Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Benalauría: a town of chestnuts, old flavours, forgotten smells. Benalauría: the town of the Moors. Benalauría: the town of the Christians. Benalauría: a town clinging to tradition. Benalauría: a town of arts, crafts, and mills. Benalauría: a town of ringing streets, huge balconies, green horizons. Benalauría: the town of the sons of Auria. Benalauría: a town to come back to. Ben-al-Auria.

Amidst Chestnut Trees

I drove down into Benalauría. The snaking, whirling road was flanked by slopes covered with chestnut trees, whose golden and thorny fruit –now ripening right before harvest– could be seen all over. Ripe yellowish bursts on the ground. An impossibly green arcade over my head. Suddenly, the mountains sank to form the leafy and shadowy Genal valley. After a bend, almost out of nowhere, I could see the white hamlet. Leave your car at the small parking esplanade. If you try to drive on, you’ll regret it, for the streets are really steep and really narrow. If you can find no space on the esplanade, park by the side of the road. Benalauría must be done on foot, as you take in every corner, enjoy every surprise, marvel at the colourful explosion of bougainvilleas, sniff at the ancient aromas, stop at the little squares… It’s a tireless town. A town to sharpen your senses.

The Tour

My tour began right where I’d left my car. At the entrance to town I saw a wall map showing the municipality. I took note of where I was and what I should see. Also, at the Benalauría Tourist Office you can get a user-friendly street map displaying two possible itineraries. If you want to know the Tourist Office’s hours, call the Town Hall at (+34) 952 152 502. The street maps are also available at other points, such as Mesón La Molienda (more about it later). So right ahead of me there was a real maze, a charming cluster of houses climbing the sierras and looking Valle del Genal in the eye. Just one step ahead and I was sucked into a world of ancient perfumes, old-time scents, and country art. In August, Benalauría has its Festival of Moors and Christians: residents put on traditional costumes and recreate historical facts, mixed with legend and oral traditional. After taking my first step into Benalauría, I could feel its Moorish essence. I even thought I’d seen ghost in a djellaba, swaying in the rustling wind. The streets guided me around. Benalauría opened up for me to see its streets, bursting with flowers. In the autumn light, the town looked particularly intense. Down Calvario Street, I came to Naturarte, an arts & crafts market, whose wall sign read “Museum of Ethnography/ Eighteenth-century oil mill/ Ask at the shop/ Tel.: 616 179 730 – 646 028 992/ Ticket price: €2 per person and €1 (for groups of 15 people or more)/ Naturarte: Up the street, first building on the right. I climbed up the street and found the first building on the right. How disappointing! The shop was closed. When I called the phone numbers in the sign, a girl told me the owners had travelled to Algatocín for a gathering of associations. She asked if I’d be around for a while and I replied I was leaving after lunch. She told me to call after lunch to see if they’d come back. I took mental note. I walked on along Calvario Street until I came to Plaza Teniente Viñas, in front of the Town Hall square. It was a secluded corner dominated by the Fuente Grande, whose five spouts were gurgling with water. To the left, the Tourist Office and on top of it, the Town Library –a stone building adjoining the Town Hall square. In the square, I noticed a series of clefts on one wall; they were rectangles carved in the stone. Long ago, they were used as bullfighter barriers in amateur bullfights. The Town Hall had an austere eighteenth-century façade whose grilled balconies preceded the Municipal Archives. A usual meeting point in autumn, the square showed its prettiest face today. I skirted the Town Hall down Iglesia Street and lost myself in the urban maze, contemplating the colourful flower pots, the popular architecture features in the houses –roofs, tile eaves, frontages. I was suddenly struck by a strong smell: puchero, a wise mix of hearty ingredients capped off by mint. It was an old, well-known smell, evoking fond memories. The only element missing in the perfect puzzle that Benalauría makes. Wherever I gazed at the fleeting streets into the horizon, my eyes were met by a swarm of chestnuts. I walked on to reach the Church of Santo Domingo, which should be accessed through a side gate opening on to a little square. It was a simple, sober eighteenth-century temple with salmon-coloured edges inside, featuring a prepossessing altar. A woman was arranging some flowers before it. I approached her and we talked about the church, the town, the chestnuts. The church smelled of fresh paint and some of the grilles had been recently repaired. It all looked shiny and brand-new. I went out and lost myself again in the labyrinth. I didn’t follow any fixed itinerary; instead, I just wandered about, enjoying the views, spying on some corner, marvelling at some sophisticated row of balconies, moving up and down. The fog was lifting from the valley as the hills looked steaming hot. Fog shreds got caught in the chestnuts. Time for lunch.

