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The Genal Valley
The quiet and restful Genal Valley has a history that goes back hundreds of years. It is located in la Serranía de Ronda, the mountains located just to the south of the bustling white village of Ronda; it is also surrounded by three natural parks, Biosphere la Sierra de las Nieves, Grazalema, and los Alcornocales and it is commonly acknowledged as the greenest part of Andalusia.
The Genal Valley is divided into upper and lower sections, with the upper valley (in Castellano, “el Alto Genal”) having seven white villages (“pueblos blancos”) while the lower (“el Bajo Genal”) has eight villages. There are two main roads that access the Genal Valley, the A369, known locally as the Ronda – Algeciras road, from which one can access both lower and upper valleys while the A397, commonly referred to as the Ronda – San Pedro road, accesses only the upper valley.
Because the Genal Valley is not widely known, developed nor exploited, it is not heavily travelled; it is therefore a highly recommended destination for those looking for the unique experience one has in an environment normally peaceful, quiet, traditional and authentically Spanish.
In December, flower blossoms begin presenting with the wild almond trees sprouting beautiful pink or white flowers which last until early February. And then from March until May/June, the valley is filled with wild flowers, including the blossoms from the budding chestnut trees.
As many as 2,000 species of wild flowers come to life during the springtime with different blooms appearing almost daily. The Upper Genal is also chestnut country; normally starting in May, the valley fills with the pungent fragrance of the yellow chestnut flowers in bloom. And then in autumn, there is a swath of autumnal colours burning across the valley as the chestnut leaves pass through their seasonal change after the harvest turning the valley into a copper colored forest, but then eventually dropping all their leaves.
Following the A397 road up the mountain from the busy coastal town (the Málaga coast is known as the La Costa del Sol) of San Pedro de Alcántara, the exit for the Alto Genal is located 12km before Ronda. The A397 road is a winding mountain road with plenty of traffic, especially in the summer months. It will repay you with the fantastic views of the Spanish coast along the Mediterranean sea, Gibraltar and, on clear days, the mountains of North Africa.
Following the left exit for the Genal Valley, one will see six of the seven white villages of the upper valley, Parauta, Cartajima, Júzcar (now more blue than white), Pujerra, Faraján and Alpandeire. All have populations of 300 or less and all have very traditional lifestyles.
Mobile vendors still pass through these villages on certain days of the week selling a wonderful variety of wares: breads & cakes, garlic, live poultry, home-made cheese, fresh fish, fresh vegetables, melons & strawberries among an orchards worth of fruit, as well as fabrics.
The Genal Valley is a great destination for cyclists, walkers/hikers, bird watchers, star gazers, rock climbers, painters, photographers, writers, motorcyclists and nature enthusiasts generally. All the villages are connected by walking trails offering spectacular views and possible bunny rabbit, boar, fox or other wildlife sightings.
Especially for bird watchers, this area is a must as it is located on the north-south corridor of the annual bird migrations. It is not unusual to hear owls hooting, nightingales chatting, wood-peckers pecking, black birds tweeting or to see griffin vultures, golden eagles, falcons or other birds of prey soaring high above the mountainous terrain.
With all the natural subjects to paint (ruins, mountains, rooftops, churches, valleys, chimney pots, villages, trees, flora, etc.) and stunning changing light, painters / photographers could spend endless days with their countless subjects. And for those interested in local culture, all of the villages have annual summer patron saint fiestas, romerías (a traditional Andalusian outdoor festival involving singing, b-b-q’s, dancing, horses, drink and campfires) plus all the festivities of Semana Santa (Easter and Holy Week) in the spring. Most villages have histories of at least ten centuries.