Grazalema was whispered about as being “beautiful,” “worth the drive,” and “the most spectacular” of the white villages, los pueblos blancos, in all of Andalusia.
The drive in question, taken by our travelers (three humans and a dog), was on a June night peculiarly overcast and grey with rain a constant suggestion.
The town they were headed to was said to be the rainiest in all Andalusia and Spain, a curious designation in the sunniest portion of the country.
Perhaps it was just that those village dwellers a millenia ago prayed louder for rainfall than all the rest.
Perhaps the clouds, once knowing the way, enjoyed holidaying there among the smooth white walls as much as the tourists.
Or perhaps this was just a special microclimate of sorts, and so the mountains welcomed in the warm moist air of the sea and turned it all to rain.
The town could be accessed by a long twisting, winding road from either direction. The way there on this Friday night was near twilight and bathed by cloud stuff that seemed almost impenetrable at times,
cushioning the driver from knowing how close to the edge of a thousand foot drop off they really were.
After an hour and a half of driving, the town of Grazalema opened up through the mountains with the effect of a picture story through the glass, replete with little white houses and red tiled roofs and walls built right up against the cobbled streets.
It was a town small enough that when the travelers stopped at the single gas pump to ask for directions, the kindly attendant asked for the name of the person meeting them with the keys.
“Amalia? I know Amalia, drive up, turn right, go straight straight straight and it’ll be on your left.”
On a walk that evening through town, the dog, who had accompanied the travelers on their car ride most nervously, was amazed now at every turn. Behind every bush, behind every rock, every rivulet of rain water, it seemed there was a sound or a smell or a species she had never encountered before. And this was worth a startle because she was so well traveled.
The next morning with summer sunlight just starting to slant through the scant windows of their holiday abode, the wish to visit an olive mill and grab a bite to eat with friends lulled the human travelers out of their sleepy Grazalema home to Zahara de la Sierra, a neighbor city 20 km away.
Once in the car and out of town they were plunged into an equally gorgeous and confounding road as the evening drive before, only this time it was with the sun shining and all cliff edges and bodies of water in view.
“This is the most beautiful drive we’ve ever ever seen,” the travelers gushed … while simultaneously giving thanks that there was no one else on the road urging them to take the turns any faster than a crawl.
The repetition began to lend a sense of urgency to each bend in the road. A look at the map left them a bit incredulous. They sent out a screenshot to any listening family and friends. “Come untangle us if we never find our way to the end.”
A half hour later, the olive mill El Vinculo came into view. Although its machinery was lying dormant for the summer while all the olive trees bore the work, a “tienda es abierta” sign welcomed them in.
The travelers toured the facility and petted the resident puppy and tasted bits of bread with the simple, delectable treat of dipping it into olive oil. Come fall time they knew the machines would be humming and crushing and oozing the life blood of the region into tin and glass containers for a small sum.
After the tour, the group broke off into smaller bits, and some joined the travelers for a delicious lunch of deep-fried avocado and baked sea-bass at the restaurant Al Lago overlooking the lake of Zahara.
But it was time to get back to the dog, left so uncourteously behind in Grazalema. So the three human travelers were on their way again, down a slightly different road this time, less mountainous at the start. But the weather was clear and the sky bright, affording a thousand little pinpricks of possible views and vistas.
Back in Grazalema, after a baby nap and time to get resettled, the focus returned to the town itself: the quaintness, the sturdiness, the state of being built into a basin of rocks and rivers. There was coffee to be drunk, churches to be seen, vistas to be taken in, streets to be explored, and cheese (the local, goat derived delicacy, Payoyo) for immediate consumption.
The long eared dog, for her part, was a good sport about being left behind in the morning and continued to discover new things that afternoon, such as what balconies are,
and where churches are built,
and chose only to protest when one of her masters would disappear into a shop to buy some cheese and jamon, splitting up her compass and confusing the pack.
Feeling motivated by the beauty and the accessibility to the outdoors, the travelers set off on yet another walk in the early evening, a bit of a hike this time..
to the looming monolith of the Arroyo del Fresnillo Dam:
High above the shallow basin of the town, the dam crouched between two rocky outcrops, holding back enough water that if ever it were to lose a brick, one would instantly wonder if ever there was a town to begin with. The dam conjured up an almost Atlas like allusion, a large giant holding up the survival and sanctimony of Olympus.
The next morning, hoping to make an earlier start of their day, the travelers ambled back down the cobbled steep streets for morning coffee and summer sunshine.
What they had observed the day before still rang true on this Sunday. The squares and vistas in Grazalema are populated by old men and flower pots and breakfasting cyclists and a resident police officer to direct incoming tourist traffic. Restaurateurs tolerate dogs at their outdoor tables and welcome small children. Cafe con leches and artisan chocolates and goat cheeses abound.
As the travelers continued their Sunday walk, they felt they could make a few concrete assertions about Grazalema. This was a town where history is painted generously on murals and spread from wall to wall.
This was a town where potted flowers seemed to grow from walls in almost wild abandon,
and where unpotted flowers grew from walls quite wildly too.
This is a town where, once again, the travelers were floored by the beauty of old world obsolescence. It led them to wonder, was the distinction of beauty merely the understanding between that which withstands versus that which wastes away?
To read in the buildings, not the action of disintegration, but of defiance?
The drive home was uneventful and yet still full of more things to remark on. The hills with their copious paths sparked more thought about hikes and spurred a desire to return and explore some more this rainiest, flower=filled part of Spain.
As a bit of a band-aid for the soreness of having to end a vacation, the travelers stopped in their own town of El Puerto de Santa Maria on the way back to enjoy the thick crowds and incensed breezes of a passing Renaissance/medieval fair.
They didn’t buy anything from the stalls. They didn’t stop to ride the catapult or eat the fire roasted pig. Instead, they found a shady bit of table beside the castle at an outdoor cafe. As they sipped their wine and cervesa from slightly spotted glasses and the dog paced restlessly around the table legs and the baby tested out his temper, they toasted Grazalema and whispered of driving back again.
|Mode||To and from||Overnights||Accommodation|
|Car, 1.5 hours one way||Puerto de Sta María to Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park||Grazalema (2)||Air BnB|
|Transportation||Useful phrases on this trip
|Driving||I am searching for a house.||Busco una casa.|
|On foot||We’ll return soon.||Volveremos pronto.|