GR 249. Stage 28: Genalguacil - Casares
The Río Almárchal basin
The walk starts in Genalguacil heading east from the Mirador de los Poyetes (or de la Lomilla), and is surrounded by sculptures. First metres lead through the Cerecillo area along a faint path which crosses a lovely population of acanthus tucked away at a small stream very close to the village. Next the old camino turns into a track lined with small terraces in the steep chalk slopes where a few olives and prickly pears grow. On the escarpments, where the path used to lead, you can see Holm oaks and Cork oaks whilst the olive grove gives way to small vegetable gardens; a sign that you are arriving at the fi rst stream, Arroyo de la Pasada (km 1.1), which you need to ford and which normally maintains a trickle of water and a few Great Yellow Gentian plants under the few Poplars and Nettle trees. Another section of the walk passes by La Casa del Helechal with views to Genalguacil, amongst Chestnuts, Cork oaks and Almond trees, until it arrives at a dirt track which actually is the road to El Puerto de Peñas Blancas. A few metes away, at the Puerto de la Loma, the walk bears southwards along a narrower track which keeps climbi
press and winery marked with a panel bearing the curious name of Nuestra Señora de Vallyvana, an image of Mother Mary which is actually worshiped in Morella (Castellón).
The first vantage point of the path is the Loma de las Posteruelas, where the olive grove co-habits with Holm oaks and ruins of houses and huts. As you start walking downhill, there is a gate which leads to a couple of good viewpoints to the pueblos of the Bajo Genal (Genalguacil, Algatocín, Benarrabá and Gaucín with its castle called Castillo del Águila), in the shade of Maritime pines. Behind a bend, the broad landscape you can see (km 2.4) consists of Sierra Bermeja ahead, with the sharp silhouettes of Spanish Fir trees and telecommunications antennas on top of the reddish summits; towards south-east is the Loma de Benestepar where there is an ancient epopulated Moorish settlement.
Pass through a gate and embark upon a spectacular descent amongst ancient Cork oaks. The path, deeply enclosed between chalk and quartz, is the Cuesta de la Bañuela. Now there are good views over to the Río Almárchal valley, with the striking ranch at the Vega de Don Juan with its perfectly circular front pavement. Then the path gets a little wilder as it turns west and passes by a sunny rocky slope which is tremendously steep. The old livestock path, at times its sides protected by retaining dry stone walls, passes goat sheds at the Mandanga (or las Madres) and takes you to the meeting point of the Almárchalriver and the ravine Garganta de la Cueva del Vaque, where a striking rocky outcrop marks the Charco de la Vega (km 3.5).
Having waded across the river and gone through another gate, immediately abandon the little access track to la Vega de los Almeces and el Cortijo de la Vainilla, and find again the old path which goes up through the Paraje de las Rozas. This path soon runs into a broad track which surrounds a house and vegetable gardens in a shady Cork oak grove, and continues along.
The Cork oak and Portuguese gall oak woods cover these slopes together with their cohort of lentiscs, Spiny broom, Mock privet, Tree heath, Mediterranean buckthorn and Polipodium and other ferns, especially around Arroyo de la Zarza, which you should be able to ford without any problems. A little later the forest contains Cork oaks on both sides of the path where the size of the trees is surprising. From here you are able to see the white village of Genalguacil again, especially when you get close to another landmark of the day, El Puerto del Lentisco (km 6.0).
Three paths arrive at Puerto del Lentisco from Genalguacil. Apart from the above-mentioned one, the most evident one is the path which leads straight down to the pueblo, slightly direction north-east, descending along the Vereda del Calvo and ascending along the Cuesta de lo Rozado. The other walk uses the main track of Loma de Benestepar, which heads north-west in a curve then descends to the Almárchal and goes up along the same path as the previous walk. However, you need to make a half-turn and head south along abroad track which leads along all the numerous housesin the midst of a Cork oak wood. Little by little the landscape is opening up towards your right where you can gaze at the poplars of the Genal river and the vegas of los Pepes, la Gamona and los Lobos amongst the tree mass. Two outstanding masses of limestone rock close the valley off to the south-west and mark an end to the Serranía de Ronda, Sierra Crestellina on the left and on the other side of the river behind Gaucín, el Hacho. There are some orange groves and access roads to the many different houses continue, somewhat separate from the main track and boasting a diversity of construction styles.