Traditional Meal at Mesón La Molienda

I had heard about Mesón La Molienda even before coming to Benalauría. Everybody knew it and knew how to get to it. It was a carefully decorated restaurant in a converted olive oil mill: stone walls painted in blue, yellow, lilac. Stone + wood, and things exhibited on the walls. An original yet authentically Andalusian building, with little tables on a terrace commanding impressive views of Valle del Genal, which was also inscribed on the menu. I was taken to the main dining room and sat at a coquettish table where a stone olive mill used to stand. I was given a traditional menu promising real foods and genuine flavours with the right modern touch. It included butchered meat, Iberian pork sirloin with fried home-grown tomatoes, Iberian tenderloin stuffed with chestnuts, lamb in almond sauce, venison with cinnamon, and so on. All the dishes were briefly described and their origins mentioned. I ordered an orange salad (orange segments with onion and mint), sopa de olla (€3.50), hot gazpacho (served in dornillos, that is, traditional wooden bowls used for Serrano soup, €5), lamb stew with chestnuts (€9.50), and grilled lamb chops in jabata sauce (a Benalauría-exclusive cold marinade made with vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, Murcia peppers, and spices, €9), three beers, and a bottle of water. The bill = €39.50. Excellent price for such great quality. The flavours connected me to old popular traditions. I looked out the window and noticed the fog had seized the whole town.


After lunch, I walked along deserted streets in silence. A thunderous storm could be heard in the sky. The clouds created a withdrawn, evocative atmosphere. Valle del Genal, the hills emerging from it, the thick chestnuts, the nearby villages. I looked back at the white hamlet perched on the mountain slopes. The flavours of tradition were still fresh in my mouth; the smells of the past hadn’t vanished from my clothes. I could only think of one thing: I’d have to come back. When I came home, I had a message in my answering machine: the owners of Naturarte said they were back in Benalauría. What a good excuse to return some day…

Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to see: Festival of Moors and Christians: In the first week of August, Benalauría has one of its major fiestas. Visitors play their part in this big town festival, as they are “kidnapped” to make their contributions at the church. The festival is basically a recreation of the 1570 riots in the sierras, when the Moors and the Christian army came face to face after a revolt by the former. The final act is the qa’id’s elegy to his homeland, which he was forced to leave. On the ground floor of the Town Hall there’s a Visitors Centre where you can find more information. For opening hours, call (+34) 952 152 502. For further information, visit, where you’ll find a lot of contents on this fiesta, including its origin and history.
What to do: Rural Tourism: There’re lots of rural tourism activities to do and accommodations to stay in Benalauría. The lodgings are equipped with all the necessary amenities. Just Google “Benalauría turismo rural” and you’ll see. Art: Valle del Genal has been chosen by many artists as their place of residence. There’re many art or arts & crafts shops in the towns in this region. In Benalauría there’re two: Naturarte (+34 952 152 543) and Artexperiencia (+34 627 333 792).
When to come: All times of year are good, but in autumn, the landscape takes on a special tone. If you’re coming in this season, bring your raincoat, warm clothes, a camera, and binoculars.
Useful links: My web guides to Benalauría have been the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Benalauría Town Hall.

