Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The hamlet of Cómpeta is a painting in different shades of white. White projecting grey shadows in corners, white turning green in the fields of fruit trees, white that is dark orange in roofs, white that becomes red in the belfry tower in the evening, purple in grapes and vines, deep ochre in wines… Cómpeta is a painting made of people’s shades, of murmurs in squares, street cobblestones, flowery walls, half-open windows… Cómpeta is a delicately unique puzzle, made of subtleties and subtle shapes. Cómpeta is a puzzle that I’ve made my own, a puzzle that goes well beyond wines and terroir.

For the First Time…

For the first time since I started writing this blog, I’ll let go. I’ll let other people guide me, take me by the hand, tell me stories, delight me with their chat. And you could do the same when you come to Cómpeta, for the local Department of Tourism offers full guided tours of the village, which you can book by calling (+34) 952 555 685. Make sure you book your tour in advance. You can ask for guides speaking Spanish, English, German, Dutch, French, or Italian. In fact, Cómpeta is a well-assembled Babel where people from 38 different countries live together in cooperation. My contacts were Tom and Gwen, and Paloma and Miguel. They gave me a lot of brochures. Tom and Gwen were my guides. Our tour began at the Tourist Office in the entrance of town, on Constitución Avenue.

Tour, Part 1: Up to the Church

Cómpeta is a white village mildly rolling down from up a hill. Its layout, full of broken, winding, and steep streets, makes it impossible to drive in it. So you’d better park your car by the tourist office and start walking. Your feet will guide you through a town that has a lot to show. I ambled slowly, taking in every flavour, every colour, every word I heard. I soon found out this was an ideal place to buy crafts and foods; there were many shops selling the famous locally-produced wines, wicker crafts, or pottery. As I went up Rampa Street (a street with a well-deserved name, for “rampa” means “ramp” and this was impossibly steep), the newer districts blended into the older part of town. Rampa Street leads to Plaza de la Almijara (where the Evening of Wine takes place –a tribute to the staple of Cómpeta’s economy) and the Church of La Asunción, past the new Town Hall. The sun embraced me in the town that sank its roots in Roman and Moorish traditions. Although it was earnest in its endeavour, the heat was not impossible to bear, appeased as it was by the shades afforded by the narrow streets. The square was half-taken by restaurants and dominated by the church, whose belfry tower stood like a sort of lighthouse guiding lost travellers. This tower is the reference point of the Cómpeta skyline. “If you’re coming for the first time and you get lost in the maze of narrow, zigzagging streets, just look up at the sky and you will see it, as if hanging from above: the belfry tower of the church. It will show you the way back to the square,” says José Antonio López Doña in his excellent Un paseo por Cómpeta y su historia. So remember his advice. On one of the side walls of the church there’s the Paseo de las Tradiciones, a shady terrace that goes over the history of the village in series of tile murals depicting the most relevant facts as well as the oldest traditions that have shaped Cómpeta. I walked into the Church of La Asunción. The first thing that caught my eye was the high altar: a huge wall painting by an artist from Vélez-Málaga. The coffered ceiling was quite remarkable too, and the area below the choir loft bears wood filigree with flower motifs. I walked out and turned right.

Tour, Part 2: Up to the Hadriano Museum

Every detail is taken care of in Cómpeta. The streets, some of which are unbelievably narrow, are dressed in cobblestones and decorated with flowerbeds, flowerpots, and flowers, adding a lot of colour to the corners and the walls. They wind and break in the vertical plane but make stylised horizontal lines –longish zigzagging lines that warp and bend mildly until they get lost in the shadows. This makes strolls easier and climbs less tough. Touring Cómpeta is no tour de force; just a decent saunter. House shadows made the hot day much more bearable. The Hadriano Museum is a humble house with a mill inside. A millstone is the main attraction in the room, whose walls display all sorts of farming implements. It was cool inside. In the summer, art exhibitions are organised in an adjacent room. In the museum you can see and touch all the tools, which reveal Cómpeta’s ties to the fields until less long ago than you’d imagine.

Tour, Part 3: Up to the Museum of Arts and Traditions

The Hadriano Museum is in an area known as “El Barrio.” It’s one of the oldest parts of town, where residents warmly greet Tom and Gwen. No wonder they’ve come all the way from the UK to live here almost ten years ago. We walked until we reached a river bed that divides the village in two halves, laying the rocks bare that make Cómpeta’s foundations. It’s in these rocky mounds that you can find the hanging houses stubbornly clinging to the prickly pears as if defying gravity. Running aground amidst the rocks, the houses stand in proud white. Walking down Horno Street, I came to the soon-to-be-open Museum of Arts and Traditions. After a sharp bend, the street faces the largest centre of population in Cómpeta. It’s a good place to take pictures of the white houses and the tower of the church standing out. There’re other good photo points a little higher up. Cómpeta’s Museum of Arts and Traditions, to open in 2010, will display all sorts of tools used in the countryside by the first inhabitants –farming implements and small machines. It’ll house the historic and ethnographic heritage of Cómpeta and its environs.

