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”! 


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



The Old Railway Line at Zafarraya

Zafarraya Pass, Spain

You might remember, I’ve told you before about the spectacular U-shaped Zafarraya Pass (El Boquete de Zafarraya) marking the boundary between the provinces of Málaga and Granada, and which can be seen for miles around.

Standing over 900 metres above sea level, the Pass has been used for centuries as a key route through the sierras, linking lands south-west of Granada, with the towns and villages along the coast, east of Málaga.

Old railway bridge at Zafarraya

On the approach to the gap in the mountains, above the road on the left, a small tunnel through the rock can be seen.   This once formed part of the Periana to Zafarraya railway line, abandoned fifty years ago.  The tunnel is now used by horse-riders and walkers who enjoy strolling along the dirt road where the railway once ran.

Last time I went through the Zafarraya Pass, instead of whizzing by, I decided to stop and have a look.  After driving under the the old iron railway bridge, I parked in the small car park on the left side of the road.

Pathway to the railway

It’s only a few steps up the gentle slope to where the narrow gauge railway once ran.  The main tracks were removed long ago, but there is still a short length remaining to illustrate what it must have looked like.

Narrow gauge line running towards Zafarraya, Spain

Old train line, Zafarraya

The views from the Mirador El Boquete (lookout point) both across the Pass and down towards the coast are stunning.  This is a lovely peaceful place to stop for a picnic, and there are a couple of picnic tables for public use.

From here you can see the peaks of Tajo de la Cueva and El Morron de La Cuña, the hamlets of Espino, Los Cortijillos, Los Pavitos and Los Morales as well as numerous white houses, dotted like paint spots on a canvas, as far as the eye can see.  The village of Alcaucín and the Parque Natural lie ahead, overseen by La Maroma, the highest mountain in the Axarquía region at 2066 metres.

If you cast your eyes further down the valley, La Viñuela reservoir and the Mediterranean Sea glimmer in the distance.

El Boquete de Zafarraya, Spain

Mirador del Boquete, Zafarraya

View towards the coast from Zafarraya

I wandered along the dirt track, and ahead of me I could see the old narrow railway tunnel.  

As I approached, the enormity of the task in building the tunnel was obvious.  It had been hewn through the rock by hand.   What a job!

Entrance to old railway tunnel, Zafarraya, Spain

Inside the old railway tunnel, Zafarraya

Hand carved stone inside the tunnel

Tunnel through the rock, Zafarraya

Rather than just strolling as I did, and depending on how fit you are, you might enjoy an adventurous walk or a more gentle ramble from Periana, the source of the old railway line, back to the Boquete de Zafarraya.  

Whatever you choose, be sure to watch out for the fabulous birds.

Views along the track towards the coast

How to get there

To get to the Zafarraya Pass, drive north from the A7/E15 Autovía del Mediterraneo, past the town of Vélez-Málaga and briefly alongside Lake Vinuela, before heading up the A402, a winding mountain road.  

You will see the gap in the mountains ahead, getting closer and closer the higher you climb.

Where do you enjoy walking when you need to find some peace and quiet?

The Eagle Aqueduct, Maro

Eagle Aqueduct, Maro, Spain

The Eagle Aqueduct (El Puente del Águila) was built in the 19th century as a means of supplying water to the San Joaquín sugar factory on the outskirts of the town of Nerja.

Damaged during the Spanish Civil War, but recently restored, the Eagle Aqueduct comprises four storeys of superimposed brick arcades with 37 arches.   Soaring high above the spire at the central point of the structure is a weather vane in the shape of a double-headed eagle, from which the aqueduct takes its name.  The structure is 40 metres tall and 90 metres wide, with it’s design being typical of the period of construction, when the Mudéjar-style was very popular.

