Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Legend has it that, once upon a time, in the dark, damp shelter of a cave, a peasant found a calf. It was golden, like the sun, and it shone so powerfully it lighted up even the most secluded corners in the cave. It was a golden calf. Bright gold. This is the origin of this township’s name, “Cuevas del Becerro,” which means “The Caves of the Calf” in Spanish. There’s another story, a less poetic but equally true one. Once upon a time, there was a calf that got lost in the dead of night. Its bleating reached the town, whose people, attracted by the mysterious sounds, followed them as if they were the Pied Piper of Hamelin, only to find the animal, numb with cold, in a nearby cave. Cuevas del Becerro, a town that could have no other patron saint than Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of animals. There’re more stories about this township to be told later. Stay tuned.

Arrival, Tour Planning, Parking

Cuevas del Becerro stands as a white hamlet surrounded by rough mountains. Perched on a rocky crag, it watches over the sprawling fields. A natural point connecting Ronda, Campillos, and Antequera, Cuevas del Becerro feeds on this connection. On the edges of town, there’s an open mountain pass that makes Cuevas del Becerro a town naturally at crossroads. Its rectilinear layout pushes forward, as if overpowering the mount it stands on. From the heart of the town centre, you can barely see the mountains when you’re standing in the street. But you can feel them behind the wrought-iron balconies and grilles, behind the cool patios. They have high geological value and hence they’ve been included in the Torcal de Antequera Route. I entered the town heading towards the Town Hall. In the first narrow streets, two yellow stripes indicated I couldn’t park. But beyond the Town Hall it was easy to find a place. If you come to Cuevas del Becerro in the summer, bring a hat, a sunscreen, and a fan. It was still spring when I came, but I could image how hot it could be. On the other hand, also, do bring some light warm clothing, as it can get cold too, given the altitude and the proximity of the sierras.

Church of San Antonio Abad

From the beginning to the end of my tour, I could hear the trill of birds –certainly, a pleasant soundtrack. I chose to visit the Church of San Antonio Abad first, on Calle Real, 100m (328 ft) from the Town Hall. It’s a simple, single-nave church, smelling of flowers. There’re eight images hanging from the walls and in the altar –three brick round arches sheltering three images. There’s a small chapel to the right; three women are chatting softly inside. At the far end, to the left, there’s St Anthony, two calves at his feet.

Towards “El Nacimiento” and the Threshing Floors

Back on Real Street, I walked ahead until I almost reached the end of town. Then I turned left, towards Plaza de la República. I took a street parallel to Real and found a sign showing different sites: Roman kilns, “El Nacimiento,” Sports Centre… I chose the Roman kilns, so I had to go on walking. I just couldn’t find them. I asked locals and they said I was on the right track, but I still couldn’t see where the kilns were. I knocked at a door. A young girl answered, saying the kilns had been removed a couple of years ago for a museum to be developed where they used to be but, for the time being, there was nothing to see. I turned around towards “El Nacimiento,” which can easily be reached by following the streets parallel to Real and then the town’s exit (“Salida Pueblo”). After a less-than-15’ walk, I was there.

