Monday, 23 August 2010

Overwhelming landscape of soaring horizons. The mountains –uneven solid peaks– seem to have fallen from the sky in the dream of a mad engineer. Peaky sierras smoothened only by their leafy slopes. Oneiric lands belonging to a beautiful dream rather than the real world. Gorges that open up in the sun like old crags, in unstable balance, both sound and ethereal, bitterly sharp. They seem to know the secret of the state between restraint and overflowing. Alfarnatejo shares features, being only 4km away. Yet they’re different. Whereas Alfarnate rests in an impossible valley, Alfarnatejo takes shelter under the peaks that feed its skyline.

Zooming In

Alfarnatejo is a little village amidst gorges and paths. It’s been so since the dawn of time. Its geography has earned it the nickname “The Pyrenees of the South.” Its roads welcome motorcyclists and (road and MTB) cyclists, for they tend to hold few heavy vehicles and cars, and they seem to zigzag on and on. Olive groves, corn fields, chickpea plants punctuate the rocky area. Chamizo, Vilo, and Gallo rise high up in a landscape of cavities and bends, home to romantic bandits in the nineteenth century. Men, however, have lived here for much longer “as shown by the archaeological remains found in the Sabar river gorge, dating back to the Neolithic, and the 5,000-year-old domestic utensils in Gomer gorge” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).


I parked in the entrance to the town, next to the bus stop, and plunged into this white village with narrow cobblestone streets, with the discreet charm of the minimal. I walked down Callejones Street and reached the nerve centre of town: Plaza de la Constitución. My eyes were inevitably attracted to the mountain massifs. A woman was sluicing the street. I could smell the wet earth, fighting the heat of the early morning. I could also hear the goat bells in the distance: cling, cling, cling… While kids gave me inquisitive looks, adults greeted me with a nod or said “Good morning.” I took Feria Street to the right and was able to see the Town Hall’s row of balconies. The second street to the right afforded views of the church tower. Imposing. Its colour and texture were unusual for Málaga’s churches. Before visiting the church, I washed my face in a nearby fountain, feeling the cool, crystal-clear water splashing against my face. Delicious. The church had a brick and stone façade that makes it so special. A stout building, far from over-elaborate ornament, the Church of Cristo de la Cabrilla is beautifully simple. “Dating back to the seventeenth century and rebuilt in 1977, this church in the higher part of town is known as ‘Santo Cristo de la Cabrilla.’ It juts out against the houses and other buildings in the centre of Alfarnatejo. Its simple floor plan follows the traditional rectangular two-nave pattern, the naves being separated by round arches. The outer tower is square and solid. It was built with baked bricks in the traditional Mudejar style” (source: Town Hall website). The temple’s dark colour matched that of the surrounding earth. I wandered about, enjoying the cooing of the pigeons perched on wires and posts. I used other fountains, watching the cats purring in the sun. The streets of Alfarnatejo felt quiet, peaceful, as if housing patient inhabitants. I admired their simple lives, staring at the birds of prey overflying the higher gorges. The picture whetted my appetite, so I went into the restaurant Los Pirineos. Being too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, I had a soda, a beer, and two ham-and-cheese sandwiches (€4.40). The terrace afforded views of the surrounding fields: olives, corn, holm oaks, gall oaks. No chickpeas, though, even when they’re top-quality here and internationally renowned –so much so that the coat of arms of Alfarnate includes a chickpea flower. They’re no longer mass produced, but locals have stuck to old customs and traditions and grow them for own consumption. It’s no wonder then that a wide variety of stews are still part of the town’s gastronomy. After replenishing my energy reserves, I visited the Miguel Alba Luque Town Park –a longish park featuring huge shadowy trees and overlooking a ravine. At the far end, next to the Arabic arch marking the exit, there was a children’s playground. Miguel Alba Luque was Alfarnatejo’s last Republican mayor; he was executed by a firing squad before the walls of the San Rafael cemetery on October 9, 1937.


Amazing vertical walls plunging hundreds of metres into the valley. Grey and brown, with green dots here and there. To reach them from the town centre, you need to drive ahead across the town and down a winding road towards La Viñuela reservoir and Periana. Silent witnesses to the passing of time, they’ve seen old travellers trudge past, housed different forms of life in their caves, and helped the Arabs build man-made hillocks to control traffic. Together, they –Gomer, Doña Ana, and El Fraile– make the Route of Gorges. With such geographical features, it’s only natural that someone thought of the region as the “The Pyrenees of the South.”

So Long, Farewell…

I sat on a black wrought-iron bench in a street of Alfarnatejo, sheltered in the shade. Life went by before my eyes at an incredibly slow speed. Two kids playing football, a grey-haired woman plodding home with her hands in her chest, a man carrying several shopping bags. I was seized by town’s tranquillity. My eyes, however, kept flying to the mountains, and I couldn’t but notice the dual nature of Alfarnatejo, with its peaceful streets and steep ravines. That was what made it special: its indomitable yet serene legacy.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Curious facts: “The origin of demonyms for Alfarnate –‘palanco’– and Alfarnatejo –‘tejón’– belongs to legend rather than history. Legend has it that the only road connecting the two towns was hit by a large rock as a result of heavy rains, blocking traffic. To remove the huge rock, the people from Alfarnate brought metal bars and sticks to be used as levers, whereas those from Alfarnatejo brought picks and spades to dig a hole and force the rock to roll down the hill. The latter method proved to be the more effective, for the rock fell down into the valley, where it still has a place” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).
When to come: Gazpacho Festival: On the first weekend of August, Alfarnatejo celebrates the traditional Gazpacho Festival. Thousands of litres of the cold soup, prepared with locally-grown ingredients, are served and drunk. To liven it up, there’s a flamenco festival too, “Velada Flamenca Pirineos del Sur.”
Useful links: To learn more about Alfarnatejo, visit the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Alfarnatejo 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.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

