Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Manilva looks the sea in the eye from its green vines and vineyards. Looks its long past in the eye, as long as the Mediterranean is old. Manilva has sipped its own wines since the dawn of time, enjoying muscatel and colourful fruit. Manilva watches over Mare Nostrum, which laps at its feet in Sabinillas. Manilva: blue flags on the beach, wide strips of white sand, crystal-clear water. Manilva drinks from the sea while standing on a hillock, watching and protecting it as if it were its child.

From the Coast or Upwards, or from the Highway or Downwards

You can access Manilva from the N-340, the crowded road along the coastline, or from the AP-7, a toll highway. If you choose the former, then you should leave San Luis de Sabinillas behind to the left and climb up to the town centre. If you prefer the latter, you’ll have to pay €5.50 at the tollbooth, but you’ll come directly into town. In fact, this was my choice, for I wanted to visit the town centre first and then go down to Sabinillas, La Duquesa Marina, the Castle, and the Churrera Tower to the east.

In Manilva

I drove towards the Church of Santa Ana to the right, along the streets of Manilva. When I saw the church, I parked, on Pozo del Rey Street. I took my cap, camera, and notepad and got off. Nobel Street led to Santa Ana. But before telling you about it, I’ll tell you that Manilva is set on a hillock that’s been known as Loma de los Mártires (Martyrs’ Hill) since time immemorial. It’s a privileged vantage point 3 kilometres from the sea, where you can get views of the bright green and misty blue horizon, relishing the image of vines and the crystalline magnet of the sea. When the streets vanish into the horizon, they get trapped within the vineyards, the sierras –Crestellina–, the ocean, and the corn fields and vegetable gardens. I approached the façade of the church and looked at its dark bricks. The parish church is quite big, its façade crowned by a square belfry tower, its lintels and frames painted red. The entrance comprises three low round arches. Next to the church, to the left, there’s the town cemetery. To the right, a square bearing a Lorca-inspired name: Romance de la Luna. I walked up Iglesia Street. I looked through open doors into cool, shady courtyards. Flower pots hanging from balconies painted the walls. I came to the main street, Doctor Álvarez Leiva, a small tree-lined avenue featuring the Town Hall building on the right and the exit to the start of the Pedreta roundabout on the left. I reached the roundabout and took a stroll along the natural balcony overlooking the meadows and the sierras. Then I went back to the car.

Vines and “Frutas Pascual e Hijos”

Going down into San Luis de Sabinillas, I stopped at “Frutas Pascual e Hijos,” a classic in Manilva, a must-stop in fact if you want to buy must, sweet wine, muscatel grapes, and the like. Beware, though: it’s just behind a sharp bend, so you have to be very cautious with parking. “Frutas Pascual” is one of those traditional venues drawing locals and out-of-towners alike. They sell delicious fruit, homemade cheese, dried fruit; at the back they keep their most precious treasure: bottles and jars of sensuous sweet wine –the perfect liquid to drink cold as a dessert or boil your meat in. There’re jars of raisins or grapes in eau-de-vie too. Of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation: I bought ¼ cured cheese, 1 pack of raisins, 1 pack of almonds, and a little bottle of wine, all for €16. The stock and vines came right up to the edge of the Manilva-Sabinillas road. They even seize the first streets on the outskirts of the town, as a tribute to its past and present, and in keeping with the town’s slogan: “Manilva, a bunch of sensations.” According to the Town Hall website, “Sometime between 1515 and 1520, the Duke of Arcos, the landlord of Casares County, granted the first lands to be used for vine-growing in the old area of Manilva. By the mid sixteenth century, vineyards had spread to most hills, taking up most of the suitable land. Since then, vineyards have never stopped expanding in Manilva, their growth reaching a peak in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries thanks to the wine and eau-de-vie trade with Catalan merchants.” I haven’t tried the wines produced in the eighteenth century, but I can tell those made in the twenty-first century are top-quality wines. Vineyards have always been an integral part of life in Manilva. So much so that in September there’s a Harvest Fair including the grape stomp, a traditional method to extract the first must of the year, which is then served to friends and visitors.

