Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3: Pristine Beaches and Pirates’ Lairs in Andalucía

 

Ronda Bridge 2011
Ronda’s famous bridge over the Tajo Gorge, with views toward mountains and sea. (photo: Lauren Walsh)

Stage 2 took the peloton from the marble-white beaches of Marbella up into the mountains and the stunning architecture of the Caminito del Rey, a series of narrow walking paths and floating bridges carved into the stone. They were built to facilitate the construction of the Conde de Guadalhorce Dam: it was the easiest and safest (hmmm . . .) way for workers to cross from one side of the gorge to the other, making it easier to transport materials. That effort began in 1901 and, in 1921, King Alfonso XIII traversed the bridge himself, earning the crossway the name Caminito del Rey, or Path of the King.

Nowadays, the paths are open to hikers (brave ones) who meander up the mountain single-file, hoping for a glimpse of the vast valley below. Me? I’ll settle for a photo!

Caminito del Rey by Gabirulo flickr creative commons
Looking up at the Caminito del Rey (photo: Gabirula; flickr; creative commons)

On Monday, Stage 3 begins in Mijas, one of Andalucía’s famous white towns, named for the white-washed surface of the buildings that dot the hillsides, glistening like pearls in the bright sun. The race route heads west along the coast, through Marbella, then turns sharply north into the mountains again – toward one of my favorite places in Spain.

Ronda and the Tajo Gorge

While not far from the sea, Ronda is not easily accessed. Driving up the narrow, winding roads is not for the faint of heart, but the payoff is well-worth the effort. Smugglers thought so, too, back in the day. They would bring their illicit goods to the coast under cover of night, when they would drag their treasure ashore. Accomplices with horses would distribute the load, weighing each horse down with as much as it could bear. Then they would escape into the hills, ascending invisible paths to safety, atop the gorge in Ronda.

Ronda Bridge from Afar
View of the Ronda Bridge from the old town. (photo: Lauren Walsh)

Wines of the Serranía de Ronda DO – Bodegas F. Schatz

With roots in the Südtirol (in northeastern Italy) and Baden in southern Germany, the Schatz family has made wine since 1641. In the 1980s, Friedrich Schatz relocated to Spain, in search of the perfect place to make wines meant to express a unique terroir, using a wide variety of grapes. He settled on the area now known as Serranía de Ronda, where vines would have the advantage of elevation and proximity to the mountains – important in moderating the hot, dry climate in southern Spain.

Today, Schatz has been joined by other winemakers who foresaw the potential to make dry table wines of high quality here. The sub-region now boasts 23 bodegas (wineries) and about 250 hectares of vineyards.

Rooster F Schatz Ronda
Keeping the vines pest-free. (photo: Bodegas F. Schatz)

Farming methods at Schatz are organic and biodynamic and include the planting of cover crops to help replenish nitrogen levels in the soil. Peas, garbanzo beans, and clover flourish between the vines, providing protection against erosion as well. It looks like they raise chickens, too.

Yields are aggressively managed, and careful attention is paid to disease and pest prevention. A high, loose canopy that allows air circulation promotes ripening; it also ensures that precipitation (higher here than elsewhere in the region) dries out before problems can start.

Vineyards F Schatz Ronda
Altitude helps temper hot, Spanish summers. (photo: Bodegas F. Schatz)

Currently, F. Schatz offers six different wines – some familiar to lovers of Spanish libations, others less so. For starters, there’s varietal Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Petit Verdot; and Finca Sanguijuela, a red blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then add in a Rosado made from Moscatel Negra – a clear nod to the traditional winemaking history in this region. Now for the cherry on top: Acinipo, a varietal Lemburger wine named after the winery’s home city of Ronda, originally called Acinipo (City of Wine) by the Romans.

You can read more about the innovative winemaking process at F. Schatz Premium Wines here.

I hope you enjoy the beauty of southern Spain as the peloton pedals through Stage 3. Stay tuned for details on Stage 4, which heads east along the Mediterranean coast, then swings inland for a few challenging climbs.

Viva la Vuelta!

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