By Jamie Penston Raja
The building work at the future guesthouse was, at times, a bit all-consuming. Luckily, with the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park no more than a two-hour drive away, I was provided with ample opportunity to get away from the brick dust and cats. Jumping on my Suzuki GSF650 motorbike, I could take time to embrace one of the true beauties of Andalucía.
From Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the Sierra de Grazalema seems no more than a collection of far-off hills. The Guadalquivir river basin is flat and dominated by agriculture – either vineyards fuelling the ‘sherry triangle’, or olive groves supporting the region’s world-leading olive oil production. The change from that to forested mountain is, quite simply, breathtaking.
Bright white buildings stand in stark contrast with the dark green leaves of the Spanish fir tree that engulf this Unesco biosphere reserve
The entry town to this awe-inspiring Sierra is aptly named ‘El Bosque’ (The Forest), the first of the ‘pueblos blancos’ (white towns), dotted throughout this environment. Here, bright white buildings stand in stark contrast with the dark green leaves of the Spanish fir tree that engulf this Unesco biosphere reserve. The drive deeper into the Sierra snakes between the sheer limestone cliff faces.
The road to the town of Grazalema is low and open to the mountain views, the griffon vultures that populate this place never too far from sight. Being a more regularly travelled road through the Sierra, it is well-kept and an easy ride. Past Grazalema and back towards Ubrique, it’s a different story. The cracked roads snake upwards through the firs; barely a glimpse of the sky or any sense of orientation.
Then suddenly, I’m out from the forest cover, biking along a narrow, winding ridge, the sierra open below me
Then suddenly, I’m out from the forest cover, biking along a narrow, winding ridge, the Sierra open below me. With each winding turn hugging the cliff faces, I notice potholes and cracks becoming a more prominent feature in the road than the tarmac itself. Ending this exhilarating ride through the Sierra in Ubrique is a relief, yet it itself is still dominated by the imposing cliffs and mountains.
With a storm brewing (and I lamenting my lack of waterproofs), I left the mountains for the flats once more, back to Sanlúcar.
Photographs: Joe Lin via Flickr Creative Commons and Jamie Penston Raja