Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Under the influence of Ronda, amidst corn fields and limy mountains jutting out like real milestones, there’s Benaoján. In this plateau, you could draw a map joining the peaks, a sort of mountain network sheltering the olive groves, the farms and homes, the cultivated land. Together, the mountains create a grey skyline, strongly asserting their millenniums-old presence. They’re silent witnesses to man’s activities in the area, to our prehistoric, Visigothic, Arab, bandit, guerrilla, and farming past. The sierras have shaped the character of local people, leaving a mark on their history and everyday life. I’m heading towards them. I can see the yellowish spots of sunflower fields amidst the corn, painting the limy horizon. I’ve left Ronda behind for the craggy land to the west, slopes dressed in green and peppered with rock roses. Rolling hills, endlessly going up and down. The road runs parallel to the Bobadilla-Algeciras railway line, which I’ll certainly use some other time.

Cueva del Gato

A little before getting to the town centre, I came across the first sight of interest: Cueva del Gato (Cat’s Cave). It’s a huge, overwhelming opening on the lower slopes of a mountain. I stopped. The cave is the first (or final) part of a 4.5km-long tunnel from Montejaque to Benaoján through El Hundidero (to which I’ll come next week). The Gaduares river flows inside. The cave is appreciated by experts and sportspeople alike, mainly thanks to its spectacular, impossibly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. You need a special environmental permission to go in. The cave was first discovered by Richard Twiss in 1772. A sign read: “50m to Cueva del Gato scenic viewpoint.” Although the cave can be seen from the road, it’s not clearly signposted, so you’ll have to be on the alert (to the right). You can drive right up to the mouth. I parked my car, crossed a bridge over the Guadiaro river, past the railway track, and accessed the cave. The river flowed by, filling the air with fresh water murmurs which matched the shade of trees. I could hear a waterfall, and then I could see it, right in front of me. The cave is preceded by a tree-lined open area and two barbecue stalls. The whole landscape is quite impressive. The waterfall runs from the cave mouth, feeding the lake. You can also access the cave by climbing a flight of steps carved out of the rock. It’s shocking. It really is. It looks like a huge mouth, ready to swallow you in. The clear water running from inside is refreshing. Birds come screeching in and out. Dozens of puddles welcome the boldest travellers. I chose not to go further in. You need to be well-armed for the adventure. I went outside, where a family where getting ready for their picnic, cooling fruit and beverages in the lake. The water was cold. All in all, a must-see place. In the parking area by the cave there’s a restaurant, bar, and hotel for guests who want to spend the night in the in the “cat’s mouth.” And guess this place’s name? You’re right: Cueva del Gato Hotel. Hitting the road again, I headed for Benaoján, driving across Sierra de Grazalema Nature Park and the Guadiaro river. The train station lay to the left, but I turned right and, after a bend, I came to the town centre.

From the Town Centre to the Pool Cave

The second sight I was to see, Cueva de la Pileta (Pool Cave), closed at 1:00 p.m., so I went to visit it first. The access road skirting the town at 4.5km was closed, so I had to drive across the narrow town streets and followed residents’ directions. Past Plaza de la Constitución and El Tajillo bar, I found the “dreadful uphill road,” a steep, zigzagging, narrow street which you can barely climb in first gear. After three failed attempts, a local resident volunteered to help. He drove my car past the steepest stretch. Then it was easier: I reached the road and easily got to the cave’s parking area.

Access to Cueva de la Pileta - History

The access to the cave is preceded by several flights of stone steps and an uphill trail culminating in a little open area, featuring a log cabin and a roof sheltering visitors from the sun. In the cabin they sold water and sodas and gave information on the cave (two bottles of water = €1.60). The tour is 1km long and takes one hour. The story of the cave’s discovery is subtle and wise. In 1905, a local farmer, José Bullón, set out to explore inside the cave in search for guano droppings (bat excrement), which were used as fuel and fertiliser. With a rope, he went down 30m and reached the bottom, where he found a lot of pebbles thrown by residents in the early twentieth century to see how deep the cave –which was called Las Grajas by then– was. Trying to take a look around in the dark, José came across ceramic pieces and bone remains. They couldn’t have got there by chance. Bullón went farther in, only to find a series of drawings in black paint. It became obvious to him that the cave had been inhabited by human beings. He returned a few days later; he couldn’t sleep; his mind was set on the bones and images. Then, during the day he laboured in the fields while at night, after dinner, he climbed the trail to the cave, carving steps to make it more accessible. Back home, he told his wife and children about his findings: more paintings, more cavities, more huge vaults, more rock formations, more “portraits.” In 1909, José began showing his underworld to his neighbours. His story spread like wildfire. Many a night he stood guard so that nobody took his prehistoric treasures. In the spring of 1909, the cave was visited by the ornithologist Willoughby Verner, who was dazzled. He came back in 1912 with a palaeontologist, Hugo Obermaier, and an archaeologist, Henri Breuil. After their scientific inspection, Breuil told Bullón, “Protect the cave from damages. Its paintings are an invaluable treasure.” José and his descendants have done this until now. La Pileta turned 100 in 2005, and they’re still looking after it. In fact, the cave is in great condition, and some of its paintings are really overwhelming. On April 25, 1924, Cueva de la Pileta was designated as a National Monument. The story of its discovery is told in Cueva de la Pileta: Acontecimientos históricos más importantes sobre La Pileta y la familia Bullón (1905 - 2005), which you can buy when you exit the cave for only €10.

