Trail Review: Gran Senda de Málaga, GR 249

I had a very good time on the Gran Senda de Málaga but there were some difficulties, too. These were because I had some unfulfilled expectations on what would or wouldn’t happen. I hope I can help future hikers to know a little bit more about this wonderful trail than I did while planning and hiking.

What I did:

My original plan was to trough-hike the western part of the trail from Nerja until the end of my two weeks holidays. But the unmerciful heat and my therefore blistered feet made me jump the big stages and only do the small ones and to finally give up the idea of a through-hike. The result was that hiked a sample of nearly every possible landscape of the Gran Senda de Málaga and some other famous trails in Andalusia.

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I did one stage starting in Nerja in the Sierra de Tejeda, two stages in the gradually decreasing Sierra, starting from Periana and from Pulgarin Alto, I had to rest my feet for two days in Antequera, sent home my shoes and bought new ones, then I continued in the very flat and dry northern area of the trail starting from Alameda to continue the next day from Fuente de Piedras. This part of the trail was so f…g hot and therefore so exhausting that decided to do day hikes with only water in my pack. I stood four nights on the wonderful Camping Parque Ardales and did the stage Ardales-El Chorro, the Sendero Gaitanejo and the famous Caminito del Rey from there. Than I went on to Cartajima in the South of Ronda to do a hike to Los Riscos and one to the white villages of the Valley of Genal. My last day I sat on the roof terrace of the wonderful Refugio Hostel and did nothing but looking the swallows whizzing through the blue sky.

Facts about the Gran Senda de Malaga:

Location: Andalusia in southern Spain

Length: 656 km

Potential dangers: Hunting, some road walks, breeding boars, wasps, dogs, getting lost, no water, river crossings in the colder seasons, eventual forest fires.

Difficulty: There are very easy stages and very long and/or difficult mountain stages. To predict the difficulty of every stage there is a very useful table provided by the Gran Senda Organisation. Also you will find the composition of paths (single trail, dirt road, road, river crossing) at the beginning of every description of the stages in the downloadable guidebook provided in english language.

Civilisation density:  You will have at least one point of civilization on or at the end of every stage. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find accommodation or something like a pharmacy over there. But at least there will be a bar and a cold cerveza.

Landscape: Very diverse and very beautiful, sometimes unbelievably lovely. You’ll see the Mediteranean Sea, the mountains, agricultural landscapes, lakes and hills. A very good reason to do it! I was completely overwhelmed.

Cultural sites: You will cross some “bigger” cities with wonderful cultural sites like Ronda, Archidona, Nerja and Malaga. But in general the trail passes through simpler, rural areas.

Best time to do it: There is one thing I can already say: Do it in May, but in the beginning of May. It’s the time of bloom, the landscape buzzes and you’ll see the most fantastic colors around you. But in this year it was a particularly hot May and there is not a lot of shadow on the road. It can be hell, too. Maybe it’s better to do it in autumn or even winter. But you won’t experience the wonders of spring then. Look at the climate table of Andalusia and see what suits you most.

Trail signage and way markers:

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If there is one compliment to be given to the Gran Senda Organisation then it is that one: The signage is nearly perfect. Everywhere, even in the most lost areas, you’ll find wooden posts with striped (go!) or crossed (don’t go!) trail marks. You wont get lost if you hike with your eyes open. As I hiked in the end of May and nature was in full bloom it happened that one or two posts were hidden behind bushes, but in general they were easy to locate. There were only two times when I had some difficulties finding my way. On the stretch from Nerja to Frigiliana behind the river crossing I lost one hour because of bad signage and in the forest from Ardales to El Chorro I saw a “corzo morisco”, a kind of a mountain deer, directly in front of me and out of surprise I missed the  junction which was well hidden in some bushes.

Sometimes I had the impression that someone coming from the opposite direction has installed the trailmarks.

Busyness and Solitude:

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Between Nerja and Frigiliana I briefly met two girls from Switzerland who did more than one stage. I also met some day hikers on this stage. Between Periana and Pulgarin Alto I met a group of American day hikers on a visit to Andalusia again. That was it. This trail is – regarding other hikers – completely deserted. You’ll meet forest workers, farmers and some tourists in cars when the road is near, but there aren’t any hikers. At least in the areas where I was. It’s quite a lot of solitude to take in. You either search for that or you have to deal with it when you are hiking solo.