El Nacimiento” and the Threshing Floors

A board before climbing up to the threshing floors caught my attention. “Los Resbalaeros,” it says, in big white print. It referred to three old ravines among the rocks: “These ravines, popularly known as ‘Los Resbalaeros’ have been the playground of many boys and girls in Cuevas del Becerro, who used them as slides. A great many knees and bottoms have grazed in them and a great many trousers or tights have wound up in the dustbin because of this makeshift slides.” A curious past pastime in contact with nature. It was so common yesteryear! I climbed up a flight of steps and got to the threshing floors, a small terrace used to winnow ripe wheat, letting the wind do its job, the grains falling on the cobblestones. “El Nacimiento” was close by. As far as I could see, it’s a popular recreational place among Cueveños, who come to fight heat with the cool fountains. The water is carried by a network of ditches, and bubbles out of two spouts, cold and clear. It’s the perfect solution to sultry weather. I talked with locals for a while. A man told me a fact I’d read in some of the boards in town too. It had to do with war and conquest. “In the Middle Ages, when this place was known as Fuentes de Huéxcar, king Alfonso XI of Castile, also known as The Avenger, stayed here with his retinue for some time, getting ready for the conquest of Ronda.” I also learnt that little remained of the old medieval castle on Cerro del Castillón but, if I climbed up the northern slopes, along the Juan Durán trail (by the threshing floors), I would see a reconstructed Neolithic settlement. I got interested in this. Before going back to my car, I cooled down again. The settlement lay some 4km (2.5mi) from the town centre. I returned to the giant reed forest and the ditch beginning at “El Nacimiento,” drove across Plaza de la República, and took a side street into Real Street, where I found my car parked.

Unsuccessful Visit to the Neolithic
I replicated my walking tour but only driving this time. Past “Los Resbalaeros,” past the Threshing Floors, along the Juan Durán trail. I drove cautiously and slowly. The trail isn’t in very good condition, so you have to be careful. Going up, I was surrounded by rock and corn –a fantastic landscape. The trail got worse by the mile, with big chasms opening up before my wheels. I had driven for 2 km (1.2mi) when I reluctantly decided to return. It wouldn’t have been impossible to drive ahead, but with an ordinary car I risked puncturing or something, so I thought it wise to stop there. Maybe with a better-equipped car or a higher vehicle, the trail would be easier to negotiate. Anyway, the views of town from where I stopped were just great. Cuevas del Becerro seemed to sit on a stone cradle. I got off, took some pictures, and took in the peace and the silence around me. As usual, the quiet atmosphere made me aware of something: my stomach was growling. Time for lunch.

Iberian Lizard
Most restaurants in Cuevas del Becerro are on the town’s entrance/ exit road, which is only natural if you take into account that this road connects this place with Ronda, Campillos, and Antequera. I chose the busiest venue, Mesón Pelayo. A humble restaurant offering a simple yet curious and efficient menu. Among roast Iberian products, a line caught my eye: “Iberian lizard,” it said. I’d seen lizards in the fields near Cuevas del Becerro, but here? On my table? I asked the waiter about it: “What about Iberian lizard? It isn’t…” “No, no,” he laughed, “it’s a cut of pork, below the ribs. Low-fat, tender, and juicy.” I ordered this. The proximity of Antequera can be felt in the menu. When it’s in season, they serve porra antequerana. I ordered porra, too. Finally, Iberian pork shoulder blade. Add two beers and a 1½l bottle of water. So, Iberian “lizard” = €9; Iberian pork shoulder blade = €12; porras antequerana for two = €10. The bill = €35.70. Quite reasonable. The porra was farm-fresh and delicious, and so were the “lizard” and the shoulder blade. All the dishes came with baked potatoes and a tomato and carrot salad. All in all, a restaurant I’d recommend.

Rear-View Mirror
After lunch, I plunged into the fields surrounding Cuevas del Becerro. Corn and pine trees: powerful fragrances giving the Mediterranean away. According to the geological literature, the sheltering rocks were part of a huge sea before emerging. Hence the cavities, the caves. By the way, if you’re a spelunking guy, you must go to the most important sight in the area: Cueva del Moro. When I left Cuevas del Becerro behind, I could still see the town standing on the crag in my rear-view mirror. A majestic totem it was.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: 1. Caps or hats are a must in the summer. 2. Light warm clothing could come in handy, as it can get really cold after sunset.
What to see: “Los Resbalaeros” and “El Nacimiento”. They’re unusual places, welcoming hot visitors.
What to eat: Try the Iberian “lizard” at Mesón Pelayo. It’s mouth watering.
Useful links: I recommend the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the official website of Cuevas del Becerro as guides.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Valle de Abdalajís, Abd-al-Aziz, the son of Muza. Valle de Abdalajís, or Nescania in the past. Deep valley from an eagle’s eye view –flying, man’s dream. Valle de Abdalajís, cramped white and grey rocks. A valley of olive trees and corn. Valle de Abdalajís, with its disturbing Roman, Arab, Celtic, Iberian, and Punic past. Valle de Abdalajís, in the heart of Málaga Province. Valle de Abdalajís, the place where Al-Andalus travellers took a rest and had something to eat. Valle de Abdalajís, seen from high up, from the bright blue sky. A valley of min and birds. A valley surrounded my mountains.

