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      April 2011 > Slowly does it, in Aracena

Slowly does it, in Aracena

The town of Alajar in Spain's Aracena SierraIt was to be the third time I’d explored Andalucia. I’ve hazy memories of the first in the Alpujarras - a field trip as part of my degree where, I recall, between cervezas and siestas, we occasionally scrutinized the local geology. The second was a far more cultured affair in the Grazalema Sierra, where, after just two weeks with Inntravel, I was delighted to join some of my new colleagues in familiarising ourselves with the walking and cycling holidays we offer in this beautiful region.

Well, after nearly three years with Inntravel, having corresponded with hundreds of our customers, met many more personally at our Discovery Day, and being lucky enough to visit several more of our destinations, I truly appreciate what being on an Inntravel holiday is all about... slow ...and Aracena is the epitome of 'Slow'.

Walking through the woods of AracenaI joined Alison - our Manager for all things Spain, Portugal and Morocco, the highly personable Augustin of the Spanish Tourist Board, and some of his friends from the area who were to guide us on a short discovery of all that appeals in this relatively undiscovered region.

An idle amble through shady cork oaks and meadows, peacefully vibrant with the emergence of spring, was the perfect way to start our first day. And, as we followed the brook trickling down to Linares, we learned that lunch was to be rather special, too. Los Arrieros is a small restaurant hidden away in the cobbled streets of this pretty village - so well hidden, in fact, that it took our guide Peter (from the next village!) some time to locate it, whilst we refilled our water bottles from the freshwater spring in the square.

Spring blossom in AracenaIt didn’t matter, we were in no rush, but thankfully our notes will guide you here. It didn’t take long to understand why Aracena is known equally for its gastronomy as it is for its tranquillity. Over a leisurely lunch and out of the midday sun, we sampled some of the best food this region has to offer. Jamón is perhaps their most renowned ingredient, a delicious air-cured ham from the Iberian pigs raised in the mountains on a diet of acorns, but there are others, too… shellfish from the nearby coast, chestnuts and mushrooms from the forests used inventively in fresh salads, and, my favourite of the trip, strawberry gazpacho. It’s fair to say you’ll dine very, very well here.

Lunch wound to a finish at around 4 o’clock, and it was widely agreed that a coffee was in order. Peter knew the perfect spot, a simple café at the Peña de Arias Montano - a high cliff face and whitewashed church over-looking Alájar, with a grand view of the town and the Sierra beyond. I can quite imagine how, on another of our circular walks from Alájar, the shady grounds around this church would make an ideal spot for a rest.

Relaxing in Almonaster, SpainYou really are spoilt for choice of pretty traditional villages in this area, the character of which has changed little over the centuries with Roman and Moorish influences evident in their cobbled tracks, ancient hill-forts and churches. Aracena is the principal regional town and it’s a must see. If you are self-catering at the Old Mill in Alájar, it’s only a short drive away, but with this holiday and our hotel to hotel walk, Spain’s Secret Sierra, we recommend following our notes for a beautiful walk to this old town.

On our second afternoon we arrived here on foot, and gradually wandered up through the medieval labyrinth of streets to pass the 15th-century El Cabildo and the enormous church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, to reach the ruined castle and the well-preserved 13th-century church of Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor. From here the bird’s-eye view of the town and the surrounding countryside was reward enough but, after meandering back down to the square, an ice cold beer under the shade of an orange tree was truly blissful.

I would very much like to have stayed longer than we did, to enjoy more moments like these, to feel completely unhurried, and I would certainly recommend Aracena to anyone who enjoys life at their own pace.
Pigs grazing on acorns in Aracena, Spain 

Posted: 28/04/2011 15:59:07 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, slow, Spain, walking

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