Documentation:

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There is this great guide which you can download for free on the website of the trail. There is some really good information in it, like the lengths the heights and the level of difficulty of every stage after which I chose the stages I wanted to walk. If you are interested in it there is even some quite useful information about history and geography. Unfortunately it also lacks some really important information.

  1. Maps.
    The maps they provide in the guide and on the website by the Gran Senda Organisation are completely useless. Don’t even bother to load them down or print them out. I recommend some kind of App with offline Maps based on Openstreetmap (for example MapOut for IOS). Offline Maps are – in my opinion – mandatory.
  2. Water.
    There is no real indication about where and when to find water on the trail or even the possibility of water. As I walked in the month of May at an shadowless average of 27°C I would have been very grateful not to have to pack 3 liters of water on top of the weight of my backpack. In the guide they write about water but more generally, where it comes from and why and the geological conditions. In case you are sweating like I did, this is quite useless.
  3. GPS Downloads.
    There are GPS downloads of every single stage and they are obviously very detailed. I don’t know what I did wrong but I wasn’t able to load them into my map app (MapOut). There is no download of the complete trail. At least I didn’t find it. Instead I downloaded it from gpsies.com. But this was clearly not always the designated trail (read this, if you want to walk Nerja-Frigiliana).
  4. Accommodation and transport.
    There is no useful information about the end of every stage. If there is civilization, accommodation, something to eat and drink or private or public transport. All things you are longing for after an exhausting hike. There are some random links on the website but accommodation should at least include a short description and a price range.

As I posted some pictures on Instagram the Gran Senda Organisation contacted me and offered me help if I would need it. I was pleased to hear that. Later I had one question but they couldn’t answer it and the reaction alone took some days. At the end they offered to meet me an give me some “presents” – I can’t imagine what kind of presents that would be and I’m really not much into merchandising stuff but I would have liked to talk to someone who maybe did the whole through-hike  – but when I said I would like that but I had no car and I’m kind of far from Málaga they didn’t answer anymore.

 

Coverage

Spain is public network paradise. Even in the mountains you will frequently have at least one point of coverage. I think it happened to me only four or five times that I looked on my phone and read “kein Netz”. Wifi in the hostels and on the camping sites on the other hand is more or less useless and ultraslow. Better to have a good plan from your home provider.

Anyway: In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to have offline maps with you. Print them or use something like MapOut (IOS).

 

Camping

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I carried my (ultralight) tent all the way but if I had known that I would barely use it (which was more out of personal reasons than out of exterior conditions) I would have left it at home. But this was my thing and it is completely possible and even easy to pitch camp all the way. As usual it is more difficult in the mountains. If you want to, you can look out for “recreation areas” where you can camp legally and where there is water most of the time.

Most of the land is privately owned though, and it is not advisable to pitch camp there.

There are no dangerous animals, snakes or insects in Spain so this is nothing to be worried about. What you will hear at night are owls, boars, deer, goats, mice and squirrels.

Near to El Chorro I recommend the fantastic, huge and very wild camp site Camping Parque Ardales with very friendly staff, directly on one of the clearest turquoise mountain lakes .

Keep in mind that it is forbidden to free-camp all over Spain.

 

Landscape

This is why you should do the Gran Senda de Malaga. The landscape is diverse and at least once on every stage I found it really breathtaking. I chose the stages I walked because of a mixture between their level of difficulty and where they would lead me to, but they were all fantastic and I have a lot of wonderful pictures in my head which I will be able pull out on cold German winter days. It surprised me and it is much more beautiful than I thought it would be.

Dogs

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After my second day I bought a pepper-spray in a hunting and fishing store in Antequera. A lot of farmers have untrained guard dogs which are alone on the land or around the houses. Sometimes they are aggressive and won’t let you pass which can be quite a problem in the mountains when there is no alternative path.

 

This was my hike. And I finish with a short abstract which is purely my opinion:

Do it …

  • if you like solitude and don’t want to see any other hiking tourists
  • if you want to see fantastic landscapes
  • if you don’t want to be in the wilderness but in rather near to little spots of civilization
  • if you don’t like dangerous animals (there aren’t any)
  • if you want to do a through-hike in southern Europe (maybe in winter)
  • if you speak a little spanish. At least I found this very relaxing.

 

Don’t do it …

  • if you are afraid of dogs
  • if you are looking for a wilderness trail
  • if it’s hot
  • if you would like to have a very pre-organised trip (I think you can’t plan and book in advance, or at least this will be very complicated)

 

 

Please ask in the comments if you have any questions. If I can answer them, I will do so. And if you do/did it, let me know. Have Fun!

