Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The water shimmered over the green hills like a cloak of shiny crystals. The bright blue sky looks like marquetry roofing the hills, leaving a wake of grey clouds here, there, everywhere. A smooth breeze changed the landscape ceaselessly, adding or subtracting shades like a sort of natural kaleidoscope. In this ever-changing mirage, a single thing remained: a pinkish shadow settled on the water surface –a pale pink aura over the lake. It was visible from a distance and, as I got closer, I realised what it was: they were flamingos.

The Magic of Guadalteba

A complex interplay of changing shapes and colours depending on the season: green hills in the late winter and spring, yellow in the summer, naked in deep winter, back in shape in the fall. Rolling hills hiding gentle valleys zigzagging along gentle rivers. But don’t be fooled by the harmonious relief: the Gorge of Los Gaitanes and El Chorro are nearby, with their sharp chasms and never-ending walls. The region of Guadalteba includes eight townships: Campillos, Almargen, Ardales, Cañete la Real, Carratraca, Cuevas del Becerro, Sierra de Yeguas, and Teba. The road to Campillos is as nice as the surrounding landscape, showing the subtle charms of hills, hillocks, corn fields, and olive trees. It also anticipates the abundance of water I’m about to enjoy in the Park of Guadalteba Reservoir (with the old town of Peñarrubia buried at the bottom) and the Eight Lake Tour. Getting to Campillos is driving across open landscapes leading to a linear, almost rectangular town with a rich past.

Arriving in Campillos
Coming from Málaga, there’re two ways of accessing Campillos. The one I chose took me easily to the town centre. It’s quite a big town, with over 8,000 inhabitants and a surface area of about 190 square metres. This makes it a reference point in the area, as it offers all the services you might need. This doesn’t mean it’s not charming. Quite the contrary: houses leaning on to the streets as if drawn with a drawing pen; wrought-iron balconies and windows; beautiful hallways dressed in colourful tiles; a church with an imposing baroque façade; a park to stroll and relax… I parked by the Town Hall –a huge brick-wall building sitting to the right of the walkway, opposite the school of music, the house of culture, and the local police station. Campillos can be done on foot. Distances aren’t that short, but the area is flat, easy to walk around, and clearly signposted. Before getting to the town centre, I took a stroll down the walkway adjoining the Town Hall. It’s a long walk, its floor covered with fallen leaves lending it a Romantic air, as it torn out of a text by Lord Byron. A series of archways make its roof, reaching to the end of the walk and plunging into the corn fields. Locals seem to like this place, as there’re many of them enjoying themselves, walking unhurriedly. Across the porticoed avenue, a white building housed the Memorial of Life museum on its left side.

