Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Alto Genal is an overwhelmingly beautiful place all year round. I drove amidst carob trees and holm oaks, and olives and blossoming almond trees… I’ve left Faraján behind and now, in this bright sunny winter morning, I’m heading for my next destination: Atajate. I must drive along the winding roads of Alto Genal to reach the village –roads opening to new landscapes: solid mountains, temperate skies, wild nature and human hands, yellow flowers spreading across the fields, blooming almond trees in white and lilac dancing to the rhythm of the breeze, granite peaks, white hamlets floating in the air like ships aground… I drove slowly, cautiously and pleasantly, stopping here and there to take in the landscape, take pictures, let the harmonious place bewitch me. I drove by Alpandeire and its stout church –the most important religious building in the region, in terms of both size and historical value. I looked at the clustered homes in the meadows, sheltered by the massif of Serranía de Ronda. I took more pictures. Then I drove on, and the landscape morphed. A new horizon emerges as you leave Alpandeire behind and get into the heart of the sierras. Plants and trees give way to rocks, bare peaks, and grey shades. The harsh views were charmingly desolate, beautifully primitive. I drove into the road connecting Ronda with Algeciras towards Atajate, where I’d come across sweet surprises.

Atajate: A Name and A Church

Atajate leans against the hillside, standing on a sort of natural watchtower looking the Genal Valley in the eye. The tower of its church is clearly visible, rising up against the bright blue sky. I took the first exit leading to town and parked on the main street, by a fountain-cum-washing place built in 1932 (or so legend has it). Next to the fountain there’s a little playground and a few wrought-iron benches where you can take a rest on hot summer days. The town is quiet; life seems to go by peacefully here. Its name is Arabic in origin –“Athaxat”–, and the town belonged to the network of fortifications transferred by the King of Granada to the Benimerine ethnic group in the thirteenth century. Atajate is the village with the lowest number of dwellers in Málaga Province –130 in 2009 (SIMA data)– and one of the smallest ones in terms of surface area (10.9 square kilometres). The hamlet that climbs a rocky mound has one highlight: the Church of San Roque. It was built back in the seventeenth century but needed rehabilitation in the nineteenth. Ochre trimmings frame the belfry tower and the portal, highlighting the contrast with the green mountains in the background.

A Bakery and a Woman Called Josefa

Across the street from the church, there lies one of Atajate’s icons: Panadería Rocío. Tempted by the quesos de almendras announced on a notice board above the shop (which, despite the name, have nothing to do with cheese), I walked in to find a wide array of breads and rolls. Sweet tooth’s heaven, diabetics’ hell. The bakery was small, and it was also a grocer’s shop. Its main attraction was the rolls, pastries, and cookies on the counter. An old woman served the customers, doing her sums with a pen and a sheet of paper: “Three plus two, five, plus one, six… The ones over there are more expensive because they have almonds, these here are cheaper because they are butter cookies. Where was I? Ah, yes, six…” She served a woman and then it was my turn. The assistant was called Josefa. She wore thick glasses, which concealed her witty, playful eyes. I made my order: “I’ll take one almond cheese and then two of these, two of these, to of those, and two of these.” I pointed at my choices. “The madalenas and suspiros I can’t put in a box,” Josefa explained, “for they’ll get squashed, so I’ll put them in a bag.” “What are the suspiros made of?,” I asked. “Well, just that, suspiros, sighs,” she laughed. Then she remarked that people came from distant villages to buy her sweets, which were popular all over the region. “The thing is, here we use natural ingredients only. No chemicals at all, and it shows,” she said proudly. I bought 1 queso de almendras (€8), 8 assorted pastries (€7.57), more assorted pastries (€6.84). When I left the bakery, I couldn’t hide my big smile. Back at home in the evening, I ate my queso de almendras. I read its label: “No milk,” it said. Cheese without milk? I opened it. Its smell was sweet. I cut it with a knife. I took a bite. It tasted like marzipan! And it was really delicious.

