Hiking under the Andalusian Sun: A Day Trek in Sierra Nevada

Sweat is the gift from the body to the soul.

I really agree with that line, by the Finnish writer Kari Hotakainen. Add gorgeous scenery, fresh and crisp mountain air, a great adventure buddy (aka my husband), new trails waiting to be explored and the possibility of spotting baby alpine goats and you get to the very core of the allure of hiking.

There are different kinds of hikes: those which offer visual treats and spectacles on almost every step you take (thinking about Matterhorn last summer). And then there are hikes which add up to be rewarding but maybe don’t scenery-wise offer such landscape fireworks from the start as you were set out for.

So, we went trekking to the Sierra Nevada National Park in Southern Spain, in Andalucía. We we’re staying at Almuñécar, a nice small city by the sea at the Costa Tropical. The previous evening before the hiking day we browsed the hike suggestions at treksierranevada.com and decided to go for the route Canal de la Espartera. We were drawn by the length of the walk (14 km, suitable for us for an enjoyable day trip), the profile of the trek (moderately challenging) and the lush vegetation, crashing waterfalls and wide variety of scenery depicted in the hike description.

The starting point of the hike is near Fuente del Hervidero, a traditional country-style restaurant, which can be accessed from the town of La Zubia. We travelled there with our rental car and left the car to the parking field near the restaurant.

Indeed, the hike was varied, gratifying and good, as an entity. The first bit (the first two hours) of the actual hike was made up of a wide gravel track and rather desert-like views: the land was dry and dusty and the Andalusian sun was keeping us nice and warm (or hot – not too hot, but definitely hot enough). A baby alpine ibex peaked timidly from behind the bushes and dashed quickly out of sight.


Then, at about halfway of the trek the scenery started to become lusher with green hills, coniferous trees, long grass, butterflies swirling around us and pretty yellow flowers. The mountain stream burbled in the background.

The route was marked with wooden signposts with a yellow and white stripe. The posts occurred often enough, but a kilometre indicator on each of them would have made the poles even more helpful.


A few notes about the hike and tips for your trek:

If you want peace and quiet, this is your trek! We encountered maybe three people there during the entire hiking day. Don’t start your hike too late, so that you’ll find your way back in daylight (we started around 2 pm and finished at 8 o’clock and the sun began to set after 9 pm).

Snacks! The key to happiness. There are no mountain huts on this route (selling abundant pieces of apple strudel like in the alpine huts in Switzerland, says she wistfully), so pack a big water bottle and snacks that will keep you energized along the way. Granola, bananas, chocolate (won’t deny it, the hike menu might have included some pringles as well). Also, remember a hat and sunscreen.

The attractions of Granada and the spectacular palace of Alhambra are close by (around 25 minutes by car), so after the sweaty fun and some refrehing up you can enjoy some cultural delights.

Enjoy your trek!

Have You Heard of a Pearl Called Pallanza?




I hadn’t, not before last summer. We we’re wondering what to pair with the hiking trip to Matterhorn in Switzerland: key words for the search were Italian lakes, Italian food, sunshine and beautiful views. And, after some google maps and image browsing, Pallanza popped up! And what a delicious and pleasant little pearl by Lake Maggiore it turned out to be.

What made me fall for Pallanza? First, the extra wide jogging and cycling road, which follows the waterfront and leads to the next district, Verbania Intra. There was such proper road width reserved for the runners, so delightful! The morning run from Pallanza to Intra and back with a stop for some stretching, (catching one’s breath) and a water break took around 50 minutes. Our plan on the first morning was to enjoy espressos after the energizing run on the terrace of the café right next to our hotel, but this proved to be a utopian idea since we were sweating like two little piglets and the salt was stinging our eyes. But, anyhow, it was a good workout in a pretty setting.


What I also didn’t know beforehand was that Pallanza is quite the culinary hotspot. The stylish aperitivo in the lakeside garden of Ristorante Milano, the superb and nocturnal Spaghetti allo Scoglio (spaghetti with seafood) of La Tentazione by the market square (nocturnal because we are quite late eaters and their kitchen was open a bit past 9:30 pm), the rich ravioli of Ristorante Il Portale… Il Burchiello was also delicious but during the holiday season remember to book in advance.


And what would be sweeter for an Italian food lover than an Italian food festival taking place right outside our doorstep by the lake. It was sotto le stelle, a dinner and a gastronomic taste journey under the stars. You could buy the tickets either at the entrance or beforehand in the local restaurants. The long tables were covered with white tablecloths and flower compositions and there were candles placed in white paper bags waiting to be lit up after sunset. We got a stamp card with which we could get an apertitif, 5 different small dishes, two glasses of wine and a desert from the different stands of the local restaurants. A local elderly lady who apparently knew everyone in town was kindly pointing us towards the wine and food stands to ensure that we got the hang of it. The evening was tasty and bustling and a good gastronomic dive to the offerings of the district.



Pallanza has its own ferry stop and after some running and culinary delights I recommend you take a lake cruise to the islands (Isola Bella being the botanical crown jewel) and to the city of Stresa: a stroll by the beach promenade, marvelling at the extravagant luxury hotels, a cone of creamy pistachio ice cream, doing some bric-a-brac discoveries in the shops of the old town and sipping a strong espresso on the terrace before heading back to the boat, the components of a happy day trip.



Isola Bella and its peacocks and unicorns


You know the feeling when you’ve had a small and futile argument with your special loved one about something utterly unnecessary and then you come to a place that is breathtakingly mesmerizing or beautiful and so skillful. The sun is shining, the warmth of the sweet summer day caresses your cheeks and the lake water sparkles as the sunrays dance on its surface. Very soon you come to realize that you really don’t want to lose any time from experiencing the beauty, the gorgeous day, the efforts of the gardener and moments of this life that we have. Perhaps a bit sappy but actually very true once you start thinking about it.

One place that has this effect is Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore in North of Italy. And in there particularly the blooming baroque garden of the Palazzo Borromeo.




The island got its name from Isabella D’Adda, the wife of Carlo Borromeo III, when the spectacular palace was built for the aristocratic family in the 1600s. The high rooms of the palazzo include for example the decorative Ballroom, the ornamental throne and the Sala di Napoleone where the French emperor stayed with his wife. Not to forget the numerous artworks from old masters, the ornate grand piano decorated with a painting even from the inside, the magnificent halls, the detailed ceilings and in the bottom floor the impressive grottoes, with walls made of pebbles and lava stone. The palace is still the summer home of the Borromeo family.


When we step outside to the palace gardens we see first the gallant white peacocks strutting on the green and well-attended lawn. They don’t care about the visitors but are wise enough to escape the sticky hands of an energetic toddler who sweeps past us reaching towards the fascinating white birds.


The gardens include well-kept verdant boulevards, tall obelisks, a unicorn statue, geometrically trimmed trees, many terraces, ponds with water lilies, a parrot house and the imposing Teatro Massimo. And a myriad of flowers.


Isola Bella can be reached easily with ferries from the cities of Stresa, Laveno, Pallanza and Intra. The last ferry back to Pallanza goes quarter past seven. After the palace has closed the island quiets down quickly. The entrance fee to the palace is 15 euros.


Isola Bella is definitely worth visiting but I wouldn’t opt to have the accommodation there. It is beautiful, crowded on the small streets during the day and a fine place to spot skilled Italian style gardening. And oh yes, a lunch spot tip is Il Fornello Bottega con Cucina: a beautiful terrace, friendly service, quality bubbles and a tasty antipasti plate.