Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Estepona is always illuminated by the flashing blue colour of the Mediterranean. A sort of indigo gleam in stark contrast to the brownish red of Sierra Bermeja. A town trapped between the mountains and the sea, wisely ambushed a strip of land whose toes are lapped at by the cool ocean and whose hair is tousled by the sierras. Estepona has lived with both since the dawn of time, and this can be seen in the prehistoric, Phoenician, Roman, and –of course– Arab traces found in the area. It’s a town of wide sandy areas. It used to be “Estebbuna” or even “Alextebuna” before becoming “Estepona.” Other names for other cities, known to Phoenician seafarers or Roman merchants. Now the town keeps the authentic flavours of Málaga in its older streets. This is Estepona, a town with a glorious past and a throbbing present. Welcome to Estepona: Wet your feet in this ocean of history.

Getting Ready

First and foremost, I went to the Tourist Office, where they gave me a lot of information and an up-to-date city map. The main Tourist Information Point is in the town centre, facing the Sea Promenade. It stands out, so you’ll have no trouble finding it. But just in case, here’s the address: Avda. San Lorenzo, 1 (Post Code: 29680 – Estepona; Phone: +34 952 802 002; Fax: +34 952 792 181; Email address: After a couple of twists and turns, I parked by the Tourist Office. If you can’t leave your car here, there’s a public parking zone nearby. After an amiable chat with the employee at the Tourist Office, I decided on my plan: walking westwards along the Sea Promenade up to the Bullring, which houses four of the main museums. That’d mean a 20’ walk (800m). Then I’d retrace my steps back to the town centre for the itinerary suggested by the woman at the Tourist Information Point. After this, I’d try to reach Corominas, a visitor centre of a prehistoric site. This required an appointment (Mobile phone number: +34 654 711 715; Contact person: Victoria Infante).

Getting Started

The beaches stretch far away lethargically in Estepona, embracing the shoreline. It’s 21km of sandy areas, giving rise to 17 beaches: La Rada, El Padrón, Bahía Dorada, Punta de la Plata, Guadalobón... Locals and out-of-towners alike lie under the glittering sun, caught in the mirror of the sea. Sunshades, children’s games, looks into the horizon… A warm shelter against the outer world. The breeze brushed by my face as I walked along the Sea Promenade. The beaches are peppered with bars serving their fried fish dishes. I could smell the embers, ready for their first sardine skewers. A typical summer smell in Málaga’s coastal towns.


My steps brought me to the Port of Estepona. I skirted it, along with the lighthouse, and reached Del Carmen Avenue, leading to the Bullring. When passing by the port, I noticed the fish drying in the open air, and boards reading “Se venden volaores” (Flying fish for sale). Stall keepers were waiting for buyers or visitors; meanwhile, they chatted the morning away. A woman was working on her bobbing lace. In the first stall I met Francisco Parrado, an old man whose weather-beaten face and rough hands displayed kind features. He told me these were season fish, passing fish, which are only caught in August. This is why they called them “flying fish.” Each fish is €2. According to Francisco, they’re just delicious: “They have nothing to do with tuna, they’re much better than tuna.” Lying on strings hanging on carts, the “flying fish” dried in the sun, morphing into a secret delicacy. They spread their fins as if they were wings, showcasing their aerodynamic bodies. I bade farewell to Francisco, the man who managed to turn my suspicion into a smile and produced a nice explanation for me. I took everything down in my travel journal: “August. Estepona. Port. Volaores.”