 

 

 

 

GR 249 Gran Senda de Malaga, Pulgarin Alto – Alfarnate 

It’s all Maslows’ fault

I wasn’t able think of something philosophical today because someone put my blistered feet into burning boots and I was only able to walk because of severe “everything is alright“ meditation.

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Could you please make a photo which doesn’t look like a postcard?
Perfect light, perfect landscape. I feel like Heidi in Heidiland. If I could only jump around! Again, there is buzzing everywhere. At the end of the stage, between Alfarnetejo and Alfarnate passing along a small river I heard four or five big plopping sounds like if a crocodile slips into the water. I the beginning I just saw some shadows under water. I stood there for a while in silence and was very surprised to see some small turtles playing in the intransparent and muddy brew.


Doggies, dogs and doggos

I love dogs but what I saw today made me really angry. Frequently the dogs are left on a property to sentinel it. Mostly they are unleashed and you never know if they are well educated or not. I had a lot of adrenaline coming up because of them. I wear a very loud pipe around me neck. That helps , I‘m knocking on wood, if nothing else does.


The hike

It starts out on a road with little but dangerous traffic but changes soon into a dirt road without any traffic. Most of the trail is dirt road again and again there is very little shadow which led to a mild sunstroke in the evening despite of wearing a headscarf, 50 sunscreen and a big thin scarf over all my body. Call me the hiking ghost.

The trail highlights were a very overgrown piece of trail where I literally walked on flowers (ca. km 5), a small beautiful river (ca. km 9), a forest (ca. km 11, Shade! Finally!), a catholic procession for holy Isidro in Alfarnetejo, the turtles just before Alfarnate and a flock of goats being brought to their stable in Alfarnate.

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Base of Maslow:

  • There is water in the small river ca. at km 9 and km 11. I would chose to take it downstream at km 9, it looks better, it‘s far away from a city and there are small fish in it. Of course there is water in Alfarnetejo and Alfarnate. But there is beer too.
  • There are no possibilities to sleep in a hotel or something similar in Alfarnate.
  • Beware of dogs!

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GR 249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Periana – Pulgarin Alto

HYOH!

Yeah! This stage of the Gran Senda matched perfectly with my current status. My office legs hurt like hell and my feet are just getting used to work and walk. I choose the Gran Senda because I didn’t wanted to struggle again with horrendous climbs and crushed rock all day long like on the GR 221. I just want to walk! On the other hand: I love to be in the mountains. Why can’t I have both? With this in mind I skipped the mountain stages and went directly to Periana. And it was a very good decision.



Caminante que caminas detente y mira como pasa la vida (Wanderer, halte an und sieh wie das Leben geschieht)

It was a buzzing stage. Everywhere around me where bees, butterflies and other strange insects. I saw horses, sheep, goats, millions of different birds, squirrels, mice and lizards. And flowers! Spring kicked in like if there were a crazy beauty contest.


The hike


Compared to Nerja-Frigiliana it’s a very comfortable stage. Mostly dirtroads and even a village with a restaurant in the middle. If it’s like today 28C the only thing my thing missing is shadow. There is water to buy in Guaro, in Cortijo de Zapata you’ll find an outdoor tap and several other springs, at least there was plenty of water when I passed today.

At the house of Mirador del Tramo I was stopped by three dogs. I consider myself a dog whisperer but one of them went more and more crazy and I wasn’t able to calm him down. He finally bared his teeth so badly that I decided to take a walk around. Some 50 meters from the house and parallel to the trail there are some olive tree fields which are easy to cross and around 300 meters later I was able to join the trail again.

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GR 249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Nerja – Frigilina

Fear Is A Man-made Prison

I had this strange feelings in the last days. Not being prepared was one of them. And not being prepared could mean a lot. When I’m thinking of my tantalized feet and of all the things I did to avoid this kind of pain I can not speak of not being prepared. It was nearly impossible to do more. And maybe I still took the wrong shoe decision. Or maybe my feet are just like that.
Where is the border between just being careful and not doing it?
I have to accept that not being prepared is a part of life and above all I have to set the border like I did it to do this journey and other things in my life in which I jumped in lion-heartedly, and which turned out to be some of my best achievements.

