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.