Cueva de la Pileta

I was waiting for the tour to begin in the shadow. A sign warned that this adventure was not recommended for visitors who had a heart condition or who were not in good shape. The hours of group tours (25 visitors maximum) are 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission tickets are €5 for groups of students or children aged 5 to 12 and €7 for the rest of visitors (for groups of 10 or more members). The guide, who was José Bullón’s grandson, warned us: No photos, no videos, no animals. Then he gave out gas lamps (one every five visitors). The journey was only 1km long but 20,000 years back in time, to the dawn of mankind. The lamps were on. The door closed. The trip began. One hour later, I emerged feeling one of a privileged few. The cave is beautiful, grandiose, precious. Nature has endowed it with wonderful shapes and colours, and men have added paintings giving wings to your imagination. Calendars, animals, men, arrows… and two special drawings: a fish and a winged man (a sort of Icarus). There aren’t enough words to describe Cueva de la Pileta, but it’s a must-see, part of a unique heritage. To think that the ancestors of today’s serranos lived, slept, and built a society here some 20,000 years ago, dreaming of men who could fly and painting fish that were impossibly far away… how overwhelming. Blinded by daylight at the mouth of the cave, I could only think about who I was and where I came from. The Bullón family did a great conservation job. They know this, and thus they say, “Get out of the cave and be sure that, when you come back, you’ll find it exactly as you’ve seen it today.” Observing their regulations, I took no pictures, so here there are two short videos of the cave’s geological formation and its paintings.

In Town

Benaoján is a town of extremely narrow streets and steep roads. Given its irregular layout and the difficulty in finding places to park, the best thing to do is leave your car in the lower part of town and walk around. I walked up Presbítero Juan Moreno Street to Plaza de la Constitución, where I found the Town Hall, the Church, and a mailbox for my usual postcards. The town is charmingly simple in a humble, silent way, sharing in the essence of the sierras of Málaga without showing off. Getting lost in its streets is like walking in living history. The Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario is the town’s nerve centre. It’s a large building, curiously situated. Its sidelong frontage on a chamfered corner is preceded by a flight of steps. Its red-trimmed belfry and façade add to its modern yet austere character. The streets in Benaoján are brimming with flowers and pots; all corners are peppered with them. The whole town is like a huge maze where you can play hide-and-seek. Simple round arches connect the houses in the air, flowerpots hanging from them. I asked locals about this practice, but I was given no conclusive answer about its origin. The strong smell of corn and olives can be felt everywhere. It’s typical of the sierras in Málaga. Standing like a watchman keeping an eye on residents, there’s a humongous granite mass.

Bartolitos at El Tajillo

After my tours of Cueva del Gato, Cueva de la Pileta, and the streets of town, I was feeling hungry. I asked a woman where to eat, and she said there were many bars in town serving good homemade food at reasonable prices. She recommended El Tajillo, though, past the Church, before the “dreadful uphill road” to La Pileta I’d already been to. I took her advice. Although there was an outdoor eating area, I chose to sit at a table inside, enjoying the air-conditioning, protected from the scorching afternoon sun. El Tajillo is a tapas bar, the typical place where the menu is written on a blackboard and patrons follow the bar tender’s advice. I was no exception: 2 beers, 2 Cola sodas, ½ serving of bartolitos, 1 chicken steak, 2 small bacon sandwiches, 2 small filet sandwiches. The bill = €18.50. Bartolitos are a variant of flamenquines (fried coated ham rolls stuffed with cheese, garnished with garlic-scented salad). The bacon sandwiches were decorated with avocado, and the chicken steak was delicious. I thanked the cook when she once got out of the kitchen. After a friendly talk, I was ready to drive back home. Plucking up courage to face the heat, I walked across the deserted streets to my parked car.


Leaving Benaoján and the rock dominating it behind, I also parted ways with the experience of discovering that my ancestors dreamt of flying and that a brave farmer’s care for the environment saved a cave –one of the best-kept prehistoric treasures in Spain– from pillage. I left behind the emotion of being in the jaws of the cat (Cueva del Gato), the flavour of bartolitos still in my throat. It was nice to discover Benaoján, a town remaining faithful to its essence, keeping the wild spirit of its primitive inhabitants intact. “Benaoján”: “Ben’s Children”, or maybe “House of Bakers,” “Ibn Uyan.” A town to come back to.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: 1. Cueva de la Pileta: You can visit the cave’s website,, before visiting the cave itself. You can read about history and paintings, as well as seeing pictures and videos here. Remember the guided tour hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. What to take: comfortable and, if possible, anti-slip footwear. It’s wet inside the cave, and the floor is slippery. What to buy: The book I cited above is a great buy, containing the whole amazing story of the cave’s discovery and conservation. 2. Cueva del Gato: There’re active travel companies, like Pangea Active Nature, organising semi-professional cave tours for €68. Warning: The worst danger is unforeseen rises in the Gaduares river level.
Useful links: To the websites already mentioned, I should add the site of the Benaoján Town Hall, containing information on travel activities, and two private websites, Benaojá and Benaoján: Sierra y Luz. As usual, I’ve used the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board as a reference.