The Estepona Bullring and the Four Museums

The Estepona Bullring is a singular one, as ellipses prevail over roundness here. To my eyes used to seeing perfectly round grandstands, this came as a surprise. The stands aren’t even but they go up and down. This Bullring was designed by architect Juan Mora Urbano in 1972, and built according to his design. Its whitewashed walls stand against the bright blue sky. It’s robust, imperfectly round, uneven –a flawed circle by the sea. Inside it houses four treasures: the museums. The quickest access is with the ocean and the road behind you, to the left. If you prefer to get a glimpse of the Bullring itself, take the right way, which is longer but more artful. The museums’ opening hours are 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (Phone: +34 952 807 148). The staff are kind: they told me a lot of things about the museums and walked me around for a while. I began with the Bullfighting Museum, a sort of pantheon for the greatest bullfighters of all times. It features snapshots of Manolete, Paquirri, Joselito, José Tomás, El Cordobés, and Enrique Ponce, among others, and bullfighting costumes. There’re also trophies and famous bull ears and tails, like the tail belonging to the bull Ofendido earned by Antonio Bienvenida in 1949. You can also visit the Bullring inside, even step onto the ring itself and feel something eerie going down your spine. Then I went to the Museum of Palaeontology, where I was greeted by something larger than a bull: the 1:1 replica of a dinosaur skeleton, looking down at me from its empty eyes. Countless fossils are displayed in cases, most of them found in Estepona. The museum focuses on the Pliocene, drawing experts from all over Europe in search for palaeontological evidence. Two more huge skeleton replicas reminded me of –what else?– Jurassic Park. My attention was drawn to a fang belonging to a Carcharodon, that is, an ancestor of present-day sharks, only ten times bigger. Stepping some centuries ahead, I moved to the Museum of Ethnography. This well-kept museum has carefully organised collections, separated in terms of human activities. Thus, you can take a look at different tools for the earth or the sea: a traditional fishing barge, scale models of ships, nets, creels, anchors, oars, boathooks… All in all, a wide range of implements for sea-related arts and activities. The earth can be seen in an endless catalogue of farming tools used for threshing, harvesting, and many other tasks. Then there’re everyday objects such as vases, scales, jars, baskets, and even a recreated old kitchen. Last but not least, there’s the Luis García Berlanga Light and Sound Museum, where you can see interesting curiosities like film posters, celebrity autographs, mask or costume replicas, video tapes, and a cranky projector which reminded me of Cinema Paradiso. In addition, there’re collections of old video cameras (including the legendary Super 8), photo cameras, and musical instruments signed by famous musicians, like the members of the band Scorpions or Bonnie Tyler. Full of food for thought, I turned to more worldly affairs: time for lunch. I asked where to go, and everyone agreed: La Escollera. I took to my heels as fast as I could.

Lunch at La Escollera

I’d seen this restaurant before, when heading for the Bullring, and it’d caught my eye. It’s in the fishing port (not the marina). If you don’t know how to get here, ask around. The restaurant is behind the tapas bar; you can access it from here or directly from the beach. The dining area is a terrace by the beach. La Escollera serves an amazing range of fish and seafood. The customers at this family-run restaurant include local patrons (who call the waiters by their first names) and well-informed tourists. Noise and bustle, loud voices… Not exactly a quiet joint, but a genuine one at that. The waiter came and recited the menu, which seemed to have no end: anchovies, cuttlefish, shellfish, squid, red mullet, lobster, grilled crayfish, octopus salad, gilthead bream… My choice was: a jug of beer and soda (€6), two bottles of water (€2.20), grilled prawn (€13), squid (€10), marinated anchovies (€8), and two iced coffees (€2,40). My bill = €43 (cover charge included). Big servings and fresh fish, but be careful: it’s soooooooo hot! The marinated anchovies were a culinary feat. Feeling heavy and rather sleepy, I went for a walk in the town centre, following the itinerary they’d suggested at the Tourist Office.

