The historic hilltop village of Castellar de la Frontera was our starting point for a hike through the oak trees and rolling countryside of Cadiz, down to the railway tracks in the valley below. This was the start of the walking and the chance to get a perspective of Mr Henderson’s railway, which is the thread that weaves throughout this tour of history, culture and gastronomy.
The wooded road down from the village gave way to a path through countryside, on past a ruined cortijo and onto fields of cotton and corn.
After a while we meet the tracks. Here the railway is at one of its widest points, which made for a great view. Although now modernised to carry international freight and local passenger train services, there are still one or two remnants of the original railway.
From here it’s a short distance to San Pablo station, now converted into a family run, gourmet restaurant. That’s the great thing about this tour – there’s hiking, plenty of fresh air and then, a gourmet meal is waiting for you!
Many of the vintage railway buildings along the way have been leased by the national railway company to private businesses and converted into restaurants. Each has been evaluated by Manni Coe and some like the Restaurante Estacion de San Pablo de Buceite have been selected to form part of the tour.
This place has a real charm. Although a working platform still runs in front of the restaurant, and trains pass from time to time, it has a peaceful and secluded atmosphere. The terrace restaurant is shaded and leafy, whilst inside can safely be described as welcoming and cosy, chockfull of railway artefacts and memorabilia.
The warm sunshine meant we could eat on the terrace, starting off with:
- Grilled artichokes with ham and garlic
- Goats cheese gratin with langoustines, dressed with sun-dried tomato and olive oil
Then we had a choice of:
- Iberico pork fillet with foie, accompanied by country potatoes and a Pedro Ximenez reduction
- Monkfish with seafood sauce, served with rice sautéed with pine nuts and raisins
The white wine flowed and I felt relaxed and satisfied after the hike!
It’s a seductive combination – country walks and home cooked, slow-food, using local ingredients. You get the chance to work up an appetite and then indulge, pretty much guilt-free. And with Toma Tours taking care of the transport drinking wine at lunchtime felt pretty much guilt free too!
Our host for the meal was Samuel, the son of the owner, who provided the natural, personal service that often only family run restaurants can deliver. It’s clear they are proud of their valley, the railway and their local produce. Although normally closed this week, Toma Tours has secured a private lunch for us, all part of the private tour.