The trail between Zahara de la Sierra and Grazalema traverses a stunning section of the national park, meandering beside the shores of the sprawling Zahara-El Gastor Reservoir before climbing into the mountains surrounded by craggy mountain peaks.
Over the first 10 kilometres of your retreat from Zahara de la Sierra, you seldom escape the watchful gaze of the castle that crowns the nearby rocky outcrop – ‘a Moorish Eagle Nest’ as novelist Richard Ford once described it. From afar it somehow begins to appear ever-more prominent and imposing, so be sure to look behind to enjoy the views!
The first section of the walk meanders along the shores of the Zahara-El Gastor Reservoir, which was constructed in 1992 and sprawls across the valley surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains. After this gentle warm-up, the path begins to climb for a closer look at the mountains. You’ll pass the occasional isolated farmhouse, invariably accompanied by a cacophony of yapping dogs and jangling goat-bells, but for the most part, you’ll walk through a silent, wild and rugged landscape.
The grey shark fin of Peñon Grande rears up dramatically behind Grazalema, but this is just one of a number of limestone peaks which surround and dwarf the village. The mountain backdrop ensures Grazalema is consistently voted one of Spain’s most beautiful villages, but the mountains also create a microclimate that makes it the wettest village in Spain too! The centre of the action is the Plaza de España, an elegant square sandwiched between the church, the town hall and a host of bars ready to bring you drinks and tapas.
Don’t leave Zahara de la Sierra without climbing to the top of the castle! The views are truly extraordinary, especially at sunrise and sunset.
There are some exposed and unfenced edges throughout the walk; be careful and remain on the path.
There are several stretches where you must walk on the road as there is no pavement. Walk on the left side facing the oncoming traffic unless there is a sharp left bend, in which case you should cross to the outside edge to allow drivers the maximum time to see you.
Some of the paths are along rocky steps; be careful as these may be slippery, especially when wet.
You will pass a few farm areas where there may be dogs; they may bark but are often curious rather than aggressive. Larger dogs have generally tied up or behind a fence.
Sturdy hiking boots and a waterproof/wind-break layer are required. Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of the steep ascents and descents.
The path is overgrown in places today, sometimes with brambles and gorse, so you might prefer to wear trousers rather than shorts.
Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.
Make sure you bring enough water. It is recommended to drink 0.75 litres per 1 hour of hiking in hot weather.
Be sure to bring plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.
Points of Interest
Castle of Zahara de la Sierra
Throughout the 15th century, Zahara de la Sierra was on the northern frontier of the Muslim Kingdom. A network of outposts and fortresses helped defend this border with Zahara occupying a key strategic location. You can climb up to the 14th century Torre del Homenaje to enjoy both the superb and far-reaching views, and also connect with this historical relic. It has been recognised as a ‘Bien de Interés Cultural’ – Spain’s recognition of important cultural assets.
Zahara-El Gastor Reservoir
The villages of Zahara and El Gastor were separated when the valley between them was flooded in 1992. The reservoir that was formed has brought gorgeous panoramic views and water sports opportunities to the area.
La Playita is a man-made oasis at the foot of Monte Prieto. This large lagoon is surrounded by shady trees and grassy banks making it perfect for relaxing, picnicking and cooling off with a swim. There may be a bar-restaurant open during peak times. It is open during summer and early autumn, so be sure to check it is open in advance.
More information and prices available here: https://arearecreativaarroyomolinos.blogspot.com/p/precios.html (though the website doesn’t appear to be updated regularly.)
Parroquia de la Encarnación Church, Grazalema
This church was built in 1614 but was partially destroyed during the Independence War from France, and then again in the Civil War. It was originally dedicated to San Atanasio but after a cholera epidemic he was ditched and it was rededicated to the ‘Virgin of the Incarnation’. Until about 30 years ago women and men entered through separate doors; now only the left door is used.
Food and Drink
After leaving Zahara there is nowhere to buy food or drink or to refill water bottles until arriving in Grazalema so be sure to carry sufficient provisions with you.