CIVITA: A ‘dying village’ born again

Another lazy Sunday afternoon, thinking I should be gardening, blogging or doing something more useful, and then I opened The Observer, my Sunday paper of choice, to find a picture of a village I’d visited back in 2004, and I shot awake.

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The village was Civita di Bagnoregio and there was a whole page article (well, almost a whole page) about the place which, when we’d been there was deserted, save for a few cats and the charming owner of a small, inky-dark, Bodega into which we’d wandered.  It was June and there were blazing logs in the open fireplace.  Deserted wasn’t the word to describe the village.  It was the sort of place you felt you would want to leave come sundown as ghosts seemed to haunt its medieval streets.

What has brought about the article in today’s paper is the fact that Civita has become the first area in Italy to charge tourists for visiting.  Venice, where marches against tourism are a regular event, may care to take a lesson from the Mayor, Francesco Bigiotti, who made the decision to charge visitors for accessing the footbridge to the town in 2013 when the charge was 1.50 Euros, raised to 3 Euros this year with 5 Euros on Sundays.

Not only does this small fee enable the mayor to monitor the numbers entering the hamlet, it has also meant that communal taxes have been abolished in Civita and nearby Bagnoregio (pop.3,650) of which he is also Mayor, but it has provided much-needed employment.  In fact, the town has zero unemployment now.  Four hundred jobs have been created via two hundred new tourism-linked businesses that have emerged in the past few years.  And there’s more: there is now transport for disabled local people and an improved health service.  With an estimated 850 visitors due this year, the charge has obviously not had a detrimental effect on tourism.

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Back in 2004, our party of nine people had been staying at a nearby agriturismo farmhouse in Aquapendiente in Italy’s Lazio region, and one of the places recommended for a visit with our hire car had been Civita.  There is no access for cars so visitors must be prepared for the walk across the sloping footbridge.  We’d visited Orvieto, Siena and other surrounding towns and this fascinating cobble-stoned village built high on a plateau of volcanic rock surrounded by steep ravines promised to be a complete contrast.

Lying approximately 74 miles north of Rome Civita was founded by the Etruscans nearly 2,500 years ago and its year-round population is only 10 people.   It was known as ‘the dying town’ due to floods, landslides and earthquakes that constantly threaten its survival.  In 2014 and 2015, some of the old properties plunged into the ravine when the sides of the outcrop on which they were built gave way.

Cappella-in-CitivaOnce at the top of the footbridge, you are faced with a huge stone gateway, the entrance, through which you arrive at the main Piazza which contains a 12th-century church with a bell tower.   Off this are meticulously maintained streets of old stone houses, some of which have now been turned into holiday homes.  At sunset the stones glow golden, softening the aspect of what could seem fortress-like.

I have no hesitation in recommending Civita as a perfect day-trip from any of the neighbouring towns, Siena, Orvieto, even Rome or Florence, if you have transport and are willing to hike up to the village, but remember, there is no post office, supermarket, chemist, doctor or hospital.

 

Road to CitivaThe site is under consideration to be given world heritage status by UNESCO and two important names from the world of cinema are backing this, Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone and director Bernardo Bertolucci.  But even if it is not successful, the outlook seems positive for Civita which will live once again, thanks to a tax on tourism.

Now, let’s see Venice do likewise.

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I acknowledge, with thanks, the information on the Mayor’s initiatives which I got from the article by Angela Giuffrida in The Observer of 20th August 2017, on p.21

The photographs are mine all dating from 2004.

 

 

A CRETAN VILLAGE WITH 2 MUSEUMS

Crete is the largest island in Greece, a place of dramatic mountain ranges and gorges dotted with ancient ruins and architecture from the medieval period onwards.  Known as the cradle of civilisation and the birthplace of Zeus, the island provides the backdrop for many of the Greek myths and legends we are familiar with.

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Throughout the mountains are scattered hamlets and villages and high in the dramatic White Mountains not far from Chania, lies the village of Therissos, which has not just one, but two museums.  One would be unusual in a place of this size (pop. just over 100) but to find two is extraordinary.