A Stroll in Atajate

The mountains wrap Atajate in an endless embrace. All the streets are dressed in cobblestones. They’re narrow, and they seem to snuggle up against one another. Old, stone constructions lend the town an austere yet genuine appearance. I came to Plaza de la Constitución, which is dominated by a huge stone cross. A girl was playing with her tricycle, her mother sitting in a nearby bench. Silence and harmony reigned supreme. The peaks of the surrounding mountains were the landscape’s most remarkable feature. Atajate has its own Torcal, Paraje de los Tajos –a thicket and rock puzzle resembling the site in Antequera. The place affords stunning views of Genal and Serranía de Ronda. The best way to reach it is ask locals, who’ll willingly give you directions to follow. Across Plaza de la Constitución there’s the higher part of town, culminating in the cemetery. After a few days of heavy rain, the sun today is warming drying clothes in many balconies and gardens. Red, pink, white, yellow, green, turquoise… a huge fabric filling the streets with the pleasant smell of conditioner. I went down and across the square again, towards Sauquillo Street. There was a viewpoint 30m ahead. I sat on a bench, enjoying new panoramic views of Atajate –different, tighter if possible. I looked at my watch. Instinct never fails. Time for lunch.

Lunch at the Crossroads

Following Josefa’s advice, I ate at Mesón de los Pilarejos, at the exit of town towards Algeciras, at the crossroads leading to the river Guadiaro, Jimera de Líbar, Cortes de la Frontera, Benaoján, and Cueva de la Pileta, or Montejaque-El Hundidero. You can’t miss it, for there’s just one crossroads, and it’s signposted by a holm oak growing on a mound. I walked in. The mesón had a large dining room and huge windows overlooking Atajate and Genal, a cork oak grove delving into the heart of the valley. The menu contained a wide array of soups, salads, chopped tomatoes, rabbit in sauce, lamb stew, entrecotes… I ordered a picadillo soup and a leek soup (€3 each), a shoulder steak (€12.50), lamb chops (€11), two 300ml beers (€2), and one 1.5l bottle of water (€1.50). The bill = €33. They serve the soups in lidded clay bowls and the meat with sautéed vegetables and homemade French fries. All the dishes were good.


I hit the road towards Algeciras, leaving Alto Genal and this great winter day behind. I took a final look at Atajate at the crossroads, standing on the rocky mound, and Alpandeire and Faraján beyond and maybe Pujerra higher up. I drove past Benadalid and the detour for Benalauría, past Algatocín and the detours for Genalguacil and Jubrique, past the detours for Benarrabá and Cortes de la Frontera. I went over the names, which have a melodious echo to them, as if they encompassed old tunes. I could hear old villagers saying them like a litany of nature, history, and life.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to bring: Taking pictures: You must bring a camera if you’re coming to Atajate. The sharp contrasts between the woods and the rocks make the region rich in colour shades, which change with the seasons –from ochre in autumn to white in winter to bright green in spring to brown in the summer.
What to see: Must Fair: Held on the last Saturday of November, it’s a food fair to taste the homemade must prepared by Atajate dwellers, alongside typical dishes. The fair takes place in Plaza de la Constitución, and there’s music all day long. It coincides with the Motorcycling Tour of Valle del Genal and the Guadiaro River –an event drawing hundreds of motorcyclists and culminating in Atajate.
What to do: Hiking: The hiking association Pasos Largos suggests a few routes, such as Atajate-Benadalid/Benalauría (easy) or Atajate-Alpandeire (easy, too). Likewise, there’re three routes recognised by the Andalusian Federation of Mountaineering: Alpandeire-Atajate (PR-A 229), Atajate-Benadalid (PR-A 235), and Atajate-Jimera de Líbar (PR-A 258).
Useful links: Besides the websites included in this blog post, I’ve used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Atajate Town Hall, and a personal blog,

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Arabs called this place “Farhan,” meaning “delightful, cheerful, relaxing place.” The ochre and gold shades that greeted me in Cartajima and Júzcar have been replaced by the white and lilac of almond trees, the green of olives, the grey of bare branches in this rainy winter. The almond trees show their Herculean trunks and delicate branches, their clean network of branches climbing up cobweb-style against the bright blue sky. The earth displays its darkest hues –scented, wet, deep browns… Alto Genal bares its soul frankly and openly. It’s a fascinating landscape.


