Driving in Paradise – Crossing the Stelvio Pass

This summer, Lars and I have crossed mountains. Explored badlands. Climbed to the top of canyons. Traversed deserts. In other words, it has been a very adventurous time, and, luckily, we have had no accidents whatsoever. Honestly, given the fact that we have pulled off some stunts, that’s actually a bit of a miracle…

But… Last Wednesday night… For the first time in weeks, there was some rain falling. I was on the terrace, watching drops of rain coming down in the swimming pool. The grass around it was giving off an intoxicating smell… After a couple of moments of bliss, I turned around to go back inside and get some sleep. And then I slipped…

I landed on the hard tiled floor of the living room and immediately, a very sharp pain soared through my right knee, and to a lesser extent, my right foot and back. I could not get up anymore, and Lars, who was afraid to inflict even more pain, had to call an ambulance. I spent the night in the hospital (in Granada); luckily, I haven’t broken my knee. It’s only sprained and I need to take it a bit easy. Right now, I can sit and walk again, so I guess the worst has passed.

Anyway, all this explains why it has been very quiet on this website. But as you can see, I am writing again! And probably later this week, the Viking and I will be on the road again as well. Without further ado, let’s take you to Italy, to the Stelvio Pass.

Some facts and numbers:

  • One of the highest mountain passes in Europe: 2.758m high.
  • Located in the Italian Alps, not far from the border with Switzerland.
  • Built between 1820-1825.
  • Open from May through November.
  • 47 km long.
  • 75 hairpin turns!
  • Very popular amongst cyclists and motorists.

Before I met Lars, I hardly cared about mountains at all… In my youth, I spent my family holidays mainly at the Spanish and Portuguese coast and never visited any part of Europe at all. This has changed a lot in the meantime and I can assure you that driving on the Stelvio Pass is indeed very thrilling! Have a look at this video:

See that smile on my face? By the way, the team of Top Gear had a lot of fun here as well! According to them, there is only one road (in Europe) that is more adventurous to drive on: the Transfăgărășan in Romania. Lars and I agree with them… And the latter is also more photogenic than the Stelvio Pass.

Have a look at how the team of Top Gear experienced the Stelvio Pass:

During our ascent, I couldn’t take any pictures, mainly because we couldn’t stop at the side of the road. At the top of the pass, I was finally able to take some snaps.

As you can see, the weather conditions were a bit gloomy. By the way, I was surprised by the number of people on top of the pass; I actually had not been aware that this is a very popular destination.

During the descent, I also took some pictures.

If I ever had the chance to drive on one of the two passes again, I think I would have a slight preference for the Transfăgărășan. As I said before, the route is more photogenic. And I have never made a video there!

What about you? Do you like to drive around in the mountains? Have you ever been to the Stelvio Pass? And/or the Transfăgărășan?


How to Drive around Granada’s Highest Mountain

If you are a bit familiar with the south of Spain, you might think that the Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain in the province of Granada. But, it only comes in second place. With its 2383 meters, the Sierra de la Sagra (La Sagra) is the highest peak here. And with some planning, you can indeed drive around it.

I indicated Huescar on the map, although we didn’t stop there. But when we were driving toward Puebla de Don Fadrique, I started making the video when we passed Huescar.

The first thing to do is to program your GPS to Puebla de Don Fadrique, a small village with enough bars and restaurants to satisfy your hunger and thirst. When you leave the village, there is a road going toward the left. This is the GR9100, which brings you quite close to the mountain. If you want to get any closer, you will have to hike! Although very narrow, this road is in really good shape.

Until spring, you can see snow on top of the mountain. The landscape around La Sagra is as dramatic as the mountain itself, going from steppes to forests.

Keep on following the GR9100. At its end, you continue on the A4301 toward the south (left). And then we saw these fellows.

Keep on driving on the A4301, in the direction of the Embalse de San Clemente. In the video, you will see that we got side-tracked and ended up in a small village. Two big dogs kept us from exploring it… When we turned around, we saw that a huge German Shepherd was keeping an eye on us as well.

This turquoise beauty is the Embalse de San Clemente, with its dam dating from 1990. In the last picture, you can clearly see La Sagra in the background.

Drive over the dam and take the road toward Castril. Be prepared to be in awe; when you watch the video, you will understand why! Time for another dam (built in 1999) and the Embalse de Portillo.

We didn’t visit Castril and its surroundings – mainly because of a lack of time, but we plan to do so in the near future. Keep an eye on the website. This trip (Iznalloz – Sierra de la Sagra – Iznalloz) kept us on the road for nearly a day. So far, this is one of the best excursions of the year.

Here is the video we made during the trip!

Can’t get enough of magnificent landscapes? Then keep on following this website!

How to Drive through the Sierra Arana

We in Iznalloz are surrounded by magnificent landscapes. Just have a look:

But these are the most beautiful…

Let’s come a bit closer…

Lars and I wanted to drive through that beautiful landscape (if possible at least)… We had previously done so in Italy with the Stelvio Pass and in Romania with the Transfăgărășan. Anyway, one of our local supermarkets is located on the Carretera de la Sierra. That sounded like a good start. We kept on following this road for some kilometers until we saw a sign that said Barranco de Los Diablos. A road led to the right and we decided to drive on that one. We had absolutely no idea where this road would take us…

We had actually arrived at the Sierra Arana, a mountain range in the heart of the province of Granada. Some numbers:

  • Maximum height: 2027 meters (Peña de la Cruz).
  • Length: 28 kilometers.
  • Width: from 5 to 7 kilometers.

