Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mediterranean Walks....The Axarquía

The second post in my mini series of Mediterranean walks is about a trip we made at Easter to the Axarquía in Malaga. Conditions were perfect for walking in early April, the weather was good but the rain that had fallen during the winter meant that the countryside was at its best. We did this trip as part of an organised walking group, and our base was the coastal resort of Nerja.

On the first day, following the journey down from Madrid, we just did a short afternoon walk around the protected coastal zone of Cerro Gordo. This is an excellent viewpoint for the coast in both directions, and also inland towards the Sierra Nevada.

On day 2 we got down to the serious stuff. The routes we were to do were divided into two different levels, one for those who like to run up mountains, and another for those who like to be able to stop occasionally and admire the scenery. Normally I go with the latter group, I'm not in a hurry, but on this day the higher level group were doing the ascent of La Maroma and I decided to join them. Partly this was due to a (mistaken) feeling that I would get more spectacular views by going higher up.

The route begins from the village of Canillas de Aceituno and in total the ascent is around 1400 metres. For the first half of the walk I more or less held my own, although I couldn't help feeling a bit guilty each time I stopped to take a photo. Later on things got tougher, and as we got nearer the peak I started to fall a bit behind. The upper part of the walk is through a fairly barren and rocky landscape.

I set my own pace, and wasn't too worried as long as I could see those who were a short distance ahead of me. At one point this became difficult as we ascended up a rocky gully and for about 10 minutes or so I couldn't see anyone in front. It didn't help that clouds started moving in from the coast making visibility a bit poorer. The path is marked by cairns, but when all you see is rocks around you it becomes difficult to spot them. Also, as you get nearer the top you get multiple possible paths.

Eventually I made it, after one of those disappointing and deceptive moments where you think the ridge above you must be the summit, only to find that it's just a stepping stone on the way to the top. Although the coastal side was mostly obscured by cloud, there was still a fine view from the top over to the snows of the sierra Nevada. I had the feeling that the walk had still been done in two separate groups, me and the rest. I'd already decided that for the rest of the trip I would return to a more relaxing level.

The route returns the same way back to the village, making for a total distance of around 18 kilometres. I think I earned the cold beer in the village square at the bottom.

For the following two days we did routes beginning in the attractive village of Frigiliana. The first of these took us to the Fuente del Esparto. The route crosses a couple of rivers, and with the amount of rain that had fallen in previous months the vegetation was lush and a contrast to the dryer landscape we had seen the day before. It was a beautiful walk, and as I'd been reminded on La Maroma the best views are often had further down.

The intended route was to take us a bit beyond the fuente. However, a characteristic feature of going walking with a group is that you almost always have one person who doesn't like to walk with the rest. So it was that we lost a member of the group and our route came to a halt in a nearby picnic area as the guide had to go and look for him, eventually calling in the Guardia Civil to join the hunt. In the end it turned out that he had walked down to the nearest village. From the picnic area it's an easy walk down a dirt road to Cuevas de Nerja. Despite the interruption, it was still a great route to do.

On the last day we set out from Frigiliana in a different direction, climbing up to a hill known as El Fuerte. This is a relatively short route, we had a long trip ahead to return to Madrid, but it still involves ascending a few hundred metres from the village. The views were stunning, this was probably the clearest day we had on the trip. As well as the surrounding hills, we also could see La Maroma very well and the coastline stretching down towards Algeciras.

We had time in the village to have lunch and walk around a little. In the old part of Frigiliana there is a route to follow of ceramic plaques depicting the events of the rebellion of the moriscos in 1569 and its subsequent suppression.

I was very impressed by an area which I didn't know at all before this trip. There's an impressive variety of landscapes and scope for days of walking. Nerja made a good base too, I have no idea what it's like in peak season but at Easter it was an agreeable place to be. It makes a difference after a day's walking to finish the day relaxing by the sea.

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