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Lost in Space (Spain)

sunny 23 °C
View Andalusia Spain on Jenniferklm's travel map.

After two easy days of cycling after leaving Jerez on our journey to Seville, we may have gotten a little blasé about the navigational challenges in Spain. As I have mentioned before, signage for cyclists is pretty much non-existent and as we discovered, Google Maps cannot always be relied upon. We had determined that our next overnight would be in El Coronil. We would be leaving the province of Cádiz for the province of Seville. There are 17 regions and Spain and 50 provinces.

When we left Arcos de La Frontera, it was another perfect weather day for cycling - clear blue sky, chilly in the morning but down to shorts and t-shirts by the afternoon, in the low 20s C. Everything we had read about the winter weather in Andalucia seems spot on and we couldn’t be happier with it. Perfect cycling temps.


In terms of terrain, what had been flat was now more rolling hills so we had to work a little harder, though it was still very rideable even for a couple of seniors. And what goes up generally does go down so the descents dried the sweat nicely.


So up and down we went, huffing and puffing but enjoying the incredible 360 degree vistas of agricultural land, from brilliant green crops (grain?) to fields of fava beans to hectares of newly planted olive trees to chalky white hills with the blue mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance. We were mostly on quiet rural roads until we weren’t, but eventually there seemed to be no other option than a road. It was not a major motorway but there was more traffic and more large trucks than we are comfortable with and what there was zoomed by us at high speed.


Then Google Maps decided to “toy” with us (though there is a stronger word for it) and directed us into a little huddle of houses on one side of the road. Really I say? Yup, must be a little road somewhere here he says. So we rode down every little rocky dirt street in the Barriada de Fátima, some several times, no doubt giving the occupants something to talk about, as there didn’t seem to be much going on there, but nothing looked promising, We resigned ourselves to staying on the road to the next town, Villemartin, another White Town.


In the lower part of Villemartin, we found a bar with a very busy patio of locals playing cards and had a restorative café. You could have had anything to drink there but they looked a bit horrified when we asked about comida - food. Clearly just a drinking establishment. Like a White Village, the main part of the town was located on the top of a hill. We rode up to see what was there but decided to just lunch on some leftover bread, cheese and sausage from our previous night’s dinner, sitting in a little square. Then we proceeded to follow various Google Maps bike route leads out of town but all were unproductive.


We still had 30km to ride to El Coronil and we could not figure out how to get there without being on a busy road. It was hot, I was tired and not sure I was up to another 30 km. We began to contemplate staying in Villemartin instead. However, Villemartin, in spite of having a very attractive old town square, did not appear to have any hotels, even though we had ridden up and down its steep streets several times. Finally I asked a couple of road cyclists who confirmed that there were no hotels in town but there was one a couple of km away below the town and provided some sketchy directions. We managed to find it and the gates were open to a country-style hotel with various cottage outbuildings. However, the reception office was closed up tight and though there were several cars parked and we wandered around calling “Hola?”, no one appeared and we decided it was closed for the season.

At this point our options were pretty limited - ride back up to Villemartin and spend the night in the town square wearing all our clothes to keep warm, break into one of the very nice cottage rooms at this closed up hotel, appeal for help to the Guardia Civil or find another hotel close to where we were but not as far as El Coronil. Jim consulted Google Maps again for hotels and the Hacienda de Le Divertado popped up about 8 Km away. I phoned to make sure they were open and when a man answered the phone, I asked without much hope if he spoke English, feeling too beat to even try communicating in Spanish. Yes, he said, I do in very clear English. Would they have a room? Yes, they would. When would we arrive as they would have to make one up and would we prefer one bed or two? Feeling slightly hysterical with relief, I said we were on our bikes and it might be an hour but we would be happy to wait and we would take any bed they had.

Off we went, distrustfully following Google Maps again and riding yet one more time up the steep main street of the town and down the other side onto a busy road. There were few other buildings on the road but eventually we saw a white building with a large parking lot in front and with huge relief, the name Hacienda de La Divertado on the front. There was no hotel sign and we would probably have just ridden past thinking it was closed.


We rang the buzzer and tall handsome man with a ponytail in his 50s came to the door. He told us to meet him around the back where we could leave the bikes in what turned out to be a former stable. The grounds at the back of the hacienda were quite extensive, with a big pool, fountains, gardens, and seating areas, surrounded by open agricultural land. We chatted with him for awhile. Marco and his wife Antonia are Dutch but have been living in Spain for some years, trying different locales. They have been renting and operating Hacienda de La Divertado as a hotel and restaurant for 2 1/2 years. He explained that the staff were on holiday so the restaurant was closed but the hotel was open if they got inquiries.


He showed us to a very comfortable room and when we emerged we met Antonia who got us cold beers and cushions for the outdoor furniture. She said, as the restaurant wasn’t open and we were far away from the town, that she could cook something for us as she would be preparing their dinner anyway and what time would we like to eat?

We couldn’t quite believe we had gone, completely by chance, from feeling quite frustrated and homeless to finding ourselves rescued and taken care of in such a warm, hospitable way by these two delightful people.

Before dinner, Antonia told me I could walk through their back gate and down a path to a field where there were cows and horses and a good view over the lake and towards the mountains in the distance. It really was a stunning view with the setting sun and a full moon rising, like a watercolour painting of soft reds and blues with a white horse appearing and disappearing through the trees. They told us that due to prolonged drought, the lake is at 8% of what it used to be!


On the property, I also saw pomegranate trees, something I had never seen. They still had a lot of hard dried fruit on the trees and I realized that the ground was covered with pomegranate husks but they all had big holes in them. When I asked Antonia about what I had seen, she said that it had been too hot last year and that the pomegranates had simply exploded on the trees.


She served us a wonderful dinner in the big dining room - a big salad and a traditional stew of pork cheeks with bread. And the next morning, Marco made us a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit, croissants, tostada and very good café from his impressive machine.


We really connected with Marco and Antonia and had such good conversations with them. It seems such a big undertaking to run a hotel and restaurant and we hope they will be successful. Apparently they have a very good cook and other staff who appreciate the fact that they involve them in decisions about the hotel. Their hospitality to us was certainly impressive and so appreciated.

This encounter is one of the things I love about our cycling trips. You do rely on the kindness of strangers in certain situations and we have had other memorable experiences with wonderful people just like this one that really makes travelling so life-affirming.

Posted by Jenniferklm 08:39 Archived in Spain

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Wow you were lucky. I’m so glad how things out. It’s an awful feeling when evening is approaching and you have absolutely no certainty of a bed for the night. Then there it is, all you could ask for and a home cooked meal!

by Wendy Parker

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