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The Modern Resistance Museum

I visited the village two years ago when I was staying at Malarme on the coast, mainly to visit the Museum dedicated to the Greek resistance in World War II which I had heard about in the course of my studies in war history.

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Home-of-the-great--Eleftherios-Venizelos
Home of the great patriot, Eleftherios Venizelos

Sadly, my interest in the wars in which my own country had been involved had led me to neglect local Greek history.  I had a lot to learn about the resistance of Therissos over many decades, centuries one might say.

Talking to local people, I soon realized that the important museum for them was the one dedicated to the great Greek patriot and politician, Eleftherios Venizelos who fought for Cretan independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1887, who became the island’s first independent Prime Minister in 1905 and then Prime Minister of Greece in 1910.   Of more importance to the locals, however, was the fact that Venizelos was actively involved in the drafting of the Cretan constitution, that he took part in the armed uprising in 1905 which deposed Prince George, and that he negotiated the unification of Crete with Greece.

He lived in Therissos and his house is now a museum dedicated to Venizelos and other local people who were involved in the struggles for freedom from the Ottomans.

The other museum, one dedicated to World War ll, is a purpose built modern space with few artefacts but many pictures and letters.  Unfortunately, not many of these are translated but sometimes a volunteer is on hand who can help with this.  Entry is so cheap I felt duty bound to leave a large donation as it is purely self-supporting.  It is very local to the young men who died fighting the Germans in the mountains, a bloody conflict that is known for the savagery on both sides.

Photo from Resistance Museum in Therissos

Some of the pictures are harrowing and deal with the war on the mainland as well as the war on Crete, pictures of starving children, scenes from the village of Kandonos which was burned to the ground in retaliation for the killing of 50 Germans, and pictures of the terrible life lived by the villagers during the harsh winters.

War Memorial in Maloliopoulo

The savagery on both sides was legendary, from the locals shooting parachutists out of the sky in cold blood to the occupying forces, shooting whole families and villages on what often seemed a whim.

It is difficult to take all this in, surrounded as one is by a landscape of such beauty.

 

The-Dotto-Train-navigates-the-Therisso-Gorge I journeyed up from the coast on the little ‘Dotto’ train with which most of us are familiar in cities and resorts, but in this case, it traversed the famous Therisso Gorge.  It surged up the hill in under an hour, through magnificent scenery, the air heady with the scent of herbs, great swathes of wild thyme, rosemary, pine, marjoram, oregano, and fennel. Many of the olive trees along the side of the road are hundreds of years old and behind the rocky caves can be glimpsed walnut, almond, hazelnut and chestnut trees.

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Mountain Goats

In the village itself, red, white and pink oleander trees bloomed, the scent mingling with the smell of cooking from the little tavernas that were operating, some with open wood fires and all serving delicious Greek salads and fresh fish, alongside local dishes infused with the scent of pine seeds, olive oil and fennel.

The little Dotto train allowed about two or three hours for a visit, long enough to wander around the village, have some lunch and still have to time visit both museums.

I enjoyed the trip so much I went back a second time a few days later and spent more time in the museums, reading the letters with the help of a student and trying to come to grips with what had happened here where the resistance hid out for many years during the second world war, harried and hunted like animals, during bitter winters of extreme cold, and parched summers of extreme heat.

The photographs tell a tragic tale and I am haunted by them still.

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Best books on the history of the Battle of Crete:

Crete:  The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor (John Murray, Paperback – a division of Hodder Headline (1991).  Still regarded as the best history of Crete during WW11

The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis (trans. by Patrick Leigh Fermor):  John Murray, Paperback (first published 1955).  A first-hand account by one of the partisans from the mountains.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Texture

Both my ‘texture’ pictures come from Bratislava, a lovely city where old traditions are still honoured, lace making is still practised by ladies who sit in the square with their spools of white cotton, and where the coffee house is an institution.

This first picture definitely reminds me of texture.  Before visiting I had read about the fabulous Bratislava chocolate and couldn’t wait to try it.  It was a cold, rainy day and I was looking forward to some hot drinking chocolate with a dollop of cream on top. No one had told me that it is a liquid chocolate eaten with a spoon.  Texture.