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, 20 October 2009

Benahavís: narrows and rivers. Benahavís: a village rocked in the cradle of the sierras. Benahavís: a resounding, unmistakably Arabic name. Benahavís: sweet, simple, compound smells. Benahavís: restaurants and a rich gastronomy. Benahavís: adventures and ponds named after young girls. Benahavís: a town gazed at by history and watched by the Montemayor castle.

Las Angosturas (the narrows) and Charco de las Mozas

The road that brought me to Benahavís became narrower by the mile –in a conspiratorial wink to the narrows in the area, as if erasing my traces in an attempt to keep the white hamlet impervious to my dust. The road snaked up the mountain slopes; there was no moment when I could see my final destination. My car was engulfed in the bright-green throes of the stone crags –real jaws ready to rip me apart. I stopped at one of the lookouts before coming to the town centre. The silence was overwhelming, until I could hear one of the first autumn breezes whistling through the river bed, creating old mellifluous sounds, accompanied by the lilting rustle of branches. Rocky outcrops loomed over the ravine. I followed my Pied-Piper of Hamelin to the heart of the sierras.

Going Down

Suddenly, a group of boisterous hikers appeared out of nowhere in the quiet landscape. They were steeping stones down the river, a sort of impossibly old water park –man casting adrenaline spells to conjure up the power of mighty nature. There were about ten of them. They were young, encouraged by a couple of older tourists. Standing on a rock, some of them dived into a cold, dark green pool known as Charco de las Mozas. The rest cheered them on, excited at the possibility of overcoming fear and giving in to vertigo. They looked at me, waved goodbye, and kept jumping. This is one of Benahavís’s strengths: adventure sports. They include rafting down the river Guadalmina, which experts consider to be ideal for this kind of endeavours. There are companies, like Exploramas or Aljibe, which offer guided rafting tours of this river. It looks easy, but you’d better be well trained and bring along someone who knows their way around. Leaving nature’s narrows behind, I drove on.

Arrival and Parking

Hidden behind the last bend, Benahavís was ready to welcome me: a white hamlet climbing up the slopes from the river Guadalmina to Montemayor, where I could see the ruins of the former castle, fortress, and watchtower. A roundabout featuring a tower-shaped fountain redirects the road to the town centre (straight ahead). I drove ahead. I found lots of free parking spaces in the early streets, but I decided to drive a little bit farther in, until I reached the centre. To the right, there was the Spanish-Arab School of Mediterranean Gastronomy. I had to turn right into a pretty narrow stretch, then left again, and finally I got off the car. I chose to park here to begin my tour in a modern garden of tinkling water, heading for the main square and into the intricate maze of streets. So I parked. I was a shiny autumn day. Probably conditioned by Benahavís nickname –“The Dining Room of the Costa del Sol” or “The Eatery of the Costa del Sol”–, I smelled pleasant aromas hailing from some kitchen. I didn’t give in to temptation then, but I’d later be able to tell the nickname was fair enough.


My tour began at the park linking the lower and the upper parts of town. It was a paved park with wooden paths; I could hear the murmur of water amidst the multiple flowers. There were benches and a fountain, too. Suddenly, I was wrapped in an all too pleasant atmosphere. I took Del Pilar Street up, and after 20m I stumbled upon a sixteenth-century palace to the left. It was an odd building, with dark stone walls that stood in sharp contrast to the white window frames. I was a simple building too, a square tower and a rectangle built in the same fashion. Books said it was built in Nasrid style, and it was true it took you book to those fascinating times. It now housed the Benahavís Town Hall. Walking on, I came to Plaza de España. I began to check for myself one of thing that’d made this town famous worldwide: the proliferating restaurants and bars, serving a wide range of regional specialties. There were many visitors already having snacks under colourful sunshades. A street on the right took me to the main thoroughfare, where the Parish Church of Virgen del Rosario was. On the main street I found a kiosk and a post office to buy and send my usual postcard. Next to the post office there was one of the flight of steps to access the little square in front of the parish church. Inside, the temple was simple, impeccably white. The high altar was dominated by a stone mosaic, whereas the side walls bore tile panels telling the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ. The church’s simple and well-defined lines lent it an air of transcendence, a sort of mysticism you couldn’t but feel. I went out. Benahavís’s more modern districts had evolved to fit the older parts of town. Most buildings close to the historic quarter were low white houses behind iron-grilled windows, with shadowy courtyards and fountains. Before choosing your place to eat, walk around for a while. There’re so many choices that you can take mental note of those dishes or specialties you’ll try some other time. I’d already made up my mind, though.

