Vida Andaluza – Zahara de la Sierra

Flying into Malaga I always choose the window seat, hoping for good weather and a birds-eye view of two contrasting but intriguing landscapes:

Number one: the Roy Lichtenstein pixelated olive groves of Jaen, a patchwork pointillist landscape much more substantial than the trifling English Channel and other landmarks of the flight. I swear you can look away and look back 5 minutes later and they still stretch out below. But of course they do…Spain is responsible for 45% of global olive oil production and Jaen is where she keeps her trees!


Number two: the turquoise reservoirs of inland Andalusia – little fragments of Bora Bora blue lagoon right in the heart of the province.

IMG_0470[Photo of the Guadalhorce Reservoir taken from the plane.]

Spotting what appears to be tropical beaches from 30,000 feet always surprises me and a visit has long been on my To Do list, so on a warm September Sunday we set off, mid-morning, for Zahara. Zahara de la Sierra presides over the Zahara-El Gastor reservoir AND it features on most pueblo blanco ‘top ten’ lists: win-win!


You could drive direct to Zahara from Ronda, hugging the shores of the hidden reservoir, and arriving below the village with only a short, safe drive up to its lower levels. Ho hum.

Alternatively, pour a strong coffee and knock back a travel sickness pill, breathe in, and execute a (mostly) controlled hairpin descent from the mountains that lie between Zahara and its near neighbour Grazalema. Wow! Now THAT is the way to arrive.   It takes an extra 30 minutes (from Gaucin the Grazalema route takes about 2 hours versus an hour and a half for the Ronda route) but it is just so worth it.

view from road small

[Come via Ronda and miss this view!]

Because the narrow road didn’t afford any opportunities to stop for a few minutes and take in the incredible views, I did feel a toddler’s urge, “Again! again!” about the approach –  this was perhaps the best bit of an excellent trip. I don’t know which was more spectacular, the tantalising views of the brilliant lake below or the frankly bonkers profile of the road on the satnav which made me laugh out loud!

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 19.21.11

Zahara’s situation is truly impressive. When you arrive in this smart village you find the usual ingredients of premier league pueblo blanco: immaculate whitewash, artisanal terracotta, neat stone mosaic paving, and accents of black metal work at windows and as signage.

pavement cafes small

In addition, Zahara has a run of stylish pavement cafes, some good churches and a well-restored castle that is a manageable if slippery hike up from the village – I’d categorise it a red run. From the castle there are more great views of the landscape and lake below, many of them framed beautifully by the castle’s glassless stone window reveals.

descent small

mullion small

The dam that created this reservoir is one of several interruptions to the 172km journey of the Guadalete river as it meanders down from the Sierra de Grazalema, ultimately emptying into the Atlantic in the Bay of Cadiz. The Guadalete dam was completed in the autumn winter of 1991 and is one of around 1,200 similar dam projects in Spain.

Here are some more pictures from the plane:

Many of the rivers around us in Gaucin have wonderful, romantic Moorish names. Guadalete is an Arabic/Greek cut’n’shut, ‘wadj al-Lethe’ or ‘wadi Lethe’ meaning ‘River of Forgetfulness’, and the river running through our neighbouring valley, below Cortes de la Frontera, is the Guadiaro or ‘River of Gold’.


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