Tour, Part 4: Up to Plaza de la Vendimia (And Wine Evenings)

Behind the museum there’s the Chapel of San Cayetano, a minute temple decorated with flowers. The street where it stands, San Sebastián, leads to the cemetery and an adjacent chapel, San Sebastián. This chapel is white and quite big, trimmed in a creamy colour. The roof has a one-bell belfry and the front features a Roman arch and two columns. Queen Isabella the Catholic commissioned its construction in 1505, after the Moors were expelled from Andalusia. Down Torrox Avenue, I’d come to Plaza de la Vendimia, but before I stopped to buy high-quality olive oil at La Recíproca. Following the tourist map, I climbed to the balcony facing the headquarters of the Civil Guard to take a couple of pictures. I was told that, at sunset, the tower of the church and the outdoor terraces seem to burn with bright colours. The view has become one of Cómpeta’s hallmarks. I headed for Plaza de La Vendimia, the nerve centre of an annual event in which Cómpeta pays tribute to Bacchus and his divine drink: wine. On the Wine Evening, Cómpeta brings old wine-making techniques back to life: grape stomping, the making of the first must, and so on. Also, locals and out-of-towners can taste the wines made in situ. The Wine Evening is on August 15. “It’s rooted in the farewell party thrown for peasants when they left for grape harvest. (…) In Cómpeta, they used to sing and dance fandangos, drinking the local wines,” López Doña explaines in this book. Today, this festival, which draws a number of visitors that gets higher by the year, is one of the most popular events in Axarquía. Alongside the recreation of past traditions, there’re live music shows in Plaza de la Almijara. The wine and food tasting in Plaza de la Vendimia is free.

Tour, Part 5: Up to the Chapel of San Antonio

From Plaza de la Vendimia I went into a series of cobblestone streets. Curiously enough, the house walls feature similar cobblestones in their lower part (1m approx.). Encouraged by Tom and Gwen, I discovered wonderful corners in this charmingly distinct part of Cómpeta. Flowers, narrow alleys, craft shops… It’s quite obvious that residents go to great lengths to keep everything nice: walls are carefully whitewashed. I came to a little square bounded by a former noodle factory on one of the sides. Now the place is a family home, but I heard from a local woman that they still keep the old machinery in the basement. I continued my stroll. My steps brought me back to Plaza de la Almijara, where I took San Antonio Street towards the chapel dedicated to this saint. It was a relaxed walk despite the slowly zigzagging climbs. The street pattern allows the shadows to take control. Before getting to the chapel, I stopped at the Balcón de Cómpeta hotel, whose outdoor terrace afforded great views of the sea. I let conversation flow, seeing the words rocking in the wind. The Chapel of San Antonio is a simple little temple preceded by a garden and a portico. There was a girl playing inside.


Following Tom and Gwen’s advice, I ate at Museo del Vino, a restaurant where you can also buy wicker crafts, pottery, homemade foods, and so on. It was here that I parted ways with my tour guides, promising to come back soon (a promise I’m bound to fulfil) and thanking them for such a nice experience. Before leaving, they gave me one of Cómpeta’s most special gifts: a bottle of their highly prized wine. After bidding farewell, I was ready for lunch. I ordered a salad, Museo del Vino-style tenderloin, chicken in Cómpeta wine sauce, a 350ml beer, a bottle of water, chocolate mousse, and a coffee. I also bought a vase (€12.50) and a wicker fan for the fireplace (€5). I paid €56.55 in all. The tenderloin and the chicken were delicious –a perfect bittersweet blend. Definitely, a place to recommend.


Cómpeta embraced me with its sweet vines and raisins. With its whitewashed walls and narrow streets. With its climbing maze that evokes those bunches of grapes that place it among the best wine-producing regions in the world. With its grape harvest, wine fiestas, and flowerbeds. With its Babel-like integration. With its ancient customs and traditions hinting at what it used to be and what it could become. Cómpeta is a unique village: “a white dove/ hanging in the sky/on Axarquía leaning out/and silently, ay/ making you fall in love.”

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Guided tours: Contacting the local Tourist Office is the key to success. They offer guided tours in several languages (Spanish, English, German, Dutch, French, and Italian) and a full range of information materials (street maps, brochures, travel guides…). Tours are €50 for groups of 50. The head of the local Department of Tourism, Tom Ferber, told me the village welcomed about 1,000 visitors from different countries every month. The Tourist Office is on Constitución Avenue, right in the entrance of town. It can easily be identified by a sign and three flags, plus a papier-mâché mule that’s usually grazing outside. The office’s phone number is (+34) 952 553 685 and its email address is Its website is
Hiking: In April 2010, the Tourist Office launched a series of hiking guided tours: Carril del Eje Central, La Acequia, La Gaviarra, El Gavilán, Las Majadillas, Loma del Daire, El Acebuchal, El Lucero, Puerto de Frigiliana, and Puerto de los Umbrales.
Route of Sun and Wine: Alongside Algarrobo, Sayalonga, Canillas de Albaida, Torrox, Nerja, and Frigiliana, Cómpeta is part of the so-called Route of Sun and Wine in Axarquía.
What to read: Un paseo por Cómpeta y su historia: This book by José Antonio López Doña, available at the Tourist Office, is a sentimental journey through the history and the streets of Cómpeta, including the description of eleven hiking tours and six walking tours (East Countryside, Chapels, Labyrinth, Roundabout, and Alleys). All tours are explained in full detail and accompanied by maps (the hiking tours also include fact sheets). The book reveals a deep love of Cómpeta, which can be felt in every word and phrase.
Useful links: I’ve used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Cómpeta Town Hall, and Association for the Promotion of Axarquía to plan my trip to Cómpeta.

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