Lunch and Treat at Los Abanicos

My choice was Los Abanicos on Málaga Street. I’d heard about it and its great food. It was quite expensive –but worth the money. Excellent service and a long, long menu specialising in charcoal-grilled meat. Warning: all meat dishes incorporate homemade French fries, steamed vegetables, Basmati rice with parsley and garlic or raisins, garlic bread, and pâté. So be careful with what you order. Moreover, helpings are generous indeed. If you’re ordering for two, then one starter and two main courses are enough. Prices range from €8 for marinated anchovies to €28 for veal steak. My order was: Caprese salad (tomato, cheese, basil, avocado, and balsamic vinegar, €9), suckling pig (one of the restaurant’s specialties, €22), charcoal-grilled entrecote (€14), 2 bottles of water, and three beers plus cover charge. The bill = €69.55. The Caprese salad was fresh, delicate, delicious; the suckling pig, juicy and crunchy; the entrecote, done to a turn. With a full and happy belly, I wondered, “Is this bill worth the while.” “Oh, yeah.” It was not every day that I treated myself to such culinary pleasures.

A Walk to Torre Leonera

I walked all the food down getting to the garden I’d seen earlier in the town end roundabout: Torre Leonera. It was a beautiful park featuring a grassy lawn, benches in the shadow, ancient olive trees, and workout devices for children and grown-ups. There were also an amphitheatre and a little lake that helped keep the place cool. Its main draw is Torre Leonera, a watchtower that used to be part of the fortification belt protecting Benahavís in the times of the Christian against Moorish wars, and also against Napoleon’s troops and Spanish standing army. Now all those wars are dead and buried, but Leonera is still standing –peaceful, quiet, silent, detached.


I went back for my car. The walk had cleared my head. I bade farewell to Benahavís with the feeling I’d been to a nice place. The winding road was calling me in, and I could hear the wind again, delving into the narrows rushing for the source of the river Guadalmina. I was elated, feeling a powerful connection with nature. The Pied-Piper of Hamelin allured me to return. And I will.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Adventure sports: The river Guadalmina is one of the greatest places for active travel fans in Andalusia. Rafting down the river is apt for beginners, which makes it even more attractive. Turn to active travel companies like Exploramás or Aljibe for tours, instructors, and gear.
Where to eat: Benahavís’s eat-out options cover a wide range of tastes and budgets. The best thing to do is walk around and have a look at the menus. Most eateries serve quality food.
Useful links: This time I used the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board (my faithful guide) and that of the Benahavís Town Hall.

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, 13 October 2009

Hins Qannit: A town on a crenellated hillock, watching time go by. Hins Qannit: A town of Moors and Christians; a town of wars and borders. Hins Qannit: A town with an eventful past and a powerful present. Hins Qannit: A town that is now Cañete la Real. Hins Qannit: A town with the countryside at its feet. Hins Qannit: The town the Arabs, the Castilians, and now travellers surrender to. Hins Qannit: A town where past and present come together in delicious intertwining. Cañete la Real: A town to discover; a town to enjoy. Cañete la Real: A town that used to be Hins Qannit.

