Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Once upon a time, there was a Moor princess called Algotisa. She was the daughter of the Moor King of Ronda. The king’s castle now lies at the foundations of the Parish Church of Virgen del Rosario. There’re no references to this beautiful princess, whose name was borrowed to name a town, in the books. But they say that they say that… Oral tradition merges with history and reality, and so it’s difficult to tell what’s fact and what’s legend in the story of princess Algotisa. Historians, who are committed to truthfulness, believe the toponym “Algatocín” comes from a Berber tribe, Al Atusiyin, which had settled in the area. It might be true, but still I prefer to imagine Algotisa wandering about in Algatocín’s intricate maze of streets. There’s a smell of flowers round the corners. Could it be hers?

Getting Close

If you’re coming from Gaucín along the Ronda-Algeciras road, you’ll need to stop before getting to the town centre and find out where you are and what it is you’re going to see. Only 1km before Algatocín there’s the Genal Scenic Viewpoint, a sort of balcony overlooking the valley of the Genal river and affording matchless panoramic views. You can see several white towns from here –Alpandeire, Fajarán, Jubrique, Genalguacil–, the crest of Pico Torrecilla, or even the Rock of Gibraltar. Before my eyes, a leafy forest featuring cork oaks, pine trees, and holm oaks rubbing against one another, the grooves carved by streams on the dense mantle of the hills, exuberant fragrances coming up from the Genal… I could also see Algatocín’s bunch of buildings; I spotted the bell tower of the church, the climb to the chapel, the irregular layout of narrow streets, and so on. I breathed in and drove downtown. It’s only 30km to Ronda from here, and this road is very popular with motorcyclists at weekends, so you’d better be cautious and drive safe. You’ll enjoy the landscape more, too.

Arrival and Breakfast (First and Foremost)

To get to the town centre from the Ronda-Algeciras road, you need to take the Estepona-Genalguacil detour across the lower part of Algatocín, where you’re strongly advised to park as soon as you find a free space. This is a narrow town and it’s full of life. Everything lies within walking distance, so don’t be afraid and take a stroll. The first thing you’ll come across is La Alameda, the main square, where the town’s social life seems to converge. It’s the perfect place to begin your tour, as it’s the starting point of many streets and alleys leading to a great many shady corners. I had breakfast at a bar in this square. Since their toaster was out of order, they advised me to taste their specialty: pies. They were a sort of triangular thin dough (like that in churros) where you can add honey. There’re six pies per serving –enough for two. Pies and two white coffees = €1.80. While gulping down my pies, I watched the men sitting at the other tables and playing dominoes, or chatting amiably on two shady benches farther away. Like a modern town crier, a loudspeaker announced there’d be a water cut. I smiled at how naturally the Algatocileños welcomed the news, a practical message materialising in thin air. I stood up and began my tour.

The Church and the Streets

I started wandering about, in search for the church in the upper part of town. I let myself be swept along, trying to unveil some of Algatocín’s secrets. There’s a map board on the entrance to La Alameda showing all sights of interest: fountains, churches, eighteenth-century houses, and so forth. Despite its irregular layout, emerging from the narrowness of the streets, there’s something stately about Algatocín: splendid three-storey square houses that have managed to keep their old door and window grilles. In fact, the Town Hall is one of these. Flowers surprise you with every step you take: lilac explosion of bougainvilleas. Some streets look like gardens, so many flowers do they boast. The whole town centre is a zigzagging labyrinth –evasive steps, corners blending with one another… Simple shops resembling houses are shielded against the sun by bamboo shades, men and women coming in and out with shopping bags or loaves of bread under their arms. Algatocín is brimming with life, a place where the legendary past and the real present coexist peacefully. I came to the Parish Church of Virgen del Rosario, its bright red and ochre belfry tower standing against the bright blue sky and the mountains. The main door opens onto a little square where you can sit on one of the benches and rest for a while. I came across lots of buildings in the traditional architectural style of Andalusia, making its towns look tight, crammed as it were, so special. I walked along the streets, cooled myself in the fountains, stood in the shade of vine trellises. I also made a technical stop.

Technical Stop: Slaughter

There’re several stores in Algatocín selling one of the town’s treasures: pork products and meat. The local pork industry is famous for its quality traditional homemade goods. In La Alameda there’s a board that reads, “With the arrival of Christian colonisers back in the fifteenth century, pork products became so popular that now there’s no meal without black pudding, chops, ears, tripe, or leg for guiso de patas. After the long tradition of its ancestors, Algatocín engages in old-style pig slaughter in the early winter. Families and neighbours join in the fiesta.” Taking this background into account, I couldn’t resist the temptation and bout a string of chorizo, a black pudding, and a D.O. spiced sausage. I spent €6.50. I regretted not being able to savour the pork leg stew, cooked over a low flame, with sausage, beans, and spices. ‘I’ll return in winter and taste it then,’ I thought.

Chapel of El Calvario and Farewell

The Chapel of El Calvario lay outside the town centre, in the upper part of town. I asked how to get there. “You can go on foot. It takes only 15’. It’s pretty close. You just have to walk up here across the road to Ronda, and soon you’ll see a cobblestone path going up. Follow it,” a woman explained. The rising path promised stunning views. Leaving the old washhouse behind, I climbed up the cobblestones. The last stretch was protected by pine trees, which I felt grateful for. Bring water with you: the climb is quite tough. The chapel was closed, tied with a thick rope, but the knot was easily untied. The rope’s purpose, it occurred to me, was keeping beasts off while letting men in. The chapel is small. It is surrounded by pine forests featuring seats where you can come face to face with the Genal valley and see how great it is. The packed Moorish houses of Algatocín lay at my feet, the solid mountains stood in front, led by Torrecilla, and the lower slope of the Serranía de Ronda was on the left, the first white towns perched on it. To the right, Campo de Gibraltar and the world-famous granite mass. I could smell the pines when a cool breeze swept by. I didn’t need anything else right then.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to eat or buy: Pork products: Algatocín sells top-rate pork products. The manufacturing plants are in the heart of town, and buying at their shops can be a good idea for presents of just to take a bit of this place back home. All the shops selling pork products are highly reliable.
What to see: Chapel of El Calvario and Genal Scenic Viewpoint.
What to take: Bring binoculars and a camera; you’ll want to take pictures of Algatocín’s landscapes and streets. Explore the secret corners and look at the foothills of the sierras. They’re bound to stay with you.
Useful links: The websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Algatocín Town Hall,, are good reference points. References at the local level include a blog, Algatoisa, and, the site of the Genal valley and Serranía de Ronda.

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.