The way we ended up planning our trip was to alternate days of heavy sightseeing with more relaxing days. On one of those relaxing days involving lazy mornings and naps, we decided to take an afternoon hike in the Sierra Nevada National Park, just a few kilometres from where we were staying. A few days earlier, while on our ill-fated puke drive, I had seen a sign that said it was 19 kilometres to the Sierra Nevada National Park. I assumed that meant there would be an official entrance where we could park, and then some well-marked hiking trails and picnic areas. But I guess it was just marking off the distance until the nearest border of what is quite a large national park.
So we decided to use our super slow internet to do some last minute research on hiking trails in the area. Several of the suggested hikes went through picturesque villages. I have nothing against picturesque villages, but we’d seen enough of them on this trip already. Then I saw a an intriguing sign on the side of the road pointing toward a walking route to the Castello de Zoraya. A castle! And it sounded exciting and exotic, like a cross between Zorro and something ancient and Moorish. I immediately knew it was the route we had to take. So we exited the road in the direction pointed out by the sign, and began driving up a little winding road through orange groves. Only, to say that the trail to the Castello de Zorayo was insufficiently marked is an understatement. There were no more markers at all. We took a fork at random, and then another. Eventually, the road was so narrow and steep that our little rented Ford Fiesta didn’t seem like it would make it any further. We abandoned (well, parked) the car and continued on foot.
For the first part of the hike, we were really just walking up a road that technically we could have driven on.
At some point, a dusty old pickup truck came driving down the road, and we took the opportunity to find out whether we were on the right track. It turned out that we had just passed a critical junction where we needed to leave the road and set off on a footpath through olive groves. Otherwise we probably would have ended up in the next valley and had to hitch a ride back.
It was a pleasant hike, and beautiful weather. In fact, eventually everyone got hot and took off their shirts, except me. Or maybe I did too, but you’ll never know, since I was the one behind the camera.
The path became steeper and rockier as we grew nearer (we hoped) to our goal. The people in the pickup truck had tried to set our expectations properly, explaining that there was nothing really inside the castle, and it wasn’t interesting. We assured them that it was interesting to us.
Finally, we actually caught a glimpse of the castle up on the crest of the next hill. Or at least some castle. At any rate, it was castle enough for our purposes.
It was more of a guard tower than a castle, and properly atmospheric and tumbledown. In fact, it rather reminded us of Mirabello, the ruined castle overlooking our little Italian village, which was bombed during WWII.
After enjoying the panoramic views of the valley from the castle, we hiked down a different way through more olive groves, and miraculously ended up not far from where we had parked our car. Through sheer luck, it turned out to be a delightful hike, and just the right length, since the sun was nearing setting by the time we arrived at our car.
Later, we put the kids to bed and went out for tapas again, to a darling little restaurant in a neighboring village. I’d noticed that all the little restaurants and bars in the area had their own homemade vermouth on tap, so of course I had to try it.
Mormon-born alcohol neophyte that I am, I couldn’t remember what vermouth was even supposed to be (a fortified wine infused with botanicals, invented in Turin in the 18th century, for my fellow-Mormons). I loved it, though. I’m not sure exactly which herbs they used, but it tasted just like the smell of our hike in the mountains earlier that day.