El Torcal: Welcome to Jurassic Park – Andalucían style

El Torcal Nature Reserve, Antequera If you thought that this part of Spain was all about white villages, a visit to Andalucia’s very own Jurassic Park – El Torcal Nature Reserve near Antequera, will soon change your mind.

Situated around thirty kilometres north of the city of Málaga, and near the geographical centre of Málaga province, El Torcal is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Spain. Limestone rock formations at El Torcal, Antequera The area is well-known for its unusual limestone rock formations which had their origin under the sea around 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. In time, immense pressure caused by movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates forced the seabed to rise to an altitude of more than 1300 metres, forming one of the most striking karst landscapes in the whole of Europe.

The grey limestone has been shaped by a peculiar erosive process known as karstic moulding, which is the name given to the chemical reaction on the soluble limestone rock by carbon dioxide in rainwater and ice. El Tornillo rock formation at El Torcal, Spain But you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate that El Torcal offers a wonderland of limestone structures, rock towers and cliffs with caves, galleries and alleys thrown in.  Even the road up to the Nature Reserve makes for an impressive ride, but nothing can prepare you for your first sight of El Torcal.

You might think that because of the altitude there would be little vegetation, but nature lovers will be in their element. Unsurprisingly there are many types of rock plant, which flourish in the cracks between the rocks, but there are many other interesting plant species including numerous varieties of wild orchid, saxifrage, peonies, wild lilies and roses.

If wildlife is your thing, then look out for geckos, lizards, snakes, wild goats, cattle and many small mammals such as moles, dormice or rabbits. Don’t forget to keep scanning the skies for golden eagles, griffon vultures and kestrels circling overhead. Limestone rock formations at El Torcal Entry is free to El Torcal Nature Reserve and, with no specific opening or closing hours, the park is open to the public anytime. The visitor centre has regular limited opening hours, depending on the time of year, and facilities which include a cafe, gift shop, information desk, exhibition/film area, clean toilets and plenty of free parking.

Even if you have reduced mobility, the road to El Torcal is worth the ride. There is a ramp up to the visitor centre and the viewpoint, “Mirador Las Ventanillas” is only 100 metres away and has level access.  From here you can enjoy a stunning view of the town of Villanueva de la Concepción, the Río Campanillas area, Málaga and, on clear days, you can see the mountains of Morocco, on the African continent. Rock formation at El Torcal From the visitor centre there is a circular, self-guided route, marked with wooden posts which will take you about an hour to complete. For longer routes you need to hire the services of an experienced guide, which can be arranged through the visitor centre.

The paths are not made up, but are simply worn by the feet of humans and animals. You’ll need to pick your way carefully between the rocks or risk a sprained ankle, especially if it has been raining and the rocks are slippery. Sturdy footwear is required and, although you don’t need hiking boots, flip-flops are not suitable.

It’s advisable not to deviate from the paths as it’s easy to get disorientated. Landscape at El Torcal In the summer months the rocks get very hot, radiating their heat so you should take sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water.  During the rest of year, the weather at El Torcal can be cold (well, it is more than 1300 metres) so it’s best to take an extra layer of clothing for warmth.

There’s no doubt that the weather conditions will determine your experience, so you might have to be prepared to return on another day.

As you might imagine, the area can get very crowded during the daytime with coaches full of tourists, so if you are a photographer, an early morning or evening visit away from the well-trodden path makes for magical photographs.

We took a 3-4 hour guided tour in the Nature Reserve with David, a knowledgeable local guide with SenderoSurAventura, who skipped along the paths like a mountain goat. He pointed out many Ammonite fossils (hard-shelled sea creatures that lived more than 200 million years ago) along the way, as well as leading us to areas and enigmatic formations that we would never have found for ourselves.

Popular imagination has defined many of the strange shapes, which have been given such names as El Tornillo (the Screw), Los Cuchillos (The Knives), La Mano (the Hand) and El Sombrerillo (the Little Hat). El Sombrerillo (the Little Hat) at Torcal Early humans and neanderthals inhabited this area for thousands of years and there is evidence that they lived in some of the caves within El Torcal. But this should come as no surprise given the proximity to the ancient dolmens in Antequera and the best-preserved remains of Neanderthal man ever found in Western Europe, in a cave near to the Zafarraya Pass.