On the Road: Initial Data

In the background you can see the limestone rocks whose final slopes are occupied by Valle de Abdalajís. The fields around create a puzzle, a sort of patchwork quilt in olive green and corn ochre. The place is surrounded by hills. The road connecting Álora with the valley is a narrow, winding path –nice driving along it! You can see the horses, hear their whinnying in the quiet morning. High wheat spikes, deep-green olive trees, groundbreaking rocks jutting out against the horizon, country roads snaking across the fields. The fruity Valle del Guadalhorce is only 5km (3.1mi) away, but the landscape is very different. We’re close to Antequera, since Valle de Abdalajís lies in the middle of Málaga Province, near El Torcal (to the south). Historically, it used to be natural passage connecting the north and the south of Málaga and Andalusia. Thus, it fed on travellers’ stories and took on their legacy. Seen with the huge mountain ahead of it, it resembles a birth scene. The valley naturally fits in the rocky context. Valle de Abdalajís is one of the best places in Málaga to go hang-gliding, skydiving, or paragliding. The height and air temperature have turned it into a nerve centre for these sports. There’re also about 75 climbing trails with different levels of difficulty. For less bold travellers, there’re hiking and cycle touring possibilities (read below).

Parking and Tour Beginning In One Step

The road into town towards the town centre leads to Plaza de San Lorenzo, the main square. There’re parking spaces there; otherwise, drive up to the Town Hall. The town isn’t big, so all sites can be reached easily and quickly. The stone mass dominates the views from virtually every street in Valle de Abdalajís. It’s really impressive, and it’ll be even more so when we go up (later). My tour began at the Town Hall, for the Museo Etnográfico, the Church of San Lorenzo, and the Palacio de los Condes de Corbos are close by. There’s a newsagent’s at the Town Hall square, where you can buy postcards and stamps. The letter box is only 10m (32.8ft) away, facing the Town Market in Plaza de San Lorenzo. But let’s take one thing at a time.

Church of San Lorenzo

The Vallesteros (the name given to locals) have taken to the streets around the church. It’s communion time, so everyone has dressed up to see their children in one of the most important Catholic rituals. Maybe the church isn’t so lively in other times of year, but this doesn’t mean is less beautiful. Inside, the parishioners are listening to the priest’s sermon. I went in, silent and respectful, to take a look at the nave and the aisles, as well as the abundant images: Virgen de los Dolores, Santa Rita (the patron saint of civil servants), San José, Virgen del Carmen... It’s a simple, sturdy building, charming in its sober décor. The Costa del Sol Tourist Board website says the church’s construction finished in 1599.

