Once upon a time in Spain...
We traveled by car from Seville to Granada, through the land of Ferdinand - one of my favorite children's books. And on the way, we visited the hill town of Zahara, which, I'm pretty sure, was the model for the very first page of that little book about a peaceful, introverted bull.
Zahara is like a fairytale - isolated and absolutely untouched by sprawl. The same cluster of whitewashed buildings zig-zagging up to the fortress on the hill as were there hundred of years ago.
I'm very proud to say that at seven months pregnant, I totally climbed that hill all the way to the top of that fortress tower. Standing up there looking out into the impossibly blue lake (look at that picture!) and white buildings below, I realized...it was totally worth feeling like I was going to die trying to make that hike while seven months pregnant and in a dress.
We didn't stay long in Zahara - just a couple hours to climb the hill and gawk at its time-capsule-other-worldliness. And then we were back on a road that kept winding up and up through the mountains and then back down through the tiny, hidden hill town of Grazalema.
(Our only picture of Grazalema)
Grazalema isn't nearly as stunning to see as Zahara, but it is an adventure trying to drive a tiny tiny manual rental car down and up through its even tinier whitewashed and completely un-signanged roads. It was a tense five minutes, we try not to dwell on that time. But the drive out of Grazalema to Ronda (perhaps the most "touristy" hill town) was through miles and miles of cork trees.
Cork trees! Like in Ferdinand! It actually took us a while (and some rifling through our guide book) to figure out they were cork trees in the first place. I hadn't fully realized that cork is harvested from the bark or right below the bark, so we saw miles and miles of giant trees with a strip cut around their middles or all the way from half of the trunk through the larger branches, exposing the rich reddish wood beneath and it was so fascinating. ...This is hard to explain, I'm going to go look for a picture:
Like this! For miles and miles! It was beautiful.
We had saved Ronda for the end 1) because...it was just the last hill town on the way to Granada.... but 2) It was supposed to be the best one.
Mehhhhhhhhhhh Ronda. Sure, it was an old town built up high...but just on a big bluff. Meh. And then its most famous draw - its medieval gorge bridge (which makes an appearance in Ferdinand!) - was completely not anywhere. We drove literally three times all the way around that bluff with a GPS and trying to follow any signs and never saw even a tiny glimpse of anything that could possibly be that bridge.
I know it exists. I've seen it in Ferdinand! (And friends' travel pictures) But dag nabbit....it just decided to not exist for us that day.
But actually, that was totally fine because we now knew for sure that we had seen the best hill town in Andalusia, hands down - Zahara. So we let it go and left Ronda for a final few hours through that dry Mediterranean landscape (strangely reminiscent of... central Utah?) and onward to Granada (!!).
(Where is this bridge, Ronda??)