I published a whole series of stage plans before I started the E4 and these attracted some really helpful comments. What I'm now tediously doing is rewriting all of those blogs informed by the actual trip. Will try to be as candid as possible - there are parts of the E4 which are not so nice.
The logic behind "Stage 1" is that it takes you to the point where the GR7 splits into a northern and southern option. As it happens the split takes place at Villanueva del Cauche but to make my itinerary work for me I went slightly beyond that point.
The month leading up to starting the walk, by the way, was terrible. I was committed to the walk but had massive reservations. Wasn't sleeping and had an almost overwhelming feeling that I was about to fall flat on my face and make a complete fool of myself. Getting to Spain and starting the walk was just a wonderful release, the doubts disappeared and for the first few weeks I was powered by euphoria.
Tarifa is the perfect place to start the walk, it feels like and is the edge of Europe. It is also very windy (apparently the wind is virtually non-stop) and the views across narrow Straits of Gibraltar to the Africa are sharp and clear. Would have been nice to have stopped for the night in Tarifa but instead I trudged along the beach and shortened what would otherwise have been a 41.5 next day walk to Los Barrios. I stayed at the Hotel Artevida which was fine but expensive compared to most of my accommodation in Spain.
|Cork Oak Grove|
The 34 kilometre walk to Castillo de Castellar is a poor one - long walk past a huge rubbish dump, a walk down a quite road, and then a walk along a cycle path alongside a busy road before you finally get off road just before the finish. A shame because Castillo de Castellar, a wonderful hill top town, is a great place to finish the day. Stayed in an absolutely amazing hotel, part of the castle itself.
After two big days the third day was a short 15 kilometres walk to Jimena de la Frontera, through pleasant if not particularly exciting countryside. You spend quite a bit of time walking alongside a famous (apparently) wide gauge railway line. I really liked Jimena de la Frontera and you can see why a lot of ex-UK residents have decided to live there. I managed to stay in another really lovely hotel, the Casa Henrietta, brightly decorated with real Andalucian style.
After Jimena de la Frontera the countryside really starts to match the towns for interest. After an initial climb up to about 800 metres your into fairly open moorland with great views all the way back to Gibraltar. It's a tough 40 kilometre walk and you stay high all the way until the final descent into Ubrique, another recently interesting and ancient town rammed up against huge cliffs. Didn't stay in a hotel in Ubrique, was the guest of the local tourist board, but there are hotels in the town or nearby. The Hotel Ocurris is one which seems to attract recommendations.
On the next day I walked all the way to Ronda but this is fabulous countryside and anyone sensible would have stopped along the way. Stopping options with accommodation include Villaluenga del Rosario (bit close to Ubrique) or Montejaque (bit close to Ronda). Either way this is a wonderful stretch. Highlights included the march up the Roman road (everything still there) to Benacoaz; the walk through the valley to the pretty village of Villaluenga del Rosario (nestling under the Navazo Alto) or the walk through the limestone scenery of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. If you do decide to walk all the way to Ronda, like I did, you'll find the walk after Montejaque painfully long.
|The Stunning Sierra de Grazelema|
The next day's walk was another poor one, difficult to find the route between Ronda and Arriate and a lot of road walking between Arriate and Cuevas del Becerro. Cuevas del Becerro is slightly away from the route but there is no accommodation at Serrato which would otherwise have been a good place to stop. Had a nice afternoon in Cuevas del Becerro, there was a fiesta, but not much of a draw otherwise.
The following walk to El Chorro is much nicer although a bit tougher than I had anticipated. Lovely open arable countryside with long views. Ardales, half way along, is another interesting looking town (the walk takes you over a Roman bridge) with accommodation if you want to really short day. The second half of the walk is a lot tougher, a nice ridge walk and then a climb up to the spectacular reservoir above El Chorro and a really steep climb down. I stayed in a camp site with huts but there is other accommodation available.
The last day of this stage was a really wet one for me which was a shame because it meant I missed the views of the El Torcal peak in the natural park to the south of the route which has the same name. Not a bad walk but you do have to work you way underneath the motorway and there is a bit of associated road walking before you eventually get to Villanueva del Rosario. Stayed in the Hotel Venta Las Delicias which was cheap, cheerful and good fun.
Most people would sensibly walk section of the GR7 at a slower pace and there are enough accommodation options to do things differently to the way I did it. Perhaps the key issue is whether or not to stay at Ronda. If you have been there before than it would make sense to stay at Montejaque, then Arriate, then Ardales, Valle de Adbalajis and then Antequera. Another day to the itinerary but perhaps more sensible.
If your interested in what it felt like at the time please have a look at the daily diary entries.
Tarifa to Los Barrios
Los Barrios to Castillo de Castellar
Castillo de Castellar to Jimena de la Frontera
Jimena de la Frontera to Ubrique
Ubrique to Ronda
Ronda to Cuevas del Becerro
Cuevas del Becerro to El Chorro
El Chorro to Antequera
Antequera to Villanueva del Rosario