Situated on the Barranco de la Coladilla and spanning a ravine close to the Nerja Caves and the village of Maro, the aqueduct is visible from the old N340 coast road linking Nerja with Maro.   With a backdrop of the Sierra Almijara, it´s easy to see why this is one of the most photographed images of the local area.   There is a lay-by at the side of the road where you can leave the car to get a good view or to take photographs of the monument.  The area surrounding the aqueduct is public land and free to visit.

Strangely, the facade visible from the viewpoint is the rear of the construction, as the aqueduct faces north.   The Eagle Aqueduct was NOT built by the Romans, as many believe, though the remains of a Roman bridge and the old Roman road to Malaca (Málaga), were unearthed nearby.

Despite the closure of the San Joaquín sugar mill many years ago, the aqueduct continues to be used for the irrigation of local farmland.

Related articles:

Sweet memories: San Joaquín sugar mill

La Viñuela reservoir: Water levels

Travel theme: Architecture

Zafarraya Pass: Walking with Neanderthal Man

Zafarraya Pass, Spain

The spectacular U-shaped Zafarraya Pass (El Boquete de Zafarraya) which marks the boundary between the provinces of Málaga and Granada can be seen for miles around.   Standing impressively over 900 metres above sea level, the Pass has been used for centuries as a key route through the sierras, linking lands south-west of Granada, with the towns and villages along the coast, east of Málaga.

Although I have made the journey through the Pass many times, I never fail to be impressed by this ancient route through a huge cleft in the mountain spine of the Sierra de Alhama.

The name Zafarraya may have come from the Arab Fahs al-raiyya meaning “field of shepherds”, although there are people who think it derives from Saiarraya, meaning “territory limit”, referring to the fact that at one time Zafarraya belonged to the province of Málaga.

To get there, we drove north from the A7/E15 Autovía del Mediterraneo, past the town of Vélez-Málaga and briefly alongside Lake Vinuela, before heading up the A402, a winding mountain road towards the Pass.

Zalia castle near Zafarraya, Spain

Along the way we stopped at the ruins of Zalía castle (castillo de Zalía) which sits on a hill opposite the white Andalucían village of Alcaucín.  It is thought that the Phoenicians established the foundations of the fortress, but the castle was later built by the Moors around the 10th century to guard the ancient Nasrid Route through the Zafarraya Pass from Granada to Málaga.

Even though many of the wildflowers I have told you about over recent weeks have now started to die back near to where I live, they are still flourishing in abundance further inland, so we stopped many times to take in the natural beauty as well as many photographs.

In 1979, a cave was discovered near to the Zafarraya Pass (Cueva del Boquete de Zafarraya), with a subsequent archaeological dig unearthing the best preserved remains of Neanderthal man (radiometrically dating back 30000 years) ever found in Western Europe.

Importantly, the find was one of the first pieces of definite evidence showing that Neanderthals co-existed with modern humans for almost 10,000 years, disproving earlier theories that they had been quickly replaced by modern man.

Mandible and femur from ZafarrayaImage from: Museo de Málaga

Tunnel through the rock, Zafarraya

As we approached the gap in the mountains, the entrance to a small tunnel through the rock can be seen, which was once part of the former Periana to Zafarraya railway line, abandoned fifty years ago.  The tunnel is now used by walkers who enjoy strolling along the former railway line, which is now a dirt road.

Old railway bridge, Zafarraya, Spain

The old railway bridge across the road as you drive through the Zafarraya Pass is a more obvious relic of the old railway line.

It is here that you can find the village of Ventas de Zafarraya, so named because in times long past, travellers would stop for food and shelter at one of the local inns (ventas), where they could also exchange and refresh their weary horses and oxen, before continuing on their long journeys.

These days, Ventas de Zafarraya is almost entirely dedicated to vegetable growing on the fertile, flat land just beyond the village, where many different vegetables including lettuces, artichokes and beans are grown up rustic canes cut from nearby river banks.

Many of them are not much bigger than my little veggie plot at home!

Related articles:

Classic Andalucía: La Alhambra, Granada

Wildflowers of Andalucía: Dutchman’s Pipe

The Green, Green Vegetables of Home