Tourist Office and Active Travel Information

Outside the church, I got through the first door to the left, following the newsstand’s owner’s directions. It was the Museo de Etnografía (Museum of Ethnography) and Tourist Office. I was surprised by the dozen mountain bikes parked inside. “What’s this?,” I asked. “They’re bikes for rent,” the girl at the Tourist Office replied. “€20 per day, plus a €20 deposit. But today we’re renewing their insurance policy, so you can’t hire them.” This is how we started talking about the activities you can engage in here in Valle de Abdalajís. At the Tourist Office they have a lot of information about this: tours, routes, contact details, and so on. They can give you brochures or leaflets where you can find good descriptions of all the activities. There’re, for instance, several mountain biking options. The girl suggested two: the route of Los Nogales (17km/10.6mi long, signposted, moderately difficult, 517m/1,696.2ft slope) and the route of La Rejoná (20km/12.4mi long, signposted, strenuous, 487m/1,597.8ft slope). All routes start in the centre of town, opposite the Civil Guard Station, where there’s an information board. Then she gave us three hiking possibilities: country roads PR-A85 –“Ruta del Nacimiento”–, PR-A86 –“Ruta de la Ratilla”–, and PR-A87 –“Ruta del Torcal del Charcón.” I also had a look at hang-gliding and paragliding, but I decided to leave those two to experts. Check prices, weather forecasts, options, and much more at the Capital del Vuelo website. With a lot of data in my backpack, thinking of future trips, I moved on and entered the museum.

Museo Etnográfico and Palacio de los Condes de Corbos

This kind of simple, unpretentious museums, with their authentic collections, can take us back in time with amazing vividness. Valle de Abdalajís’s Museum of Ethnography lies in a cool, dark room full of round arches, featuring a zillion farming tools, sickles, pitchforks, yokes, baskets. There’s even a doll pretending to use an old sewing machine. In addition, there’s a model kitchen including all the gadgets used in everyday cooking. The room is highly educational, recreating past times in the countryside so that they don’t fall into oblivion. Standing to the left of the museum, there’s the tower of the Palacio de los Condes de Corbos. Built in the sixteenth century, the palace used to occupy the ground plan of a large manor house. Its façade, white with yellow friezes, is as impressive as the church’s. You can even tell where the patio and the walls used to be. Back to Plaza de San Lorenzo. Everything lies at a pebble’s throw here.

Plaza de San Lorenzo, La Peana Monument, Town Market

Flanking Plaza de San Lorenzo, the Town Market: a curious arcade with stalls selling pork products, fish, vegetables, and meat. It shelters vendors if it rains or the sun’s too hot. Some products looked really good, locals gathering around them. At the entrance, tiles inform what each stall sells using symbols. It’s a good choice for a ham or salami sandwich if you’re interested in the activities described above. Across the square, a profusely decorated fountain, bearing drawings of birds and views of the town. Beyond, La Peana, one of the best-kept archaeological remains in Valle de Abdalajís –maybe not spectacular, but certainly important from the standpoint of history. La Peana is the platform of a 107 A.D. statue dedicated to Trajan. When it was discovered, the statue –corroborating the hypothesis of the existence of Roman Nescania in present-day Valle de Abdalajís– was taken to Antequera in 1585. After many years of claims and administrative bickering, it returned to the valley. After viewing these sites, I headed for one of the highlights in this tour.

The Chapel of Cristo de la Sierra and the Lookout of Gangarro

Since I arrived in Valle de Abdalajís, my presence guarded by the mountainous giant from above, I’d been observing a white stroke drawn on the rocks. It looked like a stone rail, culminating in a considerably large cross. The information I’d brought along said something about the Chapel of Cristo de la Sierra. I gathered it could be it. And I was right. The access point can be reached from almost every street in town. I chose the closest one. I walked along Real Street and 100m (328.1ft) later, I turned left into Cristo de la Sierra Street –rehabilitated, with steps and flowers on both sides, my target in view, up there. Then I got to Juan Chamizo Street, walked up Plaza del Sol and took Calvario Street to the right, where I found directions to the chapel: an archway indicating which way to go. It’s quite a long way up, with steps in good condition. I came across a flock of sheep, whose friendly shepherd waved hello. I stopped once or twice to take in the beautiful landscape and, above all, to catch my breath. I finally got there. The Chapel of Cristo de la Sierra is a modern building; it was built in 1957. Offerings, pictures, and prayers fill its nave. Outside, the views are marvellous. Below, Valle de Abdalajís looks like the bottom of a caldron surrounded by mountains: Cerro Alto, Peñón de la Horca, El Camello, Las Yeseras… There’s more to go if you’re interested in climbing further up. Unlike other Málaga towns I’ve been to, Valle de Abdalajís has a rectilinear, even rectangular, layout, as if it’d always been rationally designed. The Arabs haven’t left their curved signature in its streets. According to my sources of information, the Muslims who came to Abdalajís and stayed for seven centuries never quite constituted a compact settlement, but rather farmhouses or country estates scattered all around. Nescania had been destroyed twice, by both the Vandals and the Visigoths. Maybe this is why the town is so… straight. To the left of the chapel there’re winding steps leading to the Lookout of Gangarro. The climb continues after an iron bridge. Great views. I could hear the trill of birds coming from the town; I could feel the flapping of swallows’ wings close to my ears. No wonder hang-gliders and paragliders like it here. There’s much more above, and it’s already amazing. After watching everything and trying to identify the peaks for a while, I began my way down. I deserved lunch. It’s pretty steep downhill, but it’s easy. Anyway, you’d better watch your step.

