You'd hardly expect a functioning railway station to provide either a lunch or a view to remember, but you'll get both at la Estació Benaojá on the line between Ronda and Algeciras in deepest Andalucía. La Cantina is the no-nonsense name of the tapas bar which plies its trade on the "up" platform and whose tables, with an unexpected touch of the exotic, are arranged beneath a row of sweet-smelling orange trees. Benaojá*itself, an attractive "white village" clings to the nearby hillside, while one of the region's most appealing small hotels, Molino del Santo, is just a five-minute stroll from the station.
La Cantina's tapas, prepared by Ángel and Rosi, are unpretentious and traditional but they are robust, tasty and satisfying. The local formula is the one to follow: choose a number of raciones and share them, washing them down with beer, house Rioja or Andalucía's favourite tipple, chilled, dry, fino sherry.
Among the staple offerings are cheese, Spanish omelette and callos (tripe). Well worth trying is the pisto, a stew of mediterranean vegetables, which is made by Ángel's mum, while the best of the meat dishes, chorizo al vino (spicy sausage in wine) and chuletas de cerdo (pork chops) are based on local pork products. Benaojá*is famed in southern Spain for its chorizo, produced from free-range black pigs and consumed in vast quantities at the annual fiesta, la verbena del tren, which is held here at the station towards the end of July.
Towering above the little station are the steep, white limestone crags of la Sierra de Líbar, sparsely dotted with green bushes and traversed by flocks of goats. On one of the many hot days you'll see vultures circling slowly in a deep blue sky. This is excellent walking country and a particularly pleasant and undemanding path links Benaojá with the next station down the line, Jimera de Líbar. The riverside stroll, following the valley of the Guadiaro, will help to either work up a good appetite or alternatively to walk off your lunch (find out about the walk at nearby Molino del Santo).
An even more relaxing way to pass the time is just to sit with a drink, listening to the hoarse voices of La Cantina's locals and the click-clack of their dominoes. In earlier times, the train chugging up from the coast was known as "the smugglers' express", reputedly going slowly enough for contraband cigarettes and butter to be sold through the coach windows. Nowadays the drama is limited to an occasional, brief flurry of activity as the stationmaster dons his red cap and brandishes his whistle to greet one of the four daily trains.
Tapas (bite-sized appetisers) are 70 or 80 centimos apiece. The raciones (full portions) cost between €6 and €7. A filling meal for two with wine will set you back about €25.
La Cantina is open from one in the afternoon till eleven at night and is closed on Wednesdays.
Stay the night or get local information at nearby hotel el Molino del Santo: ( www.molinodelsanto.com; 00 34 952 16 71 51).Reuse content