My advice: Take a picnic, don’t forget your camera – OH and watch out for dinosaurs!

CBBH Photo Challenge: Bridges

Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain

Today is the second anniversary for the CBBH Photo Challenge, beginning as it did on August 1st 2012.  Since then we’ve covered many subjects from Repetition and Reflection to Street Art and Simple Pleasures.  I’ve learned a lot about photography over the past two years and featured some wonderful blogs to link to.   But, in the true time-honoured fashion, all good things must come to an end, so this month’s CBBH Photography Challenge will be the final one.  

As a result, I’m going to indulge myself with one of my favourite subjects – BRIDGES.

According to Wikipedia a bridge is “a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley, or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle.”  Of course there are many different designs, from the most natural – such as a log across a stream, through to the most complicated of modern bridge designs we currently see around the world.    Cantilever, arch or suspension and made of iron, brick or rope, there’s something about bridges I just can’t resist.  I love to look at them, be on them and take photos of them.

My first photograph this month (above) is of the Roman bridge spanning the Rio Guadalquivir in Córdoba.  To capture this shot, I walked over the bridge from the old part of the city, just as the light was fading.  The building you can see in the background is the Mezquita.

Cruising under Triana Bridge, Seville

Further along the Rio Guadalquivir as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean is the capital of Andalucía, Sevilla (known to English-speakers as Seville).  This shot of Triana Bridge was taken from the river as I was enjoying an early evening cruise.  It’s a very pleasant way to spend part of an evening in Seville before making your way around the many tapas bars, for which the city is famous.

Bridge at Plaza España, Seville

My final photograph is of another bridge in Seville, but this time a much smaller one.  This ceramic tiled bridge spans the moat at Plaza España, a well-known local landmark and tourist attraction.  If you’ve got the desire and the muscle-power, you can hire a boat and row around the moat, though on the last occasion I was there, most visitors were laughing at a couple who hadn’t got the hang of rowing at all, and were entertaining the crowd by going round in circles just a few metres from where they rented the boat!  If you are visiting Seville, Plaza España features plaques for each province in Spain, all beautifully decorated in tiles and should be high on your list of places to see within the city.

So, will you join me one final time in this month’s CBBH Photo Challenge: Bridges?

Don’t forget that the CBBH Photo Challenge is a little different from some other challenges, in two ways. First, it’s only once a month – giving you lots of time to consider your entry before the end of the calendar month. Second, and most important, this is a BLOG HOP (after all, it is the CBBH – Conejo Blanco Blog Hop, conejo blanco means white rabbit in Spanish), so DON’T FORGET that in your post you need to add links to two blogs that you have visited and commented on during the past month.

That way, when we visit each other, we can HOP OVER to your links, connect with others and share a little blog love around!

Conejo Blanco BLOG HOP Photo Challenge


Coincidentally, my Featured Blog Links  for this month are both called Sue:

*** Living in Alberta, Canada and married to her best friend Dave for over thirty years, Sue Slaught hopes that her Travel Tales of Life will still entertain anyone who will listen when she is an old lady sitting in a nursing home.  Still many years away from that situation, Sue always has me spell-bound with her adventures around the world – whether it’s a tale of a ghost in the lobby of the Banff Springs Hotel, getting stuck in the rush hour of gondolas in Venice or being chased by dogs while cycling in Turkey.  

*** Sue Judd, on the other hand, has recently been re-defining who she is – transforming from scientist to very talented photographer and award-winning poet.  Sue’s Beauty in Decay series has truly made me look at flowers through new eyes.  I’m fortunate also that she seems to love peonies as much as I do!  But, how can you not fail to be moved by Sue’s poem Am I Still the Same?written in response to her diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, expressing her view on how it affected her.

Please HOP over and say HELLO to both of these ladies, and tell them Marianne sent you!

