I drove this Saturday through the hill country of Andalusia which is the southernmost autonomous community in peninsular Spain. The name “Andalusia” derives from the Arabic word Al-Andalus, another reminder the Moors ruled this part of Hispania until the 1500s.
The terrain is rugged and dry. This is the hottest part of Europe during summer with cities like Seville averaging daytime temps over 100 degrees. Thankfully, it’s just in the upper 60s here in late November but I can certainly understand the necessity of a traditional afternoon siesta.
Olive trees, rolling grassland and rocky outcrops stretched for as far as I could see. I set out this morning to explore the small Andalusian hill towns but first discovered the ruins of a Roman city called Acinipo.
The city is believed to have been founded by retired soldiers from the Roman legions more than 2,000 years ago. I examined remains of a well-preserved amphitheater which was carved directly into the limestone of the hill. There was also evidence of thermal baths with remnants of columns and steps.
The first archaeological excavations from Acinipo began in 1967 but to this day, most of the city remains undiscovered. I hiked to the top of the hill and looked out over the countryside. Here was a sharp drop from a cliff which provided natural defense. I wondered what the Romans thought as they took in this view 2,000 years ago.
Back in the car, I set my navigation for the hill town of Olvera. As you scan the horizon, the landscape is dominated by shades of brown and the occasional silver shimmer of olive trees. The Andalusian towns, perched on hillsides, stand out brightly in white paint (to help alleviate the heat).
As I approached Olvera, the town looked like foam cascading downhill, capped by a great stone church and castle you could see for miles. The vast olive groves surrounding town are said to provide the best extraction of oils in Andalusia. I wound through the narrow streets, parked and hiked my way up to the highest plaza.
From the top of the castle, I spotted a busy cafe and decided to make my way there for lunch. They served Cruzcampo beer which I’ve found to be my favorite of the Spanish brands. Soon I had a cerveza doble (large beer) and a few small plates of tapas, including boquerones fritos (fried anchovies).
After lunch, I visited two more hill towns including a quick glance at Setenil de las Bodegas. It was widely known for its houses carved into surrounding rock — a novelty that attracts tourist buses. I’ve learned that it’s better to visit towns with no novelty sights. You tend to share those places just with the locals. I set out again for another town.
After winding along a small road as I climbed hills for 30 minutes, I came around a curve and enjoyed my first view of the village of Grazalema. It was nestled in the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar mountains and shimmered like an oasis in the afternoon sun.
Despite a population of just 2,200, the main plaza was packed with folks socializing, eating lunch and enjoying their Saturday afternoon.
I took a small table and enjoyed listening to the conversations in Spanish flow around me. Small kids happily played in front of the local church.
Tomorrow I pack up and head for the cultural capital of Andalusia, Seville (pronounced Suh-b-yuh in Spanish).
Thanks for coming along on the trip. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.