Getting Closer: First Impressions

Deep, bright yellow. Corn and olive trees. These were the visual stimuli that prevailed on my way to Cañete la Real. Modern yet Quixotic mills moved their sails to the rhythm of the wind. The undulating hills rolled up and down, giving rise to a peaceful landscape. This, however, used to be a border area, stained with blood shed in war, marked by never-ending and unfinished battles, home to the Arabs and Moors, and the Christians from Castile. In Roman Times, Cañete la Real was Flavia Sabora, a town where you could smell winnowed wheat. It was a white spot resting on mountain-wrapped cradle. A square tower stood out, stout, austere, upright. I could imagine a lookout up there, maybe Umar ibn Hafsun himself, looking into the horizon. As I approached the town, its skyline becomes overwhelming. The countryside lying just in front of the Antequera region lay before me.

The Architectural Show

Following directions, I came to the town centre and parked my car by the Church of San Sebastián. The Town Hall square was a little bit ahead. There were many parking spaces along the street leading to it. As soon as I got off my car, I marvelled at what I saw. Stately façades to the right and left, majestic, powerful, well-kept eighteenth-century houses. To the left, the Convent of Santísimo Sacramento. Behind my back, the Church of San Sebastián, an almost ethereal building reaching for the bright blue sky whose deep red, yellow, and blue-trimmed frontage and tower stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the shades. The main access dominated the street, which thus became a sort of threshold. Inside, the church was profusely decorated, brimming with flower scents. The high altar was delicate, bearing the typical ornaments prior to the Festival of the Virgen del Cañosanto, the town’s Patroness. The festival takes place on the third weekend of September, so zillions of bunches of flowers had been gathered. The church itself was neither overdecorated nor affected. In fact, this is something that can be said of the whole of Cañete la Real: everything –and everyone–, from the remarkable architecture to the warm people, was simple and natural. A parishioner told me that there’d be a novena at ten in the evening, adding that the church would fill with people and be fully illuminated, which is when it’s at its best. I took a couple of pictures and went out into the stately –almost overwhelming– street. My eye was caught by a somewhat dilapidated blue house, whose glass and leaden balconies lean on to the street. Its Indies air captivated me. Its colour and structure, the patio I could guess there was inside… I felt under the effect of a magnet. The house stood in stark contrast to all the rest, which were impossibly white. Maybe it was its colour, evoking the bright blue sky and the Mediterranean, or maybe it was its Castilian style, but this house plunged me into the world of Al-Andalus. I walked on towards Plaza de Andalucía, skirting the Carmelite Convent of Santísimo Sacramento y Santa Teresa, established in 1662. The door was ajar for visitors to come in and buy sweets (from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). A plate in the main hall over the hole in the door for the sweets you buy asked visitors to make their orders during opening hours and, if possible, on Sundays. So I chose not to bother the quiet nuns and continued with my tour of Cañete la Real.

Towards the Castle

From Plaza de Andalucía, with the Town Hall on the right, there’re three ways to get to the castle, one by car and two on foot. The first route on foot goes through an archway preceding an uphill cobblestone street behind a statue of the Virgen del Cañosanto. 20 or 30m after the archway, you come to a fork. Take the 180º bend into Porras Street. You’ll see the castle’s gate to the left. Then it’s easy: you just have to walk in its shadow. The second walking route consists in walking on along the Town Hall street and take Porras Street to the right. The rest is the same as in the other route. Either takes 10’ to get to the place where they say it all started in Cañete la Real: the Hins Qannit Castle.

