Over to you, David.
The countryside we walked through was nothing like what I have seen in Australia. The autumn colours were gorgeous. We did not know that falling leaves could make so much noise. Back home, we do not have the volume of deciduous trees that allow you to appreciate the experience.
We were curious about the local ham so we spoke with Lucy and Angel, a couple living in Andalusia.
Lucy and Ángel run and own the guesthouse in the Sierra de Aracena that is the start to the Smugglers Trails of the Sierra de Aracena walking holiday. It is a wonderful base for hiking near Seville, in an area that is dotted with tiny white-washed villages and a network of 70-plus-year-old walking paths.
We sat down with the couple to talk about their love for Andalusia, the best regional food and their favourite places of the Sierra de Aracena.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you ended up in the Sierra de Aracena?
We are Lucy and Ángel an Anglo-Spanish couple that met in the USA almost 30 years ago, when we coincided on a working holiday at a family-run hotel in upstate New York. The seed was sown!
We lived together in Sevilla, Ángel’s home city, for over 10 years. Both teachers, we loved to escape and discover Spain whenever we could – usually on a motorbike. Trips to the Alpujarras, Sierra Norte de Sevilla, Galicia, Leon, Murcía, Jaen, Ronda, Cadiz coastline and Portugal were all memorable explorations.
However, the place we kept going back to was the Sierra de Aracena in Huelva. We fell in love with the tiny village (750 inhabitants) of Alájar; its narrow-cobbled streets, the lack of mainstream tourism, the friendliness of the people, the great walking and the mild climate all concluded to us taking over the business and setting up home at the original Posada de Alájar in 2004. In 2006 our family was completed with our amazing daughter.
Ángel always says I am not here for him but for the jamón and the gambas (prawns), which I sometimes find hard to dispute! We love the feeling of being part of a community, where everyone knows each other and even when life does get a bit difficult you can get out and go talk to the pigs!
What are your 3 most favourite places in the Sierra de Aracena?
We chose Alájar, so we really are very biased about our favourite place! La Posada de San Marcos is somewhere very close to our hearts. We have set up this accommodation with sustainability at the forefront and it is a favourite for us. We are proud of the fact that our carbon footprint is minimal and enjoy explaining to our visitors how everything works in terms of eg. (water) recycling, building materials like sheep wool, and renewable energy. Every little bit helps - as they say!
The Peña de Arias Montano is a very special place with a spiritual pull and views all the way down to the coast. Aracena is our main town, it’s a bustling market town that covers most of everyone’s needs and boasts the Caves of Wonder (Gruta de las Maravillas), an amazing set of caves that are well worth a visit.
What is a typical dish for people to try when visiting the Sierra de Aracena?
The most important ingredient of the area is the Iberian ham. The Iberian pig is endemic to this area and has been farmed free-range for centuries. On a walk, you will see many roaming around the hillsides under the holm and cork oaks eating as many acorns as possible. The acorns and the air from the sierra in the drying process give the ham a unique flavour.
The fresh meat is also amazing – nothing like regular pork. The noble cuts were sold to those who could afford to eat such delicacies meaning that the locals were left with the poorer cuts and therefore have developed lots of dishes based on pulses, locally grown vegetables and the wild mushrooms found in abundance given the right weather, so there is plenty for the vegetarian too.
What is special about walking in this part of Andalusia?
Less than 90 minutes from the sophisticated city of Sevilla it feels like time has stopped still in La Sierra de Aracena. We like to call it our secret sierra with a greenness more likely to be found in the north of Spain and the warmth of the Andalusian sun then on a trip hiking near Seville. There is an amazing variety of flora and the area has recently been designated a starlight dark sky destination.
Walking is still not a pastime in this area, it used to be a necessity and the paths between the villages show you a way and pace of life that has been lost in most parts of Europe. Walkers are surprised at how few people they actually see on the trails, which helps you feel you are discovering the area and then you come across a lovely traditional village or hamlet.
The Andalusians are happy to stop and chat and try hard to communicate, it amazes them that people are fascinated by something that is second nature to them and are even envious of what they have here.
What kind of people should go for self guided walking trips in Andalusia?
The walking is quite easy, there are no major climbs. We do recommend to wear boots as the once cobbled paths have now become quite stony in places. You never feel completely alone while walking as there are plenty of animals along the route and there is usually a small hamlet or village just in time for refreshment! Just 1,5 hours away from Seville, the walking route starts in Alájar and makes a circuit around the sierra.
Hikers will be sleeping in other lovely whitewashed, cobblestone-paved villages and return to our accommodation for the final night, which is lovely for us as we can greet you back ‘home’ and hear your stories.
A huge thanks to David, as well as Angel and Lucy, for sharing their Traveller Tales from Andalusia!
If you would like to experience this region for yourself then view UTracks' comprehensive tours below.
> View the Smugglers Trails of the Sierra de Aracena
> View all tours in Andalusia
> View all active holidays in Spain
Is exploring Andalucia on your bucket list, or have you already experienced this area? Let us know in the comment section below.