The fields are green. I’m driving in the shade of the cork oaks flanking the road that connects Faraján with Júzcar. It’s a narrow, winding road, but it’s bright and affords stunning landscapes. I spot Benadalid and Benalauría in the sierras –two ghost hamlets floating above the rocky slopes. In Faraján, I leave my car in a little car park by the town swimming pool. As soon as I get off, I’m seized by a strong smell of chimneys and embers –a sign that winter is still among us, crouching round the corner, despite today’s shining, warming sun. A signpost shows me the way, so down I go. I walk down Corchuelo Street, entering the soberly charming rural world once more. An information board explained some of the features of popular architecture in the area: “Stone, clay, sand and lime, wood, reed, and wrought iron have long been the noble materials combined wisely and easily to make houses that match their setting. (…) These little constructions, slumbering as if rocked by the landscape, are a token of simplicity, economic intelligence, and pure authenticity.” Faraján is a cluster of homes in the midst of a thick wood. My eyes flee across the streets and reach the hills and the horizon. I soon came to Plaza de Andalucía. Tradition and modernity seem to live happily together in this town, where a car and a donkey stand side by side, as if they were drinking from the same trough. Or where the Town Hall building and the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario fight neck to neck to be the finest example of innovative architecture. Two more panels hang from the walls, explaining traditional games like diábolo, chinitas, hopscotch, or pitch-and-toss, and superstitions –e.g. dreaming of chickens, dying on a Sunday, or seeing a priest at dawn are all bad omens. These games and beliefs are still part of the collective memory and, to a lesser extent, of everyday life. It’s good to save these forms of traditional knowledge form oblivion.

The Church and the Road

Since time immemorial, the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario has dominated Plaza de Andalucía. Built in the sixteenth century, renovated two centuries later, and rebuilt later, in fact, this church dates back to Arab times, when it was a mosque. It has only a nave and a flat roof, and a chapel whose elegant vault is trimmed in plasterwork. The best thing about the church, though, is its location, as it rises up against the bright blue sky with the sierras in the background. To the left of the building there’s a street, Camino del Molino, which after only 10m connects with a trail leading to Benalauría. The area is a true paradise. Silence is only broken by the singing of birds and the clucking of hens. The wind is only a soft breeze. The road invites walking. While on the left-hand side of the road there’re the almond groves, to the right the holm oaks and cork oaks are bunched together on the mountain slopes. The concrete trail is protected by a wooden rail fence. The fields are bright green, peppered with yellow flowers –carefully designed gardens and plots. It’s like the Garden of Eden: a place full of trees. I come to a scenic viewpoint and take a seat, wrapped by the colours, aromas, and silence of nature. I fall silent. Then I resume my walk, stepping on the lilac flowers of the almond trees. I can see the sierras ahead, and Benadalid and Benalauría to the right, as if floating in the air. I could keep on walking for ever, reaching whatever places this trail leads to, even coming to Benalauría itself. After a long stretch –which I’ve savoured– I returned to the town centre. The stroll was like a balsam for my senses. The sounds of nature, the hues and shades of the earth, the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin… In Faraján, Mother Nature comes alive. This township bears witness to the peaceful coexistence of man and the environment. Back in town, I watch the belfry of Nuestra Señora del Rosario rise up above everything else, bright and glorious. I take Balastar Street on the right and plunge into the streets.

The Town’s Streets

Faraján is a simple, austere town. It’s a town showing its truest face all the time. It’s a town ready to endure the harshness of winter and to open like a flower on clear, warmer days like today. My wandering mind suddenly comes to a halt, surprised by a tune by Alicia Keys coming from a window, a ringing cell phone, foreign words… Faraján is a town in the heart of the sierras. You can’t visit it just in passing, when you’re travelling somewhere else. And it’s not easily accessible. But it makes up for the difficulties with its authenticity, beautiful landscapes, clean air, and enjoyable colours, smells and flavours. Ernest Hemingway, who was well acquainted with Serranía de Ronda, was in Faraján too, which he described as “a white swan on a pool of hope.” I can think of no better way to describe this village.


