Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Villanueva, new village. Villanueva del Trabuco. A town up in arms, at least in its belligerent coat of arms. Over 100 spouts squirting crystal-clear water. The birthplace of the Guadalhorce river, sustaining and nurturing it. Sierras –Gorda, San Jorge– mitigating the summer heat. Confluence and border: Granada and Axarquía, Antequera and Nororma… Lots of olives. New village up in arms: Villanueva del Trabuco.

Villanueva del Trabuco and Northeastern Málaga, or Nororma

Mildly rolling hills like waves laden with olive trees –the foam on top of flat cereal sheets in a tempestuous sea of earth. The landscape is bounded by grey-peaked sierras. It looks deceptively kind. As I get closer, I can see that the hills aren’t that mild and reach considerable heights in their “delicate” ups and downs. Sheltered by the undulating geography in yellow, green, and ochre depending on the season, Villanueva del Trabuco stands out like a sort of white spot. The land –and the people living in it– has a curious history. Men are likely to have lived in this area since prehistoric times, as shown by the archaeological remains found in the neighbouring sites. However, the environs remained uninhabited for centuries, thus being the den of all kinds of dangerous animals. They were virgin, unploughed lands. It was Charles III who encouraged people to settle in. Neighbours were afraid of the wild animals and they thought the lands to be far from their homes. So the King chose to invite foreign tenant farmers, and this was the origin of a Flemish and German community that grew into a new village: Villanueva del Trabuco.

Arrival and Plaza de España

I’ve come to Villanueva del Trabuco along the road from Villanueva del Rosario –neighbouring towns with a shared history. I reach the town centre through the main street and easily find a parking space on the detour to the left, leading to the church. Fetching my notepad and camera, I get off and walk towards the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores along a series of narrow streets, unwittingly following the Stations of the Cross. Suddenly, I stumble upon Plaza de España, dominated by a modern monument to the town. This square has a long history, from marketplace to Easter stage to Corpus Christi celebration venue to stop in the parade of the Magi. The monument was made by Brazilian-Spanish sculptor Bernardo Caro Sánchez as a tribute to his parents, who were born in Villanueva del Trabuco.

The Church and its Courtyard

The balconies overlooking most streets in towns are brimming with colourful flowers: discreet green, explosive red, sky blue… The church square is spacious and quiet. It’s flanked by the street, two homes, and the façade of the church, adjoining the seat of a local fraternity. The façade is amazing, rising up against the bright blue sky as if wanting to tickle it with its pinnacle. The existence of a church in Villanueva del Trabuco is recorded as early as in 1700, but it was only in 1760 that it became a parish church and was granted the right to have a side chapel and baptismal font. Also in 1760, the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrow; before it had been a temple for Our Lady of Egypt. I walk in. The interior stands in sharp contrast to the amazing façade, for it features an austere single nave. But it affords shade, coolness, and shelter. I go out and walk further up the street, some 20 metres. Then I turn left and find my way across Plaza del Prado.

Plaza del Prado and the Chapel of Virgen del Puente

Plaza del Prado is the heart of town. Many streets start or end in this square, and you have to come to it to go to most places. There’s a beautiful fountain in it, and the coat of arms in cobblestones, showing the blunderbuss (trabuco) that lends its name to the town. Legend has it that there used to be an inn close to the village whose owner used to go to Archidona for supplies. In his trips he was usually robbed of his goods, so he bought a blunderbuss and never parted ways with it. When they saw him in Archidona, they used to say, “There’s the guy with the blunderbuss.” This could’ve been the origin of the town’s name (source: Town Hall website). They’re funny, both the story and the fact that the coat or arms includes a blunderbuss. The square is full of restaurants and coffee houses. The Town Hall lies in one of the corners, opposite a multi-purpose building housing a home for the elderly, the town fitness centre, an exhibition room, and the food market. I walk across the building towards the river Guadalhorce, finding it impossible not to cool myself in a three-spout fountain. On the bank of the river there’s a small park, a bridge, and a chapel. It’s a small yet beautiful building, and it seems to be venerated by locals. In only 10 minutes, three women come and cross themselves before the image of Virgin Mary.

