Tired of the same old routine sun holidays, Roisin Burke quenched her thirst for adventure with a trip to Seville’s idyllic countryside.
Fun in the sun has long been the reason so many of us pale-faced Irish flock to Spanish shores for a week of heat, but I think I am not the only one who had become fatigued by the standard touristy trip to a warmer climate.
‘Off the beaten track’ is a phrase too often used these days for holidays that are no more a secret than the fact that the Earth is round, so excuse me for being sceptical when Explore Spain Now (ESN) offered to immerse me in a week of Spanish culture and, forgive the phrase, craic.
Despite the scepticism, it would appear ESN is very much an ‘off the grid’ tourism adventure holiday option.
Picked up from the airport I was taken on a swift tour of Seville, including exquisite tapas, authentic ice cream and, of course, a standard stop to a ‘Farmacia’ to pick up some much-needed sunscreen.
Next, it was out to the Seville suburbs to trek across fields of orange trees and olives on horseback at a family ranch.
Sauntering through scenery that you wouldn’t get in a Hollywood blockbuster on my serene stead, with the sun setting in the horizon and the friendly Spanish instructor, Dani, chattering alongside me, I’ve never felt more at home in a foreign country.
The next day began with a 9km trail run through the same fields I had trekked the day before with my Spanish horse riding instructor, who I discovered over dinner back at the ranch just so happened to be an ultra Ironman athlete.
The views at sunrise were even better than they had been the evening before.
One day in and I was already ranking this trip as my best holiday to date.
ESN is the brainchild of a multilingual Spanish lady by the name of Ana Rancano, and her English partner Will Appleyard. The idea is to use local knowledge to ensure tourists can enjoy an authentic Spanish experience on holidays while also having the option to try a number of exciting and adventurous activities available in the surrounding area.
Based in the idyllic country village of Algadonales, just over an hour outside Seville, this deceptively sleepy looking civilisation is surrounded by plenty of things to do.
From kayaking in the nearby reservoir located next to the beautiful Zahara de la Sierra to paragliding on Mount Lijar just behind the village, the days of a tourist in Algadonales are well spent.
Whether it is climbing some of the many rockfaces in the surrounding countryside that cater for all abilities from beginner to professional, birdwatching, or heading to Seville for a spot of shopping, sightseeing and horseriding, a stay in Algadonales will give you a taste for Spanish culture you won’t have seen sight nor sound of before.
While in Algodonales, I kayaked in the blue-green waters of the reservoir alongside the village of Zahara de la Sierra, I scaled several rock faces in Benaocaz, I hiked down into the Garganta Verde canyon valley and up the Lijar mountain situated just behind the village of Algodonales.
All things I would never have known existed without the friendly advice and assistance of ESN. Ana explained how ESN become a reality.
“I have always found Spain, and particularly Seville, my hometown, a beautiful place. However, it was once I moved to England, that I realised how cool my country was. If you are into food, there are so many tasty bites to try.
“There are also amazing architecture and cultural things to be enjoyed and by being blessed with sunshine for most of the year, we can enjoy a great range of outdoor activities to suit everybody.
“I like the idea of being able to go on a bit of city exploration coupled with some tapas and then, go on a horse ride in the countryside to enjoy the less known side of Spain.”
Too often I have been to Spain without experiencing any actual Spanish culture or having any proper interaction with locals. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I have been guilty of seeking out familiar foods and restaurants that remind me of home. What a waste.
With ESN, I spent a week trying activities outside of my comfort zone and also eating in traditional Spanish tapas bars. By the end of week, I was ordering my own meals, albeit in pigeon Spanish, to a very patient waiter, but nonetheless, it was an achievement all the same.
Ana said that ESN caters for anyone and everyone, although a general fitness is important and a thirst for adventure is essential.
The second half of ESN is Will Appleyard. Will spent 20 years working within the music industry in London before leaving the busy city to pursue a more relaxed lifestyle.
Will now works on a freelance basis with music industry clients as well as working as a photo-journalist for adventure magazines.
“London was great for me as a career move as a young man, but after nearly 20 years in that system, I felt the urge to break free of it. I felt like I had achieved what I wanted to achieve career wise there and needed some fresh air.
“The journey started in my van exploring the French Alps — paragliding, climbing and drinking a fair amount of wine. As the winter came in, the flying sites in northern Europe stop working, which is when I caught wind of a place called Algodonales. I lived here for three months during the winter of 2017 paragliding most days and hiking around the nearby Sierra de Grazalema mountain range.” While in Algodonales I stayed in a very quiet, comfortable and pretty little apartment just off the main street of the village called Casa Baraka.
The apartment is split into two bedrooms, each with an ensuite, which can be booked separately and then there is a communal kitchen/sitting room area with everything you might need during your stay.
The true gem of the apartment was the cute little garden that opened out from the side of the kitchen. With a round table and a few chairs, it was the perfect place to rest up after a hard day of activities and relax with a drink while enjoying the sunshine.
In terms of a holiday with a difference, this is it. If you are looking to explore a part of Spain you have never seen before and try things you wouldn’t get on a standard sun and sea trip, then ESN could be the answer.
From couples to large groups, the holiday company endeavour to ensure you get the most out of the days you spend in the beautiful countryside of Spain while also enlightening you with essential tips on how to better embrace the Spanish lifestyle.
After my five days in Algodonales, I may not be a certified Spaniard, but I definitely felt more engaged with the local life of the Spanish community I was staying in and left wanting to come back again.
Where to stay?
To find out more follow the link https://www.facebook.com/casabarakaalgodonales/