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.


A village-cum-museum, art on the streets, streets of art, living sculptures. This is Genalguacil, which used to be Genna-Alwacir, “the Gardens of the Vizier,” in the past. Now, in the preset, it’s restless. It’s also magical and surprising. Deeply-rooted in nature yet delicate when it comes to art. Living halfway between the past and the avant-garde, it has a unique, personal charm. A town to discover. “A unique creative experience, of people living together and in contact with nature.” Genalguacil: a living museum. Genalguacil: a village to get lost and never come back.

Nature First

The road that connects Estepona with Genalguacil is a winding path climbing the endless slopes of the mountains. Without noticing, I found myself in the middle of lavish Mediterranean pine woodlands. A compact green carpet, packed with trees, where you can barely see patches of the underlying red soil. The most impressive views, though, are those of the western Costa del Sol. When westerly winds blow, you can surely see Manilva, Casares, Estepona, Marbella, the Rock of Gibraltar, and the Atlas Mountains in Africa. I stopped after a bend to contemplate the intensity of the landscape. It smelled of pine trees and rock roses. Bright green against the bright blue sky, against the misty sea. Overwhelmed, I just couldn’t imagine what I was to find 10km ahead. I drove on until I came to a crossroads: Jubrique-Genalguacil to the right, Genalguacil proper to the left, and a detour warning “Asphalt road until Km 9.3 only.” A big sign by the road taught how to get to Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja, a nature reserve designated as “Paraje Natural” by the Andalusian Government in 1989. It was one of the most amazing signs I’d ever been to.

Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja

Sierra Bermeja Nature Reserve belongs to the municipalities of Casares, Estepona, and Genalguacil, coming in between the Serranía de Ronda and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s brownish, ochre, reddish… Hence the name, as “Sierra Bermeja” means “Red Mountain” in Spanish. It has a tangled network of trails to tread on. On the northern slopes you can see Spanish fir specimens, which are native to the Sierra de las Nieves and Serranía de Ronda. As a matter of fact, it was here that the Swiss botanist Edmond Boissier first described Abies pinsapo for science. There’re several rows of balconies where you can gaze at the vast, magnetic sea and the perfect arch of the western Costa del Sol from the Rock of Gibraltar to Marbella. You can feel the deep roots, as if gravity seized you. Together, the trees, the mountains, and the ocean make an overwhelmingly beautiful picture. The 4km mountain road to Los Reales is narrow, so much so that the pine trees on both sides meet above, forming a leafy canopy. I left the Spanish firs behind to the left; I’d come to them later. I parked higher up, past the recreation area and the Agustín Lozano shelter. I walked towards the Salvador Guerrero scenic viewpoint. It was a short walk, about 15’, on the southern slopes of the sierras, always facing the sea. Incredible views; landscapes beyond words. The Mediterranean horizon, the sky, and the seashore come together for a stunning show, one of those that only nature can put up. I walked down a reddish lane amidst low bushes and rock roses. Leaving the trees behind, I faced clear paths now. The breeze brought the scent of the sea, reminding me of the blue mass ahead. I was then that I understood why these mountains are called “Sierra Bermeja”: the soil was bright red due to the presence of peridotite. Wind-lashed, this place is incredibly beautiful. A must-visit through and through. Silent, I contemplated the panoramic views in front of me. I didn’t say a word, just giving in. I went back to the parking area with the feeling that I wanted more, that I needed to return and discover all the secrets in this nature spot, that I’d only had a sample of it. I got on my car and drove down to the Spanish firs. I parked and had a look. The place was ideal for hiking and picture taking. Spanish firs are rare; their morphology is complex and weird, with three-fingered branches and thick needles. Silence all around; only the trees swayed in the breeze. An information board said the trail was 4.5km long and the whole moderately difficult hiking tour took four hours. As soon as you set foot on the trail, you see the Spanish firs. Certainly, this is an amazing place for nature tourists. I drove to Genalguacil via Jubrique. You can also go via Gaucín, but I chose the longer road because it led to Los Reales. Now I had 28.5km before reaching the urban centre.

Energy Replenishing Before Genalguacil

It was a long, bend-studded road. You’d better take it easy. It’s worth it. Back to back with Los Reales, there’s a huge woodland, where pines match other tree species. Suddenly, in a shady area, pines give way to holm oaks, cherry trees, and golden-crowned chestnut trees. A lonely road cutting across a beautiful orchard. My car’s windows were down, and the intoxicating smell pervaded the air. The morning was over, so past the detour to Algatocín (to the left) and with the first signs of the so-called “Town Museum” in sight, I decided to stop by the first inn I came across. It was Venta de las Cruces, in the entrance to town, only 200m from the town centre. Sitting at a table, my heart missed a beat. And this is my first tip today: bring cash with you, as there’re no ATMs and this inn (like many other restaurants and shops) doesn’t accept credit cards. So, instead of a hearty meal, I had to make do and mend with some tapas: meat and tomato, veal cheek, two beers, and one ice-cream. The bill = €5.70. Homemade food, which seems to taste better under the cool straw roof. I’d remember the inn and come back some other time –with cash.