A Museum, Two Chapels, and A Fascinating Baroque Façade

The Memorial of Life is a tour of everyday routine of men and women throughout the twentieth century, from centuries-old farming and stockbreeding traditions to computers, the Internet, and the revolution in the country world brought about by the improvements in communications. Displaying objects and exhibition panels, the museum provides a much needed map of the harshness of life in the fields and the economic development of the region of Guadalteba. With an admission ticket of €3, it’s open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. For further information, you can call (+34) 952 713 455. This museum, like those in Almargen, Carratraca, or Cañete la Real (which we’ve already been to), belongs to the Guadalteba Heritage Network. This organisation is also in charge of the rehabilitation and transformation into museum of the Aguilillas necropolis and a Spanish-Visigothic necropolis. All these sites are proof of Campillos’s important role in history, as a town where peoples have settled since the Neolithic Age. 20m away from the museum there’s the main square –a park with huge trees, a curious metal sculpture of a flamingo, benches to rest in the shade in the heat of summer. The square is dominated by the Church of Santa María del Reposo, a colossal building whose main façade is a true architectural gem. From the square, I could go to different places. To the right, along Real Street, to the Chapel of San Benito. To the left, along San Sebastián Street, to the Chapel of San Sebastián. I chose a loop tour that’d allow me to see most sights in town but, before undertaking it, I visited the Church of Santa María del Reposo. A deceivingly simple temple, its impossibly white walls and columns support crossed round arches forming vaults and its lady chapels, housing a grave collection of images, are eccentrically decorated. The church was built in 1506 and renovated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Besides the high altar, whose geometric patterns have been obsessively designed, there’s the chapel of San Benito, a dark niche with red-cloth walls where the saint sits in a Roman-style altar. The organ in the choir loft has cylindrical tubes pointing to the altar and the bright blue sky. But the church’s star is its façade, designed by Antonio Matías de Figueroa and built in 1770. It’s overwhelmingly baroque, the door flanked by two columns finished off with flower ornaments rising up to the roof like flames along the sandstone walls. After the church, I took San Sebastián Street. The houses were similar to those I’d seen in other towns in the region –wrought-iron balconies and windows, cool, shady hallways, walls covered with colourful tiles, deep interiors flowing into to leafy patios, first or second floors that used to be granaries and now served as lodgings. Several fraternity façades stood out along the way: Santo Entierro de Cristo and María Santísima de las Angustias, Dulce Nombre de Jesús and María Santísima del Socorro (whose belfries rose up to the sky, tickling it with its pinnacles)... The number of existing fraternities bear witness to the cultural, social and, of course, religious importance of Easter in Campillos, whose Holy Week celebrations are among the most popular in the region, gathering lots of devotees and onlookers. The Chapel of San Sebastián was an austere and robust eighteenth-century building. I then took San Juan Street, turned left into Carmen Street, and finally came to Alta Street, leading to the Chapel of San Benito. It was here that I realised how rectilinear Campillos was: it seemed to have been drawn using a square and a triangle. Its straight streets intersected wider avenues at right angles, in a perpendicular pattern that stretched out until it reached the fields. Such a rational layout had to do with the growing population in the second half of the sixteenth century, which forced the centre to expand in straight lines –the natural way to expand in a flat area. When I came to the end of Alta Street, crossing Sierra de Yeguas Avenue, I asked where the chapel was. I was given directions, and this is how I ended up in a street with a very peculiar name, Todos a Una. Despite the name, San Benito was a church rather than a chapel. St Benito is the patron saint of Campillos, and so the local people have built a relatively big place for him to rest. The church, preceded by a little square, had a brick-layered façade. It was built in the seventeenth century and renovated in the eighteenth. I sat on a bench in the square, taking in the peace and quiet. I looked up at the bright blue sky, peppered with a few grey clouds, and felt my bones get warm under the sun. This being one of the highest points in town, it afforded views of the surrounding hills and green meadows. I could see the sunlight seizing the horizon. I walked back to Real Street (one of the main thoroughfares), noticing the typical architectural features once more: the wrought-iron balconies, the austere façades, the usual ornaments, the several-storey houses. On Real Street, I found the post office. I’d bought my postcard in the newsstand at the church square and written a few lines when having a break by the Chapel of San Sebastián, so I only needed to add a stamp and drop it in the letter box. Off it went! A thousand miles from here!

The Lakes, or the Wonderful Show of Nature

I didn’t want to leave Campillos without watching the flamingos, so I had to go fetch my car and take Santa María del Reposo Street at the roundabout opposite the Town Hall towards the San José Boarding School. This street led to the Eight Lake Tour, one of the most beautiful natural settings I’d been to in Málaga Province. Due to the recent rains, the place –which is dry several months a year– looked magnificent. The green rolling hills stood out against the bright blue sky while the shimmering water in the lakes reflected the sunlight. The tree-lined narrow road made the drive around the eight lakes –Dulce, Salada, Lobón, Marcela, Redonda, Capacete, Camuñas, and Cerero– pleasant enough. If you keep quiet, you can even watch some of the bird species living in them, like, common teals, ducks, geese, swans, coots, avocets, and so on. My hope to watch the flamingos vanished into thin air, for they were far away, in the middle of the lake –a mere pink shadow on the water surface. Instead, it was people I saw: a couple of cyclists, a couple of runners, staff from the Andalusian Government checking a viewpoint in Laguna Redonda… I got off my car, walked around, gave in to the sensation that I was part of nature. I heard the groans and quacks and got lost in the panoply of colours. The lakes are cut across by the old Cañada Real, which used to link Granada with Ronda. I fancied the shepherds and stockbreeders years or centuries ago, wrapped by animal sounds. An unusual light floods the earth, the wind causes the water to ripple and the breeze howls in the reedbed. I took a deep breath and decided not to leave Campillos. I’d stay here, surrounded by green, blue, ochre, yellow, grey shades. Surrounded by a imposing yet delicate landscape.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: The Eight Lakes: This aquiferous system is dry for most of the year. Late winter and spring are the best time of year to come, for the lakes can be seen in all their radiant beauty. If you’re having a hard time getting to them, ask how to get to the San José Boarding School, where you’ll see the first directions. The lakes are a great natural show, but need to be careful and respectful. The Campillos Lakes have been designated as a Nature Reserve by the Andalusian Environment Agency.
What to buy: Leather industry: Besides agriculture and stockbreeding, Campillos has a strong textile and fur industry. There’re many factory outlets where you can get great products at reasonable prices.
Useful links: My web references in my tour of Campillos have been the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the Campillos Town Hall, the Guadalteba Heritage Network, and the Region of Guadalteba.

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