Running on the Via Verde – Andalucia

At 7.30am in the Sierra Subbética in November, the sun had not yet made it over the hills and the countryside was shrouded in a peaceful half-light, the sky a clear, pale blue. The last day of our holiday had come and we had a run to get in before breakfast and checking out of the hotel – the first “long run” of my marathon training. At just eight miles, it’s not that long, but is the longest I’ve ever run before.

The air outside the sleeping, silent hotel was crisp and cold – I was wearing short shorts and a running vest top under my cycling jacket – one of my favourite items of clothing as it rolls up into a little bag that can clip around my waist (it’s really far too hot for running but with so many cycling jackets I’m loathe to buy a specific running one!) With a banana for breakfast, I clipped on my waist belt with two small bottles of water and we got into the car. Mum drove for around five minutes to the Via Verde at the Salobral lake. It’s an old railway track that runs for 56km through the Sierra Subbética in Andalucia, converted into a hiking, running and cycling route over viaducts and through gorges and a tunnel. The surface is mainly sandy, it’s relatively straight and has no steep inclines. Perfect for running.

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We set off, our breath coming in mist as we adjusted to the cold, running slightly faster than we had planned and enjoying the silence around us. Although Laguna Salobral is nothing spectacular at this time of year, the sun rising above it was. The scenery was, like all the scenery this trip, wonderful, as we ran along the path, above miles of olive groves and through narrow banks.

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Towards the turn around, we came across a bridge that looked as if it was soaring into the sky. A long way below it was a river, unseen by us due to the mist that hung low in the valley, giving the whole area an eerie feel. We stopped for photos and then continued on, running on air across the bridge.

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We reached our turnaround after 4 miles and set off back towards the car. The previous days of hard exercise were catching up with my legs and they felt so heavy – now mum was running faster than me and I was lagging behind. At just the right moment for a break a large group of cyclists out for their Sunday ride came down the path behind us. We stopped to one side to catch our breath and let them pass in a wave of ‘Hola!’s. The mist had cleared and as we ran back over the bridge the river was laid out in all its glory beneath us.

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On and on and it all seemed gradually uphill which was weird as it had all seemed gradually uphill on the way out as well. Where on earth was Lake Salobral? Eventually it came into view and finally we made it back to the car – time for a quick stretch and then back to the hotel for a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit, muffins, granola and manchego cheese.

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Then it was time to set off and leave the lovely Casa Olea. We were taking the long route to Malaga airport, driving on tiny winding roads up and down hills, past many struggling cyclists and Spaniards out for their Sunday walk, until all of a sudden, the lake at Iznajar appeared sparkling before us. The road wound down the mountain side towards the lake, the town itself perched high on a rocky outcrop immediately above the lake. We noticed lots of cars parked up by the side and soon realised the reason when we spotted hundreds of runners making their way down the hundreds of steps from the top of Iznajar, across a bridge, and then along the side of the lake. We parked up to watch them for a bit before continuing our way along to Antequera.

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We drove through the town’s outskirts until we found a place to park and then walked up the narrow cobbled streets towards the castle at the top. Spain does a really good job in keeping their towns clear – every place we went to was sparkling and with such stunningly beautiful cobbled pavements. The view from the top was incredible, out over the white town of Antequera and then the countryside in the distance. We paid the entry fee and went into the Alcazaba. I was so glad we had – it is incredible how much history interacts in Andalucia. The remains of Roman baths to one side of the Alcazaba. The Moorish ruins of their watchtowers and living quarters, some restored, some not. They were sieged by the Catholic King during the Reconquista and eventually the King was able to conquer the Alcazaba and with it Antequera, moving into the watchtowers and eventually building a huge church right next to it. Centuries upon centuries of history overlapping.

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We finished our holiday with an incredible lunch in Arte de Tapas. We stuffed ourselves with delicious and innovative tapas, including mushroom croquettes, garlicky prawns, and a huge pot of soft, creamy goat’s cheese, served almost like a pate. My mouth is watering just remembering it. And the whole bill, including drinks and tip, was less than 20 euro! Incredible.

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Please don’t go to Andalucia on holiday. Or if you do, stay in the tourist hotspots in the coast. Please don’t visit the countryside and it’s untouched beauty. But if you must, stay at Casa Olea, go cycling, go running, eat some incredible food.

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