Having asked my circle of friends and fellow long-term residents of the Malaga province to take me to one of their favourite places in nature, close enough for a day-outing from Marbella town, so that I can then share this with readers of Marbella Inside and Out – I too have embarked on an amazing journey of discovery of Andalusian nature at its most magnificent, to places that are only a few kilometres inland from the concreted coastline.
Such was the case at the end of last month when my friend Cate took me on a “mystery tour”, to what she intriguingly referred to as “the lost valley of El Padrón”. All I knew when she picked me up in the early hours; as it involved a long walk in the still blazing August heat; was that I should wear my swimwear under my walking clothes since it also involved a dip in the shallow summer waters of the Padrón river, which flows from the foothills of the Sierra Bermeja mountain range above Estepona, for 12 km down to the coast.
Taking Exit 160 off the N-340 coast road before Estepona town, we passed an Aldi supermarket on the right and turned left at the next roundabout just after the BP gas station. Shortly after this, we came to a crossroad and continued straight ahead. After about a 5-minute drive along this road it forks to the right to the clearly signposted “Forest Hills” residential complex but we turned left and drove along a narrow winding road (paved only 5 years ago apparently) that traces the route of the river from up on high with incredible views over the resplendently green valley below.
A corridor of giant reeds mark the course of the Padrón river. Its banks are crammed with lemon, fig, medlar, banana and avocado trees (and no doubt many other types of fruit and vegetables that we couldn’t identify) and a scattering of low rise dwellings pepper the natural landscape, mainly belonging to those who farm the fertile land.
It was somewhere along this road that we joined up with Cate’s friend Miriam who has lived in the area for the last 30 years (when there were only dirt tracks ) and who, as a nature-lover and horse rider, has spent these past decades exploring the natural surroundings.
We walked along the rest of the road for about 5 further minutes, until we reached a crossing and took the right turn that opens out onto a wide compacted soil path lined with pine trees.
I let them walk ahead, relishing the pine-scented air mingled with the scorched aroma of other summer blasted shrubs and trees and gazed about me in wonder at the sheer enormity of the monumental trees, making me feel as I imagine a tiny ant does, in the midst of an overgrown lawn.
There is a short stretch of path that is quite steep and Miriam taught me her horse riding trick which she applies when walking up a hill by foot – which is to zig-zag – and I have to say, it really did make the climb a lot easier!
Once we reached the top and turned the corner of the path, this is where the “lost valley” truly begins for Cate because, as she explains, “when you reach the top of this hill and turn the corner, all of a sudden you can hear the sound of the river below – it’s as if you enter another space, one quite forgotten by the world”.
As we meandered along, with only the magnificent surround sound of the river valley reverberating around us, catching glimpses through twisted branches and foliage of the river and stunning rock pools below as we made our descent, I could understand exactly what she meant.
The sign that the path is coming to an end is when you see a low-lying bridge crossing the river to your left. You can in fact drive right up to this point and it would make a perfect spot for a picnic (as would any other part of the path along the way where it’s suitable to park up).
Miriam however, took us further – through the bramble-covered, not so visible rough track that you can just make out to the right of the path’s end.
Following the river to our left, we reached a flattened meadow area where the river doesn’t flow that high in the summer; making for easy access to its banks; where we paddled and meditated and I went off in search of a deeper pool in which to dunk myself, clambering over slippery moss-covered stones in the neoprene shoes I had brought along for this purpose.
According to Miriam, the level of the river in the winter, can rise to the level of the lower part of the track when in full roaring flow. This must bring a whole new dimension to this walk, so I will definitely be returning after the rainfalls of winter to this nature wonderland that the “lost” river valley of El Padrón certainly is.
As a “PS” to explain my absence to those of you who are following me – when Cate dropped me back in Marbella town, I took advantage of the red lights to jump out before the drop-off point along Marbella’s high street, clutching my rucksack in front of me, now stuffed with cannon-sized avocados that Miriam kindly allowed us to pick when we went back to her place for lunch. This meant that I had to step onto the road verge and onto the pavement. I had changed into flip-flops and one of them got caught under an irrigation pipe and I went flying face down! Luckily, I had the presence of mind to use the rucksack as an airbag to break my fall and moving my arms to its side so they wouldn’t break, I just let myself go into free-fall and hoped for the best! Apart from receiving a sharp left hook in the ribs from one of the unripe avocados I emerged otherwise unscathed. I have however been nursing a very painful cracked rib which is thankfully on the mend but I did get my revenge when I found the offending avocado and relished every mouthful all the more, of the parts undamaged by the punch it gave me.
So much for a walk in the countryside being dangerous!
(Text and photos: Liz Glazer. Additional photos: CM)