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.