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!

Two Gorgeous Beach Discoveries on the Atlantic Coast



Salty sea water in my hair, grains of sand on my skin dried by the sun and the mighty sea that opens in front of us. The one who said that salt water is the cure to anything was on to something very essential.

There are plenty of beautiful beaches by the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal and in Spain. What I really value are specific beach tips and coordinates when it comes to the best of the best beach gems. I want to share two beach recommendations with you from our road trip along the Atlantic Coast in Portugal and in Andalucía in Spain.

The first one is Praia do Malhão around 2 hours (186 kilometres) by car from Lisbon. The beach is located 7 kilometres north of the town Vila Nova de Milfontes and it is best reached by your own (rental) car or by bike. The beach is beautiful, natural and peaceful (read: remote, no masses here), and the sea is quite wild. The best thing definitely was jumping against the mighty waves. The second best thing was having fresh and juicy cherries for lunch on the beach while sunbathing. A lunch tip: keep your eyes open for fruit stands by the roads: you can find such ripe and luscious fruit (cherries, watermelons, peaches and tomatoes) for a very affordable price.


The coastline is rocky with dunes and in the sea there are some large basalt rocks. The beach is situated next to the Sudoeste Alentejano natural park and therefore the coastline is empty of development. Hence there are no facilities (apart from the car park area). This suited us perfectly but might not make for an excellent beach day for someone who gets a craving for some snacks or wishes to rent beach tennis equipment, a body board or a sun chair.

The town Vila Nova de Milfontes was nice, peaceful and relaxed. We did a little stroll there and then around 4 pm were wondering if we could find a place for a late (second) lunch. And after a quick search we found the bistro Stress Free (on Rua Sarmento Beires 28). To me, one of the lovely joys of being on holiday is that we can live in a vacation rhythm that is rather different from the office life rhythm. Hence gotta love places that serve delicious lunch until the late afternoon and dinner until midnight. I’ve come to learn that I am a late (emphasis on late) Mediterranean diner. The lunch spot choice, Stress Free, served good food with laid-back vibes.


The second beach find is the Playa de Mazagón on the Costa de la Luz (the Coast of Light) in Huelva in Southwest Spain. Loved it during the day and especially loved it at sunset. The beach is long and beautiful, and in the evening you can walk a long way right toward the sunset. On the beach you can find a zone of sea shells of all shapes and forms.


We stayed at the Parador de Mazagón (on Carretera San Juan del Puerto-Matalascañas), overlooking the ocean. Parador in Spain refers to a certain kind of special accommodation where an old historic building (for example a castle) is turned into a hotel. If you’re looking for a pleasant place for relaxation, a game or two of tennis, dips in the ocean and watching the stars on your own balcony after dinner, then this might just be the spot for you in Huelva, the strawberry province of Spain.




El Rocío, the unique sand town





El Rocío just might be the most peculiar town in all of Spain. El Rocío is located in Andalucía, in the countryside of Almonte, in the Huelva Province. The town is also close to the Parque Nacional de Doñana, a significant national park where you can spot for example bobcats and flamingos. El Rocío’s surprise element is that its streets are completely covered with sand. The town exudes vibes of both a desert town and a classic western. You’ll find horse wagons, the poles for the horse rein, empty verandas, closed window shutters and dozens of swallows sprinting across the clear blue sky. And even a big thin dog passing by sluggishly. The dog almost looked like a prop of the town, playing a designed role in a movie-like scene.

But El Rocío is far from a deserted town. On our daytrip there we saw other fellow travellers, but the true boom takes place every Pentecost, Whitsunday. It is then, when the numerous pilgrims (hundreds of thousands of people!) doing the Romería de El Rocío gather in the town. The procession is done in honour of the Virgin of El Rocio.

In El Rocío there are the properties of more than one hundred brotherhoods (hermandades), whose members take part in the pilgrimage – many by foot, on horseback or in a horse-drawn cart. They begin their journeys from their headquarters, for example in Seville and Cadiz. This religious festival and feria draws people from all around Spain and the pilgrims are dressed in traditional Andalusian costumes, which means gorgeous flamenco dresses for the women. This festivity with the singing and dancing and dining around bonfires in the night time sounds both lively and interesting.

El Rocío is a fascinating day trip destination if you are roadtrippin in Andalucía. A strong recommendation. And remember to take your binoculars with you, if you are heading to the natural park afterwards for some fascinating (and rewarding) bird watching!