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.


Tuesday, 20 April 2010

And they chose to stay. Some of them found in uprisings, riots and guerrilla warfare a way of being loyal to their customs and traditions, a way of keep their past –and pride– alive. They were called monfíes and the Christian armies could only crush them with great violence, after stripping them of everything they loved. Then they became outlaws, on a level with ordinary thieves and highwaymen. This all happened after 1492, when the kingdom of Granada surrendered and Muhammad XII, a.k.a. Boabdil, surveyed the Alhambra for the last time and burst into tears. More than 500 years later, in 2003, a treasure was found during rehabilitation work in a house in Cútar. It was one of the oldest, most comprehensive, and best kept Qur’ans ever found in Al-Andalus. Experts consider it to be a unique document in Spain. Dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it’s given rise to a panoply of legends. I can see the man in djellaba bidding farewell to his wife and children, seeking the shelter from the Christian soldiers in the mountains and gullies in Axarquía. I can see him, besieged by Christian swords, burying his father and grandfather and great-grandfather’s treasure. I can see him holding the Qur’an in his hands, kissing it, looking at the bright blue sky, and hiding the book before leaving for good.

Arrival in Cútar

The hills before Cútar –a hamlet perched on the slope of a mountain– are punctuated by vines. Stumps can be seen all around, covering the adjacent mounts, leaving no room for other species. The land seems to have got over the phylloxera outbreak that devastated the region in the nineteenth century, finishing vine growing off and thus dealing a harsh blow to the local economy. And this is where Cútar lies, inevitably surrounded by vines, pouring out of the slope where it stands. I parked at the entrance of town, next to the bus stop, and took a walk in the narrow, vertical hamlet, climbing up La Fuente Street. Cútar’s kept its rural skin under its modern looks. It hasn’t lost a drop of authenticity, nerve, and morisco essence. I came to the Town Hall building, whose porticoed ground floor features a viewpoint affording views of the vine-peppered hills. The streets are so steep (almost vertical) that the town seems to be spilling out of its own guts. I climbed up, slowly, step by step, unhurriedly. Once up, I turned left and headed for Plaza de la Iglesia. Before reaching it, I noticed a board pointing to Tintorerías Street, where the Monfí’s Museum is located.

The Monfíes and the Church

Cútar pays tribute to those who became outlaws after the surrender of Granada, those moriscos who rose up against the new regime of the Catholic Monarchs and traded their farming implements for arms. Every year in October, the town travels back to the fifteenth century for the Fiesta del Monfí. “For two days, the village morphs into something different. The streets are taken by a market of Al-Andalus crafts, Arab music, shows and workshops, falconry displays… Food plays a key role at the fair, with locals and out-of-towners enjoying fourteenth- and fifteenth-century aromas and flavours, reminiscent of Arab times. Cutareños take part in the celebrations wearing Al-Andalus costumes and dancing in style.” Feeling the echoes of Cútar’s past reverberate in my ears, I moved on towards the church. The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación was built between 1553 and 1558, using the foundations of an old mosque. An information board on the front door explains that “It is considered to be a unique token of this style, marking the transition from simple to more sophisticated Mudéjar. The niche in the high altar, in the Rococo style, and the polychrome altarpieces are remarkable. The robust belfry tower is thought to have doubled as a fortress. The dome inside is supported by scallops in the middle floor.” From the upper part of town, where the church stands like a ship aground, you can see the neighbouring village of Comares –an eagle’s nest sheltered from the swipe of enemies.

The Arab Fountain

According to the Libro de Apeo de Cútar (Book of Land Distribution in Cútar), published in 1571, “The Aina Alcaharia fountain used to be an Arab chapel or convent, then converted to water well and fountain. Alongside Aina Alvaida, Ainalhagui, Ainatuta, Aina Alarla, Aina al-Maharaca, Aina Caçahalún, and Iznacutar, it made the network of water springs and fountains providing this village with water. It was also the hub of everyday activity in the village.” The fountain is on the outskirts, by the entrance, at a bend in the road. Its mighty water flow under a little brick bridge and gurgles in the old Arab fountain. I fancied beasts of burden drinking after a long day, or women carrying their jars, full to the brim, back to the village centre, or boys and girls hanging around in the area. I splashed my face, cooled my forehead, and went back to my car, ready for farewell.