Pinar de los Villares and its Viewpoints

From the town centre I come back to my car and drive to Pinar de los Villares, above the district of Los Villares, next to the town swimming pool and on the way to the cemetery. Signs indicate the road to “Mirador de los Villares.” You can’t get lost. Sierras in the background, the hamlet in front; between the sierras and the hamlet, olives and corn fields. The white houses stand in stark contrast to the yellow fields. I can almost touch the pinnacle of the church if I stretch the tips of my fingers in my imagination. I can smell the pines, and wet earth, the Mediterranean cool… The thick pine forest overlooks Villanueva del Trabuco as if it were a balcony. Skirting the town swimming pool, I go back to town to see the Hundred-Spout Fountain. But I need a break first.

Stop and Lunch

On my way to the fountain, I spot Venta Asador El Cortijuelo. A local man had recommended it for its traditional food: porra, charcoal-grilled kid or lamb, homemade black pudding, pipirranas… There’re lots of dishes on the menu. The prices are good (I’d even say affordable) and the service, fine. Choosing a table on the terrace, I order hot porrilla with mushrooms (€3.90), meat in almond sauce (€5), charcoal-grilled lamb (€7.90), 2 beers, a 1.5l bottle of water, and an iced coffee. The bill = €22.20. The porrilla tastes like porra antequerana, but the vegetables lend it a darker colour. It includes sautéed mushrooms. You must use a spoon for it. A deliciously curious dish.

The Hundred-Spout Fountain

From El Cortijuelo, I have to drive 10 minutes to get to the fountain. I do so amidst the hills and the olives, by the early flow of the Guadalhorce. There’s an inn or two around: Marrillo, Los Lobos… The road goes up and down under the powerful sierras on the right. Each bend brings me closer to the foothills of the mountains. Crossing the river, a sign points to the right, where the fountain is. The road morphs into a trail in good condition. It can easily be negotiated by car. Surprisingly, there’re a lot of people at the fountain. It’s a curious attraction. Several rows of spouts stick out from the rock. The murmur of water is never-ending; in fact, it’s more than a murmur: it’s an endless drone. The bubbling water sprays the air with zillions of white particles. One, two, three, four, five… I can count 100 spouts.


Flowing into the fountain, the Guadalhorce gives rise to a small meadow affording great views of the surrounding hills and the sierras. Bring your mat, lie down, take a look at the bright blue sky, and let the river music –created with a 100-pipe natural organ– lull you to sleep.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: There’s a lot of information on hiking tours, MTB routes, and city walks on the Town Hall website. You can even download them in PDF files: Route of the River Source, Route of the Threshing Floor, Route of the Spouts, Route of Gardens, and many more.
When to come: On August 24 and 25, Villanueva del Trabuco plays host to the leading Cattle Fair in Málaga Province, which is also August Fair. The fiesta of the Patroness, Our Lady of Sorrow, is on September 15 and 16. In Easter, popular celebrations are interesting too; in particular, the Meeting of Mary and Jesus on Maundy Thursday.
Useful links: To learn more about Villanueva del Trabuco and Nororma, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Villanueva del Trabuco Town Hall, and Association for the Rural Development of Northeastern Málaga.

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


Thursday, 24 June 2010

Yunquera, the Keeper that lets you in Sierra de las Nieves. Spanish firs and chestnut trees, shady woods and lively paths. Crowded trails, lost horizons, stunning views. A Biosphere Reserve. Eden.

