An oasis after the desert. That is the image the traveller got as he made his way through Despeñaperros after crossing La Mancha.
Sierra Morena, the Penibética range, all the mountains coincided with that romantic search for the hidden and impenetrable; the hazardous and risky. On the other side of the fertile plains, mountains were a land of myths, legends and adventure. Their landscape broke the straight neo- classical pattern that had brought about the romantic reaction; their villages roused the curiosity of these men who seemed to have anthropological vocations rather than training; the roads strewn with crosses where murders had been committed heralded any sort of contingency. For them did travellers abandon conventional routes, ready to face success or calamity.
Ronda was the centre of this labyrinth of unpredictability, "a spectacle worth letting yourself be stripped bare to see", according to Richard Ford. From Arcos de la Frontera, the landscape becomes wilder. Cliffs and peaks, sprinkled with luxuriant vegetation, succeed one another along the road that went by Grazalema and Benamahoma all the way to Ronda, a city perched on a plateau of naked rock suspended over a deep perpendicular gorge. On the horizon, the Sierra de las Nieves that used to provide the ice for Andalusian towns and around it, legendary hills and caves, such as that of La Pileta and El Gato inhabite, as rumour has it, by infernal gods.
Towards the west, another world of legends, historic in this case: the Alpujarras. Their deep and peaceful valleys, land of conflict and resistance –as much against the emirate of Cordova, as against the Christian Kings- still keep their distinctive features. The mountains of Contraviesa and Gador, called by the Moors mountains of the Sun and Air, spring from Sierra Nevada southwards forming valleys that narrow as they go down towards the sea, while their great heights unfold in formidable Alpine meadows, with a vegetation very different from the semi- tropical vegetation to be found further down.