I’m leaving Faraján with a sigh. I’m heading for another town in the Serranía. I’m driving towards Alpandeire, still caught in the white and lilac shadows of the almond trees I’ve left behind. I’ll come back –if that were possible, for I already feel I’ll never leave this place.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to eat/buy: Cold meats: Faraján has a long tradition in homemade cold meats. In fact, it’s an ideal place to raise acorn-fed pigs and cure ham and other pork products. The dry cold of the sierras favours natural processes, adding matchless flavours to hams and sausages. There’re many bars and restaurants in town where you can sample local pork products, and also a good many stores to buy them. Moreover, there’s a cold meat factory at the entrance to town.
What to see: Las Chorreras: This spot lies on the outskirts of town, but it can be accessed right from the town centre. Walk down Corchuelo Street and take the last street to the right before getting to Plaza de Andalucía. The Balastar stream gives rise to two amazing 50-metre-high waterfalls. The area also houses the remains of an old Arab mill.
What to do: Hiking: It’s the sport in Faraján. There’re two hiking routes recognised by the Andalusian Federation of Mountaineering –Faraján-Júzcar (PR-A 227) and Faraján-Alpandeire (PR-A 228)–, and many other trails that have been trodden upon by thousands of peasants when going to work in their fields and gardens. Then there’s also de road connecting with Benalauría. Hiking tours need planning, fitness, and the right equipment. For more information, go the websites of the Andalusian Federation of Mountaineering and the Pasos Largos Hiking Association. There’s a town hostel in the back of the church. For more information about it, call the local Town Hall at (+34) 952 180 506.
Useful links: For my trip to Faraján I used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Faraján Town Hall.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

In times of the Phoenicians, Cártama used to be called Cartha, a name meaning “hidden city.” In this foggy, rainy morning, I can understand why. The Chapel of Virgen de los Remedios, rising 300 metres above sea level, is wrapped in thick fog. The walls of the old castle seem to be made of cotton. There’s a mystic, ethereal touch to this town that is also a gate to the Guadalhorce Valley.

Deceitful Cártama

Cártama is a deceitful town: although we can see ever-present architectural signs of progress, the old heart beats inside the town, winding roads hinting at an eventful history. Each beat links modern Cártama to antiquity, and the deeper you go into the town, the thicker the air gets, as if the mirror of the past had left an indelible mark there. I drove into a series of concentric circles as modern buildings and streets cut with a scalpel give way to twisting streets and old constructions. I parked in the town square, by the Church of San Pedro Apóstol. From there, the Chapel of Virgen de los Remedios seemed like a lookout keeping watch of everything and everybody from above. The church door was open, so I walked in. The temple was built under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs in the sixteenth century, using the foundations of an old mosque. Some of the Mudéjar elements have come down to us. “The church has a nave and two aisles, separated by arches supported by rectangular columns. The nave has a wooden ceiling; its high altar houses a Crucified Christ of the early twentieth century,” the information reads. The interior is simple. The columns are trimmed with decorative details and the high altar is incredibly austere. Above, the coffered ceiling is a beautiful wooden structure with flower motifs. The silence in the church was broken by a murmuring woman at prayer at the back. After lighting up a candle, I looked at the praying woman. She was in a small room that seemed to be a burial place, with recesses on both walls displaying family names. I went out and walked to the higher part of town, stopping at the door of a private home whose owner sold postcards and photographs, scapulars, rosaries, and other religious souvenirs over a makeshift counter. I bought my usual postcard and used the counter as my desk, while I chatted with the woman. I chose to write my postcard there for the rain could damage it otherwise. There was a postbox in the square. Cártama’s houses climbed up the mountain slopes. As I got higher, I got wider views of the Guadalhorce Valley and La Hoya de Málaga, peppered with fruit trees. On rainy days, Cártama and the valley look mysterious. Maybe they served as a source of inspiration to present-day minstrel José González Marín, whose improvised poems and songs have gone beyond Cártama’s boundaries. Born in Cártama in 1889, González Marín died in his homeland in 1956. He was friends with Rafael Alberti and Salvador Rueda, and rubbed shoulders with international artists. He was decorated with the Isabel la Católica medal of honour for saving the image of our Lady of Remedies from the flames during the Spanish Civil War. There’re lots of stories about González Marín. You can read some of them in the article “El juglar olvidado.” From the town square, where I’d been to the Church of San Pedro Apóstol, I walked up to Pilar Alto, an old fountain built in 1872 and renovated in 1976. Although a sign indicated the fountain didn’t supply drinking water, I saw a woman filling a 5l bottle. “Isn’t this going to make you sick?,” I asked, “The sign here says it isn’t drinking water.” “I’ve been drinking this water all my life, son, and I’ve never fallen ill,” she replied. I didn’t add a word. After all, experience is the best teacher.