Coming Closer

Amazing hills, powerful mountains looking at you with their impertinent granite eyes. In their plots, olives stare at them. When I opened the car window, I was seized by a strong smell of earth and pine trees –the unmistakable sweet smell of the Mediterranean forest. The eternal, impervious granite colossuses guided my eyes through the horizon –old mountains enduring the harshness of winter and the broiling sun in the summer, and changing their shape accordingly. The landscape was punctuated by the plots housing olives and fruit trees, which seemed to have been there since the dawn of time. They have inherited the legacy of Arab wisdom, for it was the Arabs that brought this terrace farming method from a different time, alongside an irrigation system drawing on wells and ditches scattered in strategic areas. Both are still in use.

Even Before Arrival: The Chapel of Cruz del Pobre

As soon as I drove past the board announcing I was in Yunquera, opposite the cemetery, I saw a little chapel, Cruz del Pobre, worshipped by local people. I stopped to take a look. The façade culminated in a simple roof with a bell on top. A board made a dismal description of the image inside: “Extremely old, it’s withered with the passing of time. Its decrepit Christ, as thin as a straw, has a lowered head and drooping eyelids. This chapel used to mark a crossroads. In the past, the men and women travelling to Málaga or the neighbouring towns used to pray for this humble Christ to protect them. When they returned, they thanked Him. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: I prayed for a nice stay in Yunquera and got on my car.


I headed for the town centre and soon enough I was deep into a maze of narrow cobblestone streets that made driving an impossible task. The best thing to do was parking and walking. A good parking place: Reach “Parking Restaurante de los Reyes Católicos” and turn left instead of right. I you go straight ahead, you’ll come to Plaza de la Constitución, where you will need to take a turn. So, I parted ways with my car right here.

The Town Centre

The streets are so narrow in Yunquera that the houses cast their shadows against one another. This was good, for they sheltered me against the sun. Although it was early in the morning, it could be felt. The main street (Alfaguara-El calvario) is flanked by wrought-iron flower beds brimming with colourful geraniums. The doors met me with shadowy hallways and cool patios, hidden from curious looks. Listening to the bells pealing, I found my way towards the Church of La Encarnación. The sound became stronger with every step. I stopped at the three-spout fountain of El Poyo to splash my face with water. I could see the blue dome of the church, shining under the bright blue sky. The town was teeming with people on their daily errands: greetings, small talks, children riding their bikes, newspapers, bread and fish, coffee, muffins, toast or sandwiches, shops opening their doors, birds singing…

The Church and the Old Town

Across Plaza de la Constitución and past the Town Hall building, I got to the blue-pinnacle tower of the church. Lots of colourful flowers on window sills. I reached the Old Town, developed in the precinct of the old Arab castle. The Arab ruins gave rise to Barrio Veleta, the entrance to the Gate, Seminarista Duarte Street, and the Church. Historical records first mention Yunquera after Ronda was seized by the Christian in 1485, although the settlements in Porticate and Pereila, and this Old Town suggest that it had been occupied by the Arabs long before, as part of the province of Takurunna. Although historians aren’t certain that this was so, Yunquera appeared to have had a castle whose wall ran along Seminarista Duarte Street and whose far-end gate opened onto the road to Tolox and the so-called Puerta del Jandaque, which lay by a gorge (jandaq in Arabic) which could have been crossed by a drawbridge. What was real, and it was before my eyes, was the Church of La Encarnación. Built in 1505, the Church had its Mudéjar coffered ceiling renovated in 1601 and underwent several refurbishments later. One of the largest temples in Sierra de las Nieves, it featured a simple interior made up by a nave and two aisles separated by round arches. Next to the Church there was a cosy little square dominated by a fountain, supplemented with a bench in the shadow of the walls. The square also housed the headquarters of the Fraternity of Jesús Nazareno. I sat on the bench for a while, closed my eyes and enjoyed the peaceful simplicity of the place. Before retracing my steps, I went down Carnicería Vieja Street, affording great views of the sierras. All the streets beyond Plaza de la Constitución were cobblestone labyrinths decorated flowers and flower pots. I could hear birds tweeting above me. After cooling myself at the Fountain of El Poyo again, I returned to where I’d left my car.