Town Centre Itinerary

The breeze of the Sea Promenade livened me up. I left my drowsiness behind and strolled with style. I could see the beachgoers playing sports and having fun, kites running in the sky, the waves breaking toward the shore, a swimmer trying to reach the horizon… When I came to España Avenue, I turned left at the first major crossroads, and Carmen Sevilla Street brought me to Plaza de las Flores. Here the flowers filled everything –pots, beds, lawns, walls– with colour, protected from heat by a fountain. Fresh scents everywhere around. ‘A nice place for a break,’ I thought. From the square, Raphael Street, which then changes its name to Castillo Street, took me to the ruins of the Castle of San Luis, a fortress built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the late sixteenth century to strengthen the town’s security and protection. Avery narrow street, Francisco Delmo, leads to the back of the castle, affording better views of it thanks to a spiral staircase. The street also leads to the Food Market. I could smell fish, meat, fruit and vegetables…. Back in the sun, I came across Plaza Cañada, where I could hear a fountain’s murmur. A man was sitting in the shade. Up Viento Street, I came to the Town Hall, and then I walked down Caravaca Street into the older part of town, where you can still feel the fishing and farming roots. A few noble mansions are scattered in this area. I then moved to Plaza del Reloj, where the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) stands, cream-coloured and light orange against the bright blue sky. It’s a quiet square, featuring a bandstand and a humongous conifer facing one another. Although it was silent now, I could fancy the hustle and bustle of schoolchildren playing here, since the Clock Tower (an old minaret, the tower used in mosques to call to prayer) is now part of the Simón Fernández Kindergarten and Primary School. After this break, Santa Ana and Blas Ortega Streets would take me to the Church. The Church of Virgen de los Remedios stands in Plaza de San Francisco, its belfry elegant, imposing, majestic. The frontage is subtle and delicate, longish, almost ethereal, as if standing on tiptoes to reach the bright blue sky. Inside, the Church is robust, full of altars and images, a row of balconies overlooking the nave. Golden lintels, a crystal chandelier, reddish marble: it was cool in here.

Bidding Farewell to the Sea

I walked towards the sea, across Real Street –one of the main thoroughfares in Estepona, where there’s the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, and stores. I bought my usual postcard at a newsstand and sat on a bench to scribble a few words on it. Then I dropped it into a mailbox, in the hope that an 89-year-old man 1,000km away would soon learn about me. (He’s always looking forward to hearing news from me.) Crossing España Avenue, I stepped on the sand. I stripped myself of backpack, sunglasses, cap, trainers, socks, T-shirt, and trousers and run towards the sea. Splash! How cool! How delightful!

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: If you want to visit the Corominas archaeological site, you should make an appointment in advance. The staff at the town museums told me it was worth it, as it had been carefully reconstructed –one of Estepona’s must-sees. The contact phone number is +34 654 711 715 and the contact person is Ms Victoria Infante. Ticket prices: €3 for small groups (less than 10 people); €2 for large groups (more than 10). Mail:
Other things to see: If you’re interested in animals and nature, then Selwo Aventura is your place. Created ten years ago, Selwo Aventura is a nature park where animals are reared in semi-captivity. It’s become one of the leading centres of its kind in Europe. Elephants, tigers, giraffes, lions, bears, birds of prey… Moreover, you can stay in the park for the night. (Contact phone number: +34 902 190 482). Parque de San Isidro Labrador or Los Pedregales is the ideal place for a family outing in contact with nature. There’s a camping area, a playground for children, a man-made lake, a bar and restaurant, several barbecues, and other facilities. Estepona’s star, however, is Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean and a unique place from the point of view of its flora –the native Spanish fir was first discovered here– and its geological features. Estepona shares this nature park with Casares and Genalguacil. For further information on it, go to our blog entry 11. Genalguacil: A Living Museum. Finally, there’re seven watchtowers facing the sea in Estepona. They were used to detect attacks from North African pirates or the Turks. They all date back to the fifteenth-century; some are better kept than others.
Useful links: You can use the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board as your point of reference, which is what we usually do. The Estepona Town Hall website also contains useful information. Finally, in Estepona Imágenes you can find many interesting visual contents (mainly images).

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, 22 September 2009

His name was Abdelselam ben Arrabat, and he was a member of the guild of dyers in the Banuh Rabbah tribe. They would say he was an alchemist, his complicated formulas magically changing the colours of the fabrics manufactured in Valle del Genal. Stones, plants, earth, animals, insects were the ingredients in his magic potions. After several essays, he once came up with a bright colour resembling blood. He called it “qarmazi,” i.e. “crimson,” keeping its formula secret until he died. After his death, one of his sons revealed the secret: the colour came from a scale insect called “qarmaz,” who profusely sucked other animals’ blood. All this blood dyed the threads in the clothes of old Benarrabá’s inhabitants.

