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!

 

 

 

 

Cartajima Refugio

The Refugio Hostel In Cartajima – Traveling And Feeling At Home: Priceless.

I had quite a trip these holidays. As I hiked solo, the trail was more or less deserted and there were no other hikers around, I felt quite lonely on some of the evenings.

Most of the time this is not a problem for me because I need this kind of solitude. But on some evenings I just craved talking to someone else but an Andalusian senior citizen with a strong incomprehensible accent. Do not get me wrong: This is why I learned spanish and this is why I travel but above all a conversation gets interesting when you share at least some similar experiences. And neither can I deny the exhaustion which comes with talking to someone who is barely comprehensible.

In this case the best thing to do for me is to look out for a hippie-style hostel where I’m quite sure to meet some likeminded people and if the hostel is in a hiking area I’d maybe even meet some hikeminded ones 🙂

This is how I found the Refugio Hostel in Cartajima, 18 kms south of Ronda. I booked a room by phone and got there in the evening. Botz, the british host, opened the door and told me that there are no other guests, just us. A short disappointment came up in me, but volatilized quickly as I saw the 300 years old house with its fantastic roof terrace into the surrounding mountains. And above all when I sat down with Botz and we started talking.

What I want to say since the beginning of this article: There are those rare people in hospitality business who really know what they are doing. Who have this delicate intuition what to do and what to say while completely staying themselves. Who let you be yourself and let you feel like you’re belonging here since a long, long time.

This is Botz. I had some wonderful and crazy laughing evenings and even a long hike with him. He loves the mountains and the Andalusian countryside. He traveled a lot. He is completely in love with a girl from Austria. He was a drummer in Amsterdam. He was a chef and the food he is offering is just wonderful. He looks like an argentinian, younger version of Iggy Pop.
And he made the last days of my holidays a pure blast.

This days in places like this, are not about five star perfection. You won’t have television, room service or infinity pools. Sometimes you won’t even have hot water*. But you will feel like home.

So if you ever get to Andalusia go visit Botz and the Refugio in Cartajima. You won’t regret it.

*this is NOT the case at the Refugio! There was always hot water 🙂

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Los Riscos

GR 249 Gran Senda de Màlaga, Los Riscos, Cartajima

Technically speaking I quit the Gran Senda de Màlaga some time ago and I do some hikes wherever I am. Currently I’m in Cartajima, some kilometers south of Ronda at the wonderful Refugio hostel.

I really feel “at home” – if one can say that being on a journey – for the first time since I am here in Andalusia.

Today I went up a mountain to Los Riscos which are some kind of strange jurassic rock formations just without dinosaurs.

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Afterwards I met a caravan club from the Netherlands who took me with them to the smurf village wich was painted in blue for a movie. The inhabitants decided – after they had some busloads of visitors from China and all over Europe – to leave it like that.

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After that I walked back to Cartajima through a buzzing valley where a little not very shy boar crossed my way.

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Cartajima:

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Caminito del Rey

GR 249 Gran Senda de Malaga, Caminito del Rey

Vertigo! 

The Caminito del Rey was kind of my nemesis as I have vertigo and I really want to get rid of it.

I had to wait early in the morning because I didn’t reserve a ticket online.

If you get in, you’ll get one of those funny hats. No, it’s a pity, but you can’t keep it.

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It starts very smoothly in a wonderful landscape with a turquoise river streaming through, but very quickly it gets kind of uuuuaaaah!!!fullsizerender1fullsizerender2fullsizerender3fullsizerender4fullsizerender5

When you have passed the first gorge you come to an enchanted valley:

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Just until you pass the second gorge:

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This bridge you see in the picture is the old bridge. Behind it you can see a – in my eyes – very, very tiny and instable rope bridge. There was a lot of wind and I’m very thankful to the guy who lend me his arm to get me over to the other side.

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Yes! I did it! I’m very proud (:  And now: Breakfast.

GR 249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Sendero Gaitanejo

I don’t know if it was the right Sendero Gaitanejo but I saw a lot of signs during my hike. I particularly loved the enchanted section next to river and the view from above on the Caminito del Rey.