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Coffee at Macimillians, Bratislava

My second texture is also nostalgic.  This was a sweet-shop in the centre of town with an array of boiled sweets, caramels, toffees and chocolates, that so reminded me of my childhood.  I could taste the texture of the clove sweets, the bullseyes, and the fruit caramels but I ended up buying some delicious chocolates.  You guessed it, I’m a chocoholic.

Old Fashioned Sweet shop

Weekly Photo Challenge – UNUSUAL

 

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St. Lucia in the Caribbean

I couldn’t resist this one.  I also saw it printed in very large white letters on a wall in the downtown area but it was in an area in which one felt uneasy taking photos so I didn’t even take my camera out.

It reminded me that we once had notices all over the place, including buses and trains, that said: “Do Not Spit”.  How times have changed.

 

Strasbourg – Cross Roads of Europe

With the UK about to depart the EU after the 2016 Referendum, albeit with only an extremely narrow margin of Leave votes, my thoughts turned to my visit a few years ago to that lovely city, Strasbourg, site of the European Council and European Parliament.

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This delightful city, full of medieval churches and half-timbered houses seems to have become a byword for what some in the UK see as a hijacker of British sovereignty.   Which is a shame, because it is blinding people to an elegant, international city of great charm that in the Middle Ages was referred to as The Crossroads of Europe.  At that time, goods from the Baltic, Britain, the Mediterranean and the Far East poured across the borders to be traded for wines, grain and fabrics and just like today, when the languages of the 46 member states can be heard in the squares and streets of the city, traders speaking a dozen different languages, met and conducted business.  People from different countries working together and mingling in Strasbourg’s squares means that the city continues to be the crossroads of Europe.

Once a free city within the Holy Roman Empire, Strasbourg later came under periods of French and German rule, which has given the ancient centre a unique appeal, enhanced by the half-timbered Medieval houses that sit alongside elegant French-style mansions.  In 1988, UNESCO classified Strasbourg as a World Monument, the first time such an honour was given to an entire city centre.

It is an easy place for visitors to discover, as the traffic problems that beset most big cities have been solved here with a combination of canal boats, a sleek and comfortable light rail system, local buses, and pedestrianised squares.  Although it presents itself as a folksy-like small town, Strasbourg is very international, cosmopolitan and multilingual.

GRAND ILE ISLAND

This is the historic part of the city where you will find the main sights and using the 142-metre high spire of the Cathedral as your landmark, you will soon find your way around Strasbourg.

The city’s charm has much to do with its canals which surround the Grand Ill island where the Petite France, is located.  A 70-minute boat trip (open-top in fine weather) on Batorama’s Twenty Centuries of History, circumnavigates the whole of the Grande-Île before skirting the 19th-century German Quarter.  The turn-around point and good photo opportunity is where the European Parliament, Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights are head-quartered, a magnificent architectural display of concrete, steel and glass.

Flags-of-all-Nations

If you take the boat cruise, the Vauban Dam will be pointed out, a defensive lock which allowed the entire southern part of the city to be flooded in times of war will be pointed out.  It is near the confluence of canals by the Pont Couverts.

 

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They even grow grass between the tramlines in the street

Walking around the canals, especially in the early part of the year when everything seems green and lush and the spring flowers are out in abundance, is an equally attractive method of seeing the main sights.  This is a city that loves nature and it takes pride in decorating every bridge and windowsill with baskets of flowers, changed according to the seasons.