Hins Qannit Castle

The castle afforded impressive views of the landscape. The horizon looked like a never-ending line up here. It was an inversion of what I’d seen when I came to Cañete la Real. Now I was being cradled by the mountains; I was on the lookout; I was a descendant of Umar ibn Hafsun. I could see the corn fields stretching out before me with the imposing mountains in the background. I’d seen pictures of this beautiful place I was now looking at. In winter, Cañete’s roofs are laden with snow. The church’s red façade shines brightly. The plains below make a huge white blanket. It must be spectacular. Now it was the last of summer, so the land was dressed in ochre and yellow. I stood in the battlements, behind the walls of the reconstructed castle. The information boards explained each room for me as I approached the Homage Tower –a majestic square tower featuring the tiniest of windows; all in all, the main watchtower in town. The tower housed a visitor centre, “Los Vigías del Territorio,” showing Cañete la Real and the region of Guadalteba’s historical heritage. Here I met Gerardo, who came with me on a guided tour. The first floor was dedicated to Prehistory and Antiquity (Flavia Sabora was Hans Qannit’s extension for some time. It was closer to water and, therefore, to crops. With strife and revolts, residents reverted to higher ground, where they were better protected. The rooms displayed period coins and tools. The second floor was the realm of Al-Andalus, present in its everyday objects: coins, needles, thimbles, vessels, amphorae. Gerardo gave painstakingly detailed explanations of each piece, until a band of boisterous motorcyclists demanded his presence. I took the third floor on my own: besiege arm replicas –real engineering ingenuities in aid of warfare. The walls displayed the castles that were erected in the region and the revolts in those years. I watched a 10’ documentary on the history of Cañete la Real, introducing the main sights and periods in its history. On my way out I bumped into the noisy motorcyclists again. I said goodbye to Gerardo and left. The Hins Qannit Castle is a fine example of monument rehabilitation and use as a cultural resource or tourist attraction. The castle’s hours are Tue-Sat, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sun, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Mon, closed, except on holidays (Phone number: +34 952 713 475).

Down to Town, Convent of San Francisco, and Night Club

I went back to the town centre down Porras Street, which led to the Town Hall street. Getting lost in this delicious maze was one of the best things that’d ever happened to me. Most houses were in good condition. They’d been taken care of throughout the ages. Some showed their patios through their open doors –cool, shadowy, flowery. Neighbours greeted me affably. The cobblestones brought Cañete’s stately nature out, whereas the garlands announcing the fiesta on Saturday added a casual touch. I came to the Town Hall, past the municipal warehouses –undergoing rehabilitation– to the right. I went down Conde de las Infantas Street, leading to a little square in front of the Convent of San Francisco. It was an austere, stout building featuring a bell-less belfry and a door with a simple lintel. A plate by the door read that the convent used to adjoin cloisters that’d been once used as a night club, until local authorities converted them to cultural venue. The walk had given me an appetite. After a makeshift poll, I chose my bar, at the far end of a short climb: Bar Andaluz.

Lunch and Chat at Bar Andaluz

I have to apologise for not including pictures of my lunch: my chat with the bar’s owner, Juanma, made me forget all about my camera, and then I was so busy eating! Bar Andaluz is a typical popular tavern attended by local patrons and out-of-towners alike, who order beer and tapas. It has a boisterous, cheerful, relaxed atmosphere, with everyone speaking loudly and light-heartedly. I ordered two small bottles of beers and two tapas: black pudding and mackerel. “We’ve run out of black pudding, but instead you can take Iberian sausage. You won’t regret it,” said Juanma. “Iberian sausage, then,” I agreed. “By the way, what are mogollones?” (It was written on the menu board and I couldn’t figure out what it was.) “Sweet red peppers, lots (mogollón) of them,” he boasted. Then Juanma talked about Cañete: how it was a must-visit, how they were getting ready for fiesta on Saturday, what the town looked like then. While we talked, he brought more tapas –anchovies, Navarra cheese– and more beer –only larger bottles this time. He loved his hometown, you could tell. He served patrons and returned to my table to go on talking. I told him about this blog project and he asked me to paint a nice picture of Cañete. As he insisted, I ensured I’d wholeheartedly encourage my readers to come. “For a friend, everything,” I borrowed Juanma’s words. The talk went on and on and on. I thought that maybe the third Saturday of September would be a good day to come to Cañete. For the fiesta.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What else to see: In Cañete la Real you can also visit the municipal district of Ortegícar, in the vicinity of former Flavia Sabora. There’s a watchtower and a Roman bridge to see.
Useful links: The website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board has been my guide when planning this trip. The Cañete la Real Town Hall website and that of Red Patrimonio Guadalteba contain interesting information as well.