When I reached the bus stop before the road back to the village, I stopped. I was standing on a mound where I could look at Cútar in the eye: a white hamlet against the green vines and olives. The buildings stood in sharp contrast to the mountains in the background, hunched against one another, the Church of La Encarnación dominating the whole picture. I thought of the monfíes who chose to relinquish their ties with their homeland and stood up for what they thought was a legitimate claim. They left their sheltering sky and the steep streets under it to save their lives in the folds and mountains of this rough region in Axarquía.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Fiesta del Monfí: It’s held on the second weekend of October, recreating the days when the moriscos lived in Cútar. About it the Cútar Town Hall website reads, “The town’s narrow white streets become a makeshift souk, where some forty stands display a wide array of foods and crafts from those days, like almojábana (fritters with soft cheese). Locals where period customs and parade down the streets in Al-Andalus fashion, inviting visitors to join in.”
Past and nature: Peña de Hierro is an interesting place to visit, both for the beauty of its landscapes and its archaeological value: traces have been found here and in Río de la Cueva of settlements dating back to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, which attests to Cútar’s strategic location between Axarquía’s lowlands and highlands.
Useful links: I’ve relied on three websites in my visit to Cútar: the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the Cútar Town Hall, and the Association for the Promotion of Axarquía. Alongside Totalán, Comares, El Borge, Almáchar, and Moclinejo, Cútar is part of the Route of Raisins in Axarquía.

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


Monday, 12 April 2010

It smells like grass, wet grass, filled with earthen scents. I’ve seen Comares before –a white brushstroke against the horizon up there. And when I say “up there,” I mean up there. The village crown is an isolated hillock and it can be seen from Vélez-Málaga even –a bright white crest whose natural walls are sheer drops that wound the valleys of fruit trees in Axarquía. The hills surrounding Comares come in all shapes and sizes: pointed and rounded, soaring and depressed, leafy and bare naked. They’re punctuated with olives and avocados and prickly pears and lemon trees. The road snakes up, embracing Comares tightly and strongly –an embrace leading up to one of the most spectacular places in Málaga Province.

All the Way Up

I drove into the climbing road. As I went up with every bend, I gained access to the first views of the area. It’s a dangerously winding road, so I had to be cautious. What’s more, pulling over to take pictures isn’t a wise idea either, for the views from town are just perfect and you might affect traffic. The higher you get, the broader your horizon. I imagined what it might have been like in the past, when mules and donkeys were used to carry jars of wine and baskets with raisins or almonds. I could see them trudging on, slowly and stubbornly, one hoof after another in what must have seemed an endless road. Beyond a bend to the left, the road seems to get thinner, revealing the other side of the landscape behind the hill: hamlets scattered all around like shreds of clouds, steep slopes, rolling hills, and bright green shades. And in the background, terrific granite massifs rising up like insurmountable walls. I kept driving up, past hiking trails slipping through the road in search of more exciting twists and turns. At the top, I took a look at the rocky mound where houses seemed to sit to naturally. White against grey and ochre. I came to a point where the road forked: to the church or to the town centre. I was advised to take the road to the left for two reasons. First of fall, it’d be easier to park, for the town square is usually packed with cars. Secondly, if I visited the church first, I’d be longing for the landscape I’d been imagining all the way up, which I would only see in full later in my tour.