So that´s the final CBBH Photo Challenge folks :)

Remember, all you have to do is post your entry by the end of the monthtag your entry ‘CBBH Photo Challenge’, link back to this blog and, most importantly, don´t forget to add links to any two blogs that you´ve commented on during the past month, so that we can all HOP OVER and have a look.

For more information on how the CBBH Photo Challenge works click here.


One Trip Every Month: La Fortaleza, Vélez-Málaga

Entrance to La Fortaleza, Velez-Malaga My trip this month is a local one – to La Fortaleza, the medieval fortress and Alcazaba in Vélez-Málaga, capital of the Axarquía region.  Of course, as with many other places, I see the fortress towering above the town every time I pass by, but somehow never got around to visiting before now.

La Fortaleza was in a bad state of repair for many years and, as a result, was not open to the general public – but that has now changed. Alcazaba - Fortress La Fortaleza, Velez-Malaga Located on the highest point of the town, about 80 meters above sea level, the Alcazaba or Fortress was built during the 10th century under Moorish rule, but achieved its greatest prominence during the 14th and 15th centuries, as one of the most important strongholds of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. It’s worth remembering that the River Vélez was once much deeper and wider than it is now, and that the valley formed part of a trade route through the Zafarraya Pass from Granada to Málaga, making the town strategically significant.  

Vélez-Málaga may not have been a very large town, but it was well fortified and defended by a solid set of walls, some of which can still be seen.

As with many Spanish monuments, the directional signage to La Fortaleza leaves a lot to be desired, but if you head for the Fernando Hierro Sports Stadium in Vélez-Málaga and take the Arenas road, following signs for La Iglesia de Santa Maria/Museo de la Santa Semana, you will find the Alcazaba (La Fortaleza) just before the church.

The restored Tower of the Alcazaba (the fortress La Fortaleza) is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 1pm and offers spectacular views over the town and the surrounding Axarquía countryside. Admission is FREE.   

Don’t forget your camera! One Trip EVERY Month Logo This post is my contribution to the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge. If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  • Each month, visit somewhere and then write about your trip or describe it using photographs – whichever suits you best.
  • Don´t forget to title and tag your entry ’One Trip EVERY Month Challenge’, and link back to this page.
  • Display the Challenge logo on your post or in your sidebar.
  • HAVE FUN!  

Are you ready to join me by taking ONE TRIP EVERY MONTH? What are you waiting for? GO!

One Trip EVERY month: Riding on Mr Henderson’s Railway

Remember back to the end of January, when I asked if you would vote for my photograph to win a contest on Facebook?

And, so many of you voted that I WON?!

You might recall that the prize (offered by Toma Tours) was a day trip (with lunch), to one of the most picturesque parts of Andalucía, along a scenic train line known as Mr Henderson’s Railway – a British-built Victorian train line from Algeciras to Ronda.

I promised that if I won I would invite along two local bloggers to share my prize – and take lots of photographs, so I could tell you all about it ….. so here we go!

Start of the day - with Gibraltar in the backgroundFirst stop of the day in Algeciras, with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

So, I would like to introduce you to the two lovely ladies who came along with me last Saturday – Ali Meehan, founder of Costa Women, a Social and Business Networking Community for Women living in Spain (of which I am a proud member) and the Queen of SherryAnnie B, who took a well-earned day off from her Spanish Kitchen (and who supplied the superb cream-sherry to accompany my home-made fudge on our train journey).

Who’s the gorgeous guy next to me, I hear you ask?!  NO – it’s not George Clooney, that’s Manni, founder of Toma Tours,  and our highly knowledgeable guide for the day. 

Glorious views from Punta Carnero, Algeciras towards Africa

After meeting up with Manni in Marbella, we continued along the southern coast of Andalucía, past Gibraltar, to our first stop near to Playa de Getares in Algiceras, where we had glorious views from the lighthouse at Punta Carnero across the protected bay-within-a-bay, to Africa.

We were obviously set for perfect weather for our special day.

