Scribbler in Seville

Adventures in Cortes, part two: wild mushrooms, a secret stone church and cork oaks

The house where we stayed in Cortes de la Frontera.

Mushroom Days - yum!

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.

Roman path of stone cobbles.

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.

One of the strangest buildings I've ever seen: The Casa de Piedra, a secret church.

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.

Side view of Casa de Piedra.

Carvings on the exterior of the stone house.

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.

Holes from the wine jars in the Casa de Piedra.

The interior space of the Casa, place of worship then wine press.

It was amazing to think that people had snuck away from Cortes and other nearby villages all those years ago, to maintain their loyalty to their god. In its idyllic meadow, with other stones scattered about, the place had a peaceful and spiritual air, and felt much more remote than it was.

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.

You could be in the Scottish highlands.

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.

Cork oak trees, or alcornocales.

This is the stuff - real cork. The texture is bizarre, and rather beautiful.

Cork factory near Cortes.

The view to the mountains was amazing, and we saw lizards (too quick to shoot) and some prehistoric-looking ferns.

View from the camino forestal to the sierra.

Ferns sprouting out of a cork oak tree.

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.

5 thoughts on “Adventures in Cortes, part two: wild mushrooms, a secret stone church and cork oaks

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