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On the Sendero Gaitanejo I met the Vergers with their son Matthieu from France. What a nice and funny family! I had a wonderful evening with them 🙂

GR 249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Ardales – El Chorro

Changing the hike

From the beginning nothing went like I imagined it would. On the one hand this is disturbing and makes me kind of nervous in the moment of desaster but on the other hand I got to know again, that nearly every kind of situation can be handled and for every door which is closing another one opens up.

Today I went to the mountains without my big backpack because I was able to leave most of my stuff on the camping area.
What a relief! Despite having packed nearly “ultralight”, I must admit that ultralight is not enough. Six kilos + two liters of water and some food makes it at least 8,5 kilos.

Walking and nearly bouncing I came to the result, that I won’t do it again. Those three things are definitely not working together:

  • Heat
  • Weight
  • Feet

As for this hike I can only change one of them I will look for a place to stay for the rest of my time in Andalusia and do some hikes starting from there.

The hike today

After a short walk on the road you enter a dirt road and just until the descent on El Chorro it will stay like that. You’ll hike through a diverse natural and agricultural landscape and the panoramic mountain views are wonderful. There is a short stretch of road again where you can visit Bobastro, an archaeological site of a mozarabic town. It’s a quite big area, so you really have to be interested to do it.

 

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Andalusias hidden lakes

After the road stretch you enter a nice and shady forest. So many lakes and I only saw them on my map but not in reality! La Laguna de Pietra, la Laguna Dulce and now the Embalse Superior Taja de la Encantada. I was just next to it, I saw it on my map but all I really saw, was a giant wall next to me. The scenery looked a little bit like in one of those sci-fi movies where there is another parallel world behind a big insuperable wall. At one moment there is a small trail leading 30m uphill and I went to see the barrier lake behind the wall.

Next to this “bad” world nature seamed still more natural and enchanted. Above all because I was in a little quite forest and when I went around a corner I stood right in front of a kind of capricorn-deer (big as a deer, face like a deer, corns like a capricorn) who was as surprised as I was and disappeared quietly and without panic between the backlighted trees. Magic happens.

 

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The descent on El Chorro is a little challenge due to plants growing over the trail and the trail being rough and quite close to the abyss.
In El Chorro I had something to eat in the restaurant La Garganta, as in the bar and the supermarket on the camping area there is a strict no-vitamins policy, and I went back by bus.

As it was already seven o’clock I was the only passenger and the bus driver let me out at the camping area.

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The base of Maslow: 

  • There is no accessible water on the road. Anyway: You will pass by a lot of fincas and if you have an water emergency you can surely solve it by knocking on some doors
  • I didn’t meet any dogs without bars between me and them on this stage.
  • In El Chorro you’ll find some, maybe expensive possibilities to stay at night. Or you go by bus (every 30 minutes until 7 pm) to Camping Parque Ardales, like I did.

The following night was a nightmare. My tarptent notch is good for every weather except of sandstorms. I woke myself up covered in sand. I had it in my eyes, my ears and between my teeth. Yummy.

As the following night will be as stormy as the last one I booked a bungalow and will have a big nights sleep today.

 

GR 249 Gran Senda de Málaga, Fuente de Piedra – Campillos

This is the fucking Meseta!

This is all I thought during the hike. When I thought that it can’t get more desert-like I looked around the corner and it was more yellow again. Even the plants got more and more hostile and showed up their thornes.

While visually, as shown on the pictures, it was gorgeous, vast and colorful. An ocean of wheat.

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Entering “friendly” Campillos:

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The base of Maslow

  • All the water I saw was stinky and dirty (turtles seam to like that)
  • The lakes which you can see on your map are not accessible
  • There is a hostel (San Francisco) in Campillos with a very gentle hostess. She ordered a taxi for me, while the lady in the bar on the central plaza shouted at me saying: “This is a village! There are no taxis in villages!”

 

I continued (by taxi) to the wonderful Camping Parque Ardales:

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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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