Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Frigiliana is the quintessence of whiteness. Frigiliana is an explosion of colour. Smells of a hectic past; perfumes of a full-blown present; aromas of a future to be discovered around the corner. Frigiliana rolls down the sierras to take a peep at the sea, leaving olive, almond, orange, and lemon trees, avocados and loquats behind on the way. A rebellious village where you can still hear the echoes of the bloody battle of Peñón. Frigiliana, a town where red and violet flowers print their shadows on spotless white walls. Frigiliana, a village to feel while strolling about. Frigiliana, a place to be seized by the charm of old streets. Frigiliana, unique. Frigiliana, at the crossroads of the Three Cultures.

There It Is

Amidst the fruit tree plots seeking the sea, you can see the village in bright white. Perched on Sierra de Almijara, it rolls down the hills to reach the main square. This image is enough to feel the charm. Why getting started when there’s so much to take in before moving on? The information for this trip, I gathered from the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Frigiliana Town Hall. In the latter I found a tour to be done in four stages, which seemed both practical and interesting. Stage one: From the Apero to the Portón. Stage two: From the Portón to the Torreón. Stage three: From the Torreón to the Ermita. Stage four: Barribarto. Before starting, however, I must park. After reaching the first roundabout on the road into Frigiliana, you’ll come across a sign reading “Centro Pueblo” and “Circunvalación.” Both roads take you to the same place. I chose the latter because it got me to a parking place. There’s an easily accessible paid parking area, but you might want to take a couple of turns and find a place on the street. It might take longer, but it’s cheaper, and since it’ll take quite long to walk around the village, perhaps it’s a better choice. It’ll just take a little more patience.

Stages One and Two: From the Apero to the Portón to the Torreón

Directions for tourists are clear and visible in Frigiliana. You’ll see them right from the start, in the square affording views of El Ingenio building and the Maniquillas, a reference point for our first sight, Casa del Apero, which also serves as a tourist information office. With its cobblestone patio, its discreet corners, and the fountain that quenches the thirst in the summer, Casa del Apero (House of Farming Implements) is a true conservation miracle. I’m seized by a fit of envy: two private houses face the patio, its inhabitants being privileged witnesses to everything that goes on in the town’s most important building. The house’s name gives its original purpose away: it used to be the place where farming tools and animals were kept. Now it’s a cultural centre, a tourist information office, a museum, and a gallery for exhibitions. I bought a map of Frigiliana (€1) and filled in on the details of my tour. Then I asked for advice on where to eat, but more about this later. My tour of Frigiliana –awarded the First National Prize to the Embellishment of Towns and Villages in Spain– started right here. I walked to El Ingenio, which used to be the residences of the Marquess of Manrique and now hosts the only golden syrup factory that is operative in Europe. I was told at the Tourist Office that the factory couldn’t be visited for sanitation reasons. I got my first impressions of flowers here, in bright contrast to the whitewashed walls. I began to walk down Real Street, the main street of the lower part of town, on which most of my sights stood. A whole world of temptations opened up before me: arts and crafts, wines, and honey. After the Reales Pósitos (Royal Granary) and its bright red arches, I came to a fork and walked on down a flat Real Street to the left. (The street to the right, Calle del Darra, would’ve taken me to Barribarto.) My directions indicated I should resume my stroll along Real (and then I’d gain height by climbing the steps on Almona Street). A few metres ahead the maze of streets began. The whole village is covered in cobblestones and peppered with flowerbeds, flowerpots, flowers in bright colours, and a strong smell of orange trees. I took my time, rocked by the rhythm of the village. Where the Callejón de Correos starts there’s a fountain –a replica of an older one that used to sit in the same place. I cooled myself before going into Taller de las Calabazas, a store run by a craftsman and selling all manners of pumpkin products, from lamps to pendants to toothpick holders to sculptures. No doubt about it: beyond the landmarks, the charming thing about Frigiliana lies in the surprises hidden in its alleys, in the tiny corners, and its beautiful flowers. And also in the names: the names of streets, El Batanero, El Señor, El Horno… The quiet Torreón hides one of Frigiliana’s treasures, namely, a vessel bearing the inscriptions of the Three Cultures: the Christian cross, the Muslim crescent, and the Jewish star delicately engraved together, in perfect harmony. You have to look for it among flowerpots bathed by a tender smell of jasmine. The vessel gave birth to the Festival of the Three Cultures, which is being held from August 28 to August 30 this year, starring Pitingo and Medina Azahara, among other artists. It’s a magic symbol, filled with energy. Or maybe it’s just my desire or what I want it to mean. Who knows.

