Had a wonderful day hiking with guide and qualified ornithologist Eve Monika Bratek,and Karl in the mountains near Benaojan and Montejaque.
I am preparing a piece for the newspaper, so I will post the clipping here once it published.
(Hiking photos by Karl at www.provision360.com)
We later dined at the beautiful Molino del Santo, where are stayed overnight.
Here is my article:
is a great time to dust off those hiking boots and enjoy the cooler mountain
air; but don’t be too earnest. Make sure there’s a slap up meal and a comfy room
waiting for you at day’s end.
Steep craggy rocks stood at each
side of the dramatic gorge, typical of the limestone landscape of this eastern
edge of the Grazalema protected Natural Park.
Echoing through the wide, sunlit pass was the call of raptors in the sky
Looking up, Griffon Vultures soared
and circled overhead, exploiting thermals to swiftly cover the kind of distances,
with barely a flap of their wings that had taken us some hours to walk since breakfast.
It’s an extraordinary experience to
be in such a dramatic landscape surrounded by nature; the feeling of freedom
that these stunning spaces evoke is liberating. Despite being in such
unfamiliar territory, we were in safe hands, as we’d opted to use a qualified
and insured walking guide, Eva Monika Bratek, to take us through these
staggering mountains north west of Ronda.
Eva knows the sierra better than
most, and as a qualified ornithologist, her knowledge of the flora and fauna
really brings the landscape alive.
We were some four hours into our
hike when Eva identified the vultures’ nesting site and the source of the unusual
sounds filling the canyon. The high specification scope that she’d been
carrying over her shoulder was swiftly set up on its tripod and within moments
we were viewing in startling clarity these enormous birds on their stony,
inaccessible ledge some 30 metres above. Immense adult birds were regularly touching
down and taking off from their craggy cliff face home, whilst some juveniles
looked out across the horizon.
The park has a surprising array of
raptors, including four types of eagle. In just a few hours we had spotted the
short-toed eagle, booted and also a Bonelli eagle, distinctive by its command
of the sky with swift and agile movements. To be honest though I don’t think,
without the guide’s insightful knowledge, we would have been able to distinguish
so effectively between the different birds of prey. At a time when so many
large birds are rare or endangered it is a real privilege to see them in such
Close by on an equally precipitous
ledge with commanding views, was a female Ibex, with her calf. Relaxing in the
autumn sunlight they were sheltered by huge boulders. Although the mother
appeared docile in this safe location, this species of mountain goat, still
relatively common in the Grazalema natural park, is highly alert and super
agile. They are able to swiftly escape predators along steep, stony and
Our morning had started early. We
met in the modest market square of Montejaque, already busy with market traders
and villagers at eight thirty in the morning. A strong coffee gave me the kick
start I needed and we were soon heading off to the ‘Cueva de la Pileta’.
This protected cave is still
privately owned, and worth exploring. There are Palaeolithic drawings and
paintings to discover; prehistoric art in charcoal, as well as red and yellow
ochre. This is no theme park experience – it is practically untouched, so
decent footwear is essential to negotiate the slippery cave floor as you walk
through low narrow arches equipped with a vintage gas lamp provided by the
The first autumn rains reignite
colour in the landscape, with a mass of seeds and bulbs bursting into life that
have lain dormant for months. In Spring time the colours are even more vibrant,
punctuated with some thirty species of orchid that can be found in the
Off season hikes are a wonderful way
to welcome the cooler, more comfortable temperatures. All that exercise needs
to be rewarded and few things feel as good as a satisfying meal after a day’s
walking. Often hiking in Spain’s natural parks means nothing more than a
straight forward meal in a simple B&B; but not when you hiking in the Ronda
Mountains. Hidden in a river valley in the sleepy village of Benaojan is the
Molino del Santo Hotel.
Molino del Santo has been one of Andalucía’s
best kept secrets for years. British couple Andy and Pauline Chapell converted this
ancient mill on the banks of a mountain stream 25 years ago and have been offering
friendly hospitality ever since. The rooms have very comfortable beds, an
important consideration for any walker, and feature thoughtful touches such as
tea and coffee making facilities that go down well with guests. The period
salon with its original millwheel is a great place to put your feet up and
enjoy some of the hotel’s walking and nature books; whilst front desk has details
of a number of self-guided and guided walks available for guests.
The country hotel offers the
opportunity to enjoy the nature on its doorstep and then return to indulge in
local and regional dishes made from seasonal ingredients.
Over dinner we share good humoured
banter with Victor our waiter, who is also an expert on local Ronda wines.
Before long, much of the health benefits of our hike are being somewhat eroded
by another bottle of desert wine that goes so well with the triple-chocolate
Breakfast, taken on the river
terrace in dappled sunshine certainly is a great way to ease into the day with
tired limbs from the walk and a thick head from the night before! Whilst tucking into some buttery croissants a
graceful eagle glides overhead, making me want to head out into the park all
This content of mine has also been posted in the Secret Andalucia website which is definately worth a visit.