All About Genalguacil: Town Centre, Art, and Streets

I began to walk around, and just around the corner I came across the most salient feature of Genalguacil. It’s literally an open-air museum. The first Art Meeting was held in 1994. There was only one rule to follow: the works had to stay in town. The Town Hall gave artists the materials they needed. The relationships between the artists, the people, and the authorities were fruitful. Since then, the meetings have taken place every two years. Thus, a tour of this town is much more than the real Andalusian hinterland; it’s an artistic experience in which you gape at every step, excited at what you see. Wood, cork, clay sculptures and paintings… They’re scattered all around, surprising visitors and, perhaps, locals, too. I left my car outside the inn, and on my way to the town centre I came across a wooden elephant wounded with an arrow, an Indian totem, a colourful weathervane… Most streets are narrow, winding alleys where surprises await in every corner. It’s amazing and shocking. The whitewashed walls and cobblestone streets are charmingly disparate, genuine, traditional, avant-garde, modern, and contemporary. The town’s charm is subtle, delicate. The streets are painstakingly clean. The term “Town Museum” does Genalguacil justice. Walking along the streets with wide open eyes, y loosed my imagination free and let the town take me wherever it wanted. The modern sculptures stand in sharp contrast to the bright colourful bougainvilleas. It all seems magic, unreal, a living stage. Real Street, white and narrow, leads to the viewpoint of La Lomilla, opening up in the face of the mountains. You can sit down on the bench besides and look at the landscape and the sculptures. At the far end of Real Street, there’s another gem to the left.

The Church of San Pedro Mártir de Verona

It’a white with deep-red festoons. The belfry’s crest is bright red; the eight-sided tower shows the way up to heaven. I saw a woman get in through a side door and asked her if I could come with her. She smiled and invited me in. Inside, the small, lively, church has a nave and two aisles, separated by round arches standing on brick columns. The stone altar has only one image, of St Peter of Verona. The main door opens out on Plaza de la Constitución. It’s the perfect balcony to contemplate the sierras of Casares and Manilva; Gaucín is behind them. I went back to the streets and walked around for a little longer. A map shows exactly where each sight in Genalguacil is: each and every sculpture with their artists and years. But it’s better to give in to the town’s rhythm and let is surprise you. A timeless journey amidst paths, flowerpots, and bougainvillea. Natural harmony between an intricate Arab past and modern sculpture, which seem to have lived together for centuries. They complement and enhance one another: modern and more modern, traditional and more traditional, together in a seamless picture. Getting lost in the maze of streets is a gift everyone should try. Genalguacil is a town where all there is to see can be found in the streets, on the walls, round the corners. I feel like I’m still there. It seems like I haven’t come back.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: Take your camera with its battery fully charged. You’ll want to take an endless series of great pictures. Take an unhurried walk; be wrapped in this town’s rhythm. Get lost and enjoy doing so. Be careful with petrol: getting around can mean a few kilometres, and having your tank full can save you from an awful experience. Finally, take cash, for there’re no ATMs and most shops and restaurants won’t take credit cards.
What to see: You can go to the Municipal Museum, holding some sculptures that, for some reason or other, aren’t in the open air. Address: C/ Lomilla, 9 – 29492 Genalguacil. Telephone: (+34) 952 152 130. Call before coming; opening hours can vary.
Useful links: The website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board was, as usual, my starting point. I got the basic information here, which I then complemented with the contents of the Genalguacil Town Hall site and the private websites and, where you a treasure map.

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.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Alonso de Aguilar came here on March 19, 1483 with 2,700 mounted men and 1,000 on foot. When he saw the hamlet of Moclinejo was deserted, he burnt it down. The Muslims, who were in the castle, saw their homes burning, devoured by flames. A shower of stones and arrows fell down on the Christian army. Hundreds of soldiers died. After these sad facts, the mountains in northern Moclinejo came to be known “the Basin of the Dead,” while the hill climbing down to them from the population centre was called “the Hill of the Slaughter.”


A look at the hills clad in olive green and the vineyards surrounding Moclinejo is enough to understand why this township is part of the Raisin Tour, cutting across six sweet wine-producing towns in Axarquía where raisins are a key culinary ingredient. All the mountains and hills, visibly dry, are peppered with olive trees, country estates, cortijos, farmer’s houses, and paseros, that is, some curious downhill rectangular fields adjacent to one another and fenced in by white walls were grapes sit to dry in the sun. I walked through the town’s entrance archway, a stone wall with a tower to the left which you need to cross if you want to get to the centre and south of the town. About 100m away there’s a children’s playground and a free parking area. Moclinejo lies on the foot of the Piedras Blancas mountain, 673m high, so I somehow knew this wouldn’t be an easy tour.

Downtown and Along the Streets

From the parking area, I walked down Rambla de las Flores towards the church, whose tower I could see and whose bells I could hear in the distance. There’re paths and flowerpots in homes, whose private gardens make streets look fresh, filling each and every corner with strong, sweet smells. You can feel a past of hard work, a living, long, eventful history. Moclinejo doesn’t make concessions: it’s pure in its narrowness, designed to shelter you in its shadows, with some dirt roads, with the quiet of a small town. It’s like a natural watchtower overlooking the Mediterranean, which can be felt everywhere and even seen from most of the streets. Manuel Cabrera Street took me to Plaza de España, the town’s nerve centre. The square is big and rectangular. Protected from the scorching sun by some awnings, I could see the belfry tiles of the Church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia. It’s a curious tower indeed, featuring a rectangular design, with three eyes under the round arches, a bell tolling in the middle arch.