Stage Three: From the Torreón to the Ermita; the Secret of the Twelve Heads; Replenishment

To the right, temptations mushroomed. I didn’t want to deviate from my tour, but it was difficult not to look up to the mountain rocks and Barribarto, a hamlet jutting out and sensed like a totem over me. Its streets can be made out behind El Zacatín, connecting Real Street with Alta Street. You can almost seethe remains of the old tower, sense the presence of El Darra, the Moorish rebel, up there, considering death in his fight against the Christians. It all seems possible in Frigiliana. Past the detour leading to the top, El Zacatín, I got to the Church of San Antonio, where I sat down, relaxed, and checked the contrast between the humble, delicate church walls and the bright blue sky. There’s a secret inside the Church of San Antonio, but it’s not easily seen. After crossing the central nave under a delicate wooden coffered ceiling, I saw a group of people, squatting, to the left. They were taking pictures. There was a niche behind them. It contained… twelve heads. Twelve heads with twelve names –the names of the Apostles. I approached the astounded visitors. They were not heads but masks. What would they use them for? Nothing was said about it in my guide, so I asked. They told me the masks are used in Easter celebrations, when the Apostles spend the last day with Jesus. Now I knew the secret, so I could move on. Skirting the Church’s left side, I got to a little square crossing La Bodeguilla. Three streets began here: El Garral, climbing all the way up to Barribarto, a blind alley, and Callejón del Inquisidor, an impossibly narrow alley where I found a fountain bearing (again) a cross, a crescent, and a star. Three symbols, three cultures. I was now in the Moorish District, an even more intricate maze with amazing colourful spots: red carnations, blue gates, lilac-coloured hallways… In the houses you can see cattail chairs and flowerpots. And telling names again: Callejón de las Ánimas (Soul Alley), Callejón de los Moriscos (Moorish Alley), and so on. Back to Real Street, an irresistible temptation opposite Plaza de la Fuente Vieja: “Tapa y caña, 1 euro” (Snack + beer: €1). The bar is called “La Alegría del Barrio;” a popular inn promising genuine flavours (no artifices); in sum, a typical local bar –a fan hanging from the ceiling, walls covered in photographs, old radios on a shelf. Four beers and four tapas (steak, anchovies, cod pie = €4). The steak and cod tapas are the bar’s specialties; try them dipped in golden syrup. One of the owner’s daughters was savouring them, fresh and coated in honey. Great choice. After replenishing my energy reserves, I saw the Fuente Vieja (Old Fountain), the modern monument to the Three Cultures, and the Ecce Homo Chapel at the end of the street. Time to climb to Barribarto. The steps on Almona Street would take me there. I went up slowly, stopping at will.

Stage Four: Barribarto
Barribarto is an impressive place. It can be defined as a tangle of alley mazes brimming with flowers –violet, red, blue and green against the white of walls. The breeze rocks the door curtains. The most intimate Andalusia comes to life in this district, its streets inviting a pleasant walk. It’s worth a morose, silent stroll, visiting each and every corner, letting your sight, smell and touch taking in as much of Frigiliana as they can. Time seems to have stopped five hundred years ago in Barribarto. And the sheltering sky above, endless and bright blue. Many of the houses have their doors open. They’ve been named after the women who’ve kept them spic and span: “Casa Sofía,” “Casa Rosarico”… I could now see El Garral from above. Or El Zacatín, climbing down to Real Street, which I’ve been to. Almona Street becomes Santa Teresa, Alta, and Santo Cristo. The maze hides the sea. You can feel it there, behind the house and the terraces, on the horizon. But you can’t see it. One of the streets going up to what’s been left of the Old Castle, La Chorrera, features something called “Harén Fantástico” (Fantastic Harem), a mechanical gadget showing half a dozen odalisques dancing after you insert a €0.50 coin. I had a hard time then finding the way to the old Castillo de Lízar. Blind alleys, closed doors… Let’s go. A tip of advice: never put your camera away in Frigiliana; every spot is worth a snapshot. Moving ahead, I came to a place where the streets gave way to a lookout over the sea. There was a bench to sit down and enjoy the show put on by nature and architecture working together, the sea, the mountains, the white hamlet, blended into the Mediterranean. The place is called Mirador del Santo Cristo. I struck up a conversation with Antonio, an old man sitting just where the sun kissed the shadows. He told me about his life in this neighbourhood and about the Civil War and how a bombing tore a rock off which fell down to lower Frigiliana. I couldn’t check whether it was true, but it sounded like a good story to me. I walked around. I saw the mountains creeping into the houses and the streets, which had adapted to the steep and winding sierras. A new lookout a few steps ahead, taken over a restaurant’s tables. Going a little bit down, I reached Peñón de la Sabina, a magnificent natural balcony affording views of the more modern part of Frigiliana, El Ingenio, and the foot of Barribarto. I took more pictures.

