SUMMER WALKING IN THE RONDA MOUNTAINS
In July and August temperatures are climbing into the mid to late thirties as the Andalucían landscape adopts its summer palette of dry, desert-like colours. At this time of year the trails that cut along the leafy river valleys of the Genal and Guadiaro – they lie just to the south of Ronda and are just a short drive from La Donaira – are the best choice if you’re pulling on your walking boots. The riverside paths remain shaded until mid morning and you can stop for a swim along the way with only brown trout, and maybe an occasional grey heron, for company.
My favourite walk leads south along the Guadiaro valley from the sleepy railside settlement of Benaoján to sleepier-still Jimera, following the course of the river and the railway line that connects Ronda and Algeciras. The path is easy to follow, mostly flat and you can hop on a train to return to your point of departure.
The construction of the railway by a British company in the 1890s, along with 22 stations along the valley floor, was a remarkable feat of engineering. At one point the Guadiaro narrows to become a steep sided gorge where the line passes through long sections of tunnel and crosses a series of towering viaducts. This is one of Europe’s most thrilling rail adventures and was chosen for the recent BBC series Great Continental Railway Journeys.
By setting out early you’ll escape the heat and have plenty of time to make the 1pm train back to Benaoján. I like to begin the walk with a café con leche at the tiny station bar where tables fan out in the shade of the medlar trees: this must surely be one of the prettiest stations in Spain.
After you cross the railway, then the river, a broad path leads along the east side of the valley through ancient stands of gall and evergreen oaks, past a number of abandoned farms, sticking close to the river bank. There’s abundant birdlife: swallows skim the water, warblers sing amongst the greenery and – with luck – you may be treated to the iridescent flash of a kingfisher’s wings. There are stunning views back to Benaoján and out west to the jagged peaks of the Sierra de Grazalema.
The footpath was once part of the old drover’s route that connected Ronda with Jimera and Cortes at a time when it was the main market town for the surrounding Pueblos Blancos (the White Villages). The trail is clearly waymarked and now forms part of the newly created Gran Senda de Málaga, a long distance footpath that describes a huge circle through the mountains then along the Mediterranean coastline.
The path eventually cuts back across the river via a narrow footbridge before running on through groves of almonds and walnuts to the station at Jimera de Líbar. You might be tempted to take a later train and have a lazy lunch at the excellent Quercus restaurant or grab a beer at Bar Allioli. The ride back along the valley takes just 7 minutes.
Length: 8.5km | Time required: 2hr 15min | Grade: Easy | Note: Take plenty of water - there are no springs along the way.
This walk is described in detail in Guy’s books Walking in Andalucía and The Mountains of Ronda & Grazalema which are available at the La Donaira shop, La Posada, in El Gastor, and from guyhunterwatts.com.