Nuestra Señora de Gracia and the Procession

Heading for the Church, I stumbled upon the sounds of a salve rociera. A group of men and women wearing bright-coloured clothes surrounded a float carrying an image of the Immaculate Conception. The locals gathered there showed their devotion for Virgin Mary, accompanying the procession with their cries and hand clapping, while a choir sang religious hymns mellifluously before the Church’s door, which was entirely open. I wanted to know about all this, so I asked about it. They told me it was the procession to the river: after Mass and the chants, locals would gather by the river, carrying their picnic baskets with them and staying there until late in the afternoon. It was a popular fiesta for families, deeply-rooted in local traditions. I saw the float moving away and I heard the sound of fireworks. In the newly created silence, I went into the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia. It’s a two-nave building with a curious interior design. The two naves are separated by three arches. First you access the main nave, and the other one looks as if added later, judging by the sloping roof. The temple is simply but charmingly decorated. Two lamps bearing geometric patterns hang from the high, beamless ceiling. Echoes from the boisterous procession can still be heard. I went back into the square and had a snack before moving on. It was too hot not to take a break.

After a Snack, Uptown

Noticing that most seniors sat under the sunshades of the Reyes restaurant, I chose this bar. Two beers and two tapas: Málaga-style salad and crab pincer salad. The necessary fuel to go on. After the snack, I decided to put my travel guide away and walk around without a fixed route. Steep streets climbing up and down, winding to reach blind alleys. Many homes have their doors open to attract draughts; mosquito nettings fluttering in the breeze. I came across a bodega showing the Ten Commandments of Wine: “You shall love your wine above all else,” “You shall consider three things in wine: smell, taste, and sight.” Walking on, I envied some of the views I imagined from the balconies and terraces: the surrounding mountains, the sea, the olive trees, the vineyards… A landscape open to be gazed at. Moclinejo is a harsh land, but it also hides some delicate winks here and there. I strolled around, said hello to residents, talked to them, found out many interesting things, enjoyed myself. Time for lunch.

Hearty Dishes against the Heat and Then Farewell

Although I’d been recommended a few other places to eat out, I went back to Reyes. When you see locals at a restaurant’s tables and bar, it usually means they serve homemade food at good prices. After being shown to a table, they turned on the air conditioning for me. I had a look at the menu –decimated by the celebrations on the previous day, but still offering a wide range of choices. There was no gazpacho or ajoblanco left, so I ordered a full salad (€3), sirloin medallions with muscatel raisins (€10), and tripe with chickpeas (€4), washed down with two bottles of water (1l each), an iced coffee, and a herb liqueur. The bill = €22. The tripe with chickpeas was strong, hearty yet subtle, and delicious. The waiter told me it was kept on the summer menu because it was very popular with patrons. As to the medallions, I ordered them because it’s impossible to be to Moclinejo and not eat raisins. The prices were really low. I ate a lot for little money. Leaving the coolness of the Reyes restaurant behind, I went back into the street and to my car down Rambla de las Flores. I saw the entrance archway again, caught a glimpse of the dazzling Mediterranean, stole a final look at the hills dressed in olive green. Gazing up, I thought I could see the Moclinejenses running way on March 19, 1483. But it was just a heat-induced mirage, I guess.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: 1. Hiking. An interesting autumn or spring hiking tour leads you to Manchón de las Minas (but bring mountain footwear!). In the past, precious metal mining was Moclinejo’s main economic activity. In the north, after climbing a steep uphill trail, you get to Manchón de las Minas, a hole dug in the land during the mining times. Ask for directions to find it. Other hiking tours: to Totalán via Piedras Blancas, to Venta de Cárdenas, or to El Borge. 2. Wine tasting. For wine lovers, Bodega Antonio Muñoz Cabrera is open to the public. Telephone number: (+34) 952 408 699.
What to wear and what to take: First and foremost, bring comfortable shoes. Moclinejo’s narrow streets are difficult to drive along. The best way to get to know the town is walking around. If you’re coming in the summer, a bottle of water in your backpack, will surely be welcomed. Sit under the awnings in Plaza de España for a delicious afternoon.
Useful links: Our usual web reference is the Costa del Sol Tourist Board’s website. The Moclinejo Town Hall website has a lot of useful information, and so do the regional websites Axarquía Costa del Sol, El Portal de la Axarquía, and Finally, there’s an interesting private website:

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.


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Gaucín, up there. Perched on the mountain peak, watching over roads. A witness, a protagonist, a martyr of its own history. Called “The Balcony of the Sierras” by the Romantics, “Sair Guazan” (Hard Rock) by the Arabs, and “Belda” by the Visigoths. Gaucín: gazing at it all from high above. Gaucín and its Holy Child. Gaucín: eagle’s nest in the sierras.

Up There

An impossible combination of sierras and fields is the prelude to the show you’re about to watch. Up there, perched like an eagle’s nest, the white hamlet of Gaucín sits on the mountains, almost overflowing them. Looking at it from below, you feel diminished, for it’s grave yet ethereal, almost weightless among the rocks. To the left you can make out the silhouette of the old castle’s tower. A privileged watchtower overlooking the sierras and the sea, the fields and the river, the roads and the homes, strategically located on the way to Serranía de Ronda, watching travellers coming from the Costa del Sol and Campo de Gibraltar. It looks impregnable. In its shadow, the lavish, miscellaneous valley and the tree groves sheltering from the scorching summer sun.