There are three tiny streams before you reach La Alharía: la Fuente del Gas, el Arroyo de los Adrianes and Los Caldereros. The three of them are quite meagre but in the middle of the two last ones there are some of the winepresses where the local liquor “aguardiente” used to be produced. They are located at an intersection of locally significant paths. Thus you reach the Puerto de Barrionuevo, passing by a hillock on your right. Behind it there are the main buildings of La Alharía, (or Ajería, as it is shown on older maps).
A little further there is a many-branched intersection of forest tracks where you abandon el Camino de Casares, which you see continuing straight ahead along very dense wood. Take the zigzag leading west and this way you arrive at the edge of Monte del Duque.
Los Montes del Duque
This hunting estate with over 2.000 hectares of land where the quite abundant wild boar roam, together with Red Deer, Mouflon, (very scarce) Roe Deer and Fallow Deer, occupies mainly the basin of the Arroyo de los Zaharames and the Garganta de las Alberquillas, more to the south, bordered along the west-east axis by the Genal and Sierra Bermeja respectively.
The walk through the estate starts by descending along a sharp ridge which is also theproperty line where an access road has cut the old path in two, whose bends appear on both sides. The area being exposed to sunshine as it faces south makes the Cork oak, Maritime pine and thick scrub of quite tall Gum cistus prosper. There are a couple of examples of large Cork oaks and then a ruin on your left, half way along the path which leads to a more open area from where you can see the bends and fl uvial plains of the Arroyo de los Aljarames. This is a name with deep Andalusí (Moorish- Andalucían) roots many of which appear often in the area. Reach the tamarisk thickets and reed beds at the ford which had been adapted in the past by adding a thick tree trunk which still can be useful to ford the stream in high water season. Access a wider track on your left, with a heathland and avocado trees surrounding it. If you decided to discover how the river Genal flows through these lands you would have needed to take a detour to your right before and passed through el Molino de los Zaharames with its spectacular acequia and a deep natural pool in a tamarisk clump. There is an old suspended bridge which allows you to cross the river to los Pepes.
Having ignored this option, you must abandon the forest track soon and go through another gate to Monte del Duque walking along a road which has branched off the path. You are again walking southwards. Los Zaharames are at very low altitude of 130 metres above sea level and they mark km 9.5 of the walk. This isn´t a bad rest stop, considering that the walker is warned here about the long 7.5 km of a climb leading to el Puerto de las Viñas (640 m) and more than 500 metres of gradient.
The next easily identifiable landmark is la Huerta de Crespillo, a fertile ledge where some citrus fruits are protected by an old ruined house. Here another great walk through mature scrubland begins; it is recommended to undertake this section by making stops where the terrain requires them.
The first excuse to stop is a little forest of Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) hugging the Strawberry Trees in the shady sharp bends of the track. Arriving at la Ensillada del Amolador, a small col over a slope, you will have river Genal to the west and the Garganta de la Cuesta to the east, fl owing in opposite directions. There is another steep slope where the many bends help conquer it, called Cuerda de los Coloradillos, due to the reddish colour of the ground. Normally during this ascent the top of the slope is passed by on your left. There are some clearings along the watershed where the views open up to the west (Gaucín and Castillo del Águila) and east (Sierra Bermeja). This is especially remarkable around an old forest guard house which can be found at km 11.5, where thewhere the steep slope levels out a bit. The dehesas of large Cork oaks continue, but you enter an area of Portuguese gall oaks past a junction when you pass a shady area underneath a hillock of El Puerto Paloma. Amongst the handsome grove of Portuguese oaks there are heaths and a few striking large Myrtle bushes. Coming back to the sunny side of the slope, past a junction with its distinctive large chalky rock, there is an excellent natural viewpoint to the northern bastion of the Sierra Crestellina on the other side of la Garganta de la Alberquilla ravine. Next, a fl atter area starts which has been taken advantage of by the estate workers to restore a building known as el Cuartel (km 13.7), create a chapel, build some storage and a helipad.
