Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Albaida. White. Immaculate. “Albaida” means “white” in Arabic. And Canillas de Albaida is a subtle brushstroke across a hill. White. Albaida. Immaculate. A hamlet bunched together, its streets narrow, its climbs steep. Immaculate. White. Albaida. Only one thing sticks out: the bell tower of the church, like a lighthouse guiding sierra-farers. It’s the only building that’s different –dark, ochre, brick-walled– and thus catches the eye. Canillas de Albaida. White. Immaculate.

Canillas de Albaida: Perched on a Hill

It’s hidden behind a bend from the inquisitive looks of visitors. In the past, in the days of Morisco riots and the bloodthirsty Reconquista by the Catholic Monarchs, it wasn’t visitors but enemies. Rather than perched, it seems to be pouring out of the hill, as if building foundations were clung to the land inextricably, as if the homes were impossible to disentangle. The impression gets strong as you come closer, looking for a place to leave your car, in the lower part of town, facing the maze. The streets overcome the uneven terrain through bold, imaginative architecture, and the town’s layout is stout and full of contrasts –walls where the sun shines mercilessly in blinding white and shades where it goes to bed. The streets zigzag up, in search of their vanishing lines. The immaculate white houses have been plastered once and again. They glare in the sunlight. Albaida. White. Immaculate.

The Maze

If I told you to get lost in Canillas de Albaida, you’d think I am being pretty obvious. It’s a real labyrinth turning and twisting, turning and twisting. I was planning to climb up to the Chapel of Santa Ana, in the upper part of town, coming across the church and El Callejón de Araceli along the way and visiting the fountain and the old washhouse when climbing down. Then, I’d visit the Chapel of San Antón and the Roman Bridge on the outskirts. My urgent, determined steps soon reflected my hesitation. Short alleys, little squares, secluded corners, steep streets… I lost my way but I loved it, for this opened the door to the essence of this town: the streets brimming with flowerpots and flowerbeds, to the point of hiding walls behind them. I tried to take shelter under the eaves or under the embracing arms of a lemon tree, full of strong-smelling yellow fruits. I walked around, got lost, found my way, got lost again, asked for directions, strolled about carelessly, discovered amazing places. This is the power of travelling: finding undreamed-of worlds, unveiling secret treasures. This is how I got to Plaza de Nuestra Señora del Rosario.

Plaza and Callejón de Araceli

Whereas the maze of uphill streets suddenly comes to a halt in the town square, the profusion of flowerpots comes to a climax, as the pots cover every inch in every balcony. The square was cut in half by a cone of shadow: dark and grey vs. shiny and white. On one of the sides there’s the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Curiously enough, its belfry tower can’t be seen while standing here, for it’s on the other side of the building. The door was open, so I walked in. I was surprised by the floor plan: a perfect square. The church features a nave and two aisles, all of them covered by wood coffered ceilings. The humble altar is framed by four modestly protruding Roman columns with triangular capitals. It’s painted in pastel shades and dominated by an image of the local Patroness. At the entrance to the right, two female statuettes seem to be levitating, covering their niches with their mantles. These two images flank a crucifix with a statuette of Jesus Christ. I came out into the blazing sun and asked for directions. I then took Hornos Street and turned right to see the sign I was looking for: ARACELI. It was Araceli’s Alley, an alley with a well-deserved fame. It was a narrow, pretty long alley (0.8m wide and 10m long). You feel boxed in as your shoulders rub against its walls. It took pictures. It got my picture taken with my arms extended, touching both walls. Then I moved on. Slowly, unhurriedly, step by step. It was really hot. I stopped every now and then to catch my breath and look at the homes and the landscape. Then I walked on.

