On the Vía Serrana


2018 edition Camino Guides

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#1
A bit later than planned, I am at last on my way up from the coast and into the hills. This will be my last camino on my original knees, as I'm due a replacement next spring, but it already seems clear that I'm not going to be able to cover as much ground as usual. Today it took me nearly 8 hours to do 20km, admittedly allowing for frequent water breaks as the heat is still more than I can cope with.

The camino starts at the 1970s church of Santiago at La Línea, five minutes from the Gibraltar crossing. It goes through town and across country, with fine views of the rock, until it reaches an attractive hill town called San Roque. This was founded after the British took the rock in 1704, and all but 30 of the original inhabitants decided to leave. At the entrance to town is a fine statue of the saint in pilgrim gear, with his dog in attendance.

After San Roque, there is no café or fuente for about 15km, but some of the houses are inhabited and would probably provide water if necessary (it almost was today - my three litres, replenished at the edge of San Roque, only just got me through). The first proper rural stages go through grain fields owned by the Larios family and presumably used in their gin. Then there are some quite thick pine woods, then a few km of garriga, and finally fruit trees and equestrian stuff (polo is popular round here). Not too much tarmac, pleasant variety, all in all a good start to any camino, certainly once away from La Línea's urban sprawl. The marking is mostly good but occasionally a bit dodgy - I found myself checking mapsme and wikiloc a couple of times in the woods when there were no arrows at junctions.

San Martín de Tesorillo is a lively, pleasant town, with people on horses standing outside bars with their drinks chatting, and it feels as if I'm at last in proper Spain after a week on the coast.

[PS apologies in advance: I am using quite a small tablet and can't turn off the autocorrect, so I expect there are, or will be, many absurdities I miss - San Roquefort fortunately got spotted]
 

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alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#5
My first "buen camino" of the journey, from the nice barman who was, praise be, open at 7.30am, having presumably only shut up a few hours earlier. His son biked from Roncesvalles to SdC in 10 days, which won't even get me to Seville. At 8am it's still almost pitch dark this far west, but I'd checked out the path the night before, wanting to get going early as TVE was predicting temperatures of 35c in these parts this afternoon (it was 30 back home last week, but that was 30f).

The tantalisingly distant pueblo blanco I'd seen from far off yesterday turned out to be today's destination of Jimena de la Frontera. As the sun came up at 9 I was surrounded by beautiful hills in total isolation up on a ridge, with a few cows for company, and one eagle. At 14km, an unexpected treat arrived in the form of a roadside bar in the middle of nowhere. Most welcome (although not, as it happened, particularly welcoming).

Jimena must be one of the most perfectly beautiful of the pueblos blancos, with narrow winding streets bursting with bougainvillia and plumbago, and its Moorish hilltop castle dominating the Gibraltar campo. I installed myself in a raucous restaurant heaving with families noisily enjoying the last of the holiday weekend, and devoured my first sopa de ajo of the camino. Bliss.
 

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peregrina2000

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#6
I was in Jimena not too long ago, not walking unfortunately. There was quite a buzz about a recent discovery that the the hilltop castle and the modern town were actually built over a big Roman city. There was a lot of concern about looters and an unstable hillside, I wonder if you heard or saw anything about that.

Really enjoying these posts, buen camino, Alan.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#7
Jimena up to El Colmenar was quite tough, especially as the temperature is still in the 30s, although there seem to be no forest fires in these parts, unlike in Galicia and northern Portugal.

I left at 7.30, and the first few km are beside a busy fast road, with a dying moon and Venus fading into the dawn. At 9.30 I was refilling my bottle and stomach in the pristine village of San Pedro. And then it was up into proper hills, skirting the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, and a mixture of ag tracks and forest paths, some of them pleasantly shady.

Very lovely, but quite strenuous - including 2 sections with 200m of ascent in 2km. The views back onto Jimena were fantastic, but I was relieved when, not far from the highest point, a fuente miraculously appeared, as I'd been starting nervously to ration my water. A hen harrier joined me for a little, otherwise I saw few living creatures between San Pedro and El Colmenar. At some point today I made my first ever (camino) footsteps in Málaga province. With Cádiz, that's two new camino provinces to tick off my list (32 so far, I think: no more to add this year).

El Colmenar looked reassuringly close from the day's summit, and then appeared to recede into the distance for a couple of hours before I finally found myself gulping down a delicious bowl of salmorejo.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#8
El Colmenar to Cortes de la Frontera is a short stage, a very beautiful and lonely one, but quite tough. You follow the Guardiaro steadily for a few km, with waterfalls, and then hit the cañon de las Buitreras (which means "vulture colony", and there were plenty about) at which point you have to go up and then down what looks (and feels) like a cliff. 200+ metres of ascent on a narrow goat track in not much over a km. The canyon is dramatic and (literally) gorgeous and once you've made the lung busting ascent, the views over the surrounding sierras are fantastic. I was going to use the cliché "to die for", except that if you fell off the track, you probably would. I did find that a couple of harsh-voiced griffon vultures were taking more interest in me than I would normally like, not especially wanting to furnish them with an ad hoc tower of silence. Once back down at river level, you then crawl through a short tunnel (~1m high) and over the puente de los Alemanes, thoughtfully constructed by German waterworks workers 99 years ago. At this point the gorge is about 20m wide and 200 deep. Pretty dramatic (one of the tourism websites rather breathlessly calls it "la catedral de los barrancos").