The Watchtower

It was magnetic. It’d been watching me even before I entered the municipality. As soon as I’d left Guaro behind and hit the road to Alozaina, it spotted me. Its privileged location made it possible to control the flow of travellers coming from Ronda or El Burgo from the north, or from Alozaina from the south. Standing on a hillock, surrounded by olive trees, the watchtower was easy to find. Leaving the town centre, I took the road to El Burgo/Ronda and turned toward the petrol station at the roundabout. Skirting it on the left, I got there. The watchtower dominates the horizon (after all, it’s a watchtower!). It looked like a truncated cone, or even a cylinder, featuring thick masonry walls with defensive openings. When troops or strangers were spotted from the tower, fire signals (using bonfires or torches) communicated this to other points in the region. At present, the Sierra de las Nieves Visitor Centre is housed in the tower, which still offers spellbinding panoramic views of Valle del Guadalhorce (left) and Sierra de las Nieves (straight ahead and right). There’s a platform and a scenic viewpoint for better views of the matchless setting.

The Spanish Fir Grove

Who’d want to leave Yunquera without even touching a Spanish fir, the native pine feeding on abundant humidity and water? I certainly wouldn’t, so I undertook the route to Puerto Saucillo and the Luis Ceballos viewpoint (5 to 7km). Part of the route can be done by car; the road is in good condition, but it’s narrow and a stretch of it runs next to a chasm. The road can be accessed from the petrol station, driving towards the sports centre and taking the right path at the first junction. Leaving the football pitch and basketball court behind, I drove into a clearly signposted trail. A natural balcony opened up before me to the left. It was breathlessly beautiful. I could see Yunquera and the slope where it was perched, rolling down the hill beyond Alozaina to Guaro and Monda. I finally came to the grove. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Huge Spanish firs covered the hills as a thick blanket in different shades of green. The trails carved by walking men plunged into the leafy shadows as if there were no way back from them. Silence, darkness, and patches of the bright blue sky through the thick mesh of branches. It looked like the Garden of Eden, a place where nature reigned supreme and man had no role to play.


Embraced by the quiet trees, I felt the resounding cool of the woods and the strong smells. I sauntered around, one step at a time, and suddenly I realised I was in the small parking place where I’d left my car. I could only hear the murmur of the wind and the purr of the breeze past the branches. Yunquera was a peaceful village, tied to the earth by aromas and colours. Everything was green and blue. Daylight came through the leaves and carried me away.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Being the gateway to the Sierra de las Nievas Biosphere Reserve, Yunquera encourages hiking as a form of sustainable tourism. Trails are clearly marked and there’s a host of routes to choose from starting in the town itself. They’re all described in the Town Hall website (Hiking Trails). Restless travellers can check for hiking routes with downloadable GPS maps.
What to see: Sierra de las Nieves: Sierra de las Nieves is a natural heaven in the central area of Málaga Province. It’s part of the mountain range that borders on Costa del Sol Occidental to the south, Valle del Guadalhorce to the east, Serranía de Ronda to the west, and Guadalteba to the north. It’s 58km away from Málaga City. The towns and villages in Sierra de las Nieves –Alozaina, Casarabonela, El Burgo, Guaro, Istán, Monda, Ojén, Tolox, Yunquera– make up a mountainous rural region where man still lives in contact with nature and in perfect balance. In this sense, then, they’re a model community from the environmental and cultural points of view. Together, the nine towns make a sort of human belt in the sierras, managing to keep intact the blend of cultures resulting from history. They’re bound together by the rough geography of the sierras. Their shared physical and cultural traits have tied them into a region with a clear identity within Málaga Province. In 2008, Sierra de las Nieves became a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN), a project promoting sustainable tourism development models across the European Union (source:
Useful links: Learn more about Yunquera and Sierra de las Nieves on the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Yunquera Town Hall, Sierra de las Nieves Town Council Association, and Sierra de las Nieves Rural Development Group.

