Saturday, 3 July 2010

Periana: verdial olive oil and peach, fruity notes, and historical fits. Periana: outstanding landscapes and rolling hills. Periana: a reconstructed town. Periana: new narrow streets, shady parks, and generous fountains. Periana: peach. Periana: olive oil. Periana: laden bright blue skies. Periana: Guaro and Vilo. Periana: rivers. Periana.

Periana in Context

The road zigzags in an orchard brimming with olives, holm oaks, and peach trees. Tree tops reflect the whitish shades of the stubborn sun, as if they were a peaceful lake, rippling to the rhythm of the breeze. The mildly rolling landscape stands in sharp contrast to the village’s hectic history, its foundations undermined in an earthquake, its vines affected by phylloxera, some of its areas ravaged by floods. The 1884 earthquake took a death toll of 56 and forced the town to reinvent itself. However, the inner city is no less genuine than it used to be. For the town is blessed with something no earthquake can snatch from it: great views of La Viñuela reservoir, of Axarquía and, beyond Vélez-Málaga, of the sea, opening up a series playful contrasts between the tamed body of water of the lake and the brave ocean waves.

Arrival and Parking

As soon as I drive past the sign telling me that I’ve come to Periana, a roundabout leads me to the thermal baths of Vilo ahead of the town centre to the left. I choose the latter. Past the Civil Guard station (right), along the suggestive Bellaviste Drive, I come to Plaza de la Constitución, where the Town Hall and a perfect place for parking are. Right form the square, the views of this area of Axarquía are just perfect. It’s so different from other parts of the region, its shapes so mild… The rolling hills, the hamlets and cortijos scattered like drops of white paint on a green and blue canvas… The reservoir inevitably catches my eye.

The Way to Plaza de la Fuente

Equipped with my camera and notepad, I go into Periana. Paseo Bellavista leads to a square, full of fresh shadows, where old men and women gather and shelter from the broiling sun. From the square you can see that backyard of the Church of San Isidro Labrador. I drink from one of the fountains and move on. I soon reach a bend where, under an archway, I see the entrance to Arroyo Cantarranas Park. Here I’m greeted by sweet Arabic music, which brings me back to the times of Al-Andalus. The main thoroughfare is narrow and winding, even when it was redesigned after the earthquake. The houses have managed to keep their hallways and traces of the old wall-walks; whitewashed walls prevail over colours, and the Mediterranean aromas haven’t come off with the tremor of 1884. They stand next to newer buildings, with rectangular landscape windows, wooden blinds, flat rooftops, grilled doors, and gargoyles in the shape of mythical creatures. In Plaza de la Fuente, four ground-level spouts from a sort of trough. St Isidore stands atop the fountain. Perianenses love him. I enjoy the cool water as an invaluable gift.

Periana Peaches...

Turning left from Plaza de la Fuente, I take Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente Street. A curious fact: all number plates on house doors look alike –a white number crowned by two peaches still hanging from a branch. And so I come to one of the themes of Periana, for peach production is one of the pillars of the local economy. According to the Town Hall website, “Although they’re famous the world over, peaches were introduced in Periana 200 years ago by a local man nicknamed “El Rojo.” He’d been to Argentina to visit his family, and when he came back he brought some shoots to plant in estate of Altabacares. The mild weather and the fertile soil made the area apt for peach growing, and so the peach orchards multiplied readily. Beasts of burden were used to carry the peaches in baskets or even sacks. Soon afterwards, a group of pioneers got organised to market their fruit in the capital and neighbouring villages. Mule drivers left for the hinterland (Alfarnate, El Trabuco, Zafarraya, Loja) and sold or bartered their goods. This is how the peaches grown in Periana became famous. Wholesalers hailing from Murcia and other provinces came to buy them and, in the 1970s, growing methods were perfected to produce over 4 million kilos a year. Velvety, intoxicating peaches for the most demanding palates have earned Periana a household name.” I don’t need to add a word here. I’m off to unveil the other of Periana’s treasures.

...And Periana Oil

I’m only gone 50m and I find a detour to the right signing the entrance to the premises of Sociedad Cooperativa Olivarera San Isidro, dominated by a huge red brick smokestack which has fallen into disuse. If the peaches produced in Periana are excellent, the local verdial olive oil is one of the village’s hallmarks. Olive groves were known to the Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Nasrids who settled in the area; they were well acquainted with the quality of the olives growing in the area. Verdial olives owe their name to their bright green colour when ripe; and, in turn, they’ve lent their name to a type of fandango which has come to be known as verdiales. Experts describe verdial oil as strong, fruity, naturally scented, and subtly yellow. After tasting it, I can only agree. I couldn’t help getting into the cooperative’s headquarters and buying two 5l bottles at an amazing price (€15 each). I talked to one of the cooperative members about the importance of the oil-making industry, the use of the latest technology available to make it competitive, and the characteristics of verdial oil. It was an interesting, educational talk. Hours later, at home, I tasted the oil with great relish. It’s a foodstuff, a dish, in its own right.