PETITE FRANCE, STRASBOURG (a UNESCO site)

 

The number one attraction in Strasbourg is Petite France, the historic part of town, a photographic cluster of 16th and 17th-century half-timbered houses reflected in the waters of the canal.  These houses were originally built for the millers, fishermen and tanners who used to live and work in this part of town.  If you have taken the boat tour, you may like also to take a tour of the historic centre with an audio guide (€5.50) from the Tourist Office which will introduce you, via a winding route through the narrow streets, to a truly fascinating old town.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL Opening hours: 7am-7pm

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The Cathedral, an imposing red sandstone edifice, stands alone in its square and towers above the city.  It was the tallest building in the world until the 19th century and is the second most visited cathedral in France after Notre Dame in Paris, receiving 4 million visitors a year.  Built in 1439 it is considered to be an outstanding masterpiece of Romanesque and late Gothic art with outstanding 12th-century stained glass windows. Inside is one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks.

Try to get to the cathedral by noon to get a good viewpoint for the 12.30 display of the famous Astronomical Clock.  The procession of sixteenth-century automata was designed to remind us of our mortality.   Afterwards, you can climb 332 steps to the platform below the cathedral’s twin towers for a stunning view.

The narrow street that leads to the cathedral and the Place de Cathedral is the liveliest place in Strasbourg, especially in summer, and are filled with outdoor restaurants that remain open late into the night.  Entertainment is in the form of jazz musicians, mimes and clowns.

 

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This is the oldest house in Strasbourg

 

And finally, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market has a high reputation but its popularity may be its undoing.  After a few evenings of mulled wine, yuletide cake, Silent Night and Adeste Fidelis, a spring or autumn visit begins to look very attractive.

But Strasbourg is a city that has a very special charm at any time of the year and the organisations that dominate its life are what still guarantees peace in Europe.  If you are looking for culture, cuisine and character, Strasbourg is hard to beat.

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A few recommended eating places:  Expect the usual French coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, crème Brulee and crepe Suzette, but be prepared also for the German influence of pork and sauerkraut.

First up though, is wine.  Strasbourg is the capital of one of France’s premier wine regions and if you are in the mood to sample some of the best, head for Terres à Vin, 1 Rue du Miroir, tel +33 3 88 51 37 20, with several by-the-glass options from €3.20 to over €10).

Pain d’Epices, 14 Rue des Dentelles, for indulgent gingerbreads and cake and for the heady scents of spices.

Master-Patissier, Christian Mayer, offers a tea room second to none in Strasbourg at 10 Rue Mercière, just a few yards from the cathedral.

Maison Kammerzell 16 Place du Cathédrale, tel +33 3 88 32 42 14, where the oldest section dates back to 1427, is a Strasbourgeon institution.  Occupying rooms on four floors, you can sample the house speciality of fish sauerkraut if you fancy that but there are many less thought-provoking dishes from which to choose, average €40 for three courses.

Au Pont Corbeau, 21 Quai Saint-Nicolas, tel +33 3 88 35 60 68, – a warm and welcoming place where the onion soup is so thick you could stand your spoon up in it.  A modest but excellent wine list available.  Average €32 for three courses.

The Batorama Tour departs from the quai outside Palais Rohan, adults €12.50.

A ticket with unlimited tram and bus trips valid for 24 hours is available for €4.30. Also, you can rent bikes (vélhop) for $5 per day.

Tourist Office, 17 Place de la Cathédrale

Weekly Photo Challenge – Bridges

Just literally bridges.  I thought of all sorts of ways in which to interpret the challenge, but when I started looking through my photos I decided to go with the obvious.  It’s too hot for serious thinking today, so here is a selection of some of my favourite bridges.

Above – Sur le Pont d’Avignon

Amsterdam, Triana Bridge Spain, and Ponte Vecchio Florence, Italy

Rome, Italy:  Pisa, Italy: and the famous painted bridge at Lucerne, Switzerland

La Somail, France, Linked houses in Strasboug, Williamstad, Curaco from our cargo boat.

Sur-le-Pont-d'Avingnon,-France

The Daddy of them all – the bridge at Avignon, France.

 

 

A Sandwich on the Bosphorus

Looking through photographs taken in Istanbul some years ago, I came across some images of the fishermen selling their catch from boats on the Bosphorus and was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia.  Nostalgia for those simpler days in Turkey when Kemal Ataturk was revered by everyone, the secular state was praised and remarked on with pride by the Turks we met, and the food, hospitality, and people were second to none.