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


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Alcaucín: a land of legends. Arab queens, mythical heroes, nymphs in love. Stout mountains and delicate flower pots, flowery beds, narrow streets, shady corners. Five-spout fountains and scintillating, murmuring, crystal water. Alcaucín: a village below La Maroma, a pass to Boquete de Zafarraya, a balcony overlooking La Viñuela. Ulysses and Calypso in love; scented Zalia; a Nasrid man taken by surprise and taken captive. Welcome to Alcaucín.

Landscape and Legend

Alcaucín lies in a peculiar area of Axarquía, dominated by the impressive gorge of Boquete de Zafarraya to the right and the water mirror of the reservoir of La Viñuela. The horizon is peppered with the white dots of estates, farmhouses, and cortijos, separated by fields punctuated by olives. The zigzagging road unveils the landscape on the left. I could see the Mesa de Zalia in all its glory –a trapezoidal rocky plateau where legends live in ambush. They say this plateau could’ve been Ogygia, island where the sea-nymph Calypso welcomed hapless Ulysses in his return back home. Hospitably, she healed his wounds, washed his cloths, and fell in love so deeply that she wouldn’t let him go.
“Stay with me and you’ll be immortal,” she begged.
“I can’t. I need to go back to my homeland, Ithaca,” he replied
“Is Penelope better than I am?”
“Of course not. You’re a goddess. You’re far better than her. But Penelope is my home; she’s my life.”
Historical records, on the other hand, suggest Zalia could’ve been home to the Phoenician settlement of Tangara, although there’re no documents to support this hypothesis. What’s a fact is that the fortress there was once occupied by the Arabs and then by the Christians.

Arrival and Breakfast

It’s early in the morning. Time for breakfast, first household chores, first morning errands. The village is waking up; I can hear the people, their hustle and bustle. When you come to Alcaucín, park just past the Information Point, for the streets get narrower from there and driving becomes more difficult, at least for out-of-towners. Besides, Alcaucín is a village to walk in, to be negotiated on foot, so that you can enjoy its alleys and shady corners, its smells, its rows of balconies overlooking Axarquía. There’re several fine restaurants in town. You’ll come across two of them –Rancho Grande and Restaurante Azafrán– as soon as you drive in. Given the hour, I can only have breakfast in the cool streets. I choose Enrique, ordered two white coffees, one ham-and-cheese sandwich, and one bacon-and-cheese sandwich. The bill = €5.60.

The Five-Spout Fountain

While having breakfast, I can hear the birds and the murmuring water flowing out of the Five-Spout Fountain, where alcaucineños come to fill their 5l jugs promising something fresh to drink at home. I can see some simple gestures, too: a middle-aged woman clutching her shirt with her left hand and holding on to the wall with her right hand leans and takes a long sip from the fountain while raising her left foot. The five spouts are protected by a four-column arcade with round arches. The wall is covered by tiles in red shades that glow in the sun. Locals tell me the fountain has never stopped producing water, no even in times of the fiercest droughts.

The Town Hall and the Church

Leaving the fountain behind –but not before splashing my face with water from it–, I come to a crossroads. Taking the street on the left, I’ll get to Plaza de la Constitución; the street on the right leads to Plaza de Salia, where there’s an open-air market on Saturdays. (And today is Saturday.) I choose the left option. The pots burst with flowers: geraniums, violets, daisies… Plaza de la Constitución is the place where secular and religious power come together: the town hall and the church are adjoining buildings almost holding hands. The Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario is incredibly simple, featuring a central body and a wall attached to it culminating in a two-bell belfry. The bells are different sizes. Built in the eighteenth century, the church comprises a nave and an aisle separated by three round arches. The Gospel aisle includes a side chapel whose Rococo plasterwork is remarkable.