The Chapel of Virgen de los Remedios

Behind Pilar Alto, there was the road leading up to the Chapel of Virgen de los Remedios and the castle. You can only get there on foot (although I was to find a trick later). It was a cobblestone road with steps making the climb more bearable. Climbing up is quite a feat –you have to be on the mood–, but the views are worth it. In fact, it was a mentally rather than physically tiresome endeavour. There were information panels with interesting data, such as the story of the Abencerrajes –a story of love and friendship between Moors and Christians in times of war, a story of honour and valour, of keeping one’s word. I stopped every few steps to take in the landscape, all covered in fog. Slowly but steadily, I came to the top. My reward was an amazing skyline. I made out the Guadalhorce Valley at my feet. I imagined the spectacular views on a clear day and pictured it in my head: Málaga to the right (south); Álora and Pizarra ahead (east); Casarabonela and the first slopes of Sierra de las Nieves to the left (north). However, I could only see fog and mist. I walked into the chapel –a small yet baroque temple whose high altar boasted a small-sized statue of Virgen de los Remedios. From the entrance to the left, there were offerings and requests –scapulars, mementos, rosaries, crosses, new and old photographs. Many of the devotees look really young. Looking at the pictures made me shudder. In the vestry, two old men and a younger one were talking about orders and prices, candles and images. I found it wise to leave so, sheltered under my umbrella, I walked to the castle. It was very easy to get there. There was a panel outside the chapel itself. A flagstone path flanked by a wooden handrail surrounded the mountain where the ruins were located. According to the panel, the castle was 200m away. The castle itself couldn’t be seen, for it was being rehabilitated, but the area gave me an idea of its importance. It was a huge building sitting atop a hill, the rocks around doubling as a defensive wall. A couple of towers and several interior and exterior wall sections were still standing. Touring the place I discovered the trick to reach the chapel without using the steep climb that links it to the town centre. In the back of the castle, there were two country roads that can be used by drivers leading to the heart of Cártama. One of them rolled down amidst blossoming almond trees; the other cut across a bunch of homes. If you came from behind and parked your car there, you could avoid the climb. But you’d also be missing the great views on your way to the chapel.

Bidding Farewell

On coming back, I sat under the shade of a tree. It was raining; the ground was wet, giving off strong old primary smells. The Guadalhorce Valley before us. I fancied field workers looking up at the sky and giving thanks for the rain with a smile, for it’d help crops grow. I pulled up my collar and shook the water out of my raincoat. I could go on enjoying this landscape for a long, long time.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Cártama’s scattered population centres: Besides the town centre, there’re several population centres in this township. The largest one is Estación de Cártama (which originated out of the train station built in 1865). Then there’re El Sexmo, Doña Ana, Aljaima, and Sierra de Gibralgalia.
Roman ruins: Different ruin sites bear witness to the settlement of multiple civilisations. You can still see the arches of a Roman aqueduct or a 1752 boundary cross showing the figures of a population census. The floor plan of the Church of San Pedro Apóstol is Arab in origin, and its tower, although built in 1834, rests on the foundations of an old minaret. These are all examples of Cártama’s having been –and still being– at the crossroads.
What to eat: Try sopa cachorreña and Cártama-style pie. Cártama is also famous for its wide array of traditionally made pork products.
Useful links: In this tour I’ve relied on the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Cártama Town Hall for information.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I left the Mediterranean behind –an old, sparkling mirror– and faced Sierra de las Nieves, with its door to the ocean, Ojén. I passed by Monda and Guaro, Tolox and Alozaina, Yunquera and, finally, came to El Burgo, rocking in the rocky sierras, amidst granite peaks and blooming almond trees. The wild sierras and the delicate, bright colours. In the beating heart of the sierras, this town is linked to Ronda, Antequera, Casarabonela, and the Mediterranean. Chosen by old peoples like the Iberians (who built their forts here), the Romans, then the Arabs, and then the Christians, an oasis in the mountains, a mighty river to quench your thirst, farming lands, El Burgo’s something between old roads and a modern environmental heaven. And, to cap it off, bandit stories to tell around a bonfire or frighten your kids.

