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The Sierras de Cazorla,

Segura and Las Villas are probably one of Spain's best kept secrets and it's right on our doorstep. The scenery is breathtaking. Our circular drive took us through a mountain range full of wide and narrow valleys, deep ravines, high peaks, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, luxuriant pine forests, olive groves and quaint old mountain villages steeped in history and charm.


Our journey started in Pozo Alcon where we set off for Quesada. (A315 and C323). The road climbed steeply offering sweeping panoramic views before passing through dense pine forests. In the distance we could see an old preserved tower on the skyline. Passing through a rock tunnel at Ponte de Tiscal we came upon Cuevas del Aqua. Well worth a stop, although not for anyone with walking difficulties. The walk takes you down through a series of caves to a waterfall tumbling out of the rock. Just past the caves we took a sharp right leading up to the El Santuario a restaurant/bar located in a quaint monastery. We had a coffee on the pretty little terrace before continuing on, lamenting the fact that we were too early to sample lunch in the lovely vaulted restaurant.

We continued our journey, passing thousands of olive trees as far as the eye could see, until we stopped to explore Quesada a quaint, higgledy, piggledy town. We then continued on to Cazorla (A315 and A332), our destination for our first night.

We had reserved a room at the Hotel Villa Touristica (, a very attractive hotel set on the mountainside overlooking Cazorla but at the same time close enough to walk into town, which is precisely what we did for our lunch.

Restaurante La Sarga ( situated in Plaza del Mercado, was a real find. It is probably one of the prettiest restaurants I have been to in Spain ; decorated in a very 'French' style with beautiful lace tablecloths; it oozed character, elegance and intimacy.

The food was divine and beautifully presented! Our starters were Crisp layers of Aubergine filled with fresh cheese and honey essence, and, Chicken run eggs, morcilla and pinenuts. Both starters were delicious, albeit on the large side. Our main courses were lamb stuffed with apples and truffles, which was served on a bed of roasted vegetables and excellent gravy, and, Entrecot de Ternera with a generous portion of Duck foie gras pate sprinkled over the top. We drank an excellent Lealtanza Rioja Reserva 2000, chosen from the extensive wine list. Unfortunately we were too full to sample the lovely looking deserts and settled for coffee instead. I would highly recommend this restaurant with it's efficient and unobtrusive service.

After a siesta to recover, we wandered around the old town of Cazorla with its quaint maze of narrow streets, old squares and the castle which towers over the village. The main square with its quirkiness of old and new style buildings was a hub of life offering alfresco tables to eat and drink. We continued on to the Botanical Garden Walk-way, where it seemed the whole population of Cazorla were taking their evening stroll.

The following day we set forth again taking the road (A319) northwards through Arroyo Frio, a pretty Swiss chalet style village and onwards towards Tranco   Lake and Hornos. The olive tree clad mountain slopes gave way to pine and deciduous trees a very pretty, green route with some stunning mountains views. Finally we glimpsed the lake through the trees and at this point three fallow deer leapt off the mountainside and sped into the distance. Shortly after this we came across the Casa de la Artesania, where we stopped to buy some lovely homemade blackberry liqueur.

On the road again (A319 and A317), we headed up the lake enjoying the spectacular views and finally stopped at Segura de la Sierra, a delightful village, some 1230 metres above sea level. It is entered through a medieval, turreted gateway and within the village is a castle and some Moorish baths. We stopped here for a light lunch at Restaurante La Mesa Segurena.

Our destination for that evening was just outside Cortijos Nuevos (A314), where we had booked to stay at Cortijo de Ramon ( lovely find. Set on the mountain slopes among pine and walnut trees, this welcoming hotel was built in the grounds of a former shepherd's house.

This was a real oasis of tranquility. As we arrived, lunch was still being served on long trestle tables under the shade of a large walnut tree and again the atmosphere was very French.

There are just eight rooms in this small hotel, which is run by Amparo and Marc (a Frenchman who spoke excellent English). Having checked into our room, which had a comfortable, traditional rustic feel to it, we wandered down to the swimming pool, where we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon soaking up the sun, swimming and sampling Alf's Tinto de Veranos from his pool side bar. Afterwards we went for a walk through the pine forest to work up an appetite for dinner.

Dinner was a lovely experience although it is not served until 9.30 pm . Well worth the wait - we sat outside under the stars and sampled local delicacies. Partridge pate, homemade chicken croquetas, which were so smooth and tasty and Galianos, a traditional dish which resembled gnocchi and was made with a form of pasta, chicken and rabbit. This was accompanied by a Ribero del Duero wine, Vina Mayor. Our total bill, with breakfast, came to 126.80 Euros. We will definitely be returning the hotel was one of those rare finds that we didn't want to leave, it was just so relaxing and enjoyable and Amparo and Marc are very charming hosts.

The following morning we headed off towards Hornos (A317), an old village set high on top of a mountain crag. The ruins of a castle stand above the town and there is a super viewing balcony adjacent to the town hall that commands excellent views over the surrounding countryside. We then took the road towards Potones (a unique mountain village with a tumbling stream and a tumbledown feel to its streets we stopped here for coffee at Meson El Cortijo) and Pueblo Don Fadrique; the whole morning's drive took us approximately 2 hours through majestic scenery. On occasions the tall popular trees gave the impression of being in Tuscany . Rounding each bend gave a different vista of rocky outcrops, densely forested mountain slopes and lush golden corn meadows. Definitely better than the Alpujarras we decided and so little traffic.