In Search Of The Quiet Pace Of Life

In Search Of The Quiet Pace Of Life

LAST UPDATED: 28 April, 2014 @ 4:55 pm
Walking Competa
BEATEN TRACK: Setting foot high in the hills near Competa

Walking Competa
BEATEN TRACK: Setting foot high in the hills near Competa

Just a short drive away from the Costa del Sol lies some unforgettable scenery, rich in history, begging to be discovered on foot, writes Mark Davidson

MOST people’s idea of a perfect holiday can be found just 15 minutes up the coast from Malaga airport. Yet a 90-minute drive away from the airport will take you to some of the most spectacular scenery in Spain.

Here, I have enjoyed some of the most unspoilt and remote landscapes in Andalucia. Based amid the lovely whitewashed houses of Canillas de Albaida, on the edge of the rugged mountains of the Sierra Tejeda Natural Park, I explored an ancient network of mule tracks and trails that took me through the idyllic region boasting Moorish villages, olive groves and vineyards.

As I travelled by minibus, the winding roads with their sheer drops were enough to make my stomach churn. The driver was full of confidence and knew every turn well, almost sensing when a car would come round a blind bend and knowing when to brake at the last moment.

On my arrival in the small village, I was greeted by Gustavo, the hotel owner; a flamboyant character who took great pride in running the place. Forget big hotels. There is nothing more pleasant than staying in a small, family-run establishment. No room the same size, each with a different ensemble of furniture.

Walking Competa
DISCOVER: Unforgettable scenery

You are often woken in the morning to the sound of church bells heralding the dawn of a new day. One evening, before dinner, the bells were rung with gusto as we were told someone in the area had died. In a short space of time, the village square became populated by all the local men, with all the women filling the church. Every one, it seemed, had turned out to pay their respects.

Built among mountains, the houses on either side of the narrow streets are scattered unevenly, yet the views overlooking the countryside made this way of living worthwhile. The fresh air and the idyllic slow pace of life are perfect for those who want a quiet way of life.

The first day’s trekking is always more of a challenge than the others. It’s like having to get back to match fitness before the football season begins. My limbs ached even more as I climbed up and down the mountainsides on varying terrain. The paths, carved out over centuries by farmers and locals alike, are a network of trails connecting the villages. Fruit trees were abundant, I loved gazing at the avocado trees growing alongside the orange groves.

When I reached my first village, Competa, I was almost blinded, not by the sunlight, but by the brilliant white paint on each building as they glistened in the sun’s rays. With roof tiles made from bright red terracotta, the homes were in stark contrast to the lush green surroundings of the countryside. The slow pace of life seemed a deliberate act. No one seemed to want the hustle and bustle of living in a big Spanish tourist resort. Villages have no shortage of bars, and it is a pleasant and relaxing to unwind with a cold refreshing drink. What’s more, there is no better way of topping off a fabulous walk then by enjoying some fantastic food, particularly tapas.

As I meandered along each day, I was often reminded of the history of the Spanish Civil War as I passed derelict buildings that once stored arms and weapons used during the conflict. It is thought many more weapons still lie undiscovered in the mountain ranges.

I even learned that, during the Civil War, protection rackets were rife and travelers would pay money to ensure they would not be sitting ducks from the hidden locations on the mountains where a lone gunman would often lay in wait.
The arrival of the Moors in the eighth century brought silk manufacturing to the Iberian Peninsula and these ancient trails remain littered with the historical reminders of those once lucrative journeys across Arabia and into the Islamic heartlands of southern Europe. Climbing up through these idyllic rural settings, I reached the summit of Cerro Verde (1,346m), a peak similar in height to Ben Nevis. I enjoyed a picnic lunch at the top, enjoying the fresh Andalucian air as I looked out across the limestone landscapes.

It was amazing how quickly I ascended and descended within a short space of time, often gaining a few hundred feet within hours each day. Among the trees and plant life were many vineyards producing fine wine. A few years ago, it was considered that wines from this region lacked the quality of their French counterparts. However, nowadays, many quality red and white varieties are produced in this area. Unlike other vineyards, the grapes are left to the mercy of the elements and are not watered or tended, giving a rich full flavour.

A lot of them are the famous sweet wines of the Montes de Malaga, a fabulous and fitting end to a great day’s walk.

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