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The Contraviesa Ride, Sierra Nevada, Spain

24 – 31 March 2012

Bleary eyed I set out at 4am for Birmingham airport to get a local flight to Malaga. My flight was on time and less than 3 hours later I was in Southern Spain at Malaga airport. My flight had arrived by mid-morning and my transfer was not until 4pm, so I read my book for a little while and had lunch at a little café in the airport.

Time passed quickly and before I knew it I was being greeted by Jeanette at the pre-arranged meeting point. Jeanette was the most bubbly, happy character, full of chatter about the forthcoming week, and genuinely pleased to be pointing out various towns and sights on our 2 hour road transfer up to the mountains. The closer we got, the higher we climbed and the bendier the roads became. Nothing could prepare me as to how far up we went to reach our final destination, and how high Bubion is within the hills.  I just did not appreciate that Spain had such magnificent mountains.

The village of Bubion is certainly beautiful to the eye, filled with white washed homes and village restaurants and bars, with plenty of tiny narrow cobble stone lanes to wander around. It also felt incredibly rural, as if you were seeing how the locals went about their day to day life, not touristy in the slightest. We were shown around a lovely little guesthouse in the centre of Bubion, within which they had lit a roaring fire in the woodburning stove in the very homely guest room (it was March so the evenings were still cold).  A little later after being given the time to unpack and relax, we were met by the infamous Dallas Love and taken literally next door to a local restaurant for evening supper.

I have to be honest and say that Dallas is one of the most interesting women I have ever had the opportunity to meet. What she does not know about the Sierra Nevada mountains, is probably not worth knowing. English born, she spent her childhood ‘playing’ upon these mountains (usually riding a mule!) and she has learnt over the years where all the many tiny tracks and ancient paths are that contain the most stunning views and interesting landscape. The stories of life and experiences (usually horse related) that Dallas tells en route make her an incredibly interesting woman to listen and chat with. Her easy going nature and willingness to share her mountains little treasures and surprises with you, make the weeks ride an eye opening experience you should never forget.

The next morning we were met by Jeanette and driven a short distance through the neighbouring village of Capileira to Dallas’ stables. Here we were greeted with her group of approximately 15 horses all literally wandering freely around the stable yard. Some horses had decided to relax in a stable, some were just stood on the yard asleep, some of the more inquisitive ones came wandering over almost straight away to meet the new visitors. I have not witnessed such a genuinely happy bunch of horses in a long time, all very at ease with each other and not a face-pull in sight. It was immediately obvious how well loved each of these horses were including the retired ones, and both Dallas and Jeanette could tell you the entire history about each and every one of them – including their individual likes, foibles and characteristics.

I was introduced to my mount for the week “Laurel”. A beautiful grey gelding, terribly pretty about 16.1hh. He was incredibly well schooled, very comfortable to ride and amazingly sure footed, given the rocks and terrain we were to encounter throughout the week. Laurel completely knew he was beautiful, and so as a result also knew that he did not have to pose for photograph’s, he believed his beauty would shine through. “Valentino”, the other guest horse on this trail, had no such aloof standards. Being 16.3hh Valentino was also a grey gelding, heavier in build with a long nose and similar to his namesake, he knew that the moment anyone sat on his back they were hooked and in love! He adored nothing more than posing for photo’s and receiving kisses – he also knew that the lunchtime salad bowl would come to him each day as a result of his brazen attempts to romance the guests…

Upon leaving the stables, some of the horses left behind came running after us, waving us off and shouting very loudly, annoyed to be left behind. They followed until they could not follow any longer, and then just watched as we ambled into the distance. Within minutes it became very apparent why this area is a delight to ride in. The views are literally unique, and each corner we rode around revealed a new stunning view that made you suck in your breath in wonder. My only problem was that my camera did not do the landscape or the overwhelming depth of the view any justice whatsoever. The camera seemed to miss what my eyes were seeing, and these mountain views remain committed to my memory forever.

The ride is not fast paced, but the countryside and views you encounter along the way make you completely forget that you might not have cantered for a couple of hours – to be truthful it was incredibly relaxing just being able to witness the changing landscape at a slower Spanish pace of life on such a well schooled horse. If you were to fly along too much, you would genuinely miss so much, it would be a waste and a shame.

Throughout the week, alongside Bubion, we stayed overnight at Trevelez (the highest village in Spain), Berchules, and at the Morayma, the most delightful hotel that is full of antiques and interesting artefacts (not to mention the view). We rode for about 5-6 hours each day, allowing for an hours lunch. Our travels took us over rocks, along old Moorish irrigation channels, through forests, up and over gorse heather and lavender filled mountain tops, down through countless valleys and old terrace farms and small farmed planted terraces. I still smile thinking about how the horse would refuse to pass through a village without stopping to sample the spring water in the village fountain. Clambering up the fountain steps to reach the fountain troughs if need be. The whole time Laurel looked after me completely, again and again I wondered at how foot-sure this agile horse was. He was similar to a mountain goat, in his ability to clamber safely everywhere, although I would not offend him by saying the same of his handsome looks!

There are times each day where you may be asked to dismount and lead your horse on foot, usually always downhill. One such occasion was when we reached the stunning descent into Trevelez gorge, a roman road literally cut into the side of the gorge. I would never have believed that you could take a horse down and then backup such a steep and dramatic set of ancient stone steps. The drop to the side of us was practically vertical, and once again Dallas’ horses did not waiver. They had seen it all before, and knew precisely where to place their hooves without a single stumble.

Most days we enjoyed a saddle bag picnic lunch of fresh bread, salad and a selection of meats or tortillas, plus of course a more than generous glass of wine. On one occasion we stopped in the village of Portugos, where we refuelled in a local taverna alongside the Spanish farmers and villagers. Each evening we either ate at the hotels we stayed in or at a local restaurant also in the same village. There was always a choice on the menu to choose from and the food was typically Spanish, filling me up totally, and absolutely delicious too. Bubion and Capileira are wonderful villages to explore, with lots of little gift and craft shops to visit, plus numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. A short riding break would also be worthy of consideration if you wish to get away for a long weekend.

Throughout my week I was transported into another world, high up in the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains, where it felt that all of the stresses, strains and pace of modern life were left behind down at the Spanish coastline near Malaga. The whole week was relaxing and fun, where I received wonderful hospitality, enjoyable social evenings and plenty of laughs and jokes along the way. There are too many reasons and memories that will make this week stay forever in my mind, but to sum up, these were mainly the stunning scenery, the beautiful horses and the people I met along the way who were totally unique, not to mention Dallas, a legend truly belonging to these mountains and valleys.


Sarah Dale, 31st March, 2012

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