The Chapel of Santa Ana and Down Towards the Washhouse

The whitewashed walls shimmered against the sunny sky. The hills surrounding Canillas de Albaida and the neighbouring village of Cómpeta were brimming with vines and olive trees. The hills went up and down, ebbing and flowing like a fixed green sea. I was at the foot of the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama, within the nature park they make. The Chapel of Santa Ana is an austere yet powerfully attractive whitewashed building. There’s a small arcade at the entrance. The chapel itself is a natural viewpoint, from which you can see the sierras to the north –slopes sinking into the valleys where the water reverberates. Standing by the chapel, you can feel, almost touch, the impressive Sierra de Almijara. A mosaic on one of the walls informs visitors that the chapel was built in the early sixteenth century and that it’s been designated as an Andalusian Historic Monument. The setting is really overwhelming: to the northwest, La Maroma, the highest peak in Málaga; to the northeast, the white maze of streets; to the south, the sea. I walked around the building, sat down, took a break, drank some water. I was enjoying myself. After the comforting rest, I stood up and got ready for my return. I climbed down along winding alleys past Casa de las Marmotas, along impossibly steep streets past flowery bends, down short stretches, across streets that stood on my way. I asked for directions to get to the washhouse. “Here, then right, then an alley, then left, then a white house with blue windows, then down, left, and left again.” Impossible to follow those directions. I gave it a try, thinking of the kindness of those trying to help me, but I got lost at the second “left.” Suddenly, after a turn, I was before a three-spout fountain facing the old washhouse. I left my backpack on the floor, my sunglasses on a corbel, my camera next to the sunglasses, I rolled up my sleeves, and put my head under the fresh, vigorous, comforting water. I also wetted my arms, getting them dry in the sun. The old washhouse is no longer a washhouse. It was full of huge flowerpots with plants of all kinds, sizes, and colours. I continued on my way down.

The Chapel of San Antón and the Roman Bridge

Where I’d parked my car, a board showed how to get to the Roman Bridge. It was on the path to Árchez, across the river Turvilla. It can be reached on foot from the lane or from Axarquía Street; it’s a mildly rolling road down, getting steeper by the mile, which you’ll have to climb up on your return. You can also get to it by car. The Chapel of San Antón, affording great panoramic views of Canillas de Albaida, lies on the way. A tile board at the door reads, “a simple seventeenth-century single-nave rectangular building, with a wooden ceiling and tie beams. Its round arch with a highlighted alfiz, supported by pilasters, and its single-cavity belfry are the most remarkable features on its front. Inside, the chapel features a polychrome wood altarpiece in the rococo style, dating back to the eighteenth century. The niche is dedicated to the patron saint.” I climbed my way down to the river Turvilla to the the Roman Bridge –a simple one-eyed bridge. It’s accessible from the other end, from a stone trail with a wooden handrail. Cool…

Saying Goodbye

The picture of the sea from the Chapel of Santa Ana, the rest after the long way up, the impressive landscape of Sierra de Almijara behind my back, the distant murmur of water flowing down the gullies, the breeze coming from the Mediterranean, the bright green vines and olives punctuating the hills, the silence and the quiet of the early afternoon… Canillas. White. Immaculate. Albaida.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Where to go: Fábrica de la luz: The Chapel of Santa Ana is the starting point of a trail that can be negotiated by car leading to Fábrica de la Luz, a fully-equipped recreational and camping area. Its facilities include tables and benches, barbecues, a public fountain, showers, a sink, toilettes, a car park, and an area for tents. It’s 4km from the town centre, within Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Park. For more information, call (+34) 951 040 058.
What to do: Hiking: Fábrica de la Luz is the starting point of several hiking trails across Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Park. For more information about this nature park, click here.
Route of Sun and Wine: Alongside Algarrobo, Sayalonga, Cómpeta, Torrox, Nerja, and Frigiliana, Canillas de Albaida is part of the Route of Sun and Wine in Axarquía.
Useful links: My trip to Canillas de Albaida was planned using the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Canillas de Albaida Town Hall, the Association for the Promotion of Axarquía, and a personal website, The website of Canillas de Albaida.

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