We drove inland from Malaga towards El Chorro, a steep canyon set in a Natural Reserve, about an hour’s drive from the coast. As we got closer, orange and lemon groves gave way to rocky outcrops, dotted with yellow gorse and groves of stunted pines. I’d hoped for a sunny spring break, but today it was pouring with rain and we had to rub the condensation from the windows to get anything of a view.
As we turned off into the National Park area we drove alongside the huge reservoir, one of several connected reservoirs in the area, it’s blue-green waters turned muddy brown from the constant downpour. It looked as if the water was high and the bushes along the shoreline were starting to get submerged. We turned off the road with the view of the reservoir on winding roads through a landscape of smooth rocks and boulders where my Spanish friend Ana told us that you might find a pleasant spot to stop for a picnic in the springtime.
Before long we were all starting to feel a little queazy as the car wound it’s way round the curving route and finally we ascended to a resevoir, set high up with a sheer drop on one side down to the valley. There was a path all around the resevoir where you might walk around on a sunny day, although on this windswept day it only got out of the car to take a brief photo.
We reached the place where the gorge narrows into a steep canyon where the only way to pass is on a precipitous broken path known as El Caminito del Rey, that we could trace high up along the wall. As parts of it are completely broken away, you’d be foolhardy to attempt it without the security of climbing ropes but we saw a group of climbers down below preparing to climb up to it. The path was originally constructed in 1905 to enable hydro-electric workers to access different parts of the gorge, but in recent years the local government has closed it following several deaths, and plans to repair the path.
At the side of the canyon there’s a train tunnel bored through the mountain with a green metal gantry bridge that was used as a film location in the second world war movie, Von Ryan’s Express, in which Frank Sinatra is shot running across the bridge trying to jump on the train and escape into Switzerland.
Further on we reached another viewpoint where you could look in both directions down the valley, to the open plains in one direction and down to another resevoir at the bottom of the valley. Apparently they pump water up from one resevoir at night time when the electricity is cheap and then use it to generate hydro-electric power in the daytime. As we stood there, we spotted five eagles drifting on the up currents from the valley and then they soared past us, one by one with just an occasional sweep of their feather fronded wings. With the rain continiuing to lash down, we didn’t linger there but drove down to the resevoir at the bottom of the valley where there are several hotels and cafes.
My friend Ana passed by the cafes with the coaches outside and drove on to an unassuming small hotel where she had eaten before. I’ve learned that in Spain you can’t judge a restaurant by the outside, and the patron moved a table into the bar area in front of the open fire, where traditional legs of cured ham were hanging.
The patron brought us a few different dishes to try, including a gratin of spinach topped with egg and cheese and wild boar cooked slowly in red wine, which Ana drank with a small glass of Anis liquer that she said was good to keep out the cold. Outside the hotel, the reservoir had elegant wrought iron railings and the last time my friend had been there in the summer, she said that children had been jumping into the water for a swim.
It was unfortunate that with the pouring rain, we hadn’t been able to appreciate the views and mountain scenery or enjoy some of the hiking and adventure activities that are to be found in this area. The reserve which is well known in Spain and Europe as a playground for rock climbers, as well as being a centre for many other outdoor activities, such as mountain biking and paragliding.
You can reach the area by bus or train from the coast, but it’s difficult to get there and back in a day without a car, so if you’re relying on public transport you may need to find local accommodation for a couple of nights. If you’re looking for accommodation, you might try this campsite at El Chorro, that also has a bunkhouse and cottages, or there are a number of guest houses, lodges and small hotels in the area if you search online.
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