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, 6 October 2009

Maybe he even paid tribute to Virgen de la Fuensanta. Maybe he tasted the local food in Plaza del Pescao. Maybe he visited the Hospital of Caridad or the Church of San Andrés, getting down his knees and saying a prayer or two. Maybe he strolled quietly down the streets. Maybe he drafted some of his novels, stories, or poems here. Maybe. It’s only speculation: travellers will never be sure of which streets were trodden upon and which corners were visited by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra when he came to Coín in 1594 as a Tax Commissioner. But dreaming is free, and it’s nice to think that today I might be stepping on the same cobblestones trampled on by Cervantes so long ago. It makes my heart flutter. I’m feeling like a Quixotic knight.

Arrival, Parking, Start

Coín has grown into a town squeezing new parts into old ones, in an interplay of antiquity and modernity, presenting visitors with a wide range of quality services alongside the decadent flavour of living history. Coming to the municipal area, I followed directions to the town centre, which took me to Plaza de la Villa and the surrounding area. As I failed to park here, I went to the public car park in the square, complementary to the outdoor shopping centre in downtown Coín. I wanted to find my way to a Tourist Information Office, get a map, and identify the sights of interest. Locals are kind and friendly. They easily directed me across the main avenue and Plaza del Pescado, past the Church of San Juan Bautista on the left, to the Tourist Office. A big sign showed where it was. My joy, however, lasted only a few seconds, since the office was closed (open Mon-Fri, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.). I’d have to rely on street boards then. Anyway, it was a small town and I couldn’t get lost. Later I was to find out that you can get free maps in newsstands. I decided to take the Church of San Juan Bautista first, as I was standing opposite its side door.

The Church of San Juan Bautista and the Tiny Virgen de la Fuensanta

Warning: The main access to the Church of San Juan Bautista opening onto Plaza del Pescao, is usually closed, so you’re advised to use the side doors. I came in from the right, only to be met with the hustle and bustle of women working on flowers decorating the benches or tidying up a small chapel to the left of the high altar. I knew that Coín’s Virgen de la Fuensanta has thousands of devotees. The processions to Her chapel are major events. I also knew this minute Virgin –only 11cm tall– was found by an old Christian or soldier taking part in the Reconquista, in the late fifteenth century. But knowing is one thing and seeing is another. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the chapel to the left of the high altar: a filigree gold and silver float carefully adorned with flowers and a crystal niche in the middle holding a tiny figure sporting an even tinier crown. The women who were cleaning the chapel invited me to climb the steps and get a closer view of the Virgin. It’s difficult to match the sculpture’s size and the strong feelings it aroused. “Do you like it?,” one of the women asks. “Yes, I do. I really do,” I reply. “At the procession we take the niche out and are allowed to kiss Her. We can see Her close up then. We can catch those little glittering eyes of Her,” she adds in ecstasy. “You’re really devoted to Her, aren’t you?,” I enquire. “Oh, yes. But it’s not just us who live in Coín. People come from all over the world to say their prayers, ask for their families’ well-being, make promises. We’re devoted to Her. Yes, we are.” After a few more minutes’ chat, we were told that the Virgen de la Fuensanta chapel on the outskirts of town can be visited on Wednesdays and Sundays, but no visitors are allowed to come in. “It’s very beautiful out there too,” one of the women concluded. I thanked them for what they’d told me and went out for breakfast.

Breakfast in the Square

Upon a local woman’s advice, I was not to lose sight of the church. So I sat down in its shade at La Cueva del Monaguillo, a bar serving breakfast from early in the morning and tapas after 1:00 p.m. I’d already bought my postcard and paid postage (€0.40 + €0.32), so this was a good time to scribble on it. I began with my usual opening: “My journey across the 101 townships in Málaga Province has brought me to Coín this time…” Between one sentence and the next I order a Cola soda, a beer, a Serrano ham and tomato sandwich, and a cheese and bacon sandwich. My bill = €5.30. While eating and chatting, I planned the rest of the morning. I could feel some cool air in this place secluded from the busy main street while still close to it. I finished my breakfast and went on.