The route of Mr Henderson’s Railway cuts through breath-taking scenery from Algeciras to Ronda, taking in boutique hotels, trackside restaurants, trains, architecture, wildlife and history, as well as wonderful food and wine and is one of the most popular day trips run by Toma Tours.  You can read more about the history of the railway HERE and HERE.

Orange trees at Hotel Reina Cristina, Algeciras, Spain

We had time to enjoy coffee at the Hotel Reina Cristina, a rather grand British colonial-style hotel, with connections to the railway, and where many famous people including Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles de Gaulle have visited before us.

Then it was off to the railway station at Algeciras where we boarded the air-conditioned RENFE train (which has now replaced the original steam engines) for the one hour 45 minute journey to Arriate, near Ronda.  

Manni gave us a map of the route, a book all about Mr Henderson to enjoy with our sherry and fudge, and strict instructions to make sure that the train’s conductor knew we wanted to get off at Arriate (which is a request stop only) before waving us off at the station.   His task was to set off in his vehicle to meet us at the other end, while ours was to sit back and enjoy the fudge and sherry (much to the amusement of our fellow passengers) along with the stunning scenery and delightful stations along the route.  

Although the trains themselves have changed over the years, the scenery, 20 bridges, 16 tunnels and almost 750 metres elevation that the railway has to contend with remain as they have from the beginning.    We skirted the cork oak forest of the Alcornocales Natural Park, negotiated mountains, rivers, scenic white villages, orange and olive groves and even sighted storks circling their huge nests.

Manni the Station Master, waiting at Arriate, Spain

Just after 1.30pm we arrived at our destination, where we were met by Manni the Station Master who was waiting for us with glasses of cava (Spanish champagne)!  So many passengers on the packed train were taking photographs of our memorable welcome and it’s certainly one I will never forget!  WOW!

Our lunch stop was at the delightful trackside restaurant of El Muelle de Arriate – but there was no need to worry about the noise of passing trains with only two arrivals each day!  We feasted on huge “sharing plates” of goat’s cheese salad with mixed nuts and balsamic dressing; “Frank’s birthday cake” (named in honour of the friendly owner, Dutchman Frank) containing tender sliced potato, smoked salmon and mayo; tropical fruit salad and a platter of various pork cuts, followed by a selection of delicious desserts.  

What was particularly memorable for me was Frank’s personal introduction to each of the dishes whereby he came over and explained the ingredients and asked for our thoughts.  A very nice touch, indeed :)

After lunch, we continued our journey into Ronda with a visit to the Hotel Reina Victoria (sister hotel of the Hotel Reina Cristina at the other end of the railway line) for coffee, with spectacular views across Ronda’s famous gorge and landscape.

Manni continued guiding us around Ronda with a walking tour, introducing us to the history of bull-fighting,  the Plaza de Toros and the bullfighters’ Walk of Fame.

Ronda is one of the most famous and oldest Moorish towns of Andalucía.   Prehistoric remains show that the first inhabitants were here 25,000 years before Christ.   Whilst the Romans built the first settlements, it was after the Moorish conquest in 711AD that it flourished.

The town has an altitude of 739m and can be found 60 kilometres up a winding mountain road from Marbella on the western Costa del Sol, in the mountain range known as the Serranía de Ronda. 

Ronda sits astride a deep gorge, known as El Tajo, with a stone bridge linking the two sides.  Built in 1793, it is called El Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), because there are also two older bridges spanning the gorge.

So, after our amazing day, all that was left was for us to drive back down to the coast – but we hadn’t counted on one final surprise that Manni had in store for us.  Sadly for you, he’s sworn me to secrecy, so you’ll have to book the trip to find out what it was.  All I can say is that it certainly was a “moving experience”! 


One Trip EVERY Month Logo

This post is my contribution to the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge.

If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  • Each month, visit somewhere and then write about your trip or describe it using photographs – whichever suits you best.
  • Don´t forget to title and tag your entry ’One Trip EVERY Month Challenge’, and link back to this page.
  • Display the Challenge logo on your post or in your sidebar.

Are you ready to join me by taking ONE TRIP EVERY MONTH? What are you waiting for?