However lovely anywhere is (and I am of course thinking of my home town, Tarifa), it is wonderful to get away for a complete change from time to time.
Leaving the beach behind me (I can see it in my rear mirror) I head for Algeciras. It is a wonderful day, so Gibraltar lies ahead of me, indeed taking on the form of a pregnant lady lying on her back. It is wind-still. A flotilla of ships is moored outside the Gibraltar harbour. I drive on, turning off for San Roque/Jimena de la Frontera. As usual I am fascinated by the storks sitting proudly on their nests on top of the pylons to the right of the road. After exactly one hour (from Tarifa) I make the spontaneous decision to turn off left just before San Pablo de Buceite (watch for the signs for the station) at 12.45 and to my delight the restaurant La Estacion (tel.956 642224) is already open. I am the first (and only – I am very early) person to select a white-clothed table outside alongside the platform; I chose a beautifully presented dish of fish albondigas which was delicious. The new, modern train passed through but did not stop. Nieve (the owner of the restaurant who I have known now for around 20 years and she is as delightful and welcoming as ever) came and chatted. I told her I would love to go to one of her ‘musical evenings’ in the summer, but being alone am hesitant as I do not relish the drive back to Tarifa after midnight. ‘No need’ she said; ‘there is a delightful new B and B very nearby, let’s go there now and you can see it’. We were graciously received by the Canadian owners ... (see www.eldiplomaticofeo.com)in the house of my former very good friends who have returned to the UK. I knew they had sold the property, but had not expected to re-visit it in this way. Indeed it is charming and offers every comfort, so that has solved my problem for next summer. I already look forward to my stay.
By now 2 p.m., I drove on following the road to Ronda via Gaucin (where I stopped for petrol and a coffee) and some 35 minutes after Gaucin turned off right for Alpandeire. What a fabulous small road this is, surely one of the most beautiful in Andalucia. The scenery is stunning, varying from the valleys thickly populated with chestnut trees (alas, I was one week too early for them to be changing colour – the summer has remained with us for so long this year; when they do change to dark red and orange and yellow it is as if the whole Alto Genal valley is on fire, it is spectacular ... try the first weekend in November) to a moon landscape of bare rocks and then the sharp peaks of the mountain Los Riscos. Alpandeire is the first village and has a really excellent restaurant with homemade tapas (La Casa Grande – always check for opening hours/days : 952 180400)). This is followed by Juzcar, the ‘blue’ village – you like it or you don’t but it is certainly eye catching! This little road gets ever more beautiful, until you see the sign to your right for Cartajima – and you reach your journeys’ end at Hotel Los Castaños, the only boutique hotel in the village, perched on the top of the hill next to the church (the owner has ‘negotiated’ that the bells no long ring all night!). Providing I am not there, I suggest you ask for ‘my’ room, Room 3 – spacious and utterly comfortable, and in October the sun rises above the black line of the mountains opposite – spectacular. Di (owner) does meals on request (tel.952 180778) and she is a superb cook.
I read and relaxed in the sheer informal, cosy comfort of the lounge (with a glass in my hand ...) and in the eve ate tapas in the only bar opposite; noisy, and Spanish, and very ‘local’ but good tapas. I returned to Tarifa mid-morning on Monday which is ideal as there is hardly any traffic on the little, narrow road (quite some drops on one side!) and turned off (for a change) to San Martin de Tesorillo so I could visit a garden centre and also the shops in Nuevo Guadiaro.
As I came over the last hilltop after Algeciras and saw the wide expanse of the Tarifa beach below me, I felt excited to come home. The contrast of beach and mountains was exhilarating and worth every moment of the three and a half hour drive. TO BE RECOMMENDED !