Tuesday, 1 June 2010

I was accosted by its smells –gorse, orange blossoms, thyme– even before getting to it. I could feel this village in the heart of Montes de Málaga when reading about it. I could say its name, Colmenar (Spanish for “apiary”), and imagine the amber bee-made product it’s famous for. I pictured its Canary Virgin, so distant from its island origins. I went back to its past at the crossroads of Axarquía and the countryside of Antequera. This week I’ve been to Colmenar, the village whose coat of arms depicts a haycock and seven bees humming around.

The Landscape

The environs of Colmenar have the essence of three regions of Málaga Province: the cornfields of Antequera, the sharp sinuosity of Axarquía, and the austere solidness of Montes de Málaga. The rolling hills morph into dangerous ravines and these, in turn, become sown fields that turn green in spring. Scanning the horizon, you can make out the highest peaks. It’s a privileged setting, a town taking its three-dimensional and strategic location as something natural.

The Street of Flowers

Parking at the entrance of the town centre from the road to Casabermeja (quite far from the centre itself, in fact), I got off to get an idea of Colmenar’s layout. I went down Camino de Málaga Street, noticing the village rested on two hills –the one I was standing on and an older one housing the church and, higher up, the chapel. The street itself was flanked by flower beds brimming with red, white, and pink geraniums. It was scalloped by a brick balustrade wall with lots of colourful flower pots bearing the name of the town. The houses in Colmenar have the features of those described for the regions of Antequera or Guadalteba: two storeys, a hallway and door, a shady inner courtyard, wrought-iron grilles before doors and windows, and so on. I strolled down Camino de Málaga Street and Ñora Street, across a little square, past the crossroads, into one of the main thoroughfares. There was a statue in the middle of it: a man and a boy. The man is one of the most illustrious men born in this village: Alfonso Medina, the founder of the “charity and learning facility, Orphanage of Jesus and Candelaria, Molina-Padilla Foundation.”

Towards the Church

To access the church, I had to turn right into Pescadería Street –a narrow street with a lot of history. First called Platería, its name changed to Italia after the Spanish Civil War, for it was here that the Italian troops were posted. Afterwards, it became Sánchez Platero –a tribute to a popular parish priest. Now it’s gone back to a more traditional name, Pescadería. A short walk was enough to realise what one of the staples of the local economy was: traditionally made pork products. There were lots of stores selling them, showcasing them to attract shoppers. Colmenar produces quality cold meats and celebrates this tradition on the Day of Must and Pork, when out-of-towners can taste these delicious foods to the sound of flamenco and verdiales, or even take a tapas circuit and sample the best of Colmenar’s food traditions. When I got to Taberna de Flores, I turned right towards the Church. The town was quiet, silent –its people moving from one hill to the other, negotiating the ups and downs of the road. I finally got to the church square and the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The first religious ceremony to take place in this church, in 1566, was a baptism. The baby was called Catalina, and she was the daughter of Rodrigo de Alonso and Catalina López. The church itself looked like a fort rather than a temple –the result of renovations and extensions throughout the years. It was a stout, curious building painted white with creamy-coloured edges. It comprised a nave and two aisles separated by round arches, and three side chapels, one of which was profusely decorated in the Baroque style.

Towards the Chapel

I retraced my steps back Taberna de Flores, turning left instead of right at this point. A cobblestone alley led to an intimidating climb, so I braced myself for the ordeal. I moved past Colmareños and their everyday life: errands, walks, work… They said hello and showed me the way to the chapel. Unhurriedly, I reached the highest point in town: the Chapel of La Candelaria. The cult of the Virgin of Candelaria celebrates an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. Legend has it that, in 1700, a group of Canary sailors were fishing in the Mediterranean when they were seized by a horrible storm which was about to dismast their ship. In the dark of night, they prayed for help to the Virgin of their homeland, La Candelaria, promising that, if they survived, they would built a chapel in Her honour in the mountains they could see far in the horizon. They survived. And they fulfilled their promise. The legend is captured in a popular song: “Saliste de las Canarias/con gran acompañamiento/pasaste por tierras varias/hasta llegar al convento/Virgen de la Candelaria” (You left the Canary Islands/in a big procession/You’ve sailed through so many lands/Until you reached the convent/Virgin of La Candelaria). Harsh facts showed a simple single-nave building dating back to the seventeenth century whose most remarkable feature is its location. The chapel doubled as a scenic viewpoint affording views of the austere, sturdy, increasingly high Málaga Mountains to the west and the western part of Axarquía to the east, with its hills and sharp ravines –pick-carved gorges almost plunging in the ocean. The mist cloaked the views, but I made out Riogordo in the bottom of a valley and the first slopes of La Maroma –the highest peak in Málaga Province– behind. I sat on one of the wrought-iron benches surrounding the chapel and let the breeze brush past me. I could hear the bells of the parish church pealing below and the carefree trill of birds. The smell of orange blossoms, sweet and fresh, came to my nostrils as a harbinger of the spring that is about to burst.


I left Colmenar, winding along the old road to Málaga. The wheat fields were still green, resembling a rolling gulfweed sea. I couldn’t resist the temptation: I pulled over at a bend and looked back. I plunged into a field, brushing my fingers through the green spikes. I could only hear the murmur of the wind.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Given its strategic location, Colmenar is hikers’ heaven. The Town Hall website contains four hiking routes and places them on a map. The first is 4.5 kilometres long and features a 5% gradient; it takes hikers to the source of the river Guadalmedina and its alluring sound. This route runs along the so-called Dorsal Bética, amidst cattle trails and reaches the river bed, where you can hear the echoes of the Guadalmedina. Along the way, you can take a break at Llanos de Marchena, where you’ll find brooks of crystal clear water. The second route, Chamizo, has an 11% slope and takes three hours and a half to complete. It’s remarkable for the plants and animals you can spot along the way: hares, moles, wild boars, Spanish ibexes, vultures, eagles… The Route of Solano is 6 kilometres long and can take about two hours and a half. The interesting thing about this route is that it affords views or several archaeological sites. At the end, you’ll come to a rectangular granite mass known as “Mesa de Solano;” hence the name of the itinerary. Finally, there’s the Route of La Molina, rich in landscapes and history. Leading to eighteenth-century estates like La Molina or Napolín, it runs along the old Cañada Real, connecting Alhama to Antequera, which was the only cattle pass between Málaga and Granada.
Useful links: The websites I used when planning my trip to Colmenar were those of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Colmenar 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.