La Bodeguilla
Along little alleys I came down to Real Street, getting lost amidst vivid colours and strong smells. Since poetry isn’t at odds with pragmatics, I chose a place to eat in the old quarter (there’re a lot to choose from!). When reading and asking, a name came up once and again: La Bodeguilla, “The Most Typical of the Restaurants in Frigiliana,” the ad goes. I passed by it in the morning, flanking the Church of San Antonio, so I could easily find it again. A dozen tables scattered between Callejón del Inquisidor and El Garral. Iron chairs and round tables. It talked to the owner, Rosario, an exquisitely kind woman. She told me hers was one of the few restaurants in town serving really homemade typical dishes: kid, “migas,” tomato soup, “ajoblanco.” Prices are reasonable for the heart of Frigiliana. The most expensive dishes –entrecote and La Bodeguilla special– are €10. I ordered the special and kid (€9.50), plus four glasses of beer and two glasses of sweet wine. Bill = €27.50. La Bodeguilla special includes fried egg, “papas a lo pobre,” chorizo, black pudding, kid, ratatouille, seasoned meat, and “migas.” A delicious, hearty meal. The “migas” are great. La Bodeguilla is a truly family restaurant, run under this motto: “We’re proud of our customers and we hope we can keep serving them for many years to come, God and our guests willing.” You have to pay inside, amidst photographs of Holy Communions, weddings, and beauty pageants.

In Search of the Castle of Lízar

In the less hot afternoon, I went shopping for arts and crafts, golden syrup (yummy!), local wines, and the like. There were lots of little stores selling things for all and sundry at a wide range of prices. After the shopping tour, I still hadn’t got over the Castle of Lízar (I hadn’t been able to find the access to it), so I asked for directions. How could I get up there? I could see the ruins from El Zacatín, but it didn’t led to the Old Castle. I was told I had to leave the area, as there was no way of accessing it from Barribarto. I took notice. The boldest of you can do it on foot, but you’d rather drive. It’s 2km (1.25mi) in a steep climb. You have to cut across the town, passing by the new Town Pavilion to the left and Rosario Street to the right, and head for the road to Torrox. About 600m (656 yards) ahead, you’ll find a detour reading “El Fuerte de Frigiliana”. There we went. The road is in very bad condition. You have to drive straight ahead, amidst houses scattered high up, until you reach a big reservoir. There’s an adjacent parking area and a board informing that this is the Pozo de Lízar (Lízar Well). Facing you, the sierras cut into the rock, majestic. Behind, a small mound bearing walls in ruins. To the right there’s a trail coming from Frigiliana. To the right, a white arrow in a rock showing the way. It’s not in bad condition, but it’s steep and narrow. If you suffer from vertigo, spare yourself the trouble. Now if you insist, what you’ll find is… an arresting view. The sea in the background, the sierras to the left, the hills lined with fruit trees into Torrox, Barribarto below. Its layout is clearly visible: El Zacatín, La Chorrera… A bird’s-eye view under the bright blue sky. It can’t be compared to any other landscape. It’s overwhelming, even spine-chilling. Sunset plays a key role, too. I can almost feel I’m El Darra, waiting for the Christian army. However, after crowning the top, I long for the other Frigiliana, the one you can’t see from here, the one behind the whitewashed streets, the one with shady patios and booming flowers, the intimate town clinging to the earth and dreaming of the sea.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: 1. Comfortable shoes. Frigiliana is a place to walk up and down, getting lost and finding your way a zillion times. 2. Light warm clothing. It can get cool in the evening. Even in summer, when it’s hot, the street layout allows for shadow and breeze.
Where to eat: La Bodeguilla is the best traditional place, but there are many restaurants serving homemade food and affording amazing views in Barribarto. The prices cover a wide range of budgets, too.
What to buy: Don’t miss El Ingenio’s gold syrup. It’s thick, sticky, and delicious with savoury snacks or for sauces. El Ingenio is the only golden syrup factory still working in Europe.
The Festival of the Three Cultures: It’s the fourth edition this year. There’ll be concerts and shows for all ages. This festival rooted in mixture, in the coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews has become a must-attend in Málaga, red-circled on its summer cultural calendar. To read more about it, go to Festival de las Tres Culturas.
Trekking: Frigiliana’s natural setting is just spectacular. There’s a full Trekking Programme for fit visitors. You can read about it at Programa de Senderos.
General links: For this trip I’ve used three websites mainly: those of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Frigiliana Town Hall that I mentioned above, and

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.