In fact, I wondered as I ate dinner every night, why people raved so much about French cooking.  I thought the Turks had them licked.

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But, to the sandwich.   I’d joined the Istanbul locals as they queued by the Galactica Bridge where a couple of fisherman in a bobbing boat with nothing more than a primus stove, a frying pan, a heap of freshly caught fish, crusty bread, and big, yellow, lemons, provided the best takeaway I’d ever had.   I pointed to my choice of fish, it was fried, slapped between two pieces of bread, and a gourmet sandwich worthy of at least one Michelin star was handed up to me as I stood on the bridge.

Impossible to eat elegantly.  This sandwich demanded two hands wrapped around it, and with the absence of napkins, the oil did make rather a mess, covering mouth and chin in a scented, herby, grease, that encouraged one to lick fingers clean.

Istanbul is a great place for snacking and the food is fresh, tasty and clean.  Apart from the open charcoal grills where succulent marinated meats are singed before your eyes, there are shops selling simple dairy dishes like herb yoghurt with sweet garlic and a very tasty rice pudding.  Over 1000 bakeries in the city sell freshly made baklavas, almond cakes and melt in the mouth pastries (it was the Turks who introduced the Austrians to strudel pastry as they hammered on the gates of Vienna in the 17th century).

A short post today, brought about by a bit of time-wasting as I took a stroll down memory lane.

Bazaar in Istanbul - Carpets

San Francisco’s Cable Cars

My first time in San Francisco and I felt as though I were in a state of shock.  It looked just like the movies but it was real, very real.   From the “Vietnam vets.” hustling for dollars and dimes at Fisherman’s Wharf and Haight Ashbury, to the open-sided cable cars grinding and ringing their way up and down those vertical hills, this was a movie-set.

Most great cities are walkable – with the exception of Los Angeles – and San Franscisco is no exception.  The one great drawback to this accessibility however, it that it is exremely hilly. But somehow, transfixed by the trolley-cars that rattle up those perpendicular slopes and listening to either the fog-horns in the Bay or the sound of itinerant Mexican musicians – depending on the weather – you forget the hills and throw yourself into the joy of being in San Franscisco, riding the cable cars, eating at Fisherman’s Wharf, taking trips on the Bay, gazing at the Rock (Alcatraz), and watching the sun goes down on The Golden Gate Bridge.

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If you ride the cable cars, there are a few things you should know.

There are three cable car routes in the city, but the two that offer the most attractive rides are the Powell-Mason and PowellHyde lines.  At Powell and Market streets, the cable car turntable serves as the beginning stop for the Powell-Mason line which runs from there up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Powell-Hyde line starts from the same turntable and runs up over Nob Hill and Russian Hill before coming to a halt near Ghiradelli Square. Both lines take significantly different routes and end at different areas near Fisherman’s Wharf so it is important to know where in Fisherman’s Wharf you want to arrive.

For the best views when travelling, you want to be on the side that faces the bay.  That means the right-hand side for cars leaving from downtown and the left-hand side for cars leaving from the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Fisherman's Wharf

The California Street line runs East-West from the Financial District, through Chinatown, over famous Nob Hill and stops at Van Ness Avenue. Since all the cars on this line have the same routes, the signs are painted directly on the car.

Looking down from one of SFs most famous streets

The Powell/Hyde line ends up close to Ghirardelli Square famous for its shopping and chocolates, and the Vietnamese restaurant owned by Don Johnson, the ‘Ana Mandara’.  Lombard Street is known as the “world’s cmost crooked street” and if you want to take some great pictures, then you should get off at Lombard.  If you plan to stay on, make sure your camera is at the ready because at the top of Hyde and Lombard you will have an unobstructed view of San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island, way, way down in the Bay.

San Frans view with Golden Gate Bridge and AlcatrazAt the end of this line (at Hyde and Beach) is The Buena Vista Cafe, where the locals insist that Irish Coffee was born.  Don’t believe it.  I’m with the good folk of Shannon Airport who claim to have invented it many years ago to comfort passengers held up by fog in the days when Shannon was a mere stop-off point for the ‘planes to the USA.  What makes me so sure is that I doubt if the rich cream you need for an Irish Coffee – and that you get at Shannon – would be served in the USA as it would be too calorie rich!