Lunch at Bar Pilas - El Rincón del Tapeíto

Because of the first communion ceremony, all restaurants in town were crowded. Therefore, I decided to take tapas and small servings. A couple of locals recommended Bar Pilas - El Rincón del Tapeíto, so I gave it a try. I ordered cheese in oil and grilled bacon, plus two cold beers, but it wasn’t enough, so I went for more: three more beers and small servings of grilled little steaks (€6), chorizo (€5), and sautéed clams (€6). Bill = €22. Valle de Abdalajís shares many dishes with Antequera; hence the fame of its porra, migas, or stews. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a place where you can have good regional food at reasonable prices. These dishes are prepared at home for family meals, but they’re not easily seen when you choose to eat out. Traditional gastronomy, which is part of the region’s intangible assets, should be taken care of and encouraged, making it available to travellers who’ll taste it out of its everyday context. Wise food, deeply-rooted in the land where it’s produced, which should be better known. Anyway, my tapas and small servings were great. If you make your booking in advance, you can have porra antequerana, migas, or sopa perotas at Bar Pilas, which, by the way, also faces Plaza de San Lorenzo.


After lunch, I walked around, strolling down the streets of Valle de Abdalajís. Their rectangular layout reminded me of Castile, but then there’re the patios, the flower-filled paths, the smell of orange blossoms. The mountains rule Vallesteros’ everyday life: it’s easy to imagine the Romans, the Vandals, the Visigoths, and then the Arabs here. It was them who gave the town its name: Abd-a-aziz, the son of Muza. Back to the car and off I went, after getting a final glimpse of the hamlet, licking the foot of the powerful mountain, threatening from above in majestic stone. A couple of snapshots and the promise to return and climb to the highest rock. And I’ll give paragliding a thought, too.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Everything is at hand’s reach in Valle de Abdalajís. If you’re interested in hiking or cycle touring, go to the Tourist Office first, where you’ll be given a lot of useful information.
What to take: 1. Light warm clothing; the nearby mountains can push temperatures down after sunset. 2. Comfortable shoes to walk your feet off. 3. Binoculars if you’re planning to climb up to the Chapel of Cristo de la Sierra. The panoramic views of the town and the valley are overwhelming.
Useful links: The Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Valle de Abdalajís Town Hall have good reference websites. Active travel: The so-called Capital del Vuelo has its own website, where you can read about all paragliding or hang-gliding activities. It contains a lot of useful information. Very near Valle de Abdalajís, there’re El Chorro and Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, two of the most arresting landscapes in Málaga Province (we’ll come to them soon).

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Monda, a secluded village. Monda, a town of an impeccably white spirit. Monda, the place of “sopas arrieras” –superb, hearty soups. Monda, a corner overlooking the snow-capped mountains and the river Guadalhorce. Monda, a town of rising castles and fresh flowing water. Monda, a must-visit. Monda, Al-Mundat. Monda, a place of legends and bloodstained almond trees. Monda, the alleged favourite place of Rome’s Caesar. Monda, the fields and the olive trees. Monda, the city praised by Umar ibn Hafsun. Monda, a town of watchtowers and Stations of the Cross. Monda, designated as a Picturesque Landscape in 1971. Monda, featuring a hundred plazas and small squares. Monda, a place to scour and devour.