Access and Parking

If you’re driving from Casares or Manilva, climbing up the road to Gaucín should be a cautious task. It’s a steep, bend-studded, heavy-traffic road. On the slopes before the urban centre, you can see houses and cortijos scattered all around, hiding behind the trees. The Romantic travellers in the nineteenth century were right in calling Gaucín “The Balcony of the Sierras,” a common description of this town. Once you reach the urban centre, drive ahead towards the exit to find the parking area. Then you can walk back to the town centre along the same street you’ve driven on. You’ll come across your first direction on Esquina Street. Follow all the directions you find in town (and quite a few there are!); you won’t get lost, and you won’t need a map. There’s an information board every few metres. The first one I saw read: “Exit/Parking to the right and Town Hall/ Fuente de los Seis Caños / Local police station/ Parish church/ Castillo del Águila to the left. On the move.

Fuente de los Seis Caños, On the Way to Iglesia de San Sebastián

I found my way following the directions I could read on boards. On José Antonio Street, there’s a newsstand where you can buy postcards and stamps (€0.32 + €0.50 = €0.82). Upon leaving the shop, I came to Plaza del Santo Niño, where the six-spout fountain is. I also came across the remains of a street market and a boisterous group of foreign vendors, picking up their stuff as it’d started to rain. I took shelter in a bar, Casa Antonia, where I grabbed a snack (although I didn’t have to): cheese and grapes, Russian salad, and two sodas. Delicious tapas! The bar also served alluring full or half dishes at reasonable prices. Encouraged by the end of the rain, I headed for the Church of San Sebastián, leaving the Town Hall behind on a long street unequivocally leading to the church’s door. Framed by a red portico, the door was next to the white and red-trimmed brick tower. The church itself was a large, three-nave building, featuring a profusely decorated altar and several images, including a replica of the Holy Child, worshipped by locals, behind a baptismal font. I’d read on the Costa del Sol Tourist Board website that “a pious legend tells how, in 1536, a book peddler called João Cidade (who’d come to be known in altars as St John of God) saw a barefoot boy and gave him his shoes. Since they were too big, he carried the boy on his shoulders. After a while, João stopped to drink some water at La Adelfilla Fountain. The boy then transfigured himself and offered a cross and a pomegranate to his patron. “John of God,” he said, “Granada will be your cross. Leave testimony of this apparition by giving Gaucín an image in which I appear as a child.” To this religious belief we should add a historical event that I’ll tell you letter, in which the Holy Child didn’t take the best share.

Castillo del Águila and Ermita del Santo Niño

Out of the church, I turned right. A new information board showed me how to get to the Ermita del Santo Niño (Chapel of the Holy Child) and the Castillo del Águila (Eagle’s Castle), sharing a site in a high rocky place. The trail up the hill was steep, but the views were stunning, or at least I gathered so through the thick fog that was setting in from the valley. (They told me it was a most unusual phenomenon.) You need to climb little by little, savouring the views of the rocks, trees, and prickly pears covering the soil. You can only access the castle on foot, so cheer up! The reward is huge. Bear the castle and chapel’s opening hours in mind: Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. (October-May, i.e. winter) or from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (June-September, i.e. summer). Don’t forget about them, for the castle in one of Gaucín’s main attractions. The complex is quite impressive. The buildings are surrounded by orchards kept by two hard-working guys. The first building you see is the Chapel of the Holy Child. It’s really overwhelming. Featuring two impossibly decorated baroque vaults, it’s impossible to tell what you’re going to find inside from the sober outside. The chapel is dominated by an image of the Holy Child, which went through dire straits during the Spanish War of Independence. “Another relevant (bloody) fact has to do with the fifth invasion by Napoleon’s army (there were six in all). On July 8, 1810, the French slaughtered all the people they bumped into, burning all town and church archives as well. They even burned the image of the Holy Child, fervently worshipped in Gaucín, throwing it out the castle walls.” The rich history of the chapel and the castle doesn’t stop there. Don Alonso de Guzmán (Guzmán el Bueno) met death by the castle walls, fighting the Moors on September 13, 1309. Leaving the chapel behind, I went to the castle. Its well-preserved ruins have kept signs of their Arab past and endless reconstructions, battle wounds and historic scars. They even survived the explosion of the castle’s magazine in 1848, which almost reduced the castle to rubble. I climbed the steps of Torre del Reina (the Queen’s Tower) and softly rang out the bell. The fog makes it almost impossible to see anything in the distance. At lunch I was told that, when the west wind blows, you can even see the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Well then, it sounded as a good excuse to come back. I spent some time feeling history in the castle. I could hear the echoes of the town centre –children playing, dogs barking, hens cackling… Being in the ruins is a comforting experience. It really is. Time to go down. I went through a door and then a path skirting the castle and leading to a trail climbing down on the opposite slope. A flight of stone steps placed me back on the streets of town.