And then a pleasant stroll, with a few black piggies for company, on to Cortes de la Frontera's railway station and a well-earned lunch.
 

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Kanga

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Camino(s) past & future
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid.
#9
I am glad you are doing this @alansykes, so I don't have to. Makes great reading.
 

KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances ('09, '11 - entire, '14, '16),
Finisterre ('11, '16),
Madrid ('14),
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Levante ('15+'??),
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Muxia ('15),
Bayona ('16),
Salvador ('16),
Ingles ('16)...
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
#10
Hi, Alan,

Enjoying your posts very much because Via Serrana is also on my to-do-list. Could you include info about accommodation, please?
Thanks and keep posting!
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#11
Cortes de la Frontera to Benaoján may possibly be the most breathtakingly beautiful day of any of the 250-odd I have spent on camino.

Not as dramatic as the canyon of the previous day, but a constant stream of delights. From leaving the station at 7.15am with Orion high overhead and a couple of shooting stars, through gathering dawn, seeing the sun touch the tops of the sierras high above, along a cañada real with sheep bells and the equally musical sound of the Guardiaro river for company. The woods are dense and varied - five different types of oak, chestnuts, birch turning autumnal yellow and many more. Once or twice an eagle mewed overhead, and a panicked deer was glad I wasn't a hunter.

Sadly the bar at Jimera de Líbar was closed until noon (I passed at 10.30, so no point waiting), but the one at Benaoján was, heaving by then (2pm) with people and serving tasty tapas as I waited for the train to take me back to Jimena de la Frontera (where I've been interested in visiting both the castle, with fantastic views back to Gibraltar, and the casa de la memoria, with a depressing display on the atrocities committed when the rebels arrived from Africa)

Just a wonderfully wonderful day.

https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=20470954


Hi, Alan,

Enjoying your posts very much because Via Serrana is also on my to-do-list. Could you include info about accommodation, please?
Thanks and keep posting!
Sorry Kinks, I'm afraid I'm limited help on accommodation so far - first three days spent busing to and from a friend's place near San Roque, then 4 days based at a hostal by the station at Jimena de la Frontera, using the 6.53am train to get me to the next day's walk, and an afternoon one back. And then visiting friends in Ronda. Los Arcos in JdlF is an old fashioned hostal but I liked it and couldn't be handier for the station.
 

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alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#12
Shortly before dawn on Sunday morning, the station at Benaoján looked as if an insurrection was about to erupt, with dozens of heavily armed hunters out in their camouflage. Fortunately it meant that the bar was open for coffee. It's then a short and easy day to Ronda, with early tantalising view of the clifftop city in the distance. And by lunchtime I was in the centre, being buffeted by the swarms of tourists and hearing many languages.

It is a fabulous place, which I haven't visited for 21 years, and it was a pleasure to stroll around and enjoy the views and the streets and the food, and visit a friend's place. But it will also be quite nice to get back to the emptiness of the wide sierra tomorrow
 

peregrina2000

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#13
Alan, I think the view up to the edge of the city on the cliff is one of the most amazing "built environment" vistas in Spain. Enjoy!!!
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#14
Down the hill from lovely but overcrowded Ronda, I said goodbye to the Guardiaro, my often melodious companion of the last week. And then back into the empty sierras - once notorious bandit country, according to some tourist panels. A last lingering look back at Ronda and then, for the first time, foolishly trying to make a shortcut, I got badly lost and spent 6km getting myself to within a km of where I started. It happens pretty much every year at some point.

So I split the day and stayed at Setenil de las Bodegas, a lively, friendly beautiful partly troglodyte town. While eating a delicious lunch at the Palmero, I somehow booked myself a huge three bedroom townhouse almost under the Moorish castle, for 25€, complete with kitchen and three bedrooms. Shocking waste as I had more than enough to eat so no need of kitchen etc, but very pleasant.

Next morning Venus was still up as I headed north, fortunately after finding a bar open for coffee. By 11 the camino hits Alháquime, a pretty pueblo blanco with open bars. Then a goat track to the ermita of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, across the valley from Olvera. The chapel has the locally venerated statue of the bvm, said to date from the reconquista. Olvera is another pretty pueblo blanco dominated by its Moorish hillfort. A bustling place and the whole town seemed to be out for the paseo at dusk this evening. Tomorrow a vía verde, so less up and down.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#15
At Olvera I stayed at the Hostal Medina, a lovely friendly family run place with azulejos right on the camino in the town centre, 20€. A sharp walk down takes you to the railway station and on to the Vía Verde de la Serrana. They built the tunnels and stations and bridges for this railway line in the 1920s, and then never put trains on it. It's glorious countryside all round, with the forbidding peak of Zaframagón just visible in the distance at starting, and then making a welcome pause at its station for water after 10km. Its vultures were very visible, apparently the biggest colony in Spain.