As we progressed, the dirt road became in a really bad state! And it changed color as well: from white to red. Lars and I didn’t know what to do at certain moments. If we continued, we were not sure where we would end up and if we made a U-turn, God knows what we could have missed. Anyway, we didn’t give up, we continued! And then these fellows greeted us!

We had reached Deifontes!

The second time we were there, we ignored the Barranco de Los Diablos sign and continued until El Sotillo. What a nice place to do some hiking! This was actually one of the last days before the lockdown started.

The third time we were there, we made a video. You can also find it on YouTube. You can see it was a bumpy ride.

And during our last time in the sierra, we slightly changed our itinerary near the end. Just before reaching Deifontes, we saw a dirt road going to the left. So, we tried that one!

I soon got out of the car to take pictures and stumbled upon this:

Crime scene? Gathering of nudists?

And then I discovered this…

We kept on exploring… There are caves in this area, but the road was simply too bad.

The first town we reached was not Deifontes this time, but Cogollos de la Vega (a lot more to the southeast):

All in all, we loved these excursions! Such magnificent landscapes! And there is more to come…

A Spectacular Drive in the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park

More than 40,000 hectares of Nature Park with several mountain peaks between 1,500 and 2,000 meters: that in a nutshell is the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park. It’s actually located in the provinces of Granada and Malaga. As you can imagine, this is too much to explore in one day. But we can present you with a route that will keep you busy for at least a morning or an afternoon.

Our drive will take you to the eastern side of the park. We started in Churriana de la Vega, the town where we used to live, before finding our little corner of paradise in Iznalloz. But we are digressing… Program your GPS for Jayena first. After 45 minutes, you will pass a beautiful artificial lake at Pantano de los Bermejales. There you have two options. You can either stop at the local camping place and have a drink and/or snack. Or – and this is our favorite – you can drive around the lake, have a stop in one of the cute villages and then continue to Jayena.

We will discuss this lake and its surroundings soon in a separate post.

After Jayena, you keep on driving in the direction of Almuñecar or Otivar. In case you didn’t stop for a meal or drink at the lake or in Jayena, don’t worry. There are still some restaurants along the road before you enter the mountains.

Steak for Lars and venison stew for yours truly! Not bad.

And then you better get ready for a magnificent landscape with ravines, limestone peaks, steep slopes, and sharp ridges! On a clear day, you can see the coast.

But there is more to this Natural Park than stunning landscapes. It is also the home of some exceptional fauna and flora. Read about it here.

We have driven on this mountain road on various occasions. On one of them, we even made a video, although the weather conditions were not the best.

What to do once you have reached Otivar? Obviously, stop there and have something nice to eat and/or drink. Go for a stroll, because it’s quite picturesque. Afterward, you can follow the road and drive all the way to Almuñecar (at the coast). Or go east, in the direction of Molvizar. From there, you can easily access the motorway and head to Malaga, Granada or Almeria.

Adventures at the Beginning and the End of the Danube

During our travels through Europe, Lars and I have often crossed the Danube, the second-longest European river – the first one being the Volga. During its course of 2850 km, it flows through no less than 10 different countries, passing illustrious cities such as Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.

The Beginning

The Danube starts its journey in the German town of Donaueschingen, located in the Black Forest (Baden-Württemburg), in the region of Freiburg.

The town counts about 22.000 inhabitants, who throughout the whole year welcome many tourists, eager to see the origins of the famous river, after which the town is named.

It’s at the confluence of two rivers – called the Breg and the Brigach – that Donaueschingen is located. This is the official source of the Danube.

The End

The mouth of the Danube is called the Danube Delta, which is located partly in Romania and partly in Ukraine. Wikipedia explains the Danube Delta as follows:

The modern Danube Delta began to form after 4000 BCE in a bay of the Black Sea, when the sea rose to its present level. A sandy barrier blocked the Danube bay where the river initially built its delta. Upon filling the bay with sediment, the delta advanced outside this barrier-blocked estuary after 3500 BCE, building several successive lobes:[5] the St. George I (3500–1600 BCE), the Sulina (1600–0 BCE), the St. George II (0 BC–present) and the Chilia or Kilia (1600 CE–present). Several other internal lobes were constructed in the lakes and lagoons bordering the Danube Delta to the north (Chilia I and II) and toward the south (Dunavatz).[6] Much of the alluvium in the delta and major expansion of its surface area in the form of lobes resulted from soil erosion associated with the clearing of forests in the Danube basin during the 1st and 2nd millennium.[7][8]

So far, only Lars has been lucky enough to visit the Delta, accompanied by his mother. Their exploration started near the Romanian village of Murighiol, which is really off the beaten path.

The trip started at 6 in the morning on a small boat and cost 80 euros for 3 hours. We were at the southern side of the Delta, whereas the northern side is actually the border with Ukraine. In the middle is a city called Sulina, the easternmost point of the country. The guide pointed out dozens of species of birds (and their nests), including pelicans.

It was so early in the morning that the clouds still had to make way for the sun.

As you can see from the pictures, the landscape of the Danube Delta consists mainly of water and wetlands. The area, however, experiences the driest climate of Romania.

Join us on a trip in another corner of Europe next time!

%d bloggers like this: