WHEN Spain finally lifted the State of Emergency after almost three months of enforced isolation what I, like many people, most craved was a breath of fresh air, in both the literal and metaphorical sense.
And what better way to escape the nightmare of lockdown and rediscover a sense of space than with a long hike through the mountains?
Fortunately for me, I live in a small village 20 minutes from Ronda and so hiking the new ‘Gran Senda’ was a natural choice for a trek close to home.
The GR-141 – La Gran Senda de la Serrania de Ronda, to give it its full title – is among several GR walking routes that have recently been created in Andalucía.
GR stands for Gran Recorrido and comes from Grande Randonee, a term first used in France to designate a long distance hiking trail.
The Gran Senda is a six stage, 110km circuit that begins and ends in Ronda. The walk links several of the prettiest villages of the surrounding Guadiaro and Genal valleys via tracks, footpaths and an ancient drover’s route that once linked the Campo de Gibraltar with the summer pastures of the Serrania.
You can walk all of it, part of it and, if you stay over a night, almost all the villages have small hotels and restaurants so you don’t need to carry camping and cooking gear.
High summer wasn’t an ideal time to be tackling a long distance walk in Andalucia.
But I knew that by carrying plenty of water and making early starts, the hike would be the tonic I needed.
Leaving Ronda’s old town via a spectacular path that snakes down beside its famous gorge I felt elated to be back on the trail, my thoughts turning to Laurie Lee’s celebrated on-foot adventure, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.
The 24 kilometres of stage 1 are its most challenging, leading across the depression in front of Ronda’s towering cliffs before descending into the Guadiaro valley.
Passing through Benaojan the trail leads south to the sleepy village of Jimera de Líbar via a riverside path where I chanced upon a kingfisher, a grey heron and – rare luck! – a family of otters gliding through the clear waters of the Guadiaro.
From Jimera, the trail’s second stage runs south past Cortes to the plunging gorge of the La Buitrera where you’re guaranteed close encounters with the colony of griffon vultures that nests on its vertical cliffs.
Reaching Colmenar after another 23kms of stunning views, but with the temperature in the high thirties most of the way, the beer I gulped down in the station’s railside bar could not have tasted better.
Leaving Colmenar stage three heads on a steep climb to Gaucín where the trail swings back towards Ronda. Here you enter the cork oak forest of the Bajo Genal before descending to the valley floor and a beautiful section of riverside walking.
Oak forest gives way to vast stands of chestnut trees as you pass through Benarraba, Benalauria, Atajate and Alpandeire.
These middle three stages of the Gran Senda are shorter than the first two but still tough enough, with a couple of punishingly steep ascents.
The final leg of the Gran Senda – from Alpandeire back to Ronda – proved to be unexpectedly challenging. Sections of the trail were washed away by flash flooding in 2018 while the narrow path leading up towards the Puerto de Encinas Borrachas is overgrown with prickly gorse and thistles; by the time I began my descent into the sandstone gorge of El Tajo del Abanico my legs were looking like one of Jackson Pollock’s messiest creations.
If you’re looking for a challenging week of walking La Gran Senda de La Serranía de Ronda has much to offer, and in these troubled times there’s nothing quite as good heading out into them thar hills.
Guy leads bespoke half day and full day walks along the most beautiful trails in the Ronda mountains and Grazalema Park. He is soon to publish his book on the GR-141 and is the author of several walking guides to Andalucia. For details see www.guyhunterwatts.com or call Guy on + 34 616 057 184
Total Length: 110kms
Days required: 6 to 8, but you could pick any of the stages for a great one or two day walk
|1||Ronda-Jimera de Líbar||Medium/difficult||23.3km||7hr|
|2||Jimera de Líbar-Colmenar||Medium/difficult||22.9km||7hr|
Highlights of the GR-141
– Ronda, one of Europe’s most spectacularly situated mountain towns
– riverside walking beside the Genal and Guadiaro
– the stunning gorge just north of El Colmenar
– quiet mountain villages with charming small hotels and restaurants
– the chestnut forests of the Genal
– ancient stands of cork oaks in the Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales