In the Mountains of Andalucia


According to Pepe Nuqez, you could spend your whole life in Andalucia and not know it all. The proprietor of Cadiz's surf shop, Nuqez emphasizes that the tremendous geographical variation within this southernmost province of Spain makes for a sporting paradise; the 12,000-foot, snowcapped Sierra Nevada crests only twenty-five miles or so from Mediterranean beaches and not much farther from the blue swells of the Atlantic.

The Sporting Life
"In Andalucia you can ski in the morning and windsurf in the afternoon," says Nuqez. "Easily. No problem." The recreation-minded visitor will find that Andalucia's Pueblos Blancos — the White Villages — lie very nearby these sporting opportunities. Most of them are located in a triangle bounded by Malaga, Algeciras, and Sevilla, in that southernmost point of Spain. They can be reached relatively easily by air or rail service from Madrid to Malaga, Sevilla, Cadiz, or Granada; rent a car in any of those cities, which allows you to poke along the backroads at leisure, although you can reach the villages by bus as well. Ronda is by far the best-known of the White Villages and heavily visited by tourists from the big beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, although it's not necessarily the best for outdoor sports.

A better choice for a base of operations might be Grazalema, one of the smaller and most beautiful of Los Pueblos Blancos, as well as the headquarters of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. For a classic mountain inn with tiled floors, low-beamed ceilings, interior courtyards, and reasonably priced rooms, try the Hostal La Casa de Las Piedras, located at Calle de Las Piedras 32; telephone: 34-956-13-20-14.

You'll find a wide range of mountain sports in Grazalema: hiking (including hikes to nearby White Villages), mountain biking, nature watching, mountaineering, horseback riding, rock climbing and rappelling, spelunking, whitewater boating, and paragliding. Guided outings for any of these activities are available through Horizon Naturaleza y Aventura.

Though receiving the highest annual rainfall in all of Spain, the Sierra de Grazalema (at 5,000 feet or so) are too low to get much more than a dusting of snow in the winter and the climate is considered Mediterranean. For skiing one must head about 120 miles east to the Sierra Nevada, another range within the 360-mile-long Andalucian mountain system known as the Baetic Cordillera. A short drive east of Grazalema you'll come to Ronda, whose spectacular gorge and fine architecture illustrates Andalucia's multilayered history, including a Moorish palace and baths, a stunning Roman theater on a bald hilltop nearby, and the Cave of Pileta's Paleolithic relics and cave paintings.

For a grand old hotel in Ronda, try Rilke's hangout, the Hotel Husa Reina Victoria, which the British built when they pushed a railway north from their colony in Gibraltar. On a smaller and less expensive scale is the recently renovated Hotel La Espaqola at Calle Jose Aparicio 3 (telephone 34-952-87-10-51). Estacisn Sierra Nevada, surely the southernmost ski area in Europe, lies about 15 miles south of Granada at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. With close to 4,000 feet of vertical and an uphill capacity of nearly 30,000 per hour, it is a large ski area and receives enough snow to stay open until the end of April. For reservations call 34-958-24-91-11.

If that spring snow becomes too heavy and slow, you can always dash down to the coast for some wild-eyed windsurfing at Tarifa, just west of Gibraltar, Europe's answer to the Hood River Gorge. Head a little farther west for board surfing on Andalucia's Atlantic coast (biggest swells arrive late fall through early spring).

Bear in mind that, off the beaten tourist track, few people in Andalucia speak English fluently, though they are very tolerant of tongue-tied foreigners. To make travel arrangements and inquiries, it's often simplest to fax in English and count on the recipient finding a willing translator.

Peter Stark is a long-time correspondent to Outside magazine and the author of Driving to Greenland .

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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