First Lights of El Burgo

Immersed in an impressionist palette of colours, I arrived in the centre of El Burgo, having left the countryside, with its 800-metre-high Puerto de las Abejas and mountain slopes peppered with almond trees behind. I drove across the river Turón through the New Bridge and got to the ever-beating heart of the sierras. I parked outside San Agustín School, on Las Erillas Street, opposite the fountain known as “El Conejo” –the old, customary Cañada Real. The centre was clearly signposted, so it’s quite impossible to get lost. I followed the directions to the Historic District, ending up at Plaza de Abajo. The streets were already busy, bearing witness to the town’s vitality, active social life, murmuring everyday activities turning to face the sun, just like sunflowers. Elderly men change seats all the time, always looking for the warmest benches, moving from Plaza de Abajo to Plaza de Arriba along a straight line. They talk in a loud voice, their chats a pleasant soundtrack to my tour. There’re many good places to eat in El Burgo, with menus for all budgets and palates. I turned right into Real Street, one of the main thoroughfares in town, holding the Town Hall building, a newsstand, and a post office. Walking straight ahead, you can get to Plaza de la Villa, but I turned right, following the Ruta de la Acequia del Molino towards the river Turón.

Route of the Irrigation Ditch and Much More…

When your eyes follow the streets fleeing towards the horizon, they stumble upon the rocky mountains and the farming fields. The Ruta de la Acequia del Molino (Irrigation Ditch Tour) runs alongside the river Turón from the New Bridge, amidst the prickly pears that stick to the old wall. It takes you to the old flour factory, then converted to salt factory, which is nothing but a huge mill. Now it’s just a ruinous site, but it used to be of great significance to life in town. I set out on my trip, lulled by the murmur of the Turón, a generous and powerful river flowing down from the mountains. There’re lots of prickly pears around. The tour skirts the lower part of town, revealing part of its past. I negotiated my way about the rocky mounds that jutted out, only to draw in and give way to the mountains and the fields a few metres farther. The tour also takes you to the walls of the old fortress, where you feel really safe. I finally came to the mill’s ruins. A narrow alley flanking one of the walls led to the lower part of town, so then I had to climb back up, surrounded by fragments of the old castle’s walls which are now part of private homes. Walking up Casas Largas Street, I came to Plaza de Arriba. I followed instructions to get to the Church of La Encarnación. El Burgo is a charming country village. It looks authentic and untouched –a feeling that’s emphasised by the majestic mountains. The church, built in the sixteenth century, stands on the ruins of an old mosque –it’s even kept the old minaret, now turned into a belfry. The entrance opens out on a scenic viewpoint affording views of Sierra de las Nieves and its complex relief. The coffered ceiling is quite remarkable: a wood structure forming intricate shapes. The side chapels are dedicated to St Augustine –the patron saint of the village– and to Our Lady Immaculate. In the town centre, the trees bear a tile indicating their features and history. The Tree of Love, for instance, tells a story of gold coins and Judas Iscariot. From Plaza de la Villa, where the Church of La Encarnación is, I walked down Escaloncitos Street and reached the Plazuela, where you can take a look at the castle’s tower, which is better kept than other walls but has nevertheless been swallowed into modern constructions. Returning to Plaza de Arriba, I walked across to visit the Chapel of San Sebastián, adjoining the cemetery. The chapel was commissioned by the Catholic Monarchs in the fifteenth century. Four hundred years later, “it was a meeting point to inform residents of serious affairs after summoning them by ringing bells.” Now the chapel is being renovated. I sat on a wrought-iron bench by the door, enjoying the great views. I walked down and across Plaza de Arriba again, then along Enmedio Street towards the Church of San Agustín. Its belfry tower is finished off with a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who seems to by