DUST off your Spanish vocabulary and pack a sense of adventure – this is undiscovered Spain.
Twenty minutes drive from the charming town of Castril with its huddle of whitewashed houses, El Geco Verde is a villa style property situated off the beaten track in the rural hamlet of Campo Cebas. With commanding 360° panoramic views of the Sierra de Castril national park, it offers guests a serene location in which to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of urban life, kick back, and relax and reconnect with friends and loved ones amid magnificent natural surroundings.
Most curiously of all though, is it seems to be the land guidebooks have forgot – most tourists, too. Which, dear reader, means it’s outrageously cheap, authentic, and ripe for the picking.
Situated in the dry, dusty corner of Andalucía, south-east Spain, the region of Altiplano remains relatively undiscovered. It has numerous cave towns similar to those in Puglia, Southern Italy. It also has several reservoirs with shimmering, emerald green water such as I’ve never seen before (hence its nickname as Spain’s ‘Lake District’). In fact, this region is full of surprises. Most curiously of all though, is it seems to be the land guidebooks have forgot – most tourists, too. Which, dear reader, means it’s outrageously cheap, authentic, and ripe for the picking.
El Geco Verde’s six spacious rooms have en-suite bathrooms and are uniquely decorated with stylish fixtures and fittings, and über-comfortable beds. A room equipped for disabled guests is located on the ground floor. Guests with environmental concerns can rest assured that the hotel’s impact on the environment is minimal. Among many other eco-friendly initiatives, they rely on renewable energy including solar panels to generate electricity and hot water, and a pellet fuel burning stove to fuel their central heating.
Nothing is too much trouble for its delightful owners Derek and Ilaria who, between them, are fluent in Spanish, English, and Italian. What’s more, they’re truly, madly, deeply passionate about this region, providing guests with ideas and information aplenty about what to see and do – which, again, is a good job because, as previously mentioned, the guidebooks don’t really have a lot to say about this region. Goodness knows why not.
We spent most of our evenings sat out on the terrace watching the sun set over the mountains while enjoying one of Ilaria’s delicious, home-cooked meals accompanied by a bottle of wine and the sound of goats’ bells tinkling in the distance. And at night, the heavens were filled with an enchanting array of constellations and countless shooting stars – magical.
The wildlife too, was breathtaking. Golden eagles and vultures with epic wingspans left us gawping towards the skies in wonder. The nearby forests and mountainous terrain, meanwhile, teemed with wildlife from lynx to wild boar.
The mountainous region of La Alpujarra, may have been romanticised and, some say, overrun thanks in part to Chris Stewart’s bestselling book, ‘Driving Over Lemons’, but its nearby neighbour of Altiplano has hills that hide the ancient secrets of our ancestors... for this is also Europe’s Cradle of Civilisation.
Castellón Alto, just outside the cave town of Galera, has to rate as one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, if not the world. That we only had to share this incredible site with two other tourists during the height of summer left us scratching our heads in puzzlement. The remains of this impressive Bronze Age mountainside settlement, dating back to 2,000 BCE, provides evidence of Europe’s first hierarchical and class-oriented society. The adjoining information centre shows a short film about the history of the site in English and is worth watching. The nearby archaeological museum in Galera displays the ‘Galera Mummy’ and is also worth a visit.
Again, though, I recommend you bring a Spanish phrasebook and/or dictionary as few places are geared up for non-Spanish tourists. In fact, you get the impression throughout the entire region that the locals can’t quite understand why anyone would want to visit their neck of the woods.
The regional food is rustic, hearty, wholesome, and meaty. Cheap, too – ludicrously cheap. We spent several lazy lunchtimes enjoying the local delicacies in Emilio’s Cafe Bar in the centre of Castril. The portions were so generous we almost gained our own bodyweight during one sitting alone. El Geco Verde also offers lunch and dinner by prior arrangement. Restaurante Bar Pantano de la Bolera perched by the side of a nearby lake was another favoured haunt during our stay.
Another highlight was an afternoon spent canyoning. This was arranged for us by our hosts through locally-based eco activity company Ecoactiva (an excellent example of responsible travel – employing the service of locally-based businesses). I’ve ran four marathons but nothing came close to the exhilarating ‘Hero’s Journey’ that awaited us deep at the bottom of a nearby canyon.
Fitted with wetsuits we donned our helmets and, over the course of several challenging hours, swam along the river, scrambled over rocks, jumped off countless umpteen-feet high drops into the icy depths below, abseiled down claustrophobia-inducing crevices, and had the time of our lives. Our invigorating escapade reminded us both that we’re made of tougher, braver stuff that is easily forgotten when stumbling somnambulantly through the concrete jungle of daily life.
All in all we wanted relaxation, fabulous food, and enough sights to explore should we so wish – and that's what we got. I wholeheartedly recommend this place. Whether you're alone, with friends, family, or your partner, this destination provides the perfect opportunity to leave the world and its demands behind, and lose yourself amid the natural and cultural wonders of Spain’s beguiling higher plane.
Follow Thea on Twitter @UrbanDeva
An extensive, in-depth listing of things to see and do in Altiplano and the surrounding area can be found on El Geco Verde’s website at www.elgecoverde.com.
Further tourist information can be found at: www.andalucia.org/en/destinations/tourist-zones/altiplano-de-baza-huescar-y-castril and www.sierracastril.com.
El Geco Verde can help arrange a host of outdoor activities with local activity company Ecoactiva – www.ecoactivaturismo.es.
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