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.