The itinerary, always respectful of the private property of Monte del Duque, also passes,by, away from the track, the offi ces and main residence of the large livestock refuge called la Majada de Madrid, enclosed by a row of hedges and Cipreses. There re also very well developed specimens of Cork and Portuguese gall oak here. The traditional cork harvest in this estate was the motive behind the construction of warehouses annexed to the house known as the Raspadero, where cork sheets are cut, piled up for storage and then transported out of the mountains.
Sierra Crestellina and el Arroyo del Albarrán
You are still on an incline, although much less steep, Sierra Crestellina is getting closer and you access an important “communication hub”: the pass called El Puerto de los Guardas. It is easy to identify as from this vantage point you can see clearly for the first time, the sea, which is the traditional destination of this path, towards Estepona walking down La Acedía. Our path, however, keeps on climbing a little and comes out at El Monte del Duque leading to a gate next to a private track.
At the Puerto de las Viñas (km 17.1) there is an information panel awaiting you, which announces the end of the Crestellina Natural walk, where motor traffi c is banned as this is the very beginning of the Natural Area, the Paraje Natural. El Camino de las Viñas begins now to descend using a track with a surface of loose rocks which passes by Arroyo del Albarrán on the right and the contours of mountain ridges which accompany the path direction south.
Country houses appear on the left and on the right; some of them have very emotive names written on the entrance gates you can see while you walk along a low area where there is a water outlet for Casares. The stream keeps getting more overgrown with pines, Cork oaks, Holm oaks, Wild olives. The Great Málaga Path keeps getting higher away from the bottom of the valley. Finally, you catch a glimpse of Casares ahead. The village has been built amongst cliffs and sharp peaks, and the Mediterranean in the background. This natural viewpoint and the following rest stop with a feel of foreign lands give access to Fuente de la Arqueta (or de la Arquita).
Now what you have left to do is to arrive at the by-pass road to Casares, cross it and follow the streets southwards towards the centre of the village, la Plaza de España, where the four spouts of la Fuente de Carlos III mark the end of this stage and start of the next one.
1. Initiation Stage:
Access Starting point: Genalguacil connects with the rest of the Serranía de Ronda via the MA-8304 and the MA-8305, which lead towards the Ronda-Algeciras road (A-369). On the other side from Estepona on the Costa del Sol, the MA-8301 goes up to the Puerto de Peñas Blancas. This opens the possibility of connecting with the village from Jubrique or arriving on the MA- 8302 directly. It passes by the village hotel but is still not paved in sections.
Starting point: Mirador de los Poyetes or de la Lomilla, in the southern tip of Genalguacil, very close to the church and at the end of the street Calle Real. There is a car park at the starting point.
Enjoy the walk safely: You will have to cross four or fi ve watercourses but only two of them are of any concern. El Arroyo
de los Zaharames, about half-way into the walk has two makeshift bridges at the lowest point, one of them quite eye-catching as it is made up of one single log. It is up to you whether you prefer to use these bridges or wade through. It is important to stress here that trying to go back at this point of the walk could lead to a serious disappointment. Fortunately, with the fi rst steps of the stage, at km 3.5, you come across the ford across Río Almárchal which is a good indicator of water levels of the day. This permanent river is the biggest watercourse of stage 28 and so it marks the top level of difficulty related to watercourses on the day. If it doesn´t pose any danger, the following streams will not, either.
Los Montes del Duque, and other, less famous areas, manage big game and organise hunts from time to time. The legislation requires that the hunt areas are clearly marked, especially around the GR-249. When there is a hunt on, under no circumstances should you ignore signs and warnings. Hunting and walking in the same area should be able to be compatible, so, on the
one hand you must scrupulously adhere to the sign-posted GR path, and on the other, walk as quietly as possible.
