When we first planning this trip to Spain, it was because I was interested in visiting scenic mountain villages and towns that “time forgot”. This day of the trip was devoted to fulfilling that goal. This tour began at 9:00 am when our tour guide Sam and our driver Pacos met us at the hotel. Heading out the city, we drove past the rolling hills of the Andalusian Plain around Seville to the mountainous region closer to Malaga.
Zahara de la Sierra
Our first stop in the tour was the picturesque town of Zahara de la Sierra. Perched on a mountain overlooking the valley below, Zahara originated as a Moorish castle built to protect the area between Seville and the Moorish stronghold at Ronda. The town grew from the existence of the fortress. In 1483 the Spanish captured the fort and accompanying town from the Moors. The remains of the fort still towers over the town just below it. Due to the stunning overlooks from Zahara it was easy to understand why the fort was built where it was. Panoramic views from any direction alerted the Moors to any invaders in the region.
Molino El Vinculo (Olive Oil Mill)
Unfortunately, time would not allow us to explore the town in any detail. The plans for the day were full, and we needed to head off to our next destination. Our next visit was to an old traditional olive oil mill that is still in use. As olive oil harvesting is done in the fall, the mill was not currently active. However, we were able to tour the shop and discuss the process to extract the oil from the olives. We were also able to sample the excellent extra virgin olive oil made there. Juan, the owner of the facility, was informative and friendly. His family has owned this olive oil mill for over a hundred years. It was fascinating to see how much effort and time it takes to create olive oil from a traditional process that is centuries old.
Town of Grazalema
Winding our way up a narrow mountain road, our next port of call was the white town of Grazalema. This town was even more remote than Zahara, and standing in the town square it was easy to imagine stepping back in time 100 years in Spain’s past. Our guide Sam led us through the quiet streets in the village.
We stopped at a local cheese shop called Queseria la Abuela Austina. In this cheese they make their cheese by hand using traditional methods. Cheese from this region is usually made from the milk of goats or sheep. Cows do not thrive in the arid mountainous region in this part of Spain. This cheese shop specializes in Payoyo cheese, a goat cheese indigenous to this Grazalema. Payoyo cheese has an intense buttery flavor. The cheese is named the local Payoya goats that produce the milk for the cheese. We were able to sample other cheeses made by the shop, accompanied by an excellent local liqueur that paired well with the cheese tastings. Everything was delicious. Even the discerning cheese lover would have been satisfied by the product in this particular shop.
Due to its historical importance and stunning vistas, I was excited to visit the city of Ronda. Situated on a high bluff with steep cliffs, Ronda has been a strategically important location since before the time of the Romans. The Celts established a settlement here back in the 6th centuries The Romans founded the present day location of Ronda in the 200s BC during the Second Punic War. The Moors controlled the city in 713, and held it until 1485, when it fell to the Christian forces under the Marquis of Cadiz. Spain can trace its long history through who controlled the city of Ronda.
In present day, the only invaders are the hordes of tourists that visit the city every day. On this day we were part of that conquering force. We stopped for lunch in the city and briefly explored the town. We saw the Ronda bullfighting ring and crossed the Puento Nueva bridge connecting the different parts of the city separated by the “El Tajo” canyon. Reluctantly we left Ronda to head to our next destination, a local winery.
We headed off to the F Schatz Winery, located near Ronda. Winemaking in this region dates back to the Phoenicians, and wine was produced here for centuries. In the late 1800s wine making in the area collapsed due to a phylloxera pest that destroyed nearly all the vines. Friedrich Schatz was a young German wine maker who came to this area in 1982 and realized the potential. He reintroduced wine making to the Ronda region, and he championed processes to create organic, high quality wines. We were able to visit the vineyard, walk through the winery and learn more about the differences in organic versus normal winemaking, and sample the wines produced here. All the staff here were both inviting and knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our visit.
Tired and just a little tipsy, we piled back in our car and headed back to Seville. It was a great tour and a great day, and we thoroughly enjoyed all of it!