No trip to Costa del Sol is complete without trekking El Torcal de Antequera and Caminito del Rey natural parks. Here is why you should spend several days away from the “Costa” and enjoy some fresh air and splendid mountain views.
(Words and Photos by Elena)
Visiting El Torcal de Antequera
El Torcal de Antequera in Andalucia is famous for its stunning lunar grey limestone formations, that create some of the most unusual and out-of-this-world landscapes in the whole of Europe. This area was formed over 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.
El Torcal park features three routes crossing the 17 sq. km territory of “hamburger rocks”, as local guides call them. The layers of carbonate-rich rock eroded over time at different speeds creating a strange-looking area of karst landscapes.
There are several hiking paths to choose from. We took the easy green route, a pleasant 1.5 km of walk. The more challenging red route ran nearby through 4.5 km of rocky terrain. The paths take visitors to a breathtaking viewing point where you can see the coastline of Africa on a clear day.
If you are keen to learn about local flora and fauna, take one of the guided tours with a local experts. They will show you some of the 650 plant species here and you can learn about the medicinal plants and maybe see some of the 30 species of orchids that grow here. According to our guide, ingredients of this open-air pharmacy can treat a wide range of ailments, ranging from an upset stomach to asthma and joint stiffness. It’s also a special protection area for birds.
You can’t get to El Torcal by public transport. Unless you hire a car, it’ best to get a tour or a transfer from either Antequera (15 km) or Malaga (25 km). Aternatively, you can cycle or walk from the nearest village, Villanueva de la Concepcion (3 km).
Exploring the Caminito del Rey
The King’s Pathway or Caminito del Rey is probably the most photogenic and intsagrammable attraction in Costa del Sol. Despite its regal name, the King’s path is in fact, an iron and wooden pathway built in the early 19th century for the workers of the then new hydro-electric plant. The plant was designed to harness the power of three rivers and was an ambitious project of Alfonso XIII. Like many ambitious and not well thought-out projects, it quickly fell into disrepair.
Located 100 m above the El Chorro Gorge, the 7.7 walk received a terrifying nickname, the Walk of Death, due to the number of lives it claimed over the years.
The good news is, after a 15 year closure, this much safer new walkway opened in 2015. It is much wider and sturdier, but still, you might find yourself gripping the rail when looking down at the remains of the old narrow and perilous path.
There are several rules to remember before heading to Caminito del Rey, always wear a top hat given to you at the entrance, be patient when walking the path and mindful of other walkers, do not lean over and do not bring selfie sticks with you as they are not allowed. Take your time.
We spent about three hours walking the King’s Path, and we were rushing. It’s worth allocating more time, especially if you are a keen photographer. The number of visitors is strictly limited to 600 people a day and no tickets can be purchased at the entrance. The best way to ensure that you are not disappointed and have a smooth entry is buying a ticket online in advance.
Slow travel – Visiting pueblos blancos and farms
One of the top trends in travel now is ‘slow travel”. It might come as a surprise but Costa del Sol is an excellent place to stop and smell the roses, in some cases, quite literally. While coastal Marbella and its surroundings are synonymous with high-octane party life, inland you will find pretty white villages, or pueblos blancos.
Far from the maddening crowd, countryside roads offer excellent hiking and cycling routes. You can go an farm tours with olive oil and cheese tasting, or join one of the many gastro and wine tours. At its core, the slow travel trend takes us back to old-fashioned travelling, where you explore nature and cultural sights at a gentler pace.
The Copper Forest and the world’s smallest winery
An hour and a half drive from Marbella and just 40 minutes away from Ronda lies Bosque de Cobre, the so-called Copper Forest. This region is famous for its chestnut plantations which turns into a spectacle of yellows and reds in the autumn. Wherever you look at this time, the view is spectacular and the plantations are full of people picking ripe chestnuts. There are several hiking routes and paths that go through the Copper Forest. If you follow the Great Ronda Path, it will take you to photogenic villages, scenic and viewing spots or ‘miradors”.
Our hike took us to the pretty village of Benalaura in the Genal Valley. Cars are not allowed in the village as the old streets are too narrow. All 150 inhabitants get on foot or by bikes. Despite its tiny size, Benalaura has two interesting places to visit, a winery and an open museum dedicated to traditional way of life and local history.
One of the museum’s most treasured exhibits is an old oil mill as after chestnuts, olive oil is the second crop that has been sustaining the locals for generations.
The second place of interest in Benalaura is the world’s smallest winery called “28 meters” set up in a house in 2016. Twenty-eight metres doesn’t sound like a lot of space but the winery has its own press, fermentation tank and the most hospitable owners.
After exploring the village we were treated to some wine, Payoyo cheese and local chutneys. Payoyo, by the way, is a local variety of goats cheese which has been voted the best cheese of this kind at the World Cheese Awards!
Benalaura and Copper Forest are exactly what slow travel is about. Going with a flow, away from busy touristy routes and marked trails. Having the taste for the unexpected and moving slowly to savour the experience of travel and ultimately, the experience of life.
Where to stay in Costa del Sol
To explore El Torcal, Caminito del Rey or little villages of Copper Forest, you can choose Malaga, Marbella or Ronda as your base.
In Malaga I stayed at Barcelo Malaga Hotel, a stylish modern hotel with solarium, pool and avant-garde cocktail bar.
In Marbella, as soon as I checked into the 4-star Iberostar Marbella Coral Beach it was time to break out popcorn and put my feet up. The room had a cinema theme and featured a home cinema with an unlimited online movie library, jars of sweets, cinema books and my own popcorn machine!
The room had a spacious furnished balcony, perfect for sundowners. But instead of movies and cocktails my evening programme involved a “Mindfulness and Meditation” yoga session on the beach. This is part of the hotel’s wellness programme, available to all Iberostar Marbella Coral Beach guests.
It’s time to plan your winter escape to Costa del Sol with Jet2Holidays for some winter sun. Flights depart frequently from Manchester, Leeds, Stanstead and other UK airports.
EatCookExplore was a guest of Jet2Holidays and Costa del Sol Tourism Board.