Tour, Part 1: To Plaza de los Verdiales

The idea of wise use of space is taken to heights in Comares. Houses are clutching one another; streets are impossibly narrow; and terraced gardens are amazingly small. I parked my car and took Francisco Romero Díaz Street into an intricate yet cared-for maze of cobblestones and twisting alleys. Suddenly, I spotted one of Comares’s distinctive features, a curious and useful tool for tourists that doesn’t affect the aesthetics of cobblestones: footprints guiding visitors in their tour. These foot-shaped tiles with Arab motifs showing the way to the main sights. Relying on the original footprints, I came to Plaza de los Verdiales –one of those places in Comares where flatness prevails over height. The square’s name has to do with the popularity of pandas de verdiales, an old and cheerful music style matched by colourful costumes. Pandas are the small bands (little orchestras) playing this lively music. For a longer, more educational account, click on Panda de Verdiales, where you can even listen to some of the songs. Comares has its own style of verdiales, which proves how popular the genre is. The square is nice and quiet, with a tile floor and a tile painting on one of the walls, illustrating the verdiales. The part overlooking the other hill (where the old castle ruins are to be found) features a statue of a man wearing the typical verdiales outfit –a monument to merrymakers.

Tour, Part 2: To the Church against the Tide

From Plaza de los Verdiales, I took the first street to the right, Iglesia Street, up to the church. Sitting on the cobblestones, I saw a few cat-tail’s chairs, which men and women must use to chat their spring and summer evenings away, have a snack, or work on their handcrafts. I finally came of the Church of La Encarnación. It was built in 1505 using the floor plan of an old mosque, along Mudéjar lines. It’s austerely white, sober and pretty low, and it features an eight-sided tower ending in a tile roof and a small cross. Moving on, I realised I was going in the opposite direction to that of the footprints. Undaunted, I walked on. The reward was to come soon. An old woman wearing a blue gown and a broad smile in her eyes whom I stumbled upon along the way invited me to taste the fat of the land: raisins, almonds, renowned wines… I couldn’t resist the temptation and bought ½k raisins, ½k almonds, and 2 bottles of homemade sweet wine (after trying it and learning that, in the times of the Caliphate of Córdoba, they exported it to Baghdad) for €10. The woman’s lively blue eyes betrayed her resentment with her neighbour, who didn’t approve of her alluring tourists into her home and making some extra money out of the foods made in Comares. The woman was called Ana. She told me how to continue my tour: “Can you see the silo over there? When you come to it, turn left. You’ll thus get to the scenic viewpoint.” I resumed my walk, now with a heavier backpack.

Tour, Part 3: The Viewpoints and Back to the Square

It was stunning. It was impressive. It was overwhelming. The horizon unfolded before me, showing me the lower part of Axarquía in all its glory: the neighbouring town of Cútar, the road to Benamargosa, Vélez-Málaga –a white spot against the green and grey background–, the sparkling Mediterranean… The views were breathtaking, especially those of homes standing on sharp rocks and ravines. The scenic viewpoint covers almost the whole southern tip of town. I walked about, unhurried, taking pictures, feeling the breeze’s brushstrokes. Before getting to this viewpoint, I’d only seen landscape snippets beyond the streets and squares. Now I could see the show in full, a long awaited desire that’s fulfilled at last. If I’d followed the most common route, I would’ve been here earlier. This way, I’ve been eagerly waiting for it, and there it was. I walked on and got to a little square where I took a rest, sitting on a stone bench. Further ahead, I came to one of the two towers of communications in Comares, in a place affording views of the landscape in the east and the remnants of the old Arab fortress. From here I climbed down –following the footprint trail this time–, back to the square overlooking the other hill. The streets intertwined once and again. Everything looked so well-kept. The houses had been carefully rehabilitated, paying attention to details. I went down Calle del Perdón (“Forgiveness Street”), which owes its name to history: “After Comares surrendered, the thirty Muslim families living in the village were christened. This mass christening took place on this street, which has been called Calle del Perdón since then,” I read on a plate. Back in the main square, I realised my choice of tour had been less practical but more surprising and gratifying, for if you reach this point first, the first thing you’ll see is a huge balcony overlooking the horizon, and this’ll make the views less stunning. I bought postcards, stamps, and a bottle of water in a store. The owner, Miguel Cabello, told me running water had come to Comares only fifty years ago; before that, people had to come down (on foot, donkey back, or by car) to a fountain which had been used as the town’s main source of water since time immemorial. Given the difficult terrain and the height of the hillock where Comares stands, I decided the story must be true. Sitting on a bench in the square, I wrote two postcards, which would fly over a thousand kilometres away…

