Friday, 28 October 2016

Look! Olvera is beautiful.

Seville to Olvera, 75 miles, Camping Pueblo Blanco, €17 per night, 2 nights 

We are heading next to Olvera, a pueblo blanco in the mountains a little to the north of Ronda. First we needed to extricate ourselves from Seville. Both times we have departed Autocaravansas Sevillia it has coincided with the arrival of a fully laden car transporter bumping down the pot-holed track towards us. The access road is too narrow for a truck and a motorhome to pass, so it involves reversing into a gateway to let the truck pass. Two years ago Gill needed to hop out and conduct matters, this time I edged backwards and reversed parked without assistance. I am more confident about manoeuvring Maisy in tight spots these days, practice may not, in truth, lead to being perfect, but I do feel a little less inept as a white van man than I did when we first embarked on our adventures. 

That being said, when we reached the roundabout at the end of the lane I was faced with a conundrum that remains a challenge. Do you believe the road signs or follow the sat-nav? The choice: a sign to the motorway pointing left saying all directions, or any sat-nav wishing to take us right, over the Puentes de la Delicias. My logic, we need the 'A' road to Utera not the motorway, so obey the voice of the ever insistent Muriel. Wrong decision. After the bridge we immediately became embroiled in the city's one way system involving low underpasses, ambiguous signage, scooter drivers with suicidal intent and the odd jay walker who I assumed is one of my bewildered friends from yesterday wandering his way to that special bench of dreams in Jardines de la Delicias. In the end Muriel wins and after only 10 minutes of stress and swearing we are trundling southwards towards Utera.

How you remember a landscape depends on the time of year. When we drove north towards Seville in late winter we were struck by how green the rolling fields seemed; they looked like a giant Tellytubbies set. The contrast was striking as we had spent the previous few weeks in the semi-desert Spaghetti Western badlands around Vera and the Capo de Gaeta. Today, the same fields are corduroy brown, neatly ploughed, with a few green shoots sprouting here and there; winter wheat we speculated. The landscape of treeless rolling arable land comes to an end suddenly near Puerto Serrano and you enter more mountainous terrain.

We pulled off the road and down the narrow lane towards the village. We failed to find a supermarket that might sell us some bread for lunch but we did spot signs to the Via Verde de la Sierra. It is this 30km bike trail that has brought us to this area. The old railway has been converted for cycling and runs from Puerto Serrano to Olvera. The plan was to explore the higher, more mountainous part of the trail which starts at Olvera, then return to Puerto Serrano in a few days and complete the trail from there.

It was a spectacular drive, but not challenging, the road towards Antaguara is wide, with crawler lanes on the steepest climbs specially provided for slow coaches like us. The ACSI camp site is 3km beyond Olvera occupying the whole side of a hill. It's terraced, but the roads are wide and the pitches level and of a good size, which is not always the case in hilly sites. There was nobody in reception when we turned up around 2.00pm. Eventually a guy arrived, and told us to pick a pitch and book in at 4.00 when reception re-opened. We were spoiled for choice, it's a big site and only about half a dozen other vans were parked up. The views beyond Olvera to the higher peaks near Zahara were stunning. After weeks of cloudy skies we rejoiced at the wall to wall blue. Whereas Seville had been hot, here in the mountains it was a perfectly windless 23 degrees. We were lucky, in windy weather the site would be somewhat exposed as it was only established in 2011 and the trees planted for shade and shelter are not yet mature.

The weather has been so unreliable of late the motorhome resembles a laundry van as there has been no opportunity to wash or dry clothes. So, priority number one was to wash a mountain of stuff -clothes, bedding and towels - three machine loads wafting on lines around the pitch.This sparked a outbreak of domesticity, Gill unearthed the sewing kit and repaired a curtain, I emptied the rear garage and removed the layer of sand and mud that builds up, mainly from the levelling ramps; you can't always give them a rince before putting them away. Now enthused about cleaning (a very rare state for me) I gave Maisy a wash. Gill said she could see a big difference, but she may have been being kind.

Awning out

Clear the garage - give it a clean

good sized pitch - washing wafting

running repairs....

scruffy garage - I failed to take an 'after' shot - it looks great now, honest.
That done we unloaded the bikes and went to explore the town. There can be few places more picture perfect than Olvera. Even the more modern outskirts are beautifully maintained. The ancient centre has Moorish origins and climbs to the top of a craggy out-crop, the main street so steep it's stepped. At the top is a Baroque monster of a church and the remains of a castle. The church is a mix of stone and stucco, the castle a cube of pale sandstone. Looking down from the plaza all the other buildings below are an avalanche of glistening white. Beyond, to the south, is the jagged outline of Sierra Margarita. In the opposite direction low sand coloured hills stretch to the horizon, some barren, others polka dotted with olive trees.

Even the grain store was amodernista architectural gem.
After clicking away merrily for a while we descended to the lower town and stopped at a café for coffees. The extended lunch was just ending and everyone seemed very jolly. Well, all the groups of Spanish people were busy exuding whatever the Spanish equivalent is of bonhomie. 

The grey haired American couple three feet behind us were more interested in critical analysis. First they took each ingredient of the meal they has just eaten, chicken, potato, onions, a garlicky sauce, and compared it other meals they had devoured across the globe. So the Spanish chicken was tasty, but not quite as flavoursome as Thai chicken, the patatas bravas delicious, but not quite as spicy as a side dish they once had on the Keys, and the garlicky sauce - well nobody does it quite like a Parisian chef, they agreed. The meal having now been correctly positioned in the context of global cuisine, they moved on to placing the countries of Europe into some kind of cultural hierarchy. Number one they both agreed was Frayance. Next was a matter of some contention, she favoured Idalee, but he made an impassioned case for Speean. As for Greyace, well Airthens apparently was 'up there', but the rest 'did not cut it'. Well, that summed it up for 'Yrup'. I wonder when people started talking in lists? Who invented the bullet point? Is PowerPoint an anathema to rational thought? 

In the unlikely event that the pair even noticed the unassuming English couple on the adjacent table, who sat quietly throughout and hardly exchanged a word, no, they were not conforming to some national stereotype of reticence and social reserve. They were observing, listening, and taking note, for the world is full of intriguing contradictions which confound and challenge the trite assumptions that Trip Advisor thinking constructs. What differentiates the tourist from the traveller is not where they go, but how they observe.



  1. The old problem of whether to believe the satnav. In UK I've got to the point where, if our Garmin tells us to turn off onto a road that has no signposts, it gets a stiff ignoring. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't!

  2. They can be very misleading, that being said, when driving in Europe, espcially in built up areas they are a bit of a boon. Especially as our Michelin road atlas which claims to have been updated in 2012 is clearly much more out of date than that. So, between the road atlas, sat-nav and Google maps on Gill's mobile most of the time we don't get lost. It helps that my co-pilot is an awesome navigator - and reads a map like a Geography student - which she was when we met 42 years ago - blimey, that's a bit of a statistic...