Arrival and Tour Planning

The town emerges abruptly, a white hamlet among the olive groves. Mediterranean reminiscences, oil aromas, and the voice of Umar ibn Hafsun, who seems to dominate the village from up the castle. It’s a winding town, sprawling toward the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Its square roofs, clothes hanging in lines, become evident as soon as you arrive. Following the directions at the town centre, I found the free public parking area in Arroyo de La Lucía. It was easy to find a place, and the car park is in the heart of town. As I got out, I was met by the pleasant sounds of Monda, which would stay with me throughout the morning: the trill of birds and the whooshing flight of swallows. I didn’t have a route this time. I’d read about the sites of interest on the Costa del Sol Tourist Board website, and I just hoped I’d find them by following directions. I had a list of things to see: the Castle, El Lavadero de La Jaula, El Calvario, the four fountains, the Parish Church of Santiago, the Marigloria House Museum.

Breakfast chez Juan “Papa” or “El de las Papas”

Out of the parking area, I got to the main street, facing my first site: Fuente y Lavadero de la Jaula. But before I needed to get some breakfast, so I turned left towards Bar de la Rubia. Walking up the street, I found a newsagent’s where I bought some postcards and postage (€0.82). Up the street/ road of La Jaula, I arrived at Plaza de la Ermita, featuring the Coal Man Monument –a tribute to Monda’s workers. From there I could see Bar de la Rubia, or Bar de Juan Papa, a.k.a. as “Juan, el de las Papas.” I grabbed an outdoor table and couldn’t help but ask about the nickname. “Well, because I had to plant… I had to plant a great many potatoes,” the bar’s owner replies. He’s 77. “People used to ask, ‘Juan, where are you going with so many potatoes?’ And I used to say, ‘And they’re not too heavy! Not heavy at all!’” Juan’s bar is one of those places where you’ll have real homemade food –no additives–, served by kind, talkative waiters and listening to the owners’ stories for hours on end. There’re three of us this time. Our order: two cola drinks, coffee and milk for one, two bacon and cheese sandwiches (breads chosen: “pitufo” and “chapata”), one ham and cheese sandwich = €7. Words don’t come easy to describe the textures, the delicious smells, the intense flavours… Or better yet: they’re not necessary. Before leaving, Juan “Papa” brings a dish of olives “aliñás” (seasoned) by his daughter. “House olives,” he says proudly.

Lavadero de la Jaula

After breakfast, we walked back down the street/ road of La Jaula towards our first site: the fountain and washing place bearing the same name as the street itself. It’s in the heart of town, and it’s spotless white. It must have been Monda’s nerve centre in the past. The name, “La Jaula,” comes from “Al-Haura” in Arabic, meaning “on the outskirts” or “from the depths.” On a plate you can read a poem by Cristóbal Jiménez Encina: “Mystery lies in the murmur of the fountain, whose crystal water reflects the sky.” Later I’d learn that the fountain and washing place had recently been rehabilitated. It was about to spoil for lack of care. Now it’s glistening with white, accompanying travellers with its singing water. Next stop: the Parish Church of Santiago. After climbing the steps beginning at the fountain, I asked a local woman how to get to the church. She came along and gave me a lot of useful information.