The Ethnographic Museum

After reaching the main street, I had to retrace my steps back to the town exit for Manilva and Casares. I wanted to get to the Ethnographic Museum, on Ana Toval Avenue, whose collection, displayed in an L-shaped room, includes farming and cooking tools, herd-driving devices, and everyday utensils. All pieces are explained out on detailed boards bearing their names. It’s an interesting museum if you want to learn about past country life in Málaga. The museum doubles as tourist office, so you can get maps, restaurant cards, and other pieces of information here. I asked for advice on where to eat. They suggested several places, out of which I chose a downtown bar.

Stop and Lunch

Back at Esquina Street (where this tour had begun in the morning), I walked down the Corral Street, flanking the Town Market to the left, until I came to a square. There was a bar on the corner, Paco Pepe. I went in. It was one of those popular inns where content is more important than form and where you can meet the characters living in town. As soon as I picked a table, I could smell the homemade tapas and well-prepared traditional foods. Upon the waiter’s advice, I took a bacon and a trip and chickpeas tapa (scented and delicious), two small grilled chorizo sandwiches, and half a plate of pinchitos (generous, perfectly seasoned, and garnished homemade French fries). The lupin seeds were on the house. To wash everything down, a cola soda and a beer. The bill = €13.70. The afternoon ebbed amidst orders and chit-chats. They told me it was a pity it was misty, since on clear days you can see Sierra Bermeja, Sierra Crestellina, and even Africa from the castle, getting a 180º panoramic view. No problem, I said. I’ll come back. After the talk and the hearty meal, I headed for my car, but before I strolled along Gaucín’s alleys a little longer, as if I were lost in time, making out juts of the sierras in the mist.

Climbing Down and Bidding Farewell

Cautiously I negotiated my way down the road as I looked at the fields spreading from Gaucín. I promise to keep the bell tolling in the tower, the story of the Holy Child, and the taste of my pinchitos in my mind. Driving towards Casares and Manilva, I had a final look up. The white hamlet kept its secret (a blend of history and legend) under the thick fog, as if it were an unfathomable mystery looming just around one of its alleys’ corners.

Travel Tips, Curious Facts, and Useful Links

Art Geckos: When I arrived in Gaucín, I was surprised by the presence of golden geckos on many façades. House after house bore these little sculptures. As I walked around, I saw an increasing number of them. I was later to find out that they had to do with Salamanquesarte, which is Gaucín’s native version of the CowParade. Thus, there’re about four hundred geckos decorating the walls of local homes. You can see some of them at Salamanquesarte. Art in Gaucín: The region comprising the townships of Gaucín, Benarrabá, Algatocín, and Genalguacil is characterised by intense artistic activity. There’re a lot of galleries, and many painters and sculptors live in the area. Some artists have come together under Art Gaucin, where you can see some of their works.
Roped Bull Fiesta: One of Gaucín’s popular fiestas is the so-called Toro de Cuerda (Roped Bull), which consists in carrying (or being carried by) a huge black bull along the streets. The bull bears a rope tying its horns.
Useful links: There’re several websites you could use to find out about Gaucín. First of all, the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Gaucín Town Council. Also, two personal websites –GAUCINet and– and Art Gaucin. They all have useful contents.

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.


Tuesday, 7 July 2009

“Canta el viento, canta el río y compone una canción que en mi pecho hace sonido, que en mi pecho hace sonido cantando en mi corazón” (“The wind sings, the river sings, and they make a song that in my chest rings, in my chest rings singing in my heart”). These are the lyrics of “Bendita Tierra,” the copla sung by Antonio Molina. And it must have been a blessed land indeed to the famous cantaor, since the town’s main square’s been named after him. But there’s nothing mysterious about this. Molina’s parents were Totalatenses or Totalateños, or “rebotaos,” as they’re popularly known. The name of the square is thus a sort of tribute to the locals who gave birth to one of the greatest copla singers in the history of the genre, according to critics and fans alike. The song goes on: “La verde rama del limonero perfumaré con el eco de mi cantar…” (“The green branch of the lemon tree I’ll fill with the scent of my song…”).


Totalán is a small town, surrounded by wild, olive tree-studded hills in a dry, rough area. Some of the streets in the upper part afford views of the sea as if it were a mirage, both close and far away, embodying all desires to leave, getting away from it all. The town is a compact white hamlet, and it’s surprisingly cool, despite the surrounding dryness. Its narrow, winding streets seek the hillocks nearby in a labyrinth full of blind alleys leading nowhere –traces of the town’s Mozarabic past. The name is also Mozarabic in origin, as explained in one of the information boards scattered around. It comes from the word meaning “pie” (torta) used in Al-Andalus, according to a series of documents that refer to local “cortijo” as Tortela, Tortila, and Tortalán. The Town Hall website contains a tour to print taking you to the main sites in the historic district. I brought it along and it was most useful. Totalán is small, but it features a complicated layout, so the suggested route came in handy.