Getting Close

Clusters of pine trees and cork oaks make the slopes rolling down into Benarrabá look leafy and cool the summer air. There’s a thick smell that reminds you of old earth scents, shady streets, field paths, cork lines. As I got closer to the town centre, I stared at the landscape surrounding the town: high mountains, steep slopes, thick woods, and the white spots of the villages sipping the water of the Genal river. Benarrabá is the sum of two bunches of buildings separated by a winding hill: the urban centre around the Chapel of Cristo de la Vera Cruz and the one around the Parish Church of San Sebastián. Benarrabá is a small town of uneven, steep, narrow, and broken streets. Local experts say there’re slope gradients amounting to 70 percent. In fact, there’re only two thoroughfares to drive along. Given these peculiarities, the best thing to do is follow the directions indicating “Chapel-Church-Parking.” The first sight –the Chapel of Vera Cruz– lies only 20m away. But before beginning my tour, I need to send a warming to potential visitors.

Point and Shoot

Benarrabá boasts remarkable tokens of domestic architecture. Many eighteenth-century houses have come down to us, keeping elements from a distant Arab past: guardapolvos (protruding eaves protecting passers-by from the rain), adarves (patios common to several houses and connecting them to the street), bocatejas (the first tile in each row), and algorfas (from al-gurfa in Arabic, a room in the attic used to store corn). The Benarrabá Town Hall website,, contains a tour of the streets and houses featuring these traditional architectural elements. Take note of their street numbers and be ready to travel back to faraway times.

The Chapel of Vera Cruz

Now, let’s go back to the Chapel of Vera Cruz. I got off my car to take a look at the simple, peaceful square in front of the chapel: a small fountain, two dozens of trees, a bunch of benches inviting tired travellers to take a seat. It was still cool in the morning. I could hear the sounds of birds and household chores. The chapel itself is a humble building, a small bell hanging in its belfry and three yellow borders on the façade as the only décor. But it had the charming power of simplicity. One of the walls bears a board where you can get the essence of Benarrabá: “From the Porón you’re still the shadow/ of the castle that’s disappeared/ you’re the kind lookout/ of the towns that lie near./ Despite your centuries-old poles/ and your eventful history/ you play hide-and-seek behind the mountains/ and reappear in Valle del Genal./ A great many palettes will be envious/ of your colourful landscape like a fantasy mantle,/ of your stout cork oaks and holm oaks,/ of your majestic green pine trees./ In your streets with secluded corners/ floating on the cobblestones/ there’s a song turned whisper:/ it’s the song of memory./ At noon I find treasures/ hiding in our pantry,/ I walk along your thoroughfares,/ I feel your pulse, like a river,/ I turn my eyes to the blue dome of the church.” The poem was written by María José Collado in 2005. Following directions, I took the road to the left of the chapel. I drove down and found a parking space behind a bend. They advised me not to drive further on, for the streets get impossibly narrow and broken. So walking around was the best way of getting familiar with Benarrabá. I strolled down Sol Street towards the church, its blue dome against the bright blue sky.

The Town Centre and the Church

Benarrabá streets are covered in cobblestones that give you the impression of treading on living history. Through Virgen de la Paz Street, I entered the chaotic town centre, mirroring the fleeting shadows pursued by the Arabs, their bunching strategies against heat and cold, their defence against invaders. The ringing of bells surprised me in the quiet and silent morning. I came to the little square in front of the church. I heard the bells again, stronger this time. I liked the simple beauty of the Parish Church of San Sebastián, with its undulating façade and bright yellow-trimmed doorway, illuminated by two lazy lamps whose light I fancied as faint and quivering. Sol Street is the starting point of numberless alleys –as if they were the tributaries of a mighty river–, which took me to the Town Hall. Most restaurants seem to be on Sol Street. I could hear the squeaking of double wooden doors, their upper parts open to let some fresh air in. Benarrabá has the genuine charm of country towns, bare and straightforward. Benarrabá isn’t a setting but an authentic Andalusian village, where you can feel the Arab past in every corner: broken street patterns, narrow alleys, iron-wrought window grillers, thick wooden doors with stout iron knockers… I took some time to look at the voladizos, adarves, guardapolvos, bocatejas, and algorfas… The washing hung on the line in a patio, a bench in the shadow of a tree, some children playing, a man carrying a donkey, Estación Street, Baja Street, Saucal Street, Pósito Street, Calzada Street, Rosario Street... I looked back. I’d got lost. God bless such an incident. I took in the ancient smell and smiled. So many Málagas, so many Andalusias, so close to one another and yet so distant, so many great experiences…