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The Powell / Mason line also passes close to Lombard Street but it is at the bottom, so the view you get is of the crooked street, like the postcard pictures you will see everywhere around.  The Powell/Mason stops off in North Beach, a quick walk to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf near Pier 39, near some good eateries.  Best thing to do from here is to walk down to the Wharf and get one of those famous San Francisco sourdough bread bowls.

The California/ Van Ness car rides through the hills of the Financial District and hits the top of Nob Hill where you’ll find the most stunning views of the city.  For a real treat, go to the 19th Floor of the Mark Hopkins (Top of the Mark) and sip a dry martini, listen to some jazz and feel the buzz.

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Another popular drinking hole is The Nob Hill Tavern at California and Hyde. Polk Street is good for shopping before the cable car makes its way down the hill to Van Ness where it stops and goes back the other direction.  And just to throw in a bit of culture, if you’re into Gothic architecture, make sure to check out Grace Cathedral at California and Taylor.

Alcatraz XXX

The cable cars start at 06.00 and finish at midnight.  Single cable car tickets were $7.00 when I was there, a 1-Day visitor passport was $21.00, a 3-day was $32.00 and a 7-day $42.00. There are trips around the rock of Alcatraz with its sinister watchtowers, from $33 to $110, the more expensive boat ride including a stop on the island and a tour of the grim penitentiary which once held Al Capone, The Birdman, and ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly.

BIRD WATCHING IN MALAGA

I never thought I’d find myself on a bird-watching walk as although I’m fond of all feathered creatures, spending time in their contemplation is not something that I ever imagined I would do on holiday.  Yet on my recent trip to Malaga with SilverSpain.com I became just as enthusiastic as any died-in-the-wool bird-watcher when I joined the walk through the wetlands of the Desembocdura del Guadalhorce Natural Park.

The name is quite a mouthful (it means river mouth of the Guadalhorce), but the simplicity of the place, the peace and tranquillity to be found just 20 Km. outside the city was something I hadn’t expected: nor had I expected the series of lagoons or man-make lakes, beautiful in the light of the setting sun.  I had always imagined wetlands to be marshy, boggy areas, with tufted grasses being the main feature of the landscape.

How wrong I was.  This area of five permanent lakes populated with fish and eels, supports a variety of plants that enjoy the presence of water and salt, the banks yielding tamarisks, giant reeds and rushes, with here and there scattered poplars.

SilverSpain.com had organized an expert in the field to guide us on the walk, Luis Alberto Rodriguez from BIRDAYTRIP.  Luis was just perfect both in the pace he set and in his ability to spot birds before we did.  SilverSpain.com had found someone who embraced their concept of the over-55s living an active life, enjoying varied and interesting activities often outside their comfort zone, and his enthusiasm for the area and its inhabitants infected us all.

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The area is one of the most important stopover places for coastal migratory birds in the province and it is said that you can spot any bird at the river mouth during the passage periods.  The Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa but there is no sure way to guarantee what birds you are likely to see as much depends on winds, storms, rains, predators – and our old friend, climate change.

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The snowy plover breeds in the wetlands and at different times of the year you will see glossy ibis, flamingo, spoonbill, black stork, Caspian tern and coots.  Present all year are the endangered white-headed ducks which have been successfully breeding in the estuary since 2003, little egrets, grey herons, Kentish plovers, hoopoes (above), and Cetti’s warblers.  In summer the bitterns, Audouin’s Gulls and bee-eaters are welcome visitors and in winter the short-eared owl puts in an appearance.  Ospreys, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks wheel in the sky and the marsh harrier can often be seen among the reeds.

Of 350 bird species that have been recorded in Andalucia, 260 have been spotted in this Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve which covers 67 hectares of prime wetland.  The Park’s five lagoons are backed by palm trees, willows, tamarisks, eucalyptus and poplars and in this woodland and by the lagoon’s edges have been erected five comfortable birding hides.

