On our weekend away in November, when we stayed in Cortes de la Frontera, we were lucky enough to coincide with the Jornadas Micologicas – the Mushroom Weekend. We didn’t partake in the fungi foray itself, for fear of poisoning our children (some dodgy setas in a restaurant in Aracena a few years ago have instilled a healthy apprehension). So we left it to others, and enjoyed the results: braised, in a revuelto, and with pork fillet. They were delicious – meaty-textured, with a rich, earthy flavour.
After our mushroom lunch, we headed off on one of the family-friendly (by which I mean small children, aged nearly three, and five) excursions suggested by the owner of the house where we were staying – Cortes is near Ronda, in Malaga province.
She had told us about an old church carved out of a rock – who can resist such a description? We drove a few km out of Cortes, parked the car and walked down a Roman cobbled path – which was pretty exciting in itself – past a hidden babbling brook, invisible but audible, covered in a dense network of undergrowth. This added to the secretive nature of the outing.
After ten minutes happily tripping down this incredibly pretty and ancient sendero, we got to a stile and an information board. Climbing over barbed wire – only in Spain would there be a stile, to allow easy access for walkers, covered in spiky fence, to rip your clothes to shreds – we found this extraordinary building.
A clandestine place of worship in the 7th century, well before the tables were turned on the Muslims by the Catholic Kings, the Casa de Piedra was used by Christians to practice their religion secretly during Moorish times.
It is a large, round rock, with a room carved out inside, a doorway and various windows.
More recently, the interior of the house was used as a wine press – you can see the indentation where the crushing wheel was placed, and the runnels where the liquid used to run.
The next day, we headed off on our second excursion. Driving past spectacular mountains – I’d been told the landscape was reminiscent of Scotland – and it was true.
We arrived at the Parque de Alcornocales, and set up off a forest track – perfect for buggies, bordered by cork oak trees (alcornocales).
This area is very popular with proper hikers – we were amateurs, off for an hour’s gentle stroll on a paved road.
We saw endless cork oaks, one of Andalucia’s many traditional industries, being threatened by the plastic corks now commonly used in wine bottles.
The view to the mountains was amazing, and we saw lizards (too quick to shoot) and some prehistoric-looking ferns.
These outdoor adventures were exactly what I wish there were more of near where I live. More forest walks! More Roman paths leading to secret churches carved out of rocks! The countryside around Cortes is truly epic, and I’m sure we’ll be back.