Marigloria House Museum

We came to a fork and took the road on the right, opposite the Fuente de la Esquina (Corner’s Fountain) by a little square –there’re zillions in Monda, sheltered by the shadows cast by trees, ideal places for a break. The woman told us the Parish Church was closed. Pity. Instead, she suggested asking for permission at María Sánchez’s. Nice try, but she’d gone to Alhaurín el Grande. We could also ask at the Marigloria House Museum, which is closed too, but maybe they could help us anyway. After bidding farewell to this kind woman, we went to 2 Amargura Street, where the Marigloria House Museum is (just behind the little square we’d just been to). We knocked at the door and were welcomed by Marigloria herself. We told her we wanted to visit the Parish Church and a neighbour had said she might have the keys. Marigloria is a smiling, affable woman. She agreed to show us both her House Museum and the Parish Church, which is usually closed (we’d later learn why). The Marigloria House Museum is a journey back in time. It’s managed to keep the essence of country life in the mountains, immutability kindling the imagination. A silent rocking chair, wrought-iron beds, clay jars, glasses, and cups, a brazier oozing smells of orange tree logs, crooks, farming tools… Everything is so carefully yet naturally displayed, spic and span. It’s a living museum, a humble centre of ethnography in which everyday objects become symbols that remind us of past times. Little details, good company, simple life into the twenty-first century.

The Parish Church of Santiago in Flames

Marigloria took us to the Parish Church –a great housekeeper she was. It lay 100 metres from the House Museum, dominating the town’s main square, Plaza de Andalucía, which, as we gathered from comments heard here and there, Mondeños are really proud of. We came through the Church gate, where they were getting ready for the market on the following day, and got to a beautiful garden peppered with yellow, pink, and white rose trees, featuring the remains of a well pump. The Parish Church of Santiago has a naves and two aisles, two side doors, and a fenced front gate. It’s a simple, cool building, the image of Jesus of Nazareth under one of the two Baroque domes and the crosses used in the Easter procession as the most important objects in the eyes of parishioners. Thank God we got in. Marigloria told us a story about this church. Three years ago, in 2006, a local man tried to set the front gate on fire. The arsonist sprinkled it with some sort of flammable liquid and lighted it. The fence prevented the flames from reaching the wood, so nothing came of it. A few days later, the man gave it a second try. This time he used one of the side doors, which was unprotected. It burnt in the dead of night, and only fate decreed it should be a minor incident. A woman called the firemen, who arrived soon enough to put the flames out. The door had burnt irreparably and smoke had found its way into the church, painting all the walls in black. You wouldn’t have guess, looking at the building in 2009: incredibly white and in perfect condition. Maybe this is why locals watch visitors so zealously. We thanked Marigloria for her help and walked her back home. She told us that the steps to the right led to the Cruz de Caravaca lookout. We took note and said goodbye.

Cruz de Caravaca Lookout

On the same street as Marigloria’s House Museum, ten metres to the right, we saw the steps climbing a dirt and concrete road. Soon we could see the little niche bearing a cross on a lookout. We went up effortlessly, getting a glimpse of the whole of Monda below. A perfect panoramic view of the village: the Al-Mundat Castle and Hotel, the belfry of the Parish Church of Santiago in front, the crosses of El Calvario to the right, and endless olive groves against the horizon. I cooled myself down at the fountain behind the niche and took a seat in the shade, chatting with my travel companions about what we’d seen and looking at Monda’s winding layout, down from the surrounding mountains. Then we moved on, our next points being Fuente Mea Mea and El Calvario.

