A Road Trip through Andalusia Part 2 – Hiking in Parque del Estrecho

Tarifa is situation right next to the Natural Park del Estrecho, making it really the destination for sports lovers on land or water. If you have a spare 4 to 5 hours, no fear of cows and good foot wear, I’d definitely recommend the hike starting at the edge of town.

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Starting point is the end of the harbour, simple walk along the seafront, past the town center, the ferry arrival terminal and below the Plaza de Santa Maria. You can’t miss the entrance to the Natural Park, it’s all very well sign posted.

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The first 10 minutes take you through meadows and across a few small streams, until you get to the path that takes you back down to the coast. I can highly recommend this hike during spring, it’s simply beautiful. Everything is bathed in fresh shades of green and colourful flowers as far as the eye can reach. If you love photography as much as I do you’ll be in your elements.

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After having descended towards the coast, we hit our first obstacle – free-roaming cows. Now don’t get me wrong, we are not talking wild west bulls or torero-like beasts. Rather cow families, with their off-springs and the odd bull here and there. But still – terrifying, as they were way to interested in us! Hence, we decided to be very brave for the first hurdle but then very quickly went off-route and climbed down the cliffs to the beach where we continued the walk instead of on the signed path. It’s definitely doable and breath-taking scenery.

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The path overall is very well sign-posted and you can easily add you own flavour by going off-route here and there, climb a few hills or descend down to the sandy beach line. We stopped in a perfect little cove for our picnic and instead of doing a u-turn, climbed up the hills to the highest point to re-join an agricultural road taking us back to Tarifa.

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You’ll find a lot of evidence of Tarifa’s military importance on this hike, there are lots of trenched, bunkers as well as canon look-outs, which gives it quite an eery feel.

After 5 hours of solid walking, we happily returned with a bag full of stunning photos, 2,000 burned calories and a couple of achy legs. Highly recommend this way of exploring the natural beauty of south-west Spain!

 

A Road Trip through Andalusia Part 1 – Tarifa

We are off-season travelers and wanted to explore a bit more of the area we will soon be calling our new home. So far, we’ve seen a lot of inland Andalucia north and east of Malaga – it’s beautiful mountains, desert landscapes, rough rocky national parks and turquoise lakes. What is still missing in my travel diary is the west coast of southern Spain.

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We started off in Malga and drove along the coast, past Marbella and Estepona, leaving all the resort towns with their bunkers of hotels behind us. Soon we could see the Rock of Gibraltar at the horizon and the streets were lined with ads for the 1 hour ferry trip to Morocco, Tangier. Again, we passed swiftly – our final destination was Tarifa.

Edged right at the most southern part of Spain’s coast and one of the world’s most popular destinations for wind sports, Tarifa definitely has the surfer flair of Biarritz, the wide, white sandy beaches of any Caribbean Island and the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Off-season traveling is awesome as it means you have most places to yourself. In Tarifa it meant we got whacked by hurricane gusts and waterfalls from heaven. Or we just chose the completely wrong weekend.

Our first 24 hours were spend inside, desperately trying to dry our wet jeans, trainers and coats in the humid Spanish air after a failed attempt to venture out to find dinner. After the first storm passed, we got 3 hours of mercy the next day to explore the stunning beach of Playa de Los Lances, the number 1 kite surfing spot in Europe.

After burning around 600 calories just trying to not get blown over during our 30 minutes beach “stroll”, we headed away from the cost into the older part of town, through the historic Puerta de Jerez (the only entrance through the old Moorish city walls that remains today of the four original ones) down cobbled streets. We passed and couldn’t resist one of Tarifa’s most famous bakeries, Confiteria La Tarifena, where we bought our diabetic-unfriendly lunch of 4 Spanish donuts, Moroccan Truffles and a mourish apple clafoutis.  The sugar tax would have gone through the roof but it was worth it.

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Tarifa has just about the right mix of chilled surfer town, sleepy seaside village and Mediterranean outdoor living with a slight touch of Morocco. The main cobbled street leading towards the Iglesia de San Mateo is lined with orange trees, authentic tapas bars and small restaurants. Just locals and us with our monster of a cake parcel – the perk of the off-season traveler.

