From Seville we rented a car and drove through the Andalusian Mountains, visiting a couple of the White Hill Villages where most of the town is painted, you guessed it, white. The color of the green grass covering the rolling mountains was almost unreal looking, as was the azure blue sky; everywhere we looked we saw a patchwork of olive and orange groves with the occasional castle thrown in.
Winding our way up a steep mountain to our first stop, we were greeted by a vision of the picturesque town of Zahara de la Sierra. We stepped out of the car next to the wall that surrounds Zahara and landed in an enchanted world where we could hear children playing in the school yard off in the distance, birds singing, church bells ringing, the choir practicing in the church, and I kid you not, classical music that was filling the valley like some sort of Spanish Sound of Music. These hills were joyously alive.
We walked round the immaculate town that was a Moorish outpost until 1407, captured by the Emirate of Granada in 1481 and finally taken by troops under the command of Ponce de Leon in 1483.
After a sip of café con leche at a tiny hole-in-the-wall, we hiked up the hillside that led to the Moorish castle that still remains at the top of the mountain. During our climb to the castle, we were treated to the stunning views of the valley and the man-made lake, which was created when the dam was completed in 1991 to serve the agricultural needs of the region. The hiking path was a switchback trail lined with wild fig, apricot, lavender, roses, prickly pears and rosemary trees.
The town was tranquil and we didn’t pass a soul on our hike giving us a much-needed reprieve from the lovely but bustling cities where we had recently been.
Next we made our way on a quick forty-minute drive to Ronda, another White Hill Village that was perched high above the valley straddling two sides of the Guadalevin River and the dramatic El Tajo canyon.
Our trip had been fluid and changed many times while we had been on the road. That is the beauty of traveling without a guide or compass, and with someone who likes to move and explore at a similar pace. Ric and I are very fortunate in that we are well matched in how and what we like to do and see. At some point after leaving Seville, we agreed that we were both a little weary of touring old buildings and power sightseeing. The mountains of Andalusia were exactly what we needed; nature, open roads and an ethereal beauty that was soothing and inspiring.
After a few hours walking the streets of Ronda, we decided that we wanted to soak up more of the natural beauty that came so easily here, so we decided to spend two nights in Ronda instead of driving to Granada.
We found a sweet little hotel that sat below the canyon, where horses and sheep were grazing and lounging.
We walked into town a couple of times, one night eating paella at the edge of the gorge where the birds came alive as the sun began to set.
It was a spectacular show as swarms of birds swirled around flying high into the sky and then dove deep into the crevasses of El Tajo. There were a couple of peacocks at a villa perched on the side of the cliffs who were parading back and forth across the walls screeching as only peacocks do. It was surreal.
For the most part, we stayed at our bucolic oasis and watched the sheep herder move his motley crew from one field to the next and enjoyed lunch at a family owned Clemente Bar & Café just up the cobblestone road.
For all of its tranquility, Ronda has an ancient and tumultuous past with remains of settlements dating back to Neolithic times and the Spanish Inquisitions figuring prominently into its history. Both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells spent many a summer in Ronda as part-time residents and both wrote about the beauty and the famous bull-fighting traditions, of which many originated in Ronda.
On our last day in Ronda we woke up to the sound of crowing rooster to which my husband mumbled something about it being “so cliché” – another morning of crystal blue skies, birds singing and temps in the low 70s.
I took a little walk before we got in the car to head off to Gibraltar. It was early enough for most of the town to still be sleeping. No cars, motorbikes or tourists, just the soft morning sun coming over the mountains shimmering across the stream at the bottom of the gorge. It was at that quiet moment looking out at the incredible horizon when I felt a little tug at my heart – I wondered if I would come back to this place again. I reminded myself to be present and to take it all in, to keep a snapshot in my memory of our time here and hopefully someday Ric and I would return to this very special place.
In honor of our wonderful trip to Spain and the amazing food of the country, I’m reposting this delicious orange flan recipe. Olé!
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1½ cups sugar
- 8 large egg yolks
- 4 whole eggs
- ¾ cup milk or almond milk
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon orange-flower water
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoons orange zest
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Over medium heat, bring the water and ½ cup of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until sugar has dissolved and then swirl mixture in pan but do not stir it as it boils. Continue to cook until the mixture becomes an amber color.
- Quickly pour the caramel into 6 flan ramekins or a round 7 or 8-inch ceramic or glass dish, tilting and swirling the caramel to coat the bottom of the dish. Allow the caramel to completely harden and cool for 15 -20 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together all of the remaining ingredients including the remaining ¾ cup sugar. Pour the custard into the ramekins or dish.
- Place ramekins or dish into a large casserole or baking dish that is deep enough to pour and inch or so of hot water around it creating a water bath or bain marie which will cook the flans more evenly than without the bath.
- Place in the oven and bake for approximately 1 hour for the large flan or 35-45 minutes for the small flans.
- Take the flan out of the oven when the outer edges are firm but the middle still jiggles. The flans will firm up as they cool.
- Cool on a rack and then chill for 6 or more hours.
- To serve, run a sharp knife around the sides of the flan and then dip the ramekins or dish into hot water for 20 seconds or so. Place a plate or platter over the dish or ramekin and quickly flip it over releasing the flan onto the plate or platter.