Following a good friend’s advice and knowing this was a pork producing area, just like the neighbouring town of Algatocín, I bought some meat packs and half a loaf of bread –€5. I sat down in a corner to savour my loot, knowing that many men and women have tasted these very same foods before me. What else could I ask for? After this special breakfast, I headed for my car, taking the same road that’d brought me here. I plunged among the cork oaks and holm oaks and soon lost sight of the town centre. Bye-bye, Benarrabá, “playing hide-and-seek behind the mountains.”

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Domestic architecture: Download the list of streets displaying interesting architectural features from the Town Hall website. You might not get to see all of them, but many you will, giving you an idea of what eighteenth-century buildings really looked like. The best way to get to Benarrabá’s essence is just walking around, sitting on a bench in the shadow of kind trees, getting in and out of alleys, finding an adarve here and there, and so on.
Useful links: As usual, you can use the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board as a guiding point, supplementing it with the Benarrabá Town Hall site (I took the crimson legend and the information on local architectural features from here).

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, 15 September 2009

My travelling soul is torn between verse and the art of war, between stanzas and epic battles, between poems and viceroyalties, between odes and harquebus shots. My travelling soul aches in the hunch that Macharaviaya feeds from both the lyrics of Salvador Rueda and the conquests of the Gálvez family. The former was born in a humble home; the latter were buried in sumptuous mausoleums. The former brought the muses; the latter, running water. The former produced bending verses; the latter, daily bread. These are the fountains that quench Macharaviaya’s thirst: literary genius and economic power –the two sides of the coin of private and public life in town. Today, we’ll walk along the streets of the so-called “Little Madrid,” a book of poems under our arms.

Arrival, Monument, and the Gálvez

I drove along a narrow, winding road, where I came across a few of those small scooters taking men to the fields –limping, asthmatic, bearing vegetable boxes and bunches of octopuses in their rear carrier. Macharaviaya is surrounded by the typical Axarquía landscape: rolling hills, brownish earth, olive trees scattered along the horizon, vines, ravines, dry river beds. It’s a fleeting landscape, its beauty weird, peculiar: villages hidden from indiscreet visitor looks behind the hills. I suddenly came to a fork posing a dilemma. Where to go? To the left, Benaque, the homeland of poet Salvador Rueda. To the right, Macharaviaya, the homeland of the Gálvez, a powerful local dynasty. The fork is highlighted by a monument teaching me that viceroyalty was more important than verse, so I chose to come to Macharaviaya first. The fame of the Gálvez stems from their role in the history of the Americas. The pioneer, José de Gálvez (Macharaviaya, 1720-1791), got a prerogative from King Charles III, who appointed him as visitador to New Spain. As a Minister of the Council of the Indies, he took up his duties with unlimited authority in the New World. Eventually, he was made Marqués de Sonora. According to the CEIP Salvador Rueda, “Among his governmental actions were reforms in the administration, the economy, the army, and farming; the creation of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Plata, the introduction of intendancies in the colonial administration and the office of Regent of the Court, the establishment of limited free trade between Spain and the colonies, the setting up of the Philippines Company, and the creation of the Royal Court and Mining Trade of Mexico.” His brother and his nephew took up his work, both of them being appointed as Viceroys of New Spain (Mexico). Macharaviaya shared in their luck, as the family never forgot their origins. “A factory of playing cards was built in 1766, supplying all of the Americas (it can still be seen in town). This raised the villagers’ living standards, as the streets were paved, an open-air theatre was erected, and better ways of life were introduced. This earned the town the name ‘Little Madrid.’ There was even a washhouse, and roads connecting Macharaviaya with Málaga, and other nearby towns were improved. A fund for harvesters was created and a public school was built under royal sponsorship in 1783.” This brief summary of the family’s history can give you an idea of the Gálvez’s importance to and influence on life in Macharaviaya. This year, the town paid tribute to its benefactors on July 4, Independence Day in the US. Also, the monument at the entrance of town is a witness to their importance, and there’re lots of references to this family’s facts in the streets.

