Tuesday, 30 June 2009

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.