Tuesday, 13 July 2010

La Viñuela is a green-water mirage. A mirage framed within wild mountains. A mirage feeding the landscape with rolling hills rising up to the highest peak in La Maroma. La Viñuela is its reservoir, an undulating green sheet rippled by the breeze. La Viñuela is leisure by an inner sea, the largest reservoir in Málaga Province. La Viñuela is a mirror reflecting not the Mediterranean but its own image.

The Town

Although the town owes its name to the reservoir, it doesn’t stand by the reservoir itself but by a the shady riverside, sheltered by the branches of huge willows. Its streets are narrow and zigzagging to match the capricious geography of the area. Secluded corners, secretive bends, minute squares dominated by a lemon tree or a fountain… I drove across the whole town centre to find a parking space, and did so on the bank of the river Salia. I left my car in the shade of a cluster of willows. Everything is quiet and sober in La Viñuela. Slow, calm, morose in the early afternoon. I can smell fruity aromas, citric perfumes. La Viñuela is the youngest town in Axarquía. It had its first mayor, Juan Lucas García del Rey, appointed in 1764. This is why its Moorish layout is surprising. Before walking up the main street, I explore a park featuring a playground for children and parts of old oil mill machinery. It can’t be quieter. Up the main street, I almost bump into the Church of San José, a humble temple behind a courtyard brimming with flowers. Built in the sixteenth century, it has a rectangular floor plan and a wooden frame. The belfry tower was added in the eighteenth century. The left side marks the end of the main street. A little bit ahead is La Viña, a bar that’s the embryo of La Viñuela, as it used to be the meeting point of all mule drivers in the area. “At the intersections of the roads to Granada and Antequera, this inn was built to house mule drivers on their way to multiple destinations. It was one of the first constructions in the village. As it had a little vineyard, it used to be called ‘Venta de la Viña,’ which is why the town is now called ‘La Viñuela’” (source: board at the entrance to the inn). I can hear the sound of birds, mixed with dominoes on a table. Afternoon at leisure: games, cards, dominoes. I resume my stroll in the town centre with wandering eyes: big lamps on façades, whitewashed walls peppered with flowers, alleyways… There’re signs marking the starting points of hiking routes: Camino de las Fuentes, 3km, to Cortijo Maquizo and river Salia. Back to the car.

The Reservoir

This modern reservoir feeds on the rivers Salia, Benamargosa, Bermuza, and Rubite and the Madre del Llano de Zafarraya stream, originating in the basin of the river Guaro. “It’s the largest reservoir in Málaga, with 170cu hm for a maximum depth of 230m. It covers the valley connecting La Viñuela with Los Romanes, the surface area of the Guaro basin being 119sq km. It irrigates southern Axarquía and even Málaga City, in case of drinking water shortages. The dam is made of earth and rockfill with exterior banks made of schist and slate. Its total height is 89m; its crowning length, 460m. 4,000,000cu m materials were needed to build it. Work began in 1982, and in late 1988 water began to be collected” (source: Town Hall website). The importance of the reservoir to the local economy and tourism industry is huge. So much so that it’s part of the municipal coat of arms, as an integrating element in the social and cultural life of viñoleros.

La Viñuela Hotel

Before coming to the reservoir itself, I take a detour towards La Viñuela Hotel, set on a privileged location affording wonderful views of the reservoir. Awarded a Q for Quality and Excellence in Tourism, the hotel boasts a great terrace, where I take a seat and order a soda and an iced coffee (€4). Tourists from England and Germany are having alluring ice-creams on the neighbouring tables. In fact, gastronomy is one of the attractions at this hotel. The menu is the perfect blend of Andalusian tradition and avant-garde trends: “Andalusian gazpacho with Iberian ham shavings and olive oil ice-cream,” “Málaga-style reddish almond and cumin soup with catshark,” “Shepherd’s breadcrumbs with crab-stuffed peppers”… The prices are reasonable for such an establishment. So a meal here is an affordable treat. How could you say ‘No’ to the caramelised lamb in cinnamon and orange with sweet potatoes au vin? Sitting on the terrace, I stare at the water sheet. The reservoir is really like an inner sea, ripples glittering in different shades of green. They move, they change, they morph to create an ever-changing surface that yet is always the same. That’s life! (Photos: La Viñuela Hotel website)

The Reservoir II

The La Viñuela Reservoir Visitor Centre is a one-floor 108sq m building divided into hall, exhibition room, archives, and gift shop. The permanent exhibition includes interactive boards and images of various municipalities, the reservoir, hiking routes, and sports activities. The Visitor Centre is also the place to get tourist information for this area in Axarquía. Ask about cultural sites, restaurants, or hotels in La Viñuela, Alcaucín, Periana, and Riogordo. The shop sells crafts and foodstuffs. The environs of the reservoir are of high environmental value. There’re water sports facilities and a recreational area including barbecues, a mini golf course, and a football pitch. The best way of getting to know the reservoir is taking the skirting route that starts near La Viñuela Hotel. Read about it here: Reservoir Environs Route.

Los Romanes

Los Romanes is one of the districts that make La Viñuela. As it’s one the highest districts, it affords excellent views of the area. From here I can see the iridescent water sheet in the valley with La Maroma (the highest peak in Málaga Province) in the background. Located west of the reservoir, Los Romanes can be accessed following clear directions, up a winding road flanked by eye-catching villas in which old traditions and modern architecture shake hands. The common denominator is the balcony they form overlooking the valley of the reservoir. I get off, take a couple of pictures, enjoy the greenness of it all: the water, the olives from Periana, the fruit trees from Alcaucín, Mesa de Zalía, Boquete de Zafarraya, La Maroma… Los Romanes also marks the beginning of the trail leading to the Watchtower, which I’ve seen for a while from other points, watching over the valleys and the rivers. “This is a fifteenth-century beacon tower. It was built by the Arabs to protect the lands of Zalía from coastal invasions, using slate and lime mortar. One of the original corbels of the projecting watching structure some 6.5m high above a door has been kept. Brick jambs and stone lintels hide the half-destroyed brick vault. Being 9.5m high, the tower was built in a single night with materials gathered from the surrounding area and water from the river Guaro. It was connected to other watchtowers along the coastline and the Zalía Castle” (source: information board on the way to the tower). The road to the tower is 5km long and can be negotiated by regular cars. I make every effort to soak up the landscape, the sun, the bright blue sky.


I’ve touched the water already. Just the palms of my hands, my fingertips, my toes. Fresh water, nice green shades, strong aromas. Two men fishing, kids playing football, families talking round a table… I take a final look at the reservoir. It seems to have been there since the dawn of time, like an inner sea. La Viñuela, reservoir, green-water mirage.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Where to stay: There’re lot of places to stay at when you come to La Viñuela. There’s La Viñuela Hotel, of course, and there’re many other accommodation options in the environs of the reservoir, from Camping La Viñuela to a great many country houses, for all kinds of travellers and all budgets. Check them on the Internet, on the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, or just google “La Viñuela turismo rural” (La Viñuela + country accommodation).
When to come: Raisin Day: One of the most popular fiestas in La Viñuela and one of the oldest celebrations in Axarquía, Raisin Day was first held in the 1960s as a tribute to a staple of local and regional economy. If you want to join in, come in the second half of September.
Useful links: More about La Viñuela on the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, La Viñuela 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.