Fuente Mea Mea and El Calvario

Retracing our steps down Caravaca Street, we came back to Marigloria’s House Museum and turned left on Marbella Street, in search for the Mea Mea fountain. The name is intriguing; we can’t tell what it means. On Marbella Street towards the castle we stumbled upon the fountain, on the pavement to the right of the road. We drank its water and read a poem by Federico García Lorca above the spouts: “Bebe el agua tranquila de la canción añeja ¡arroyo claro, fuente serena!” (“Drink the calm water of ancient songs, clear stream, quiet fountain!”). Wet in the face and with Lorca’s words echoing in our heads, we went in the opposite direction towards Plaza de Andalucía and the Parish Church of Santiago. The road along the right side of the church brought us to Cruz del Carnero, marking the old entrance to the graveyard. A simple wooden cross; an omen of a gloomy place. Ahead there was the Town Hall. We took the street to it, booming with colourful flowers, with pots and hidden paths and patios, which you can make out through the doors ajar. It’s always pleasant to get lost in the charming alleys, stroll quietly along, taking in the essence of Málaga and Andalusia. Back to the street/ road of La Jaula towards Coín to the crosses of El Calvario. They’re easy to find: a 5’ to 10’ walk, up to the road out of town. Next to a large olive grove, we saw a road going up the mountain. By the road, the threshing floor and El Calvario. White, immaculate under the bright blue sky. Three crosses glinting under the sun mark the end of the Holy Week’s Stations of the Cross. You can hear the cicadas and the birds flying over. The crosses cast powerful shadows, behind which we could see the olive-lined horizon. Leaning against the stone ledge around the crosses, we realised we were hungry.


We were recommended several restaurants. We wanted to taste the typical local soup, “sopa mondeña,” but we decided against it because of the heat. We’d have to wait until March and return for the Festival of Sopa Mondeña, which drew over 7,000 people this year on March 22. If you want to see what it takes, click on Sopa Mondeña. The festival has been designated as a Singular Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest. But then again, it was too hot to try the soup. We chose Balcón de la Jaula, whose tables are scattered on a terrace overlooking the fountain. Sheltered by the trees, we could feel the fresh flowing water. The place is great for kids, as there’s a playground for them next door. Our meal for three included two Cola drinks, a glass of wine, a large bottle of water, an Alpujata-style salad, kid lamb, charcoal-grilled entrecote, and chicken brochette, plus coffees qualifying as dessert. Bill = €57.30. That is, almost €20 per guest. Generous servings, delicious salad (including avocado, lettuce, corn, and orange), meat done to a turn, huge kid lamb. The after-lunch conversation was extremely pleasant. We had one last site to see.

Castillo de Al-Mundat or La Villeta

After going back for our car, we drove along the street/ road of La Jaula towards Guaro (to the right). There’re two ways of reaching the Castle: following the streets in town or using a steeper slope on the outskirts. We chose the latter. Off the town centre and down a hill we found a bend and a signpost indicating how to get to the Castle. Up where the Castle lies, crowning the mountain, there’s a parking area. The original castle had been built in the third century A.D. under the Romans. Nothing remains of it. Perhaps you can get a glimpse of the building sketched by Umar ibn Hafsun. The castle is now a luxury hotel whose guestrooms are better called chambers and whose halls can hold big celebrations –even wedding parties. The hotel also features a swimming pool, a solarium, a restaurant, and all the facilities of a luxury establishment. Staffers welcomed us in. They allowed us to go to the cafeteria, where we had Monda at our feet, with the Montes de Málaga jutting out of the horizon. With the scent of the surrounding pine trees, the Castle is but a shadow of its former self. Clinging to my medieval spirit, I decided to keep the legend of Monda’s Bloodstained Almond Tree, which you can read in the charming words of José Antonio Molero. I could still sense the presence of the ghosts of the past when I bade farewell to Monda. Sunset descended on Sierra de las Nieves, songs of everyday chores, birds, and water spouts coming from the town centre. A fresh look at Monda: lost in the maze of winding streets, I thought I could make out a beautiful girl. Her name could be Beatriz, like the girl in the legend of the almond tree.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Monda is a small town and the parking area is in the heart of it. So leave your car there and do everything on foot. The only thing you can use it for is the climb to the castle, which can be covered by walking as well.
What to eat: Sopa mondeña is a hearty soup –a typical mountain dish. It’s not the right choice for summer visitors, but if you come here in autumn, don’t miss it.
Useful links: You’ll find a lot of information on Monda on the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board or that of Sierra de las Nieves, the region Monda belongs to. Monda’s local website contains useful and updated information on special events going on in town.

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


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.


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.