Spanish tourist board straplines are usually dreadful things. Jaén’s ‘El Paraíso Interior’ stands out a recent one we delight in at the office. ‘The interior paradise’ doesn’t really say much about a city, it really belongs on a macrobiotic yoghurt pot but I digress…
Andalusia’s Sierra Subbetica local tourist board goes for less hyperbole with its ‘Centro de Andalucia’. On the plus side, it is accurate – within an hour of the sierra you can be in Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, Jaén and most of the way to Ronda.
So if it’s tactical driving distances you are looking for, Sierra Subbetica is a winner. Sadly, the tourist board seem to be slightly missing the fact that it’s a magical place in and of itself. A rugged block of mountains covered in olive trees dotted with white villages and towns such as Priego de Cordoba – often thought to be home to the world’s finest olive oils.
The Sierra was the frontier between Christian and Moorish Spain for hundreds of years so pretty much every town has a dramatic hilltop castle. On many of the surrounding hills, there are crumbling watchtowers. It is staggering just how much history is contained within this now sleepy oft ignored part of Andalucia.
But it’s the people who give it all meaning and context. The Sierra Subbetica is deepest Spain, the sort of place where you sit down for lunch outside in the shade of an orange tree, the buzz of conversation bouncing off the whitewashed walls, in early March. I do quite often find myself in situations like this thinking that we got our strapline right: To Travel is to Live.
After lunch my wife and I were driving towards the improbably beautiful village of Zuheros for a hike in the hills. Ambling along the road, heading the same way, was a man on a mule who had obviously been out working his olive trees. I got my wife to take a couple of surreptitious photos out of the car window and carried on past. Realising that it was ridiculous not to simply stop and ask his permission, I pulled over and ran back up the road to meet him. Not only was he royally unconcerned about me taking photos, he insisted on giving me a lift back to my car on the back of his mule, much to my wife’s surprise. And the mule’s I suspect.
Once back at the car, he insisted that my wife hop on so he could walk her into the village square of Luque. It was one of those simple, random acts of kindness which I feel defines large parts of inland Spain. So I’m going to vote for Sierra Subbetica to ditch ‘The centre of Andalucia’ and replace it with ‘The heart of Andalucia’, it deserves it.