Tour, Part 4: The Other Hill and the Old Castle

Coming from the west, I had to climb back up, this time to the east. The trails are clearly signposted, so it’s quite difficult to get lost. I walked down Alcúa Street to the scenic viewpoint of Puerta de Vélez-Málaga, affording views of an old Roman road. With every new footprint I came closer to the old castle. It was beautifully decadent. It lay in a well-kept setting, which included a garden featuring trees and prickly pears. Climbing a white staircase that seemed to reach the clouds, I got to the highest part of town, where the cemetery is, an old Arab water well inside (it can be seen but not approached). What amazing views! The lower Axarquía and Comares’s sharp skyline against the bright blue sky. The place was dominated by a fairly big square, whose three benches commanded views of different village streets. I sat down, felt the spring sun warming me up, took a clean, deep breath, and thought of local stories: Umar ibn Hafsun and his uprising against the Caliphate of Córdoba, the Castle of Bobastro, Comares in Morisco times, housing 15,000, the Christian troops repelled once and again, the walls being built, the mules carrying water for hundreds of miles… I suddenly realised I was hungry. Before going back to my car, I visited the cemetery, which, being the highest point to the east, also afforded amazing views. On my way back, I took shortcuts, got lost in crazy alleys, spotted hidden treasures: archways, rocks, walls…

Tour, Part 5: Lunch

Following a friend’s advice, I had lunch at a restaurant at the entrance of town, just before the fork I’d first come across and the football pitch. The restaurant was called “Atalaya” (“Watchtower”) and the name became it. It was a boarding house as well, with great views of the surrounding landscape. It served homemade foods: chorizo, kid with sauce, lamb, migas –the star dish–, locally produced wine and must. I ordered migas for two, veal steak, sirloin with salt and pepper, a bottle of water, a 0.3ml beer, and a cup of wine. The bill = €40.05. I wanted to order kid, but they’d run out of it. Pity. But my migas were fabulous. The helping was so generous that it could’ve been a main course for one. They included ribs, chorizo, green peppers, and a fried egg. I can tell you they had restorative properties! Atalaya was a cosy place, featuring a fireplace and kind waiters. Great homemade food, reasonable prices, nice, ample views. It was all I needed.

Tour, Part 6: Farewell

Leaving Comares behind, I felt its warm breath in the back of my neck. The village’s whiteness shone against the grey and ochre rocks, the green prickly pears, the brownish olives… Seen from below, it looked like a mirage, something unreal, a stronghold getting blurred as I turned every new bend. When I came to the land of fruit trees, I looked up and Comares seemed to have faded into its background, as in a dream.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Country travel: There’re lots of houses to let in Comares, spending your holidays in real Moorish homes. Just Google “Comares + turismo” and you’ll be faced with a wide range options meeting all traveller profiles and budgets. Hiking: There’re five hiking routes starting in the village and reaching various natural and historical sites. These are the Route of Fuente Gorda (easy, 60’, 2km), the Route of the Washhouse (easy to moderately difficult, 2.5h, 4km), the Route of La Teja (moderately difficult to difficult, 6h, 12km), the Route of La Mesa (moderately difficult, 5h, 10km), and the Route of Buena Vista (moderately difficult to difficult, 10h, 22km).
What to see: Fiesta of Verdiales: On June 22, Comares celebrates its Fiesta of Verdiales. There’re street shows and a festival of verdiales, drawing people from every town in Málaga and beyond. It’s a cheerful festival in which music and food are the big stars. Route of Raisins: Alongside Totalán, Cútar, El Borge, Almáchar, and Moclinejo, Comares is one of the points of interest in the Route of Raisins of Axarquía, which connects all those villages which have turned this food into a staple of their economies, social and cultural lives.
Useful links: Three websites for my tour of Comares –Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Comares Town Hall, and the Association for the Promotion of Axarquía.

