Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Igualeja seems to have been stolen from the chestnut trees, or naturally and delicately carved out of the mountain slopes. Set in the heart of Serranía de Ronda, pumping sap into the area, it’s a white spot against the greenness of spring. Igualeja is the beginning, cause, and genesis of one of the most fertile, leafy valleys in Málaga Province. It’s the source of the river Genal, whose ups and downs have given birth to one of the most charming regions in Andalusia –a place where man and nature can live in perfect harmony.

The Source of the River Genal

The murmur of water can be heard in the streets of Igualeja, like the whisper of a broken spell. It’s pure, pristine, clear in both form and content. It’s the first thing you come across when you come to Igualeja: the source of the river Genal, with wood, stone and iron benches, rustic rails, and even a little fountain to cool yourself down. The murmur is ever-present; the stillness is interrupted by three little springs. The clear water unveils all the secrets of the river bed. I can smell the wet grass and hear the trills of birds. The springs are the result of man-made dams. Seeing the lights at the bottom, I picture the place at night, illuminated. How beautiful it must be! I could stay here forever. I splash my face with some fresh water and drank some of it as well. How cool, how delicious!

The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima

I’m walking along the main street towards the Albaicín, on the left bank of the river. The Genal splits Igualeja into two: Santa Rosa on the right bank and Albaicín on the left. A tile map at a little square shows me where I am. Iglesia Street takes me to the church, whose wall makes it look like just one more building on this street. The only distinctive feature that marks it as a church is a small tower that used to be a minaret. The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima has kept an old accent, but it’s radically modern inside. No coffered ceilings; instead, white square panels, in sharp contrast to the polychrome wood sculptures dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The contrast enhances the subtle beauty of the church. Built upon the ruins of a sixteenth-century mosque and renovated in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries, it’s cool inside, too. Just when I walk through the door, I can hear the bells ringing.

The Chapel

I continue my stroll, and 10 metres after leaving the church I come to Ermita Street on the right. And then I see it: the Chapel of Divino Pastor, a building squeezed in between two houses and flanked by a fountain and a tree. It’s a peculiar difficult-to-describe corner. The humble belfry has two bells. The door seems to hide a larger temple, but when you walk in, what you get is a 5-square-metre room with a small altar crowned by a half-dome with fresco paintings. The building is heavily –yet not exaggeratedly– decorated. Built in the eighteenth century, this chapel used to be a Carmelite convent. I’m going back to the main street.


I need to reach the far end of the street and turn left to walk up to the Albaicín, the old quarter –a district of zigzagging streets and whitewashed walls. Stone walls standing on rock: the whole area seems to be climbing the mountain. Every street, every corner boasts colourful flowerbeds, pots with strong-, sweet-smelling rosemary, and lazy cats sheltering from the heat under the eaves.
Igualeja is immersed in a valley, so the Albaicín affords interesting (though partial) views of the intricate maze of buildings that make the hamlet. I can see Santa Rosa and the mantle of chestnuts beyond, surrounding the village. Green, green, and more green… A green ocean. I can smell some sweet spring embers and stew –which I imagine as hearty and heavy as the mountains themselves.

The Niche

Back to the chapel down the main street, I return to Plaza del Buen Pastor, dominated by a white shepherd and a small, single-spout fountain. Then I turn left towards Plaza de Andalucía. On the way, more fountains, more water, more alleys and shadows, stone walls, flowers, flowerpots, flowerbeds, playing children… Andalusia Square is the nerve centre of life in town. The Town Hall and two of the best-known restaurants are to be found here. The square is surrounded by a line of trees and orange roofs reaching up for the bright blue sky. Opposite the Town Hall there’s the Niche of Señor de la Misericordia. It contains an eighteenth-century Stabat Mater representation (Mary suffering during the Crucifixion) by the School of Granada and a replica of Crucified Jesus.

Santa Rosa District

Crossing the river, I take pictures of two niches holding crosses and votive offerings. Santa Rosa is a more modern district. Although its architecture isn’t particularly remarkable, there’s a nice promenade along the Genal. It’s simple, featuring a dark iron rail leaning over the river. The place is cool, seized by the refreshing fragrances and murmurs of the water. I saunter around, relishing each and every step. I sit down, take a break, enjoy myself.


Before picking up my car, I’m going to take another look at the source of the Genal. The murmur of water is loud. I sit on a bench. I wander through a little grass garden. I splashed water on my face once and again. I stare at the flowing water and think of Heraclitus: “You can’t step twice into the same river.” He was right. The Genal is unique, unrepeatable, ever-changing, and yet –fortunately– constant. Genesis of life, builder or villages, sap of chestnuts… One of the spirits that inform the essence of Málaga lives in Igualeja.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come:
Chestnut Day: Being the leading producer of chestnuts in the area, Igualeja celebrates the Chestnut Fair on All Saints’ Day. The fiesta consists of a tostón (chestnut roasting in the countryside), popular in many villages along the Genal Valley. People get together to enjoy and eat the chestnuts with whatever they like.
What to do:
Hiking: Lots of hiking trails intertwine across the valley. In fact, you can connect any two municipalities in the region hiking. The hiking club Pasos Largos recommends the trail from Igualeja to Parauta (Igualeja-Parauta). Also, check wikiloc for hiking or biking routes.
Useful links: If you’re planning a trip to Igualeja, visit these websites for further information: Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Igualeja Town Hall, Pasos Largos hiking club, and wikiloc.

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