Last autumn, Inntravel’s Sadie Pattison was sent to visit the Aracena Sierra, a rural and gastronomic paradise in the south-west corner of the country.
We love this area so much that we offer a variety of ways to explore it: a 3-night short break
; a week-long walking holiday
; a New Year break
; and a 4-night trip
which combines a stay in the Sierra with a couple of nights in the nearby city of Seville.
Here, Sadie shares her impressions of the area, and of Seville, where she spent a few hours en route to the mountains.
I absolutely loved Seville – it is a beautiful city with so much so see. I was pleasantly surprised by the dedicated cycle lanes, and I noticed that Segway tours are very popular, too. The Old Town is better on two feet, though! The Inntravel self-guided walk helped me to discover the best of the city, and spot things I would probably have missed – the added information relating to some of the historic places was fascinating. Sadly, I only had a few hours to pretty much run around the city, so the only option is to return for longer.
The Aracena Sierra
Aracena was such a contrast (I would definitely recommend linking Seville and the Sierra, they make a great combination!). As you might expect higher up in the mountains, it was nicely cool, making for very pleasant walking. I was amazed by how green it was, not at all what I expected from southern Spain. The oak woodlands provided the ideal shade for walking, and the dappled sunlight was beautiful to see, especially when accompanied by the snuffle of local pigs rustling for acorns.
Local produce is very evident – there are virtually no ‘food miles’ here. Olive oil is produced in the region and goat’s cheese is popular; I had the opportunity to milk a goat and make my own cheese! People eat what is in season, and I was lucky that October is the season of mushrooms and chestnuts which both feature prominently on menus at local restaurants and tapas bars and are delicious. Some chefs even go out and gather mushrooms each day from the nearby woodlands! A great deal of preserving and drying also goes on, however, so food can easily be enjoyed in other forms out of season. Pork is big business, and everybody claims that their pork products are the best, though I couldn’t pick a favourite. What I can say is that jamón from the local, acorn-fed Iberian pigs makes a great companion to either chestnut liquor or a chilled glass of Fino.
There is also a surprising amount to see and experience in this incredibly rural area, from touring a jamón factory (followed, of course, by a tasting) to a distillery tour and a visit to a honey farm. One of my favourite experiences was the ‘Cave of Wonders’ – it was absolutely incredible! The cave is made up of twelve caverns and you expect them to be fairly similar, but no! The whole cave system is enormous; it is difficult to comprehend the size of it. The caverns are very carefully lit to help you see things well without being garish, and there is a careful system of movement sensors so that the lights only come on in each area as you move through it, to limit light damage. The only problem is that we lingered a little too long at one point while gazing at the amazing sights around us and the lights went out for a second. I have never experienced such darkness!
Another memorable visit was to the castle in the whitewashed mountain town of Cortegana, which is situated in an ideal position and offers a 360-degree view of the National Park with its gently rolling hills and green woodlands. The history at the castle was interesting, including a suit of armour which showed just how short the average soldier was in those days – I felt like a giant! These small white towns really do set the area apart; they look so pretty against the green woodlands and hills. Another distinguishing feature of the region is its customs and history, which residents work hard to preserve.
Looking back, I packed quite a lot into my few days in the Aracena Sierra – I could probably have benefitted from the odd siesta but there was simply too much to see and do. Even after dinner the amazingly clear night skies drew me outside to gaze at the stars!