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


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Upon leaving the mountains of Málaga behind, the meadows of Antequera open up before me, dominated by El Peñón de los Enamorados (Lover’s Rock) –a granite totem resembling an Indian chieftain. Fertile farming lands, dark wet earth, bountiful earth. Everything looks green and ochre. The rain that fell last season helped the fields blossom. They look bright, almost fluorescent, green, soaking with water and dewdrops. Then the meadows give way to mountains packed with olive trees.

Humilladero and Its Cross

Concealed by olive groves, Humilladero appears as if by sleight of hand –a hamlet in a valley. Without even noticing, I drove into an avenue flanked by sturdy trees. After a roundabout, there’s the entrance to town and just there, there’s the cross the village has borrowed its name from. It’s simple an austere: a stone column and a small iron cross on top. But the most interesting thing about it is its story: “On April 24, 1410, Infante Don Fernando, Regent of Castile, was coming from Córdoba with his army when he was joined by Don Per Afán de Rivera, who came from Córdoba carrying Saint Ferdinand III’s sword. The Infante took the sword and pledged not to sheathe it until he’d conquered Antequera. When the conquest was completed, a stone cross was erected here. It was then torn down.” And there’s more: “In 1484, Ferdinand the Catholic, upon conquering Valle de Abdalajís, Álora and Ronda, bent on his knees in the same place where his grandfather, Ferdinand of Antequera, had received Saint Ferdinand’s sword.” The cross was reconstructed in 1618, 1957, and 1995, changing locations until it got the place where it now stands. It’s quite a plain monument for being associated with so many kings and conquests, fights and battles, swords and pledges. Watching it, I can imagine the Christian troops and the Moors trudging across the meadows amidst centuries-old olives, treading on this very same earth beneath my feet.

The Town Centre

To get to the town centre in Humilladero, you need to take Dolores Ibarruri Avenue, then turn right into El Emigrante Avenue. You’ll get to the Town Hall and Plaza de los Derechos Humanos. You can park in any of the adjacent streets. I left mine on Maestra Ana Alba Street, by a chemist’s. From here I could see the town’s rectilinear layout. Humilladero is a modern city, and its design is more closely associated with the set square than with the relief, as I’d observed in other towns, in Axarquía or Serranía de Ronda. I got ready and off the car. In Plaza de los Derechos Humanos there’s a tile map that helps find your way in town, and a poster reading some of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” All the streets from the square are paved. The houses boast iron-wrought balconies and window grilles, and hallways dressed in colourful tiles. After walking down Capitán Francisco Velasco Ruiz Street (and spotting a couple of eateries), I turned left at Picasso Street. The thoroughfares in Humilladero or long and straight. Banners hanging from streetlamps and cables announced that 2010 was the 200th anniversary of Humilladero’s separation from Antequera and origin as an independent township. I continued walking.

The Church and the Streets

At the far end of Picasso Street there was a little square preceding the Church of Santísimo Cristo de la Misericordia. In front of the façade, there’s a sandstone floor tile that could make reference to the church’s construction or consecration dates. The year written on the tile is 1861. Built on the ruins of an old chapel, it’s a modern church with an impressively high brick belfry tower and a façade ending in a fake belfry and an iron cross. I walked around the building; locals seemed to be at home, for the streets looked quiet and empty. Or maybe they’d gone out in search of the warmth of inns. I kept walking, noticing the low houses and the resulting low skyline. I came back to Plaza de los Derechos Humanos and my car through Hermanos Fernández de la Fuente Side Street. Then I headed for one of the most beautiful spots in Humilladero: La Sierrecilla.

