Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Day Trip {Grazalema & Zahara de la Sierra}

This past weekend we took a day trip to two more white hill towns of Andalucia -- Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra.  Both are gorgeous and worth a visit* but I highly recommend going to Grazalema during their Sangre y Amor en la Sierra festival (Blood and Love), usually in early October.  The whole town reenacts the life of a famous bandit -- Jose Maria Hinojosa or El Tempranillo.  He wasn't born in the area but carried out most of his famous criminal acts in the area as well as married a girl from Grazalema.  All of this took place around the 1830s so for this one weekend, the town returns to the 1830s to celebrate El Tempranillo.
We happened to arrive right when things were getting started, we heard gunfire as we walked into town (don't worry, it was fake but very loud).  We watched a bunch of bandits take over some soilders and storm the government building -- to a crowd of cheering people!  We had no idea what was going on which pretty much sums up the rest of our time in Grazalema, but we had an absolute blast!
The whole town seems to go back in time to 1832 -- cooking over open fires, wearing period costumes, old/make-shift buildings... the whole works.  The main plaza was set up as if it were 1832 and quite fun to see, especially as more and more reenactments happened throughout our time there.  We ate amazing food, the best chorizo I have ever had, drank beer from clay mugs and Serafina even tried the hand crank ferris wheel.  Our personal favorite was the random flamenco show that took place in the middle of the plaza, that included a dancing horse.  Serafina's favorite part was petting the ginormous boa constrictor that she is still talking about days later....

Some tips for going to this small but amazing festival:
Parking is rough (aka non-existent) in Grazalema on a normal day, let alone a festival weekend, so be prepared to get there early, get creative with your parking and plan to walk a little into the town.  Bring cash -- you can buy plenty of amazing food (get the chicken paella and the chorizo) and beer from the various huts that are selling food/drinks, but all take cash only.  The only glassware we saw were various clay mugs, different styles for different huts/food vendors.  So do some research and follow the mugs you want and get drink tickets for that hut -- as drink tickets only work at the vendor you bought them from.  I am sure you can return the mugs for a refund (pretty sure we had to put down a small depost) but of course we chose to keep our mugs as souvenrs!  Be prepared for random and loud fake gunfire throughout the day.  It'll die down and pick up at various points throughout the day so if you have littles, just be warned.  Serafina hated the gunfire so we used her headphones to help mute the noise.  There isn't a lot "to do" but the performances/reenactments are kind of fun to watch.  There is plenty to eat and drink and there is a small hand crank ferris wheel for the kids (along with various live animals -- birds, horses, sheep, and that dang scary snake!).

After we had our fun in Grazalema, we moved on to another white hill town just a short drive away, Zahara de la Sierra.  Zahara is known for its olive oil and goat cheese (hard goat cheese, not soft like most Americans are used to).  Some of the best olive oil in the world comes from this region, so stock up if you go -- or better yet, go visit one of the olive making places (not sure what the technical term is).  You do need a reservation/tell the owners you're coming so this part requires planning; it is also usually a full day thing with making your own olive oil, lunch, etc.  But Zahara is still worth a walk through as the views are gorgeous -- if you decide to walk up to the castle (ruins), be prepared for a long, steep hike....

*So the drive into these mountains is a little rough -- narrow road and massive amount of switchbacks, but once you get to one town there are many others just a short drive away (typically no more than 30 minutes).  So plan on hitting a few of these towns in one day so avoid doing the awful drive more than once!

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