La Encarnación, the Hospital of Caridad, and the Church of San Andrés

Down the road adjoining the Tourist Office I came to a plate announcing the family house of Antonio Reyna Manescau. According to the information given at García Agüera Foundation, Reyna Manescau was born in Coín in 1859 and died in Rome in 1937. He was one of the greatest nineteenth-century landscape painters in Andalusia. He showed his skill early on in life. Trained at the Málaga Academy, in 1885 we travelled to Venice, where he got acquainted with the corners that he never stopped painting in a refined style. This earned him the name “The Painter of Venice.” Walking on to the right along Santa María Street, I came to La Encarnación –originally, a mosque, then a Franciscan monastery, then a Baroque cloistered convent, and finally an art gallery, open only when exhibitions are on. This is the heart of Coín’s old quarter: lots of alleys beginning in little squares, lots of old houses rehabilitated or awaiting rehabilitation, lots of twists and turns, lots of broken or interrupted paths, lots of cool big patios shyly leaning onto the streets… This Coín must be quite similar to the one in 1773 which, following historians, had 700 gardens, 14 oil mills, 20 flour mills, and so on. The setting helped me created the right frame of mind to travel back in time. Walking down Doctor Palomo y Anaya Street, I could see the belfry of the Church of San Andrés and Hospital of Caridad: a white tower jutting out amidst modern buildings against the bright blue sky. The access to the church is low and narrow. I went in to find an extremely humble, low-ceiling temple. It’s one of the seven L-shaped churches in Andalusia –one wing for the ailing and the sick, the other for church goers. I was overwhelmed. I took my time to go about the church. I could see the old columns behind the newly erected walls, hidden behind a thick layer of lime and sand. The old stone and brick walls and elaborate columns were laid bare during rehabilitation work, which naturally came to a halt. Now they show, stressing the decadent atmosphere of the whole building. You can still attend mass in this church.

Virgen de la Fuensanta Chapel and Farewell

I came out of the Church of San Andrés and headed for Plaza de la Villa, where I’d left my car. Following the church women’s advice, I wanted to visit the Virgen de la Fuensanta chapel. I paid my parking fee (€2.50) and hit the road to Marbella, past Cruz de Piedra restaurant. Before reaching the crossroads, I turned right. The place is signposted but not clearly visible. Driving along the local asphalt road, I had to look for the next sign, indicating where the chapel was (to the right). I drove past an open-air cave featuring a replica of the Virgin’s image behind bars. This was the place where She first appeared. At the far end of the road I could see the empty structure of the marquees set up in the area for the procession in early June. The esplanade kindled ambivalent feelings in me. The chapel was perched on the slopes of a mountain, perfectly white and preceded by a little square. It was a quiet setting. The breeze brushed past the trees bringing echoes of distant fiestas, hand clapping, traditional songs, laughter, voices. The marquees were empty, but the festive atmosphere could be felt as a distant murmur. I could even feel the presence of pilgrims passing by, their devotional tears brought from far-away lands… I had a look at the immaculate pale chapel. I looked up at the bright blue sky. I gazed at the mountainous horizon beyond. I sat down and closed my eyes, wrapped in the mystic air.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: The Tourist Office on Teniente Coronel de la Rubia Street is open Mon-Fri from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Phone: +34 952 453 211.) You can also get free maps in most main street newsstands, though.
What else to see: In the vicinity of the town there’s Ciudad del Cine, a resort where TV series –like Arrayán by Televisión de Andalucía– are usually being shot. It’s like a traditional Andalusian village. When they aren’t being used, sets are open to visitors. Close to Ciudad del Cine there’s El Nacimiento, a recreational area around the source of the spring providing the whole town with drinking water.
Useful links: As usual, the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board is a good starting point. The Coín Town Hall website is also a useful source. To read more about painter Antonio Reyna Manescau, go to the website of García Agüera Foundation.

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.