San Luis de Sabinillas and the Beach

I sauntered down to the shore. San Luis de Sabinillas used to be Manilva’s fishermen’s quarter, and it’s kept its original flavour. You can still see barges on the sand, waiting for their time to go fishing. I parked on Marqués de Larios Street, which is parallel to the Sea Promenade. I was so close to the sea that I could feel the salt in the air. I could also feel the charcoal-grilled fish that’s ubiquitous along the coast of Málaga. My walking tour began at the Parish Church of San Luis de Sabinillas, a humble, modern, dark-red building. From there I reached the Sea Promenade, ready for a long walk under the bright blue sky. I was wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a cap. And I had a swimsuit and a towel in my rucksack, in case I can’t resist taking a plunge. There’re 8km of beach in Manilva. My walking tour took me from Sabinillas to La Duquesa, where the marina and the fort are; it was a fast-paced 30’ walk. All beaches boast crystal-clear water and all the facilities that have earned them several EU Blue Flags. They are unique wide sandy areas, from the secluded rocky coves and low cliffs of La Chullera to the cheerful, busy La Duquesa. Sabinillas, facing the town centre, is the most crowded of them all. Complying with high cleaning, sanitation, and safety standards, it provides a wide range of services for comfort and entertainment. It’s been granted the Blue Flag on several occasions. When coming, look out for clams, fine shells, and razor-shells. The sand sighed when touched by the sea; the sun sparkled on the water; the bright blue sky and sea found a mirroring surface in bathers’ bodies. Half a dozen barges rest on the sand while others, run aground, are ready for the sardine skewers. Embers, salt, sea, sand, sun…

La Duquesa Marina

La Duquesa Marina is a private marina where the houses stand by the jetties. It has such a high number of international restaurants scattered between the moored ships that it seems to contain all the flavours in the world. This marina offers moorings and berths, and a wide array of activities, from animal- and bird-watching expeditions to world-class eateries to all manners of water sports, from the traditional to the bold. In fact, La Duquesa is one of the leading leisure venues on the Costa del Sol, where you can do lots of things by the sea.

Sabinillas Fort or La Duquesa Castle

I continued my stroll eastwards. Manilva is the last village in Málaga, bordering on Cádiz. I skirted the marina to reach the fort, which at present belongs to the Town Hall and houses the Municipal Archaeological Museum. The pieces on display at the museum have been unearthed at the Roman site in the environs of La Duquesa Castle, which must have been occupied from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. There’s a collection of everyday pottery, a funeral outfit, personal ornaments, and so on. Also on show are hooks, coins, and other everyday objects. (If you want to read more, go to the Town Hall website.) The fort was built over Roman ruins in 1767. It was intended to become a watchtower against Berber attacks. It’s imposing, sound, thick-walled, with no room for delicate beauty between the roaring cannons at the entrance. I pictured the soldiers scanning the horizon behind the reed beds, their feet deep into the nearby marshes. Suddenly, they spot a sail swelling up and try to figure out whether it’s an allied or an enemy ship. They look on, they never turn their eyes from the horizon.


The long walk, the smell of fish skewers, the sun, and the breeze from the sea all whetted my appetite. There was a beach bar, “Andrés y María,” opposite the fort, where I could have my fried fish by the sea. It was a noisy place, filled with local patrons and tourists from all over the world. I treated myself to something good this time: razor-shells (€8), anchovies (€9), tomato cubes (€3); beer (2), water (2 small bottles), sodas (1); and the star dish, grilled big prawns (€14). The bill = €40.20. I sipped and munched at will. The prawns were delicious; the anchovies were well fried; the razor-shells were great. I think I’ll never forget these flavours.


It’s hot, the sunbathers are lying on the beach in search of the tanning sun. The kids play around, building sand castles only to destroy and build them once and again. The teenagers talk in groups or listen to their iPods while their parents walk along the shoreline, getting their thirsty feet wet. Older men and women stay out of the sun, sheltered under their merciful umbrellas. The sea was calling me with an alluring sound. I spread my orange towel on the sand and produced my swimsuit: red for me, fuchsia for my companion. I felt the sun warm up my skin and then head for the refreshing sea: one-two, one-two, one-two…

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Manilva is an oceanfront town with mountains in the background, so it boasts a fabulous setting for hiking. There’re many routes connecting different points across beautiful and historically interesting landscapes. Find at least four different hiking tours –Miraflores, Cuestas del Molino, Canuto, Paseo paralelo al litoral– here.
Useful links: To read more about Manilva, visit the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Manilva Town Hall. The latter’s contents are always updated.

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