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A January day in Andalucia

Visiting southern Spain in the depth of January has been quite the experience – from arriving in balmy Malga, driving 40 minutes up the mountains into a snow storm and waking up the next day to beautiful blue sky – we saw it all in mere 48 hours.

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A quiet spot by the Caste over-looking the region of Cordoba

We are currently on the hunt for a home in the mountains of Andalusia and I’m very glad we’ve seen this wintery side of the region – nothing is more beautiful than snow covered olive trees and the air absolutely still with all the insects having retired for winter. There is something very moody about southern Spain in the winter, as if it is slightly out of its comfort zone with temperatures below 10 . But I love walking through the empty little villages with their terracotta slated streets and greek-blue flower pots in utter protest against these colder temperatures and cloudy skies. I love that I can have it all to myself without the swarms of tourist.

This time around we visited Iznájar, a small white-washed mountain village in the Córdoba province of Andalusia. In the summer it is a busy resort overlooking the Embalse de Iznájar, one of Spain’s largest water reservoirs with a little beach. In the winter, it is snuggled up to the mountains, still bravely displaying its love for colours with hundreds of flower pots and small squares.

Colmar – fairy tale city break

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Colmar is one of those villages you’d find in a snow globe, that’s how beautiful and charming it is. The very well preserved historical old town with its cobbled streets is a bit of a time trap, taking you back several hundred of years. Being part of the Alsace Wine Route, it attracts tourists from all over the world, and occasionally it comes quite close to Disneyland – the same curse Venice is currently struggling with. But there are enough quiet streets of the beaten track where you can enjoy an authentic cafe au lait and croissant and just wander the streets, taking in the architecture and immense history this place radiates.

Top tip from my side – breakfast at Au Croissant Doré, a hidden gem run by an old lady where you are welcomed like family and help clear your own dishes once finished. A trip down memory lane.

Worth a visit: the food market hall – the permanent terroir market at Place St Joseph –  with its extensive food stands, selling local produce and some of the best local wines. A stunning red brick building build in 1865, right in the middle of Colmar’s little Venice.

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“In many ways we are all sons and daughters of ancient Greece.” (Nia Vardalos)

It wouldn’t be a normal summer without an escape to beautiful Greece. Having spend a fair amount of time in the Cyclades and Aegean Sea, this year’s destination is Kefalonia, an island in the Ionian Sea, west of mainland Greece, marked by sandy coves and dry rugged landscapes.

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Kefalonia is one of the larger islands I’ve been to, and when you hire a car you will quickly come to recognise the endless amount of rugged, desert-like countryside in between the little villages and towns. There are many faces to the Island and the vegetation changes quickly from bone dry to luscious pine, cypress and olive tree groves. Well known for its wine production, at the foot of Mt. Anos vineyards produce the popular Kefalonian Robola wine variety.

We chose to stay far far away from the touristy resorts, which nowadays destroy the authenticity of any Greek island. If you are in the same boat as me, avoid the southern coast of the island. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find a nice beach down there, but you will also find half of the UK and mainland Europe slurping a cocktail next to you.

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Our place of choice – Agia Efimia, a little fishing village with a small harbour, tucked away on the east coast of the island. The village is small but has everything you would want – breathtaking sea views, authentic tavernas, 3 local supermarkets, 1 meat market and a number of very well equipped bakeries. The village is a bit off the beaten path but also the favourite holiday spot for Greeks who come to visit the island. Localisation – tick!

We managed to bag a studio right by the edge of the water – Ballas Apartments is an absolute insider tip. The photos on Booking.com don’t make the location justice and the views of the apartments is breathtaking. Stravos is a great host, welcoming you with bottles of local Kefalonian wine and home-made baklava from the village bakery. Your balcony opens up to the Ionian sea and every morning at 7am an amazing sunrise greets you to start the day. The property has a large outside space with Bougainvillea bushes, olive trees and lots of space to lounge if you want to descend from your own private balcony. Some steep steps allow you to access the water straight from the property – absolute bliss in the mid-day heat.

So far we have spend our days watching the harbour activity, sailing boats arriving or heading off for a day of exploring. Wandering into the village to buy some local produce for lunch, cooking some local recipes. Enjoy an aperitif on the balcony watching the sunset. Walking into the village for dinner in one of the tavernas. What more could you want?