Through the winding and precipitous passages just north of the Costa del Sol, over hill and dale, you will find los Pueblos Blancos. With their backs against the rocks, or up high on the cliffs, where the people can only ever see the tops of the birds, these whitewashed-in-the-Moorish-tradition compact little towns stand vigilantly.
When I was 16, I came from the north into this fractured basin, the variegated outcroppings of the Cordilleras Béticas (The Baetic System). Not climbing quite as high as the Sierra Nevadas to the east – towards Granada – but sharp and rocky and steep, just the same. Tired, fetched by the wind and under spring drizzles, forever the first white city would be imprinted in my memory. To the right is what I recall, and to the left is what it really looks like.
I’ve had cycling dreams to visit the missions in California, spaced about a day’s horseride apart. And also to go around the Grand Canyon. But touring this region of the Pueblos Blancos goes right up to the top of the list.
The roads are well-maintained and clear, but also very narrow with sharps turns through the copses of cork and olive trees. Nothing beats the cycling network in the Netherlands, of couse: that’s the gold standard. So while I can’t vouch for the safety of southern Spanish roads, the vistas are definitely worth the risk. Given the opportunity, I can’t imagine anything would be better than horseback on those famed Andalusian steeds.
Some of the cave paintings discovered in this area are the oldest found in Europe. Given that there are paintings in Australia from a similar time period, it seems only a matter a time before we find older samples in Africa. Given cranial development timelines, I find it only the remotest of possibilities that abstract art depictions developed in parallel.
The eastern edge of the interregnum between Béticas and the Sierra Nevadas, not far from Antequera, is covered with the otherwordly landscape of El Torcal. This is today a 17 square km national park, including some of the most unique and unusual limestone formations in Europe. When I made it up the zig-zaggy slopes, a sleety squall arrived. You can see in one of the photos above the quick dusting, completely obscuring the view toward the southern coast. It dissipated almost as quiclly as it arrived. The porous formations would certainly have offered favorable terrain for cave bears and other mega-fauna. Not to mention the 30+ varieties of orchid.
Ronda is (almost certainly) the largest of the white villages. Here where the bulls are on display, where Hemingway practiced being an aficionado, as is Jake in The Sun Also Rises. A thoroughly exhilirating landscape of low stone fences, sheepherds, wet grey rocks, bending asphalt, steep cliffs, and compact blanco towns over pale green hills and, here and there, a distinguished Andalusian gentleman in his sweater and discerning hat. Here, apart from the corsairs and the highwaymen. High in the pocked hills.