Church of San Isidro, Earthquake, and Alfonso XII

Walking ahead, I come to the Church of San Isidro Labrador, lying only 10m from the oil cooperative. It’s a newly built church, erected after the 1884 earthquake, but it’s really charming. Its white walls are complemented by brick lintels, columns, baldachins, and belfries, which lends it an industrial air. The Mudejar interior comprises a single nave and two aisles, separated by pointed arches. Its little-tile floor is a unique feature. The façade tells an overwhelming story on a big marble plate: “At 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Day in 1884, the earth began to shake in Granada and Málaga, in an area that was 200 kilometres long and 70 kilometres wide, affecting 106 villages destroying some of them. Buildings collapsed in most areas; 736 people died and 1,253 were seriously injured; no-one escaped grief and horror. The generous and bright king Alfonso XII came when the scourge was still fresh, wind and snow blocking the roads. He wiped tears away, helped those in need, comforted their souls. Calling for universal charity to face the aftermath of the catastrophe, he launched a collection and raised 3,448,734 pesetas in Spanish domains and 3,006,363 in other countries. With the funds raised, 14,000 homes were repaired or rebuilt soon enough, and in the new district in the village of Periana this parish church emerged.” The chronicle gives quite a clear idea of what the 1884 earthquake meant. The King’s aid was crucial to the reconstruction. Periana’s gratitude to him is condensed in the name of the church backyard: Plaza Alfonso XII.

Time for Lunch

The side street to the right of the church takes me back to Paseo Bellavista and Plaza de la Constitución, where I need to find my car to leave the oil there. Light again, I go down the main street towards Verdugo, a restaurant recommended by a friend whose relatives live in Periana. They prepare different appetisers every day, and they are announced by the waiter. “Today, ajoblanco, puchero, sopa de picadillo, and gazpacho. I order ajoblanco and soup. The main course I can choose from the menu, which includes pork, lamb, kid, anchovies, squid, and more in several languages. I choose grilled squid and roast chops (with potato and vegetable garnishes). Verdugo is a restaurant for local patrons (I bumped into one of the managers of the oil cooperative); they serve hearty homemade dishes in generous helpings. It’s cool inside, and that’s good. My ajoblanco is accompanied by apple and cucumber. The soup sends strong perfumes off. To wash everything down, a beer and a 1.5l bottle of water. After the meal, iced coffee. The bill = €19.50.

Vilo Thermal Baths

After letting the food go down for a while in the shade of a generous tree, I head for my car to drive to the Vilo Thermal Baths. The roundabout in the entrance of town indicates how to get there, so this is where I go. 2km from the town centre, I can choose between the roads to Alfarnate or Colmenar. The former goes into a Periana district; it’s a narrow road flanked by houses. The latter leads to the thermal baths through a sharp bend and a steep climb. Either can be used to get to the site, but be careful: you can miss it altogether, for it’s just behind a newly developed holiday resort and the sign is only visible when you come in front of it. I can hear the waterfalls of the river Vilo, a ceaseless fluvial murmur. On the far bank, across a little stone bridge, there’s a small construction: two walls and a tower, and a treasure hidden inside. It’s a treasure of defiant smells and a bright turquoise colour. A puddle, protected by the walls from the outside world, stands like an ancient pool. Water shimmers in it. The smell is strong (rotten egg), but it’s immediately associated with natural spas, classical thermal baths, wellbeing. The only thing I can hear is the murmur of water. The temperature in the Vilo thermal baths remains constant at 21º C all year round. The area was used for sulphurous water baths in the nineteenth century, until a flood destroyed the precarious resort that had developed around the hot spring in 1907. Rehabilitation work is now being done.


I take a seat near the baths, hearing the sound of river music, feeling the shades of the trees and the protection of the walls, looking at the turquoise water before me, spellbound. I take my shoes off and shyly put my feet into the water. Perfect temperature. I get transported to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when bourgeois citizens from Málaga City or Vélez-Málaga came to Periana in search of the healing properties of water. I get carried away…

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come:
Verdial Oil Day:
In April, Periana pays tribute to one of its staples on Verdial Oil Day, which has been designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest. The celebrations are aimed at publicising the “golden liquid” extracted from verdial olives, unique fruit worshipped by the Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Nasrids, producing a sweet golden oil whose flavour is unique and original. If you come to Periana on Verdial Oil Day, you can taste the oil, have a miller’s breakfast, listen to pandas de verdiales, and attend the Verdial Oil Award ceremony, honouring leading personalities of society, politics, and culture. For more information, photos, and videos, visit the Periana Town Hall website at Verdial Oil Day.
Peach Day: On this day, Periana pays tribute to the other staple of local economy, peaches. The highlight of this fiesta is a culinary competition in which chefs must use –guess what– peaches in their dishes. There’s music and a host of cultural activities. Peach Day is held in June. Click here to watch related videos.

Useful links: To plan your trip to Periana, the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Periana Town Hall (which contains up-to-date information) and Association for the Promotion of Axarquía can be useful sources.

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