By noon the heat was almost suffocating,with the shade of the tunnels a very welcome relief. 35° in late October is, according to a news item I saw on a TV, the hottest in 34 years. Coripe station, after 20km of vía verde, has a casa rural and a most welcome bar, with possibly the best caña of my life. Sadly, Coripe town is 2km away and up quite a steep track, and I was obviously visibly flagging by the time I collapsed at the Bar Pastor, which runs the Pensión Coripe, and where they fed, watered and caña-ed me efficiently before shovelling me upstairs to a very welcome bed (20€ bed and breakfast, simple but very decent, and breakfast from as early as you need, which at this temperature is before dawn).
 

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alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#17
Coripe to Montellano is another fine day, mountain trails with great views and not much tarmac. Circling round the Castillo de Cote, where Don Rodrigo stayed before losing his kingdom to the Moors, you get the first ominous sights of the endless flat plain around Seville, and from about 1pm it feels as if you are walking in an oven, but this is an unusually hot veroño. At Montellano I stayed in the very pleasant Hostal Bobi, with English length bath, 30€. The town was lovely - every bar, every pavement, everywhere was full at dusk with every age and both sexes enjoying the start of the weekend. The bright half moon was an added bonus.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#18
Montellano to El Coronil is the first day of this camino on the flat. It started with a mumified dead dog by the track, and didn't get much better. Somehow losing an arrow by the motorway added 5-6kms, and I only got to El Coronil, low on water and very hot, after the sun and the heat had hit their zeniths. Luckily it's another pleasant town, with lots of bars busy with people, and many people dressed in their finest for a local wedding. I checked into the Hostal Minas, after the uncle of the bride turned up to let me in, and then enjoyed lunch in a fish bar nearby, with manzanilla on draught (my idea of heaven).
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#19
El Coronil to Utrera is partly a lunar landscape at this time of year. Rolling ploughed fields in every direction, and nothing else, with not a tree in sight for miles. It's strangely beautiful, but a little daunting when the temperature is still heading for the 30s. There are two oasis-like farms in the 17km between El Coronil and the village of Los Milares, at the second of which I took a much needed water break and pause in the welcome shade of a partly ruined wall. The guard dog came out to have a look, but decided it was too hot even to bark at me. Los Milares has an odd castle, a couple of bars and a fuente with wonderful cool untreated water. The Vía Augusta, from Cádiz, joins the Vía Serrana here. The final 5km to Utrera are a bit less lunar and you soon find yourself by the handsome church of Santiago,near the bustling main square full of people enjoying Sunday lunch. Despite the warnings of @george.g (who walked the Augusta) I checked in to the Hostal Hidalgo 2, hoping that the young people's noisy bar next door might shut early on a Sunday. 20€ with unasked for pilgrim discount (31€ if I'd booked online, and 27€ advertised price on the door). The bar did indeed shut relatively early (?11.30) but I was so knackered by the heat I'd have slept through the last trump.
 
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alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#20
Another day, another handsome church of Santiago, this one at a bend in the river at Alcalá de Guadaíro. Partly 15th C, partly baroque, but badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake which flattened Lisbon. Fairly flat from Utrera, but some olive groves, so more shade, and the temperature is finally dropping into the mere high 20s.

At a warm family bar on the outskirts of Alcalá, with four matrilineal generations aged from 80+ to c5, and no other clients, they insisted I go to the local albergue, a km or so from the town centre on the road to Dos Hermanas. So I did, especially as it was the first albergue of this camino. It was fine, but it wasn't an albergue as such, it was run by AFAR, a clearly admirable organisation which works to "contribuir a mejorar las condiciones de vida de personas y colectivos que viven en la actualidad en situación de desigualdad o riesgo de exclusión social." By the time I'd slogged out to the place and been offered bed and board, I didn't think it would be appropriate to turn up my nose and say "actually, I think I'll go to an hotel". It is donativo, but I had to force some money onto the efficient administrator who showed me my room (2 beds, all to myself) and stamped my credential. Staff and residents were all very welcoming. There were plenty of spare beds, so I wasn't putting a transeúnte onto the street.
 

alansykes

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#21
Alcalá to Seville is a short day, much of it in a lush green tunnel beside the sluggish Guadíara. Approaching his city, it seemed only right to listen to the two sunny Figaro operas on my headphones. The last chords of the Rossini one were playing when I hit a construction site for a new suburban railway network, and the arrows petered out. It didn't matter as it was only another hour or so to the centre of what I think is probably my favourite city on earth, and it was quite special reaching it for the first time on foot.

And so ended my Vía Serrana, frequently hot, occasionally bothered, lost a few times, through some of the most amazingly beautiful countryside, and with regular pueblos blancos and others on the way.

Highly recommended.
 
Camino(s) past & future
I plan to walk El Camino (2014)
#22
@alansykes Thanks very much for all your posts. I will start Camino via Serrana around the 20th of April 2018. Very valuable information , Much appreciated !
 
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