Silver Spain - river in Guadalahorce Natural Parque

The area is also a popular place for mountain-bikers, hikers and those just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Malaga for a few hours.  Like these seasoned sportspeople, always make sure to carry water with you as there are no facilities nearby and you can de-hydrate quickly in the heat.  Depending on the season, an anti-mosquito repellent would also be a good idea.

MALAGA

This bird-watching walk was only one event organized by SilverSpain.com during the week in which we ate healthy, but delicious, meals in restaurants and hotels, visited bodegas and bars dating from 1840, watched an equestrian show, a flamenco show and had a session of mindfulness in a tranquil retreat.  Their website gives full details.

Walking in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park, Spain

In the Andalusian region of Spain alone, there are a total of 22 Natural Parks and 9 Biosphere Reserves, but few can beat the accessibility and beauty of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (also known as the Garganta del Chorro), located not far from Malaga on the Costa del Sol.  Just 50km northwest of that city and you are in another world.

Walking

This walk through the Gorge which is accessed from the village of Ardales is one of the activities on offer from a new company that is dedicated to helping the over 55s enjoy an active and healthy life, focusing on walking, exercising, a Mediterranean diet, and companionship.   The holidays organized by SilverSpain.com will be available from October of this year but I’ve been lucky enough to have had a taster of what’s on offer.  (Get Active & Healthy with Silver/Spain).

Walkway

Here in the 2,016 hectares of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the Guadalhorce river has sliced through slabs of Jurassic limestone and dolomite to create a 3 km long gorge with sheer walls that tower up to more than 300 metres in places.   The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Subbetica mountains of Malaga famous for the Caminito del Rey, a vertigo-inducing, cliff hugging pathway, located some kilometres above the floor of the gorge and one of Malaga’s best attractions.

River-and-Cliffs

Your senses are assailed by the perfume from the rosemary,  thyme and fennel growing beneath the Aleppo pines, willow, eucalyptus, poplar and olive trees.  Overgrown pink and white oleander  vie with rock roses, yellow gorse and pink broom to colour the landscape, and closer to the river are rushes and reeds among which butterflies dance.

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Wheeling in the sky above the high gorge walls are golden eagles, kestrels, peregrines and griffon vultures, just a few of the wide variety of birds (nearly 150 known species) which nest here.  Smaller birds to look out for are red-billed choughs, crag martins, blue rock thrushes, owls, herons and crested tits, and in spring and summer the ubiquitous swifts make a return.

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Keeping an eye peeled, it is possible to spy rabbits, Iberian hares,  foxes, bobcats, and wild boars and it is said that Spanish ibex inhabit the gorge’s more inaccessible parts, so the shy animals are usually only seen by climbers.

Writing-on-cliff-faceIn addition to the massive slabs of limestone that form the walls, the river has carved caves and chasms in the gorge.  There are over 20 caves in the area, and in nearby Ardales, paleolithic rock art can be seen in more than 1,600 meters of galleries.

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But forget the history, the archaeology and the paleolithic past, and just enjoy the sheer beauty that surrounds you on this walk through the park.   The pathway is easy to negotiate (but perhaps not after heavy rains) but do wear sensible shoes.  Look around you, smell the forest scents, look above you to see if you can spy the golden eagles, and look down at the turquoise river flowing below and marvel at this natural landscape.

Bend-in-the-River

Afterwards stop off at Mesón la Posada del Conde for a meal of locally sourced items,         Restaurant_PosadadelConde (or you can reserve rooms here if you wish to spend a few days in the area) which you will enjoy with local wines. Their salads are huge and the ingredients so fresh that I would have been content with only this but I worked my way through some delicious plates of chicken, jamón, vegetables and dessert.  Another walk through the gorge was called for!

Bend-in-River-2.jpg

Postscript:  Von Ryan’s Express  Starring Frank Sinatra and others, used the limestone gorge and the area around the Camineto del Rey to film the railway sequence at the film’s conclusion.  As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that”.

Caves