The hike

I started to take the bus to Nerja Cuevas. It would have been a 5km walk along the road and I don’t wanted to start my journey between stinking busses and trucks.


At Nerja Cuevas I took a starting picture in the flowers and hit the trail. After only some hundred meters everything became calm and peaceful.


The trail starts with a 5 km ascent on a dirt road (some cars and bikes) to an “area recreativo” which is something like a picnic point. You’ll find drinking water from a fountain there.


After that it turns into a single trail and descents to beautiful Rio Chillar, a small river. On my map (MapOut, based on openstreetmap) there are two more small rivers but I didn’t see them.

I crossed Rio Chillar without problems with my bathing shoes. The water was just underneath my knees, month of May, with some rain yesterday.

 

The big problem was finding the trail again on the opposite shore. There were even some scattered red and white trail signs but there was no direction indicated and every trail I took ended in a total desaster. Once I even started climbing (!) but luckily I pulled myself together and turned around. I learned something from last year. Later on I saw the end of the “only” 200m climbing section and was very very happy again.

The right thing to do is to follow a crossed (no-go) trail sign which you see from the shore and just on the right side of the forbidden trail is the normal trail. As I saw the cross from the shore I didn’t even think of this direction.

I’m using a downloaded trail from gpsies.com and the guy obviously took the climbing route.

 

More than one hour lost and looking like a cactus because of the undergrowth I continued on the right trail.


On my map it looked like I would have only one third of my hike left but this last piece of trail took me much longer than the first two thirds. A lot of ascents and descents mixed with crushed rocks and numerous spots where I had to use my hands led to myself being very happy when I finally saw Frigiliana.

With burning feet and knees I entered the village and took a room in the Hospederia el Caravansar. I took a shower and laid on the bed for one necessary hour. Than hunger kicked in and I had to get up.

During my wonderful meal I decided to skip the next three arduous segments.

Tomorrow morning there will be a Taxi coming to my hotel. Thank God I’m not a student anymore.

GR249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Berlin – Malaga – Nerja

I started very early this morning. My flight was at 6:30 and I tried to keep my zen attitude during the transfer to southern spain. At least there was no aggressive senior citizen pushing me away at the baggage claim like on my last flight.

 

I had my baggage well prepared: The mat, the tent pegs, the trekking sticks and the swiss card knife rolled into the mat and put into a rubbish bag. Unfortunately at the checkin they weren’t able to weigh it because it was TOO LIGHT. Haha!
When I arrived in Malaga I had to take the bus to the central station to continue to Nerja where I wanted to start my hike. Due to a bad functioning selling system at the station this took incredibly long and I arrived at Nerja only at 14:30.


Being incredibly tired I took a room at the formidable Easy Nerja Hostel and the first thing I did was sleeping for five hours.
In the evening I did a little tour through the very touristic village, I did some food shopping and had some tapas. Hikers hunger didn’t kick in yet.

After passing some hours in the hostel kitchen with the Hungarian hostess and two musicians from Argentina and India I went to sleep and slept another eight hours.
The next morning I was very happy not having started yesterday.

Schmöldesee

Berlin Day Hike: Sparkling Spring In Prieros

Location: Prieroser Straße (Klein Köris?) – Hölzerner See – Schmöldesee eastern shore – Streganzer See – Dahme – Prieroser Straße / Distance: 16 km / from city center: 55 km / east / Weather: 17 °C, sunny, some clouds / Animals spotted: 20 deers, 2 boarhounds, ducks, swans, egrets / Camera: Nikon D90, 35mm lens

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The first part of the road was rather boring and I already thought that this would become one of those “lost hikes” because after some kilometers I still didn’t see the lake which I was circling and I was still on a boring dirt road through the forest. But after a camping ground named “Naturfreunde Schmöldesse” it was finally possible to go down to the lake and there was a small single trail not indicated in the map which I took all along the lovely Schmöldesee.

The most beautiful part of the hike was the trail around the small lakes after Streganzer See. An enchanted place with marshland forests, millions of chanting birds, buzzing insects and swans silently crossing the lakes.
The following shores of Dahme river are also very beautiful, but you have to leave the road again and again and I didn’t have the time anymore because the sun went down earlier than I tought it would.

Just before the hotel “Waldhaus” there was a path indicated on my map which didn’t exist in reality and I had to bushwhack until I stood in the garden of the hotel. Same before the small lakes with an additional sign that this would be private land and that the area would be under video  surveillance, which I think is rather not true.

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