I have always had a fascination with landscapes that were different than from what I was used to. Hungary is a fairly flat country and the hills are low, rolling ones, so proper mountains always interested me. We also lack a sea, so a wild stretch of coastline, say in Ireland, is something that also stands out. While I’ve done lots of travelling, most of it has been confined to Europe and I always love when I find truly unique landscapes. This time, we’ve definitely found one that is unlike anything I’ve seen on the continent before!
I’ve been to a place close to me here in Spain called Guadix before, where a surreal landscape starts. It’s called the Badlands and it is a crazy area, which used to be an old seabed and is filled with these odd sandstone formations. Guadix is known for its cavehouses, and after visiting a few times, it was now time to properly explore this epic landscape outside the urban area!
How We Ended Up in Cuevas del Campo
Of course, as I usually do, I was messing around Google Earth looking for hikes, potential bike trips and just cool places to photograph. That’s how I found Lake Negratín ages ago, but then forgot about it due to the lack of public transport in the area. Eventually, I had a very random interaction with a guy named Ed on Instagram after posting some photos from Guadix. Long story short, Ed lives in a village close to this lake in a cavehouse and he is currently working on setting up a guesthouse! I think to his surprise, a month or two later, I contacted him and asked if he could host us for a weekend. Ailsing and I have been planning a much-needed romantic spring getaway, to chill out and spend time together, just the two of us. Of course, we are not that great at sitting back and relaxing, so we ended up being very active the whole time!
We ended up being the first guests of Ed and Kate, since the guesthouse isn’t fully up and running just yet. They were both amazing, super generous hosts, helping us in every way possible. Since Cuevas del Campo has essentially no public transport, Ed picked us up in Baza, the nearest big town and also drove us around a few times while we were there. They are both from the UK, and they accidentally fell in love with the area while travelling around here and decided to buy a house and settle here. Modern hippies, in the best sense of the word possible.
Cuevas del Campo and Lake Negratín
Cuevas del Campo is a sleepy little village, filled with cave houses on the edge of the Badlands. It has virtually no public transport and many of the houses are abandoned or for sale. A lot of people have left the village, although Ed is hoping for a resurgence of the place – and it’s hard to see why it couldn’t happen! It is located in an amazing area, right between the Sierra de Cazorla and the Sierra de Baza, with a mountain called Cerro del Jabalcón and the Negratín Reservoir just a stone-throw away. And we must not forget the views towards the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the distance!
Of course, the Badlands are right on the edge of the village and the lake is just a short drive away. In most countries, the whole place would be packed with tourists for adventure holidays, hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing and enjoying the traditional cave houses. For now, it largely remains an undiscovered gem that you may bump into by accident. There are of course people buying some of the old cave houses (which can be had for extremely cheap!), but the place still remains very sleepy, at least for now.
We did some exploring around the village on the first day, walking through the olive groves that seem to cover the entire landscape until the lake and the badlands – although you can occasionally see some almond trees as well. There are interesting little tracks and valleys nearby and the lake is not too far off, plus there are some really good viewpoints nearby. It was hardly a proper hike by our standards, but we chatted, explored old cave houses, marveled at the views and flew the drone. Plenty of ideas about how to make this area do a lot better and how some of the old cavehouses could be turned into awesome hostels and guesthouses for adventurous tourists!
Next day we set off on a bit of a longer hike. We walked down all the way to the beach – there is a nudist one as well, if you are interested. From there, we walked on along an old road that was crumbling on the side of the lake, sometimes almost completely washed away, sometimes completely intact. What the hell is an old road doing there? Well, this reservoir was only constructed in 1984 and there used to be roads, at least one village, farms and even an old bath there, which are now all below water. Some of them occasionally emerge and some stay submerged all the time.
On the way back, we joined a dirt track which led back on a ridge overlooking another “arm” of the lake – you can imagine the lake from above looks like it has three large “arms.” This one was a lot shallower than the part we’ve seen before, which meant the water had a completely different color, instead of this intense blue it was more of a milky, lighter color. The most fascinating thing was how you could still see the old river courses in the lakebed under the water, because the trees that used to line them as they wound down the hills still stick out above the surface.
On the other side of the lake, under Jabalcón there are some hot springs called Baños de Zújar, which is something we definitely wanted to check out! Walking there would have been a bit of a tough trip, since there are no routes that simply go around the lake, just with huge detours. Luckily Ed had an inflatable kayak which he kindly lent to us for the day, so we hopped onto that and set off!
It was quite some distance away, but it felt great to be back on the water. I did canoeing for years, then a bit of sailing and I’ve tried kayaking before as well! I have to say, I prefer proper rigid kayaks, but for just messing around on the lake, this was great. The hot springs were in the foot of a restaurant and they started charging a 2€ entry fee – it used to be free before. Apparently, it’s possible to find some natural spots in the woods, but we were lazy and didn’t mind getting a cold drink and sitting in a comfortably built pool for a while! The water isn’t very hot, I’d say only 25 Celsius, maybe 30, but it was quite pleasant to sit there with an amazing view of the lake.
Aisling of course wasn’t too impressed with me when she found out that I forgot to bring towels… But after jumping back on the kayak and stopping at a beach, we even hopped in the ice-cold water! In fact, we probably had more fun there than in the hot springs, just soaking in the sun and speaking to some local kids in broken Spanish. After making our way back, we realized we both got insanely burnt on our legs, but that’s something typical while you are doing watersports…
Ed showed us a bunch of places in and around town, taking us to viewpoints, cool cave houses and on the day we were heading home, we joined him for his shopping run to Pozo Alcón, the next village that’s at the foot of the Sierra Cazorla. We wandered through the market, being true hipsters and buying beautiful fruits and cheap avocados. We did a short detour and Ed showed us Lake Bolera, another reservoir that’s in the Sierra Cazorla nearby. The contrast to Lake Negratín is insane. They are 20 minutes driving from each other, yet they look like worlds apart. Negratín is surrounded by these crazy sandstone formations, in an extremely arid environment, while Bolera is in a lush mountain basin, full of life and it gets plenty of precipitation.
The few days we spend in Cuevas del Campo were amazing, but far from enough – there is so much more exploring to be done in the area! I hope we can make it back in the summer before we move back to Hungary. It is an almost completely undiscovered area that has so much potential for outdoors adventurers. Finally, we had amazing hosts – Ed and Kate are just fantastic and unbelievably hospitable. I’ll be updating this post with the links to their guesthouse as soon as it’s up and running! Next time, we need to properly explore the Badlands, the Sierra Cazorla and maybe climb Jabalcón…
PS: Speaking of the Jabalcón, Ed is doing a project where he posts photos of the mountain every day on an Instagram page called the Daily Jabalcón! I think it’s such a cool little project!