8 Jul, 2010 @ 15:20
3 mins read

All aboard the Smugglers’ train!

MORE people are now getting on the right track to help preserve our ever-precious environment.

With the number of cars fast growing on Andalucia’s roads, street-wise locals are rapidly getting on board the region’s burgeoning railway system.

Although the high-speed AVE is stealing all the plaudits, those in the know understand that a little-known mountain trail provides not only a great day-out but also a green escape.

Forget jam-packed Costa del Sol beaches or English breakfasts by the belly full, a taste of real Andalucia is just a short trip away on the Smugglers’ Train.

Recently upgraded during a six-month closure, the line can be jumped on at either Algeciras or San Roque train stations.

Better still, regular buses along the coast take passengers to Algeciras.

And for Gibraltar residents, a taxi from the border to San Roque station costs no more than 15 euros.

The biggest risk today’s budding explorers will take is deciding where to have lunch

In order to take full advantage of one of the vast array of enticing restaurants on offer along the way, it is best to set off at midday.

A train leaves Algeciras at 12.15pm, and arrives at San Roque’s at 12.29pm.

As the train slowly chugs off up the Guadiaro valley heading directly into the impressive mountain range ahead, explorers can sit back and cast their mind back to the line’s more turbulent past.

Over 100 years ago, the Smugglers’ Train coined its menacing nickname thanks to the activities of notorious matuteras – women or spinsters who would risk their lives just to earn a living.

For, the steam trains which chugged along the windy route, would travel slow enough for these daring women to trade contraband goods through the window.

Fortunately now, the line enjoys a slightly more subdued existence and the biggest risk today’s budding explorers have to take is deciding where to get off and enjoy a spot of lunch.

And, opportunely, there are a plethora of mouth-watering options, beginning with the Caserio Ananda (www.caserioananda.com), just 45 minutes after having left San Roque.

Dubbed ‘a green escape’ the mountain restaurant – located directly next to Gaucin station – certainly lives up to its billing.

It serves up top quality organic meats alongside unbeatable local produce – all cooked to perfection on orange wood.

Owners Angles and Pedro had a dream to express themselves through their cooking and this is undoubtedly achieved through their gastronomic offerings.

However, if this stop arrives a bit too prematurely on the hunger front then it is certainly more than worthwhile to hold fire a mere 15 minutes longer.

A bit further down the line lies Estacion de Cortes, a small mountain outpost, that is a must-visit on Sundays.

For nestled alongside the scenic river is the popular Hotel El Gecko (www.elgeckohotel.com). The hotel and restaurant whips up a delicious Sunday lunch that has all the trappings of being back home, but in warm Andalucian surroundings.

And, on Sunday July 18th at 1.30pm, former Alisha’s Attic guitarist Markus Myers will be performing in the idyllic surroundings.

If this is not enough to whet the appetite then thrill seekers will be buoyed to know that they can instead spend an afternoon exploring the mountains of the surrounding Guadiaro valley.

Combining biking trails and great value accommodation company Riders of the Lost Trail offer an unrivalled opportunity to explore the lost hillside trails on motorbike.

The team will even meet all budding dirt-bikers at the train station before whisking them off on their adrenaline-fuelled jaunt.

Meanwhile, a stop along the winding train route is another great choice for food, music and another dose of adventure. Bar Allioli (www.barallioli.com) – just opposite the train station in Jimera de Libar – is just over an hour away from San Roque and it is certainly well worth the wait.

There is a live music performance every Saturday afternoon which is accompanied by an all-you-can-eat buffet for a bargain six euros.

The Smugglers’ Train offers an unrivalled mix of food, music and escapades

There is a great mix of food, catering for both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.

On August 7, popular blues guitarist Derrin Nauendorf will be strumming out for the gathered pleasure seekers.

And beer lovers will also be delighted by the news that Bar Allioli has already announced its annual Oktober bierfest for October 2.

But for those in search of a tranquil escape then Estacion Jimera de Libar comes up trumps yet again.

Just a 10-minute walk from the bar is Camping Jimera de Libar (www.rural-jimera.com), which hosted the popular Allioli Music Festival.

This site is home to a swimming pool alongside the Guadiaro river as well as a lush expanse of well-kept lawn for all sun seekers to soak up a few rays.

The more active can rent some canoes and take the plunge in the river and there are cosy log cabins if people decide to stop-over for a night.

It is a great green escape for people wanting to mix adventure with relaxation and on September 4 the site will also be home to the Allioli End of Summer Garden Party.

The last stop is Benaojan, hiding the true treasure at the end of the line. Award-winning green hotel Molino del Santo has been in the business for 25 years and has some of the best rooms to stay in Andalucia, not to mention a great restaurant.

Certainly, the Smugglers’ Train offers an unrivalled mix of great food, top music and even a few exciting escapades to keep the most demanding thrill seekers happy. Better still, coastal travellers will know that they are not only having a brilliant day out, but are also doing the environment a few favours as well.

The only problem will be remembering to get the train back!

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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