The Canyon Route

FTR River 02Anybody that has travelled up to Granada cannot have failed to be impressed by the gorge or canyon of the Azud de Vélez, which is just below, Vélez Benaudalla. Yet, until the opening of the A-44, it would have been dangerous to distract your attention from the hitherto, dangerously busy road to look at the scenery. Well, now’s your chance.
Now, I always take the N-340 instead of the autovía because there is ample opportunity to stop and admire the sheer verticality of those cliffs, but you needn’t limit yourself to purely that, because in these days when the beaches are heaving with beach-goers, there is a very close-to-hand alternative – and I don’t mean a chlorine-laden public swimming pool, but a beautiful, shaded river area, complete with picnic area and ample parking. FTR River 01I’m talking about the ‘playa de Vélez Benaudalla.’
It’s not difficult to find the access to this area, which the main road passes right by: continue until you come to a bar called El Frenazo, just before the bridge before the dam. You’ll find it on the right and running behind the bar is the lane, which passes under the main road and onto the track, which runs back the way you came, but on the other side of the river. About a couple of hundred yards down this track, which is in very good condition, and you will come to the parking area on your left, right next to the picnic area.
The picnic area is spacious with stone tables and benches – there is even a little bar there, which opens up for village-fête occasions. The riverbank gives very easy access to the river, which is neither deep nor has anything more than a walking-pace current. But we are talking about a paddling area where in some places you can stand up to your waist. You might imagine a muddy affair, but nothing could be farther from the truth as the Vélez Town Hall has provided wide stone ramps, and even shallow steps to access the water, both having hand rails. The whole area is shaded as it stands amongst tall, leafy trees.
The tajos del la garganta, or cliffs of the gorge, soar up just over 200 metres, before giving way into hillside, slopping up steeply to 600 metres. To put that into perspective, the deepest point of Englands’ Cheddar Gorge is just over half that, at 113 metres. I walked up there once, with Stewarts’ son, Sam, clambering up the hillside round the back and that was very hard going. We bumped into a wild boar, by the way, which was obviously unaccustomed to finding humans up there – sane or otherwise. The view, looking over the edge of the cliff, was fantastic and the cars hammering along below did look like Dinky Toys. Anyway, I’m not suggest that you do the same, much less try what I have seen some people doing, ‘free climbing’ the cliff face – arghhhh!
P1040834At the other end of the Azud de Vélez, you have the turning up to Las Alpujarras, just before Rules Dam, which is another place to visit. The amount of water gushing out is impressive – it is released because there is still no way of transferring it anywhere further down the coast owing to the huge evacuation pipes for the irrigation system still not being completed.
So, after admiring the cliffs, swimming in the river and viewing the dam, you must be getting hungry, but this is certainly not a problem. To do this feature I enlisted the backing of two great eating establishments at either end of the Azud de Vélez: El Puente, which is just before the dam at the northern end, and El Surtidor, which is first restaurant at the southern end, complete with a gasoline station, hence its name (the petrol pump). Before I give you details of these two highly recommended restaurants, I mustn’t forget to give you a little bit of info behind topographical names: azud is a name of Arabic origin which means irrigation dam or water wheel, and Benaudalla comes from Guadi Beni Abdallah, meaning ‘The Son of the Valley of the Serf (Servant) of God.’ Great stuff, eh? Now back to grub!
P1040866El Surtidor is spacious and there is plenty of parking, because when this was the main route for traffic heading to and from Granada, it was a favourite stop for coaches and buses. It’s got three spacious dinning rooms – one just for smokers – a small kiddies’ park around the back and even rooms to pass the night. And of course, the gasoline station is right next door so everybody; even your car, gets to have a refreshing drink.
The food is great and not expensive. In fact, the menu del día will only set you back nine euros a head and for that you get a choice of ten first courses and ten main courses! As for eating times, the kitchen is open until midnight, straight through from early morning! The restaurant specialises in grilled meat but offers a wide variety of other dishes. It’s also worth noting that they cater for communions and large parties in general.
El Surtidor also offers a collection of small gifts for travellers, both comestible and ornamental. More info: see advert on this spread.
P1040837At the other end of the Azud de Vélez, just as you cross over the bridge and on the right, you have El Restaurante El Puente, which you can’t miss, not only because it is virtually at the foot of the stone road bridge, but is also a stand-alone building with a large Coca-Cola sign on it, which is clearly visible even from the N-323.
The main attraction of this well-established restaurant/mesón is its ivy-covered eating patio, which is spacious and beautifully shaded by the ‘chambao.’ Furthermore, the noise of running water, just below in the river, reinforces the sense of a cool and tranquil setting. El Puente specialises in Carne a la Brasa (Grilled Meats) as well, but also offers much more.
For me – a hearty carnivore – I love their roast leg of lamb. In fact, even María does, and she is not a fan of lamb at the best of times. The presentation is well cared for, right down to the little ‘duck,’ made out of tomato, an olive, a gherkin, a toothpick and a small endive leaf.
El Puente also has an excellent interior dinning room with some very interesting photos and antique objects.
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  1 comment for “The Canyon Route

  1. Velezboy
    August 9, 2009 at 5:41 am

    It is so lovely to have some really positive comments about the beautiful village of Velez De Benaudalla. I beleive it is a hidden gem within the Granada Province. What with the new motorway taking traffic away from the N-340 it is also a pleasure to drive through the canyon of Azud de Velez. My wife and myself are fortunate to own a holiday home within the village and visit on a regular basis. The amount of work that has taken place over the past 4 years is amazing, and we have seen the vilage come on in leaps and bounds. As we speak the whole of the old quarter is having all the streets block paved and imprinted with lovely stone inlay. I understand that a swimming pool will also be built soon. Some of the lovely walks around the village are a delight, and what better way to finish this off than by stopping at the wonderful Los Angeles Bar for some refreshments and superb Tapas and hospitality from Pepe the obliging owner. At the other end of the village you have a choice of 4 additional bars\cafes which are also a pleasure.



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