November, 2015. I love to hike. And, I especially enjoy being able to do it right from my doorstep. We found the perfect “no-car-needed-hiking” in Grazalema, a picturesque white-washed village in southern Spain. The tiny town is located in the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema, a 534 sq km area of rugged peaks and bucolic valleys crisscrossed with hiking trails. On the recommendation of our wonderful guest house owners at La Mejorana, we did a stunning 12 km hike from Grazalema to Benaocaz, an even tinier village (with no shortage of places to savour a cold cerveza before catching the bus back to Grazalema).
The trailhead for several hikes, including the one to Benaocaz, starts at the campground parking lot just above Grazalema village. You can’t miss it. Just walk toward the giant triangle-shaped monolith called Peñon Grande.
The first part of the hike gains significant altitude as the rocky trail skirts up and along the base of Peñon Grande. The stark limestone rock face is softened by beautiful pine trees and vivid fall colours of shrubs clinging to its walls. It’s a steady plod for about 30 minutes, but there are plenty of “catch your breath” spots with nice views down to Grazalema. Watching the griffon vultures and mountain goats also gave us good excuses to take a break.
The mountain path winds its way from one valley to the next, crossing over troughs between the peaks. There’s a peacefulness about this undulating trail and the big, wide-open karst landscape. Some sections are so barren and rock-strewn they look almost lunar. Others have ancient woodlands, and flat grasslands with remnants of farms and pastures from days gone by.
The trail is not particularly tough going, but there are many criss-crossing paths, and at times it disappears completely. We would have become hopelessly lost without the map and instructions provided by our guesthouse. The level of detail was amazing (bring your reading glasses!). I’ve added them at the end of the post.
Near the halfway mark, at Casa del Dornajo, the ruins of an old farmhouse, we stop to re-charge with our Spanish staples—jamón, queso, and pan.
Descending toward Benaocaz, the mighty Sierra del Caillo looms to our left. The ground is less rocky here and the grassy meadows are used for grazing.There are lots of gates to enter and exit, to keep the livestock from wandering off. Beautiful animals, but I must admit, I gave them a wide berth…those horns!
Entering Benaocaz via the trail is a real treat. You approach the sleepy little town from above with stunning views into the valley and mountains beyond. The walk in is a fascinating history lesson. The cobblestone path dates from Roman times. There’s a water trough that is purported to be recycled from a Roman tomb. Before entering the “new” town, the trail passes through the ruins of an 8th century Moorish village.
Benaocaz only has a population of about 700, but has at least three bars and tapas places. They weren’t hard to find (they were detailed in our hiking instructions). A couple of cold cervezas and more jamón were just what we needed before the bus ride back to Grazalema.
If You Go:
- The 12 km linear hike from our guesthouse in Grazalema to the village of Benaocaz took us about 4.5 hours walking at a moderate pace and with stops for lunch and photo-taking.
- There are periods of steady uphill, but it’s not a difficult hike, and there’s no “scary stuff.” But don’t go without a map and instructions.We wore running shoes, and they were fine.
- Make sure you get the latest bus schedule for the return trip to Grazalema. When we were there in mid-November, 2015, the bus stopped in Benaocaz at 3:45pm.
- We had glorious warm, sunny weather and we only met a handful of other hikers. Spring is supposed to be a great time to see rare orchids and other beautiful wildflowers.
- La Mejorana Guest House is amazing, and the owners are super knowledgable about local hiking. They have a hiking binder with maps and instructions in every room (see photos below).
- Although we used Grazalema as a base for day hikes, we met several people who were doing multi-day village to village hiking. The area is perfectly suited for this type of activity with villages located 10-20 km apart, and connected via scenic mountain paths.