Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Árchez, among fruit trees, in the scented depth of the valley. Árchez, a shy village under the bright blue sky and against a background in green. The murmur of the river Turvilla echoes down the streets, the minaret watching over the whole town. Árchez, where Mudejar history is intertwined with legend. Árchez, a town of only four hundred inhabitants, oozing Andalusian blood. Árchez, the twelfth-century gem of the Merinites. Archez, cool and subtle, a valley of orange trees peppered with ditches and mills. Árchez, a town to be discovered. Árchez, the village of the eternal minaret watching the slopes of the sierras. Árchez, a place to withdraw.

Árchez, among Fruit Trees

The white houses in Árchez look like fruits of the green vines, olive trees, and loquat trees between them. The village lies at the bottom of a valley, in the shadow of Cómpeta, sheltered by a lot of cool trees. No wonder the Arabs chose this site to settle. Locals drink the water of the river Turvilla, take a break under the fruit trees, eat the fat of the land. Árchez is in Axarquía, in the so-called Mudéjar Tour, which links the coastal area with the hinterland, passing by larger towns like Algarrobo or Sayalonga. I can imagine its shadows under the scorching sun in the summer, its coolness fighting off the unbearable heat. I found a small parking area opposite the Town Hall. I left my car there and entered the white maze of streets and alleys. A board informed me of the sites of interest. I took note and got down to it, in an attempt to enjoy my stroll about town, along cool quiet streets, in the trill of birds and cooing of pigeons. I soon came to an architectural gem.

The Minaret

Standing in Plaza Mudéjar, Árchez’s Alminar (Minaret) can be seen from every point in town, suggesting the powerful delicacy of Muslim architecture. Clearly defined against the bright blue sky, it proudly shows its redbrick walls, its white upper part, and its stripe of white and blue tiles. A couple of benches invite visitors to take a seat. A quiet corner where you can hear the lively bubbling of the river nearby. The chiming bells –persistent and pervading in their call for Mass– took me by surprise. In fact, the minaret –the muezzin’s call-to-prayer tower– is adjacent to the Church of La Encarnación. On one of the walls (there’re information boards all over Árchez) I read that the bells had names: Nuestra Señora del Pilar and María de la Encarnación. Another board taught me how this landmark was built, underscoring its importance to the region’s architecture: “A vertical element in horizontal mosques, minarets evoke the triumph of man’s efforts over gravity while they link the inner space with the outside world.” And now a legend for story lovers.

The Lizard and the Temptations of Sweet Wine

Legend has it that, once upon a time, there was a lizard that fell into the forge where the bell for the church was being made and got stuck to it. If you’re single and of marriageable age, you can go up the tower and touch the lizard, and you’ll find love within a year. While I was reading the story, a woman invited me to come to her house, where I guessed she should have a makeshift store. In a tiny larder, she kept a wide array of typical foods from Árchez: sweet wine (which I sampled), figs, raisins, almond pies, all kinds of sweets, and so on. All the wrappings had the image of the Minaret. The woman’s name was María. I tried to resist the temptation… but I just couldn’t. I bought a 2l bottle of sweet wine (you can keep it for two years if unopened) for €6 and a fig pie for €6 too. Cravings and temptations. I saw María in action later again, talking two foreign tourists into her charming store. The local people look nice indeed, always trying to strike up conversation. After the Fall, I moved on.

The Church and the Square

Brushed by the breeze, the orange trees give out a pervading smell. The door to the Iglesia de la Encarnación (Church of La Encarnación) opens to a rectangular square where a board teaches lots of interesting things about Mudejar food –the perfect combination of sweet and savoury: “Medieval Andalusian food was characterised by the use of fermented nutrients, a prevailing bittersweet taste, the use of spices and scented herbs, and the preparation of sweets. Couscous (wheat flour, meat, legumes, vegetables, and nuts) was one of the most common dishes, alongside alhale (salted lamb), and all manners of stews (beef, cock pigeon, partridge, francolins), as well as raisin and almond pies, cheese and honey fritters, and the famous Axarquía figs, praised by Chihab al-Umari and Muhammad ibn al-Jabib, which were used to make bread and syrup…”. I’d check some of this statements for myself later. I went into the Church. A single nave, with a front altar crested by white and blue clouds. An image of Our Lady of Montserrat to the left, popularly known as “La Moreneta.” I asked why it was kept in this Church and I got contradictory answers, so I didn’t know what to think. In the far end of the square, to the right and with its back to the Church, there’s a two-spout fountain where you can cool down, quench your thirst, and even wet your hair. Round the corner, one of the numerous surprises you can fin in Árchez: a Gaudí-esque house! It looked as if a fragment had been torn out of Casa Batlló in Barcelona and taken down to the valley. Adding the house to the Virgin of Montserrat, I rushed to the conclusion that some Catalans could’ve been here. A look at the Minaret from wherever you are in town is enough to imagine the muezzin calling to prayer. You can breath in some breezes of brilliant past times in Árchez. I walked on and got to Puerta del Río.

