Tuesday, 1 December 2009

It’s beating in the heart of the Serranía de Ronda. It’s beating. It beats, perched on a hill. It beats, sheltered by the mountains, a privileged lookout over the Guadiaro valley. Its stone walls beat, its brook ravines beat, its holm oaks, cork oaks, olive trees beat. Jimera de Líbar throbs with persistent rhythmical beats. It’s a proud village sitting on the fence, between the hills and the plains, looking the Guadiaro river in the eye.

Getting Closer and Coming to Town

Any of the roads leading to Jimera de Líbar (from Cortes de la Frontera, Benaoján or Atajate) are impossibly beautiful. They are invisibly linked by the essence of the sierras. These are bone-chillingly cold towns in winter, ochre in autumn, blooming in spring, scorching hot in the summer. They all live off the water fed by the Guadiaro river, leaning onto it without beating about any bushes, and the railway connecting Bobadilla and Algeciras –the deep scar of the advance of civilisation. The railway lends a sort of border character to them. They’re frontier towns. They even have districts called “Estación de Benaoján” or “Estación de Cortes de la Frontera.” Jimera de Líbar also has a district by the railway track, but it also reaches Cañada Real and the magnificent bank of the Guadiaro river. I visited the town centre first, sheltered by mountain rocks, and then strolled by the river that has its heart in Málaga and its mouth in Cádiz.

The Town Centre

White rules on the walls in Jimera de Líbar. There’re houses showing their stone fabric, too, as if trying to merge with the landscape. The town is literally surrounded by mountains, to which we should add the cobblestones in the streets. I left my car on Fuerzas Armadas Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares (almost a roundabout) coming from the left. I walked up the avenue and came to the Valle del Guadiaro Country School. Then I turned right into Mártires de Igueriben Street (the longest horizontal street in town). It’s a sort of stone river, with all the other streets flowing into it. And it has history, too: “The Martyrs of Igueriben were a bunch of brave soldiers from Jimera who died in the African wars in the 1920s. On December 28 every year, the young men who were drafted had a meal paid by all their neighbours. The Mayor provided them with his sticks and the keys of the local jail. The youngsters took to the streets wearing fancy dresses, their faces masked, and arrested people to ask for ransom money. If they didn’t get it, the arrested man ended up in jail.” This is how a notice written on a tile told the story. The houses are low (only one or two storeys) and austere, featuring small windows and thick walls to fight both cold and heat. On Fontana Street, to the left, there was the Town Hall, which I entered to ask for information on what to see in Jimera. They gave me a good map and suggested a couple of places for lunch or breakfast. I walked down to Mártires Street again, to resume my tour. I was suddenly seized by strong smells of stews: bacon, migas, calderetas… typical Serrano dishes. The streets were incredibly narrow. They looked as if they were hugging you. I could hear flamenco tunes ahead. When I reached the end of the road, I saw a curious arcade to the right connecting two houses, the church and its plaza behind it. It was a rare construction: three columns and a balcony, a terrace, and a house on top. I went through it and came to Plaza de la Virgen de la Salud, a small rectangular square that was surprisingly even for such a rugged terrain. It was the nerve centre of Jimera, and even more so because it was Wednesday, the day of the weekly street market. The church was an imposing building for such a small town: rectangular, austere, with a more elaborate frontage featuring an image of the Virgen de la Salud. White and ochre in its lintels and corners, it had a two-bell belfry and a little balcony above the main door. I went on walking around. As if I were following Ariadne’s thread, I kept coming back to Mártires Street. There were plates with house names all around: “Casa Rita,” “Casa Cecilio,” “Casa de la Abuela,” “La Casa de Paquita”.... A charming town, full of nice, talkative people. I finally came to a hotel and restaurant, Inz-Almaraz. I ordered a ham and cheese muffin (I was huuuuuge) and two white coffees. The place had just been renovated (it had reopened only a month before). I looked traditional, as if handcrafted, inside –a good chimney, a wooden roof. How quiet must life be when the most eventful day of the week is Wednesdays, because of the street market. After breakfast, I took Fontana Street again and reached Alta Street, where the road to Cruz de Ventura started. It was a rock trail, tough on vulnerable hearts due to the steep slope. I climbed up, took a break, took a couple of pictures, gaped at the bright blue sky, enjoyed the views of the Guadiaro valley and, once I’d regained my breath, went down along Alta Street and across the square into Baja Street. There was a fountain there. The ever-present mountains provided much appreciated shade and cool. I imagined the warm houses in winter, and thought that Jimera would make a nice place to visit under a thick coat. I drank from the fountain, washed my face and went to get my car for a tour of the station.

The Station
To the right of road leading to Cortes de la Frontera, across the railway track, 10’ to 20’ along narrow streets, and there it was: the train station. I parked. It was surrounded by a cluster of houses looking old and transitional, as if housing guests on their way to someplace else. There were others, more modern and stately. The whole district seemed to come to life at weekends only, during the holiday season. The cool of the river could be felt. And it was tempting. I was in Cañada Real de Algeciras, a traditional cattle pass that is open to visitors too. It’s a great place, right between the Guadiaro river and the Bobadilla-Algeciras railway track. Shady and cool: perfect for trekking, with mild climbs and the murmur of the river to one side. I could see weeping willows and fruit trees. Walking leftwards, you can get to Cortes de la Frontera in 3h40’. Walking in the opposite direction, you’ll find Benaoján in 3h10’. The centre of Jimera de Líbar is about 20’ away. I chose the first possible way. About 1km away there’s La Llana, a recreational centre where you can use a series of wooden tables and benches for a picnic. In the 1980s and 1990s there used to be a scout campsite on the banks of the river, so the area with brimming with kids and it became quite popular. Now, scouts have been replaced by regular campers who stay for the night in one of the two campsites available. The river is navigable here (up to 800m), and you can hire canoeing tours. I just allowed my imagination to take flight.


And I kept walking. I don’t know if I came to Cortes de la Frontera, but the spectacular valley was worth the effort. I went on and on and on, in the hope that I’d see the Bobadilla-Algeciras train brushing past the weeds right next to me.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Country travel and camping: The website of the Jimera de Líbar Town Hall contains lots of useful information on country travel, including lodging in country houses, hotels, country inns, and campsites. Trekking: Thanks to Cañada Real de Algeciras, Jimera de Líbar and Cortes de la Frontera or Benaoján can be easily linked on foot. The tour is gratifying, given the proximity of the Guadiaro river and the cool it brings to the area.
Useful links: My web guides this time have been the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board (as usual) and the Jimera de Líbar Town Hall.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.