praying while facing the mountains. The church is modern; it was built in the mid twentieth century, thanks to the efforts made by the successive parish priests to raise funds and get aid from the Franco Administration in the wake of the war. The Church of San Agustín has a sad story. Before the priest’s house came to completion, two children were playing in an open area next to the building where they found a little iron ball. They took it to Porrillo Street, removed the pull string, and the ball went off. It was a grenade from the Spanish Civil War. One of the kids got killed. The church opened on April 27, 1952. Inside, it has a remarkable altarpiece and images of St Augustine, Our Lady of Fátima, St Joseph, and Jesus Christ. After visiting the church, I went down to Real Street, in search for an eatery serving homemade and typical food. However… - “As you can see, I’m not getting any younger; my children don’t live here anymore and I can’t handle both the boarding house and the restaurant. I used to prepare homemade food, oh, yes. Those dishes that have always been made here, just so as keep the tradition alive,” apologised the owner of the Sierra de las Nieves Boarding House and Restaurant. “So could you recommend a place to eat?,” I asked. “Of course, there’re many nice places. The one across the road, the one round the corner, the inn you find upon leaving town… All of them are good,” she replied. I thanked, said goodbye, and decided to do three things: visiting the Scenic Viewpoint of the Forest Ranger, eating at the Venta del Yoni (the inn the woman had talked about), and coming to the Fuensanta Recreational Area in the late afternoon. But first things first: I should find traces of the bandit Pasos Largos and the Roman Bridge before doing all this.

Pasos Largos, the Roman Bridge, and the Scenic Viewpoint of the Forest Ranger

He was a bandit. And, as it always happens with those characters whose shadows are larger than life, some describe him as a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, while others say he was a merciless, bloodthirsty thug who had the Civil Guard on the rack in the Serranía in the early twentieth century. He fought in the Cuban War of Independence, killed two members of the same family, went to jail in 1916, was pardoned in 1932. When free, we went back to his old ways –stealing and poaching. His death in the Cave of Sopalmillos is wrapped in mystery: Was he betrayed by one of his friends? Was he gunned down by civil guards? This is Juan José Mingolla Gallardo, a.k.a. Pasos Largos, and El Burgo pays tribute to him with a statue and an information board. Legends about him still haunt Serranía de Ronda, and grannies still frighten their grandchildren invoking him: “Behave yourself, or Pasos Largos will come and take you away.” The statue and board are at the entrance of town (“El Cruce”), very near the place where I’d left my car. I got on and drove towards Casarabonela. 500 metres more, almost outside of town, I spotted the Roman Bridge. It was a robust construction, built in heavy stone and featuring a single arch. It’s thought to have been part of Via Augusta, leading to Málaga. This is why it was known as “Málaga Bridge.” Since then, it’s been trodden upon by noblemen, laymen, Roman legions, Moors, carts, wagons, donkeys, cars… Pledging to come back soon and follow the road connecting El Burgo with Casarabonela, I retraced my steps by to El Cruce and then drove towards Ronda. Two kilometres after leaving town and driving along a winding road, I came to an open area behind a rocky mound. I parked, got off, and walked down a stone trail around a mount. After skirting the mountain, the trail unveiled a majestic sight before my eyes: the peaks, valleys, and trails of Sierra de las Nieves, decorated with pines, olives, and almond trees. A bird of prey (probably an eagle) flew across the sky above my head. I could hear the murmuring water of a distant river before it became the Turón. I made out the first slopes of the Guadalhorce Valley. The mountain was crowned by a statue of a forest ranger pointing to the horizon. The kid by his side stood for future hope, showing how generations to come will look at this landscape and protect it. I took a rest amidst the rocks, feeling the smooth breeze brush past me. I suddenly realised I was feeling hungry.

