €8 menu del dia at a small bar where we feasted on a hearty and scrumptious homemade stew.
Hobbit homes aside, don’t leave Guadix without paying your respects to its magnificent cathedral. Right up there with Malaga’s and Granada’s, this awe-inspiring feat of architecture – way more grandiose than the town surrounding it – is yet another jaw-dropping surprise in this surreal region.
Bilbo Baggins might even be envious.