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 The ochre and gold shades that greeted me in Cartajima and Júzcar have been replaced by the white and lilac of almond trees, the green of olives, the grey of bare branches in this rainy winter.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.