Detour: La Sierrecilla

I asked a woman how to get to La Sierrecilla, a recreational area used for fiestas and celebrations, especially the pilgrimage on May 1. It can be reached on foot, but I used my car to avoid getting wet. Upon exiting town towards Antequera, to the right, there’s a huge raised area against the background of the sierras. I took one of the roads leading to the new local campsite. It was easy to find. I parked and got off again. La Sierrecilla features wooden tables and benches, and stone barbecues. I imagined what it’d look like in autumn, spring, and summer; I fancied men and women enjoying themselves in the shade of the pine trees. I walked around. A wide dirt trail led to the sierras between the hills concealing Humilladero and the highest point in the area. The trail was flanked by thick pine woods, where you can smell the delicate, primitive wetness of the earth. The trail skirting Sierra de Humilladero is 2km long; it’s clearly signposted, and the marks left by hikers on the earth make it impossible to get lost. I climbed up, getting glimpses of the Antequera meadows, Humilladero, corn fields, and olive groves –everything amidst Aleppo pines. The rain had made green look brighter and brown, darker. The silence was overwhelming, only interrupted by the singing of birds. The hiking tour is stimulating and gratifying; as it’s an easy route, you can negotiate it with your children. You’ll all be safe. If you remain silent for a while, you’ll start hearing the sounds of nature in all their might. I took a deep breath, only to realise the mini-tour had whetted my appetite.

Lunch at El Peñón

Returning to my old parking place by the Town Hall, I walked down Capitán Francisco Velasco Ruiz Street and went into El Peñón for lunch. My earlier hunch was right: all humilladerenses were here, sheltered from rain in the warm tavern. El Peñón was an open-bar restaurant, patrons eating tapas and chatting amiably. I sat at a table for a heartier dish. While having a look at the menu, I heard all kinds of accents from Málaga and beyond –an alluring mix of speeches and idioms. I couldn’t help noticing the hectic atmosphere across the bar: “One of guarrito,” “One of chorizo,” “One of meat,” “One of manitas”… The menu –steak, lamb, salted pork loin, chopped vegetable soup, stew soup, entrecôte– included children’s options –those dishes kids and teens can’t say no to. My choice was two tripe tapas, one stew soup, one spinach salad, a pork steak and a chicken steak, two alcohol-free beers, and two 300ml beers. The bill = €34.10. The stew soup was delicious; its two mint sprigs made it strongly-scented and even tastier. The spinach salad contained opinions, fried ham, cheese, walnuts, and cherry tomatoes. The pork steak was well-done and juicy, strong and delicate at the same time. The main courses were garnished with cabbage salad, grilled vegetables, and French fries. Good food, nice place, kind waitress. Plus two shot drinks, courtesy of the house: herb eau-de-vie and caramel vodka.

Fare Thee Well, Humilladero

To the right, La Sierrecilla –a green spot that must afford stunning views of the Antequera meadows from its peak. I could still feel the wet land and pine trees above me. To the left, the cross where two kings bent to their knees. I could imagine the Christian troops in the fifteenth century, marvelling at the same landscape I’d stared at. I felt good after the homemade food and the cheerful talk. Humilladero comforts travellers as soon as they set foot on its streets.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Besides the hiking tour of La Sierrecilla, Humilladero features three hiking routes of great environmental value. Given the area’s mild relief, they’re easy to negotiate, too. The first route connects the town centre with La Ratosa lake (on the border with Alameda); the second leads to Fuente de Piedra lake; and the third climbs Pico Pollo from La Sierrecilla to reach the highest peak in this municipality.
What to see: Popular fiestas: Humilladero holds various celebrations throughout the year, with different purposes and characteristics. A very original one is Emigrants’ Day, in the first week of August –a tribute to all those men and women who were forced to leave their hometown and come to visit on holidays.
Useful links: My web references in this tour have been the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Humilladero Town Hall.

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