2. Completion of Stage:
Access to finish point: Casares also connects with the Serranía de Ronda and with the Costa del Sol. If you are coming from inland use the A-7150 which connects with the A-377 (Gaucín-Manilva). The above mentioned road also connects with the Costa del Sol, passing through Manilva, or directly via the MA-8300.
Finish point: Plaza de España, in the centre of Casares. The main streets which end here are the Calle de la Carrera and Calle Juan Cerón.
Possible "escape routes": The only two possibilities are retracing your steps or continuing to the end. For the first option it is best to use the GR or the circular PR (this is a shorter way to Genalguacil) which leads to Puerto del Lentisco. In the fi nal section of the stage, the only recommended way to retrace your steps is to use the GR. At Vega de los Zaharames, there is the possibility to cross the river Genal using a suspended bridge, arrive at Los Pepes, where it is normal to come across people.
Another quite diffi cult option would be to continue to Benarrabá or Gaucín, having walked many kilometres of tracks in a network which requires good knowledge of the intersections.
No return point: At La Vega de los Zaharames you will find yourself at half-way point of the walk which means that it is best to continue from here on, rather than trying to get back. Another key point is the Puerto del Lentisco during the fi rst half of the walk. From this pass, Genalguacil is a stone´s throw away, and this point is highly recommended as an escape route if necessary.
Connections to other footpaths and trails: Fortunately, both Genalguacil and Casares have bet heavily on their network of footpaths, both the offi cially approved ones by the Federación Andaluza de Montaña and the ones sponsored by the towns and other entities.
So far Genalguacil boasts three Senderos de Pequeño Recorrido. The PR A-240 from Benarrabá to Genalguacil connects both villages on the east-west axis, crosses the river Genal via El Prado de la Escribana and coincides with stage 27 of the Gran Senda de Málaga along the Vereda de los Limones. This route becomes circular if you use the Camino de las Cañas which also arrives at las Cruces, close to the centre.
The PR A-241 from Genalguacil to Jubrique is situated north of the village of the starting point and crosses the river which is already familiar to the visitor, the Monardilla. You can also walk there and back, following the signs along the Loma de Benajarón. The PR A-242 from Genalguacil to Los Reales is a long track which turns into a road. It is considered ideal for mountain biking and it partially coincides with our GR for only a few metres at km 1.8, at Puerto de la Loma.
The walk which does coincide with the GR quite a lot is the circular walk of Puerto del Lentisco. Until a fl at area on the mountain slope they coincide entirely as it is evident from the yellow and white path markings. From this point though, which is also the maximum altitude point, the alternative route described above heads direction west again, towards Almárchal along the Loma de Benestepar and returns to Genalguacil using a walk called Vereda de la Cuesta de lo Rozado.
As far as traditional paths and rights of way are concerned, the main “camino tradicional” is the one which leads from Genalguacil to Casares connecting the passes of Lentisco and Las Viñas. These are used almost point by point, except where you walk through Los Montes del Duque. In the middle part of the walk which coincides with the Montes del Duque property there is a triangle of livestock paths between the above-mentioned passes and the area of Pepes and Molino de los Zaharames. The two caminos with destination Benarrabá start here and they separate as they cross the river Genal, on their way to the two mountain passes. Additionally, there are a couple of paths which lead to the famed Baños del Duque, to the west of the route and at the base of Sierra Bermeja. Lastly, there is a path which unites Estepona with Gaucín and ends up at Puerto de los Guardas, having passed through the Monte de La Acedía which forms part of stage 29.
Already in the vicinity of Casares, el Paraje Natural de Sierra Crestellina boasts a walk which leads along the Paraje´s peaks,
called Crestellina Natural. It starts at the road, leads uphill along a partially paved track (the same one which is used by the GR-249 on its way down) and in Puerto de las Viñas heads for a mountain refuge and arrives at Mirador de la Cosalba, direction
south. Then it leads down to the road and completes the circle. This walk is offered by the Casares Town Hall as Ruta Circular
Número 1, sign-posted and marked with informational panels. This walk is joined by another one forming an extensive network which will be described in the next stage where the network shares the natural environment with the GR.