Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Málaga paints its fields dark green. Green that feeds on the latest rain, adding colour to the crops and a glitter to the little lakes. Green that blends with the wet ochre earth while the rivers and streams roar at their most glorious. I’m driving across the Guadalhorce Valley –a land of contrasts– to get to the region of Guadalteba, which Arriate is part of. I’m leaving the corn fields and the rolling hills behind –an ocean made of earth. I’m bobbing my way across Serranía de Ronda: granite masses, cork oaks, holm oaks, olives, sinks and peaks, peculiar mountains. Arriate lies in one of these valleys, in the shelter of the sierras.

In Arriate

Arriate’s name in Arabic was “Arriadh,” meaning “The Gardens.” The village’s old dwellers were right: Arriate lies in one of the lowland of Serranía de Ronda like the Garden of Eden, gardens and fields and corn and fruit trees all around. Until 1630, this village was overshadowed by Ronda, to which it was annexed. The villagers paid 352,739 reales for their independence. And they really deserved it, for the town has an atmosphere of its own, a bunch of unique features that needed to unfold on their own. Although it’s quite high, Arriate is almost flat, lying deep behind the City of the Gorge. Strolling along its streets or hiking down its trails are both very pleasant experiences, depending on whether you prefer tougher challenges or more relaxed excursions. I’m choosing the latter today, so I’ll take my stroll easy as I look at some of the remarkable wooden house doors, which are said to be the most beautiful craft work in town. I’m going deep into Arriate now.

The Church of San Juan de Letrán

The belfry tower of the Church of San Juan de Letrán is a reference point no-one can miss –a sort of giant GPS device. Willowy and strong, the soaring three-structure tower stands against the bright blue sky. I’ll use it as my reference, this and the sign indicating where the town centre is. I parked near the church, got ready, and got off my car. I walk down Calle Juela (an amazing pun, for “callejuela” means “alley” in Spanish) towards Plaza de D. Antonio Marañón, where the church is. The square is a small secluded place dominated by a single wrought-iron lamppost and featuring a few benches. It feels good. I can hear someone singing a song by the legendary Andalusian rock band Triana: “Cada noche mi vida es para ti/como un juego cualquiera/y nada más/porque a mí me atormenta en el alma/tu frialdad” (“Every night is for you/like any other game/and nothing more/for my soul is tortured/by your being so cold”). Inside, the church is simple: just a nave and a series of nice stained glass windows letting the sunlight in. The temple is modern and its altar, sober. There’re three religious images on each side. There’re fervent devotees in Arriate. So much so that their Easter celebrations were designated as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Andalusia in 2001 for being “deeply rooted in old traditions, highly original,” and for including “multiple celebrations that express genuine traditional values,” I can read in a plate at the entrance.

Along the River Guadalcobacín

Skirting the church to the right, I’m walking down Correderas Street. I notice the clay plates bearing images of the village. I get to Plaza de la Residencia, where there’s a residential home for the elderly founded by the blessed Mother Petra de San José in 1900. The residence features a cloister-like central courtyard whose four palm trees lend it a West Indies accent. On the left wing there’s the chapel, identifiable from the outside by its belfry tower, with two bells hanging in it. Facing the residential home, I take the street to the right. It leads to 1º de Mayo Bridge over the river Guadalcobacín. It’s a coquettish bridge, with two little balconies leaning on the river on both banks. Then I come to Plaza de la Aurora –a pleasantly cool place where I can hear the ceaseless murmur of the river and whose whitewashed stone benches are brimming with flowers. I read about the auroreros in a clay plate: The aurora is the oldest and most popular religious tradition in Arriate. Every Sunday at dawn, a group of men –known as ‘auroreros’– go about singing coplas and playing their guitars, cymbals, and triangles. (...) Born in the countryside, in the valley of the river Gudalcobacín, the tradition reached the village itself as a tribute to Our Lady of the Rosary, the Patroness of Arriate. Now, in October, the auroreros go about town on Sunday mornings saying the rosary and singing ‘La Aurora.’ Their coplas or verses end with a cry: ‘¡Ave María Purísima!’.” Strolling down Huerto Street, I can feel the smell of embers –a sweet yet strong smell fighting for a place into my nose with those of the stews and casseroles that are being prepared in many of the homes. I notice the grilles in doors and windows. They are a hallmark of Arriate. Some feature intricate filigrees. I amble along another bridge along the Guadalcobacín and climb a flight of steps leading to a square dominated by a huge centuries-old tree. I just ramble around, exchanging kind greets with locals. “Good morning!,” “Good afternoon!,” “Hi, there!” seem to be in the tip of their tongue all the time. In Café Albarra, some men are chatting in the shade. In Café Paquito, another group of men are discussing football issues. The women, on the other hand, can’t stay put. They go from one shop to the next carrying their shopping bags, stopping for a short exchange with a neighbour, then moving on. Although it’s only 5 kilometres from Ronda, Arriate’s managed to keep the essence of a small neighbourhood, which makes you feel at home. Some homes in the older part of town house pork product factories on the ground floors. Arriate’s cold meats are much appreciated, for the climate of the sierras favours the curing of hams, chorizos, black puddings, blood sausages, salted meat, and the like. Alongside these traditional establishments, there’re more modern plants with larger premises. I order a late coffee at a bar (€1.10), scribbling on my travel journal as I drink.


Sitting in Parque de la Aurora, I admire its smooth shapes against the wild horizon and the solemn mountains. Arriate is a haven of peace and tranquillity moving to the rhythm of its river: curing homemade cold meats in the harshness of winter, feeling the smell of embers in spring, and so on. But it’s in the season of deep green when the village is at its peak, when the meadows make the white houses look even brighter. Ah! Being so broody has made me hungry. I’ll buy some homemade bread and cold meats to swallow by the river.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Fiesta de la Vieja (Lent Festival): This festival, held since the early twentieth century, is rooted in the tradition known as partir la vieja, which meant taking a break off the harsh principles of Lent according to the Catholic Church. There’s wine, ring-shaped buns, hard-boiled eggs, salmorejo, sweet lemons, wine doughnuts, and pork products for everyone.
Easter: Holy Week is also a major event in Arriate. In 2001 it was designated as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Andalusia. For more information about Holy Week in Arriate, click here.
What to do: Hiking: Arriate’s wonderful natural setting, the plains between Sierra de las Salinas and Sierra de las Cumbres, affords hikers several remarkable routes. Most of them are across the meadows of Serranía de Ronda, with maximum heights of 500 or 600 metres and varying degrees of difficulty. There’s, for instance, the Route to the Bridge of La Ventilla, past the natural area of Arroyo Oscuro, or the Route to Montejaque, a.k.a. Ribera de Don Rodrigo. You can even get to the Acinipo Roman ruins.
Useful links: My sources of information for this trip to Arriate have been the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Arriate Town Hall.

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