Tuesday, 28 July 2009

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.