Mountain Biking the Camino de Mozarabe Day Three - Cordoba to Villaharta
Cordoba is a jewel in the Andalucian crown.
Today was a short day, not much mileage, and time to rest and explore the city in the morning. Cordoba has been an important city throughout mans history; it nestles on the banks of the Guadalquivir, an important river system that drains most of southern Spain. Vessels could navigate from the Atlantic to docks at Cordoba and load precious cargoes of gold and silver, cereal crops, natural oils, and of course, deploy troops. Cordoba was reporteldy the worlds largest city at one time, and was the brightest seat of learning and enlightment in the civilized world. It was an important strategic location for the Romans, the Visigoths that followed, and the capital of the Caliphate that came after them. The Mezquita is a testament to the many cultures that have held this city, and stamped their dominion over it.
Wandering around the Juderia, along the old city walls, relaxing in the courtyard of the Mezquita, Cordoba feels like an ancient city, it stirs images of learned gents walking the streets in flowing robes and pondering the square root of 2, of busy captains decanting their wares to avoid the toll gates on the bridge, and the heckling and bartering of the silversmiths plying their trade. Cordoba is trying to recover from its sidelining in modern times. Renovation works are under way, over 280 million euros are being invested to improve the city, and it is bidding for "European City of Culture 2016". I hope it wins*.
A short stop at a cycle shop for some needed mechanical attention and we were off. The route out of Cordoba was well marked, with bright yellow arrows pointing the way, despite some confusion as we tried to cross the ring road. As predicted, the climb out of the city was steep and tough. The camino snaked up the escarpment through small wealthy suburban enclaves with their welcoming pools and lush gardens. The "sendero" that is the official camino was hard, rocky, eroded rubble; hard enough for walkers, but this was a very tough section for mountain bikes, especially in the afternoon heat. Of course, its possible to take the tarmac to the top, but thats cheating..isnt it? After some 400m of ascent in 30+ degree heat, it was good to feel the rocks transition to smoother soils and grass, and the gradient become a littlle more cycle friendly. Pausing for a breather, and looking back over the vast plains to the south, it was a shame we couldnt just camp here, but many more sights awaited and we pressed on.
The terrain levels and passes through a few small villages and, strangely, the base of the 10th Mechanized Infantry Brigade at Cerro Muriano. A bizarre site to see Leopard Tanks and Self-Propelled Howitzers sitting calmly under cover of encinas and pine trees; as if they were some herd of grazing ungulates. Cerro Muriano is a quite, sleepy little town, yet as is usually the case in Spain, has seen its share of violence. Robert Capa´s "The Falling Soldier" is regarded as the greatest war photograph of all time by many critics, and was taken at the Battle of Cerro Muriano.
The climb was over and we now meandered over disused railway lines, along side road ways, through encinas and pines, before an exhilarating swooping descent through narrow, tree covered valleys to our overnight, just outside Villaharta.
The accommodation was simple, rustic, and glorious. Our hosts even filled the pool for us! However, it was self-catering, and as we were about ready to eat the local cat we headed into Villaharta. It was like a ghost town, nothing moved, the occasional door swung and its hinges squeaked, a three-legged dog limped across the road, the wind blew a dried gorse bush down an alley....nothing. We headed back out of town to a small roadside truckers stop. The solitary tender, his head propped on his hand, leaned on the bar watching some latin american soap. Seeing 6 English blokes walk into his bar must have been the highlight of his week. It took a while but he warmed up, became very friendly, and supplied us with some great food. Another great ending to another great day.
Distance: 39.2km Ascent: 935m
We stayed at: Los Pabbelones Villaharta We ate at: Restaurante Santa Elisa
More Photos on Flickr
* It didnt; it went to San Sabastian for 2016