The Echoes of Antonio Molina

After driving uphill amidst olive trees, past the dry bed of the Totalán river, I headed for the urban centre, leaving Olías to the left. I soon came to a considerably large square, where I easily parked my car. As I was to find later, this was Plaza Antonio Molina. My tour began 100m away from here, at Plaza de la Constitución. This square is the nerve centre of town, where you can find the Church of Santa Ana, a baker’s, a bank, a chemist’s and one of the entrances to the Town Hall. To the sides of the church, I could sea the intertwining narrow streets. A shadowy place to unveil little by little, idly, morosely, surrendering to the rhythmic passage of time. To the left of the church, on Iglesia Street, there’s an irregular round arch connecting it to the adjacent houses, in an interplay of shadows and light, creating an indelible bond between the buildings. I asked about the arch’s origin and purpose, but found no answer. As the church door was closed, I went to the baker’s, where I was told a woman had the key but they didn’t know where she lived. So I asked a man who was sitting on a bench, and he said she lived in 1 Iglesia Street. I knocked at the door; nobody answered. Then a woman showed, scrutinising me as if she wanted to know my intention by just looking at me. I said I wanted to take a look at the church. “The key they took yesterday,” she replied. Without looking away, she walked across the street and disappeared through another door. I shrugged.

The Waterfalls

Then I walked down Arroyuelo Street towards the Antonio Molina square, where a plaque reads, “As a son born to Paco and María, Totalán residents, he was born in Málaga and learned to sing in Totalán.” Just in the middle of the square, next to a fountain, there’s a bust of the cantaor dominating the place. It’s a sculpture made by Antonio Gallero in 2001. By the plaque, a flight of steps led me to my next site: the Waterfalls –a cooling modern structure in the entrance to town, consisting of an ingenuous interplay of fountains whose water falls down a stone wall amidst trees. There’re benches to sit down and take a break, too. The waterfalls cooled me down to the sound of the splashing water, while I sat on a stone and wrought-iron bench. Two old men were looking silently at the sea, in the horizon. Politely, they said “buenos días” when I passed by, and then fell silent again. Leaving the Waterfalls behind, I climbed up Axarquía Street to the Moorish District, towards the football stadium. I was met by a strong smell of stew. It reminded me of chanfaina, an extremely popular potato dish including vinegar, oregano, cumin, and many other spices, as well as chorizo, black pudding, and pork meat and offal. Chanfaina is so popular here that there’s a festival paying tribute to it: the Fiesta de la Chanfaina, held in November. It has been designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest by the Government of Málaga Province.

In the Heights and In the Sea

Axarquía Street becomes Canela Fina Street first and then a steep uphill road leading to the football stadium. This is the highest point in the urban centre, where you can see the shimmering blue sea emerging between the yellow mountains and the green olive groves. A setting where you can infer the toughness of everyday life. A bend to the left took me back to the street maze. Despite the toughness all around, the little streets look cool, brimming with flowerpots and bright-coloured flowers. Enrique Castillo, Morro, Pasionaria Streets… I found my way back to Plaza de la Constitución and the Church of Santa Ana. Then I set my planned tour aside and spent some time just hanging around, taking pictures of alleys, saying hello to locals, staying in the shadow, reading the information boards, and so on. But then, as usual, my stomach began to rumble.

Stopping for tapas

I’d only seen one open bar throughout my tour, a sort of inn called Arriba y Abajo at the entrance to town. The place used to be known as Arroyuelo. My first question was, “Do you have chanfaina?” “No,” they replied, “we’re serving tripe today.” Encouraging the preparation of traditional dishes is an effort everybody should make. They’re part of a region’s so-called “intangible assets,” and they complement a country’s history and economy. Judging by the Fiesta de la Chanfaina, you’d expect to find this dish everywhere throughout the year, but you don’t. It’s happened before to me. Tasting traditional food is becoming an increasingly difficult task. Restaurant owners have a point, of course. They’re not willing to serve foods that are usually prepared in homes. But what about visitors? They snatch those delicacies away from us, and we’re left with a strong desire to taste them, assess them, learn about them. On the other hand, it can be a good excuse to come back to a place. In this case, to Totalán’s Fiesta de la Chanfaina. I tasted delicious tapas at Arriba y Abajo instead, including a (strongly scented) tripe, octopus, seasoned fillets, and meatballs. Add four beers. The bill = €13.10. The bar has a straw roof that keeps you cool in the shadow. I let myself go in a relaxed chat. I just had one more site to see: the Dolmen.

The Dolmen in Cerro de la Corona

Following the directions given by the owner of Arriba y Abajo, I drove in search for the Dolmen. About 1km after taking the road leading to the urban centre, there’s a sign indicating the access road. It’s a walking trail ending in a dirt road amidst a bunch of houses, so the best thing to do was park my car and climb on foot. Beyond the highest houses, a narrow path takes you to the megalithic monument. It’s a short but steep climb. The monument –a few remains of a third- or fourth-century structure– affords great views of the Mediterranean. A lot of vases and human bones were found at the site, but now the area is fenced off and you can read about it all in an information board. The Town Hall website says they’re working on a museum project. Back down then.

Leaving Totalán Behind

As I drove away, Totalán disappeared behind the curtain of olive groves and fields behind a sharp bend. When I saw the dry bed of the Totalán river, one of Antonio Molina’s coplas immediately came to mind: “Soy minero y mi corazón templé con pico y barrenaaaaa…” (“I’m a miner and I tempered my heart with a pick and a drill…”).

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: If you’re coming in the summer, wear light clothes. You might well take a break or two in the shadow during your tour.
Useful links: This time I can recommend three websites, namely, the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the Totalán Town Hall (giving full information and containing the tour I did myself), and (featuring a wide range of useful contents).

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.