The Mills

The sweet and pungent smell that pervaded the atmosphere had stuck to my nose. I came to the river Turvilla –a cool site, full of trees. Crossing a bridge, I arrived at the remains of a house that could’ve been a mill, thinking I’d come across a hippie community. Long-haired women in flowery dresses said hello to me. I found the Molino de Doña Fidela (Fidela’s Mill) and I could read yet another fascinating story: “A resident in Árchez bought the mill from Fidela, who was the original owner, and when he set out to rehabilitate the building, he found a chest full of gold coins.” Now I was right in the heart of the hippie community, in the so-called Molino Winkler. The next mill was Don Matías. I asked a local citizen, Rafael, for directions. He was very kind, but his eyes gave his inner question away: “What are these guys doing here?” Past the fountain of El Pilar, I had to take the road to the graveyard, flanked by a ditch to the right. It led to the Molino de Don Matías. Poppies, loquats, olives, prickly pears… They all seemed to have mushroomed in the area, and the vines above them, climbing up the sierras. I could hear the murmur of the Turvilla to the left, even when I couldn’t see the river, and the gurgling ditch along whose edge I was walking. It might not be a pleasant walk to some visitors, as the ditch is interrupted once or twice and you need to skirt it, negotiating a couple of trunks, shrubs, and nettles. Recommended for those who have an adventurer in them only. It took me some 20’ and a few dozen orchards to get to my target. The mill was hidden in the shade of some thick bushes. That is, what was left of it –ruins suggesting a more glorious past. Back to town: the walk had whetted my appetite.

Posada Mesón Mudéjar

Leaning on a friend’s advice, I decided to have lunch at Posada Mesón Mudéjar, in the centre of town, opposite the façade of the Church of La Encarnación (no chance of getting lost). Carried away by the aromas of the past and knowing I was in one of the towns in the Mudéjar Tour in Axarquía, I embraced local culinary traditions. Posada Mesón Mudéjar is a place where everything has been taken care of. The harmony of its ingredients make it a cosy, comfortable restaurant: candlelit tables, wooden arches, white walls… The inn includes five carefully decorated guestrooms as well. I took a small table in the backyard. I said hello to Serafín, the owner, and made a mental picture of the parade of dishes in the menu: small cuttlefish sautéed with garlic, chilli with coriander, scrambled nettles from the river in Árchez, Mudejar-style hake, Mudejar-style chicken, ajoblanco… This is what I ordered in the end: four beers, two bottles of water, a Mudejar salad, honeyed lamb, Mudejar-style chicken, and a prickly pear ice-cream. The bill = €41. I strongly recommend the homemade ice-creams: figs and raisins, carob beans, or prickly pears. Yummy yummy. Affordable prices and generous servings. A special selection on the menu and a personal touch in each dish. After the lavish meal, a new stroll.


Walking down the walkway by the river, I bade farewell to Árchez. The shade of the trees neutralised the heat, while the river absorbed the relentless sun. I walked slowly, stealing a glance at the rising Minaret every now and then and travelling back in time to the sixteenth century, when the Moors used to walk along these very streets. I thought I’d seen a djellaba round the corner, but then I couldn’t tell whether it was real or just a figment of my imagination, a by-product of the Mudejar spell.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Talk to the local people. They feed you a great many stories that’ll be worth listening to and retelling later. Let yourself go after the slow pulse of Árchez.
Where to eat: There’re other places where you can eat in Árchez besides Posada Mesón Mudéjar. This is my choice, though, because it has the most complete menu based on Mudejar cuisine.
Useful links: I found three useful websites to find information on this village in the Ruta Mudéjar –the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the Árchez Town Hall, and a site created by a man living in Árchez.

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