Parking and Getting Started

Some 10m away from the monument there’s a little park featuring a fountain and five benches –an ideal place to take a break after a walk. It’s in the higher part of town, affording great views of the sea. There’s a milestone dominating the square: an obelisk-shaped stone with the date when it was laid in the eighteenth century. You can park here and take a walk down towards the town or drive all the way down to the Town Hall square, Matías de Gálvez, where you’ll have no trouble parking. Since the streets get narrower, are paved in cobblestones, and most of them are pedestrian thoroughfares, it’s better to leave your car at this point. Besides, a good walk will enable you to get to know the essence of Macharaviaya. I left my car at Matías de Gálvez Square. I was given useful information at the local Town Hall: maps, brochures, opening hours, phone numbers, and so on. A board in the square gives directions and shows which way to go. To the left there was the Church of San Jacinto and the mausoleum, the playing card factory, and the Gálvez Museum. I took Real de Málaga Street to find the first references to the Gálvez family in plates, street names, squares, and so on.

Strolling Around

Macharaviaya is an old, delicate town, oozing peace and quiet. The houses are trimmed with trees and vines. Many patios look like gardens. It’s a truly Mediterranean setting, open to the nearby sea and laden with salty scents. You can hear the birds singing. And see the flowerpots and a bunch of bright colours emerging from them. I strolled around for a while. Real de Málaga Street took me to the square named after Bernardo de Gálvez, an indefatigable soldier who defeated the British army at Pensacola in 1781 and reconquered Florida for Spain during the American Revolutionary War. In fact, the square bears a plate with an image of Don Bernardo, informing of his feats and victories. Opposite this plate, there’s another one, commemorating the arrival of running water to the town. The 1815 Town Archives and the Book of Water of the Village of Macharaviaya read: “Aware of water shortage in their homeland and the ordeal it meant for local residents to walk down to the Albaraday del Horno fountains, they brought the water flowing in these streams through aqueducts into the three public fountains.”

Church of San Jacinto and Playing Card Factory

The Church of San Jacinto, whose side makes one of the edges of Bernardo de Gálvez Square, has a singular structure. It’s square, impeccably white, sober, austere. As if making up for this harshness, its façade is profusely decorated, perhaps one of the most elaborate I’ve seen so far in this trip. Dominated by the Gálvez coat of arms, it stands on four deep-red columns whose plinths and lintels are golden yellow, like the coat of arms itself. The contrast with the white wall is quite impressive. Behind the church there’s the local graveyard, while the Gálvez mausoleum is in the crypt. After seeing the church, I took Real de Málaga street again, and in 10’ I came to the Royal Playing Card Factory. After a royal warrant issued by King Charles III in 1766, the factory was granted the monopoly to trade with the Americas. Its cards were the most expensive in Spain, but it was closed down in 1791 due to water and wood shortage. The building is still there, but it serves as a private home. It’s still beautiful –simple but craftily decorated. Macharaviaya looks as if it’d been frozen in time. Satellite TV antennas are the only sign of modern life; otherwise, there seems to have been few changes over the past two or three centuries. Its clean, well-kept streets make a maze of comings and goings. At the far end of Real de Málaga Street I turned right and got to Gálvez Avenue, which led to the Gálvez House Museum (phone: +34 952 400 090). The museum goes over the history of this family and their importance to the town. It also features a visitor centre and a permanent exhibition of Robert Harvey’s paintings. After the museum, I walked up the street… for breakfast.

Taberna del Candil

I found a typical town bar. It was large and its walls bore traditional farming tools –a sort of museum of ethnography inside an inn. It features even an old plough, as well as sickles, pitchforks, and a yoke. I chose a place at the bar. When I was making myself comfortable, I saw three cyclists come in. They came from Málaga (25km on winding roads). Cycling is a common sport along the steep roads in Axarquía, especially when it’s early in the morning. To replenish their energy reserves, they ordered energy bars and coffees with condensed milk. Then they chose a table outdoors. My breakfast was a little different: two white coffees, sirloin rolls. After breakfast, I headed for my car, for I wanted to visit Salvador Rueda’s birthplace and the Mozarabic church in Benaque, 2km away. Off I went.