Venta del Yoni

Across the town centre lay the inn I’d chosen. Its open area overlooked the old walls, the higher houses, the Church of La Encarnación, the prickly pears, and the bed of the Turón and the Mill Ditch Route below. The place was fantastic –a restaurant serving quick meals and charcoal-grilled meat in summer and spring. The menu surprised me: authentic traditional food, dishes from the sierras, including seven-sprig soup, roast lamb, ajoblanco with apple, and gazpacho... Finding it extremely difficult to resist the temptation, I ordered ajoblanco with apple (€3.50), seven-sprig soup (€5), roast lamb (€10), stewed cheek (€8), a ⅓l beer, and a 1.5l bottle of water. The bill = €29,50. The seven-sprig soup is a hallmark of the sierras, an old subsistence dish turned into tourist attraction. It’s made with stale bread, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, wild asparagus, and a fried egg on top. It reminded me of the hot gazpacho I took in Benalauría. It was delicious –a hearty soup with the taste of the terroir. The seven-sprig soup is so important to El Burgo that the town pays tribute to it on February 28, Seven-Sprig Soup Day, coinciding with the Day of Andalusia. This special day has been designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest. As to the ajoblanco, it was a white soup with juicy apple segments. To the great food –the cheek and the lamb were also delicious–, I must add the good service and the stunning views. Venta del Yoni, a place worth eating at.

Fuensanta Recreational Area

Only 1 kilometre before El Burgo coming from Yunquera, there’s a detour to the Fuensanta and Saucejos Recreational Area . You can get to it through a shady dirt road running alongside a river, which can easily be used by cars. The area is equipped with wooden tables and benches and barbecues. It adjoins the old Fuesanta Mill, a large and austere mill housing public toilets and other facilities inside. One of the walls features an image of Our Lady of Sierra de las Nieves. Mass and a procession in Her honour are held on August 5. There were people in the area. Families and groups of friends. They’d come by car or on foot. They were having a late lunch and chatting the afternoon away. Fuensanta is a popular, easily accessible place for an outing in contact with nature.

So Long, Farewell…

Still savouring El Burgo’s landscapes, I left Fuensanta behind: the scenic viewpoint and the horizon, the forest ranger –a true memory keeper– showing the way to his little disciple… El Burgo got the EU EDEN Award to European Destinations of Excellence in 2008. One year later, it was the recipient of the Award to Research and Training in Tourism, granted by the Andalusian Government. I gazed at the landscape before me and imagined the Iberians, and the Romans, and the Arabs, and Pasos Largos looking at these very sierras, capturing the spirit of the land where they lived and keeping it for generations to come.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: If you like walking for hours on end, then El Burgo is the right place for you. There’re about a dozen hiking trails starting in the town centre and cutting across different areas in the protected natural area of Sierra de las Nieves. They can be short –Los Peñones, El Dique, El Largo or Fuente Nueva–, long –Peñón de Ronda, Sierra de la Cabrilla–, or longer –Fuensanta, source of the river Turón, Monte del Viento. Hiking tours are a unique way to get to know the original fauna and flora of the region.
What to use: New website of Sierra de las Nieves: The Town Council Association and the Rural Development Group of Sierra de las Nieves have developed a useful web tool for travellers. This new site,, contains all the region’s resources and it’s easy to use.
What to see: The Burning of Judas: A peculiar fiesta on Easter Sunday. After the Miraculous Medal and Sacred Heart procession, residents gather in Plaza de Abajo to burn a huge rag doll representing Judas. The doll is filled with sawdust and bangers, so when it catches fire, it makes the noise of firecrackers, to everybody’s joy. Watch a video of this popular tradition by clicking here.
Useful links: To the websites I’ve already mentioned, I should add those of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and El Burgo Town Hall.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.