The Chapel

Down Calvario Street, I get to the Chapel of Jesús del Calvario. It’s an uphill stroll along intertwining streets, but it looks more threatening before you undertake it, for the slope is quite smooth. It takes me 10’ to come to the religious sight in the upper part of town. The area affords interesting views of a peculiar landscape: the water spot of La Viñuela, the gorge of Boquete de Zafarraya, and the Zalia plateau, which, according to a leaflet by María Ángeles Flores Cazorla, “seems to be waiting for a host of guests surrounded by peaks. Giving free rein to my imagination, this could be one of the table’s legs.” Built in the seventeenth century, the chapel has a square floor plan and a façade whose round arch is supported by pilasters.

Plaza de Salia and Walk to the Castle

Walking downhill, I take a flight of steps to the left when I reach the first landing. The steps lead to Plaza de Salia. Sitting on a bench, I can see Comares like an eagle’s nest to the left and the white hamlet of Colmenar to the right. The homes in Alcaucín are very colourful, full of flower pots and flower beds, without excessive ornament as befits a simple, austere town. Let’s bear in mind this is a mountainous village in Sierra de Tejeda, at the foot of the highest peak in Málaga Province –La Maroma (2,065m)–, which makes it a secluded, discreet place. Back in the square, I plunge into the street market. Before going to fetch my car, I make another stop at the fountain, using one of its five spouts again. It’s fresh, transparent, delicious, especially now that I can feel the broiling sun. To get to the castle I need to leave the town centre, cross the Don Manuel bridge, and turn right at the access to the main road towards Granada. After 2km of bends, a sign indicates I should turn left.

The Castle of Zalia

The fortress of Zalia is a bastion on the plateau. In the past, Zalia used to connect Vélez-Málaga with Granada through the mountain pass of Boquete de Zafarraya. This means that the castle had a geostrategic position of great importance. The fortress and the plateau owe their name to a queen, Zalia, who was said to take daily baths in the river down below. “On full-moon nights, the Moorish queen used to come down to a little pond on the crest of the fortress which was known as ‘The Pool of the Moorish Queen.’ There was a night when a Nasrid man came to the pool to watch the mythical queen having her bath. As he saw her go into the pound in the midst of petals and water lilies, he was caught by a guard and taken to La Cerca, where he spent the rest of his life by the memories of that beautiful woman and her radiant, smooth skin. La Cerca was an old jail annexed to the castle where the Muslim kept their enemies.” (Source: Wikipedia). The remains of the castle include parts of the walls and two towers. They reveal a medium-size fortress. If you can find your way across the rather thick undergrowth, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of La Viñuela (ahead); Alcaucín, La Maroma, the Roman district, and Comares (left); and Colmenar and a series of rolling hills peppered with farmhouses and cortijos (right). There’re several country accommodations in the castle area; for more information about them, go to Castle of Zalía Rural Complex.


Intoxicated by the magic landscape, I close my eyes and feel the breeze brush past, merging fact and fiction. I can hear Calypso and her beloved Ulysses. I can see the beautiful queen Zalia after taking her lavish bath. I can picture Tangara. I can conjure up all the legends and stories together in the castle ruins –silent witnesses to so many things. It’s silent now. Ulysses has left for Ithaca.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Located in Sierra de Tejeda, Alcaucín offers multiple hiking options. For instance, the Sierra del Alcázar route described in the Town Hall website. “Alcaucín lies on the way to La Maroma, boasting great camping facilities by the river Alcaucín. The water springs close to the source of the stream and the thick woods around it are some of the natural assets in this cosy area. A few meters down, an impressive gorge opens up before the stream flows into La Viñuela reservoir. The best views of this natural canyon are afforded by the scenic viewpoint by the trail, where you’ll see the beautiful shapes resulting from rock erosion in the river bed and the surrounding mounts.” For more routes, explore the Town Hall website: Alcaucí
What to do: Route of Oil and Mountains: Alongside Riogordo, Colmenar, Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo, Periana, Alcaucín, and La Viñuela, Alcaucín is part of the Route of Oil and Mountains.
Useful links: To learn more about Alcaucín, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Alcaucín Town Hall, and 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.