Benaque and Salvador Rueda

From the road I could see the outline of the Church of Virgen del Rosario, a typical Mozarabic brick building. I parked at the entrance to Benaque and walked to the church and Salvador Rueda’s birthplace, following signs and directions. The latter lay just 20m away. It’s a humble house –Rueda himself described is at “poor”– which witnessed the birth of poems paying tribute to the land or stating the modernist creed. A sample, below:

Horas de fuego (Hours of Fire) Quietud, pereza, languidez, sosiego...un sol desencajado el suelo dora,y a su valiente luz deslumbradoraque le ha dejado fascinado y ciego.
(Quiet, laziness, languor, peace,
A dislocated sun tans,
And its brave, dazzling light
Has left it stunned and blind.)

El mar latino, y andaluz, y griego,
suspira dejos de cadencia mora,
y la jarra gentil que perlas llora
se columpia en la siesta de oro y fuego.
(The Latin sea –Andalusian too, and Greek
Lets out sighs in a Moorish rhythm
And the gentle jug that sheds pearl tears
Swings in the siesta of gold and fire.)

Al rojo blanco la ciudad llamea;
ni una brisa los árboles cimbrea,
arrancándoles lentas melodías.
(The city burns in a bright red setting.
There’s no breeze whooshing past the trees, Or producing slow tunes out of them.)

Sobre el tono de ascuas del ambiente,
frescas cubren su carmín riente
en sus rasgadas bocas las sandías".
(Against an ember-coloured skyline,
The watermelons cover their laughing carmine
In their gaping mouths.)

“Rueda’s works are very important and interesting not only to understand the generations of poets that came after him but also because of the daring, original adventure of being the first modernist poet in Spain.” (Francisco Arias Solís, Analítica). Born in Benaque on December 3, 1857, Rueda spent most of his childhood and adolescence here, and he kept coming back to his hometown even after becoming a renowned writer. Traces of the Andalusian essence he never quite left behind and the skylines of Benaque, Macharaviaya, and Málaga (an ever-lasting source of inspiration to him) can be found in most of his poems. Rueda was a self-taught man. He was born to day labourers and had a hard life as a factory worker and farmer. His poetry was the result of pure genius. To learn more about him, about his life and work, click here. To visit his birthplace, call +34 952 400 042 for an appointment. The best way to get to know Salvador Rueda, however, is to read his poems, which are pregnant with a beautiful lyricism and powerful images. The very same street took me to the church. A delicate, simple, beautiful temple. The belfry used to be a minaret, that is, the tower used in mosques to call to prayer. Benaque looks like an extension of Macharaviaya in terms of styles, shapes, and ways. The same cobblestones, the same impervious quiet, the same layout. Behind the church, the hills boast with past pride. After the phylloxera plague that devastated the vineyards in the nineteenth century, now they show plenty of vines. I can imagine their mouth-watering muscatel grapes already.


My day of war deeds, viceroys, playing cards, and poetry was coming to a close. On July 4 –now, in the twenty-first century–, Macharaviaya has its major fiesta, a festival dedicated to the greatest of its indianos: the Gálvez. While the echoes of history can be heard in the streets, in the distance you can make out a poet covered in the dust of roads and clouds of verse. These are Macharaviaya’s emblems: history and poetry, the Gálvez and Salvador Rueda, the Spaniards who fought in the Americas and the humble bard.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Before coming to the Salvador Rueda Birthplace or the Gálvez House Museum find out about opening hours and tours. The phone numbers are +34 952 400 042 (Salvador Rueda) and +34 952 400 090 (Gálvez). This is a town you enjoy more if you know about its history and poetry, so if you can read about the Gálvez and Rueda’s poems, so much the better. You’ll then be able to spot many of the things you’ve read about in the town’s corners. It’s worth the effort.
Useful links: Our usual reference website is that of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board. The Macharaviaya Town Hall website also contains a lot of useful information. If you’re interested in Salvador Rueda’s life, you can have a good bio at Analítica. His poems you can read in A Media Voz. Finally, for a brief history of the Gálvez family, go to the website of CEIP Salvador Rueda.

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, 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.