It’s like a rough ocean, an ocean swallowed up by storm, whose waves reach up for the bright blue sky. But here waves aren’t waves but mountains, peaks carved by the erosion of time, massifs, sculpted by untamed nature. Mounts that are peaks, hills that are merciless summits. Olives, holm oaks, corn live in this rolling lands that seem to be about to rock ferociously. The road from Casabermeja and Colmenar zigzags amidst the rolling hills, a new landscape feature appearing with every bend. I drive slowly, stop to take a picture or two, or just a look at the yellow, green, grey horizon, standing in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky. I can hear the deafening cicadas, the singing birds, the tinkling sheep snoozing in the shadows. A shepherd sitting on a rock –a straw hat on his had, a crook in his hand, a flower in his mouth. I take a look at the indomitable landscape, following the shepherd’s eyes. Rocks, peaks, ravines…

An Impossible Plain

And suddenly, an impossible plain. Set on a natural valley and surrounded by corn fields is Alfarnate, on the leafy, flowery valley of the Palancar stream. I particularly beautiful oasis where kind and quiet people live. As soon as I open my car door, I can listen to the trill of birds, smell the fresh perfumes of the trees and the brook. I park here and undertake the route I’ve found in the downloadable street map on the Alfarnate Town Hall website (PDF file). Before starting, I try to understand where I am. I asked two men sitting on a bench –the best possible GPS system. “Hold on, I have to put on my glasses. Otherwise, I can’t see a thing,” one of them says. “Oh, yes, look: this is where we are. To the right there’s Calle Mozos. Go into the narrow alley past it and then straight ahead until you get here.” I thank them for their directions and advice, and get ready to go.

From Aljofar Alley to Santo Cristo

Aljofar is a narrow alley whose name matches its Arab design –pointed arches and stone steps where, oddly enough, a Star of David has been carved. I leave Cruz Street to the right and take Gadea Street. There’re no big houses in Alfarnate, but the whole village is under the charm of whitewashed walls, grilled windows, and flower pots. I turn right into Calle Pósito, which leads to Plaza de la Constitución. The square is dominated by a fountain and the sixteenth-century Town Hall building. “It stands on a noble ground plan supported by round arches in the ground floor, whose left room has a hollow basement. A two-story building, its ground floor houses administrative offices and the local police station, whereas the first floor holds government offices, the historical archives, the assembly room, and a conference room.” (Source: Town Hall website.) From the square –which used to double as bullring–, I take Comandante Frías Street into another narrow alley, Fortuna (the first on the left), leading to a stone promenade. I climb up to a little viewpoint surrounded by shady trees. The landscape is amazing: the hamlet in front, sheltered by an ever-growing mountain; the belfry tower of the Church of Santa Ana on the left, against the golden corn fields and a huge meadow bounded by another massif. After taking in the views, I continue on my way to Santo Cristo, a white chapel crowned by three crosses and containing an image of Christ of Medinaceli. Devotees come here on the first Friday of March. In fact, the altar is the last station of the old Stations of the Cross. It’s in the highest part of Alfarnate, so it gives a clear idea of the geography of the municipality: a rare valley surrounded by mountains, a secluded place in the midst of sharp gorges. The fields are bright yellow, peppered with green olives with grey peaks in the background. The stone promenade comes to a quiet, shadowy grove. I sit down, close my eyes, and give in to the smells of the landscape.

To the Church of Santa Ana and the Chapel of Monsalud

I climb down. I can hear the birds, barking dogs in the distance, a crowing cock… Back along Comandante Frías, across Fortuna, and to the left, in search of Plaza Victoriano Frías. Then, Calle Horno to the right to reach Plaza de la Iglesia, the square where the Church of Santa Ana is to be found. With the beauty of simple constructions, the church is sound and white. “A church with a nave and two aisles separated by square columns supporting round arches. The most remarkable feature on the outside is a three-part Mudéjar tower with a central buttress and a six-opening bell area. The church was built in the sixteenth century, its wooden roof resting on oak beams. During the Spanish Civil War, all the images were burnt and the building was used as the barracks of the Republican army. One of the original bells was taken to Seville, where it can be seen in La Giralda.” The church square is home to traditional fiestas and fairs throughout the year; for instance, the Patroness festival in September. I take a break and sit on a bench in the square, in the shadows. After taking in the quietness of Alfarnate’s daily life, I walk down Secretaria Street, flanking the left side of the church, into Mediodía Street, leading to Calle Río Palancar (left). This walk brings me to Plaza del Puente, an open space where a group of men are chatting on the bank of the stream. Everything is kind in Alfarnate, and this kindness translates into a warm atmosphere, generous looks, delicate views, relaxed strolls, low-pitched sounds. I cross the bridge and walk up Ermita Street into the chapel. It’s the first time I’ve seen a chapel with an arcade in Málaga. A wood coffered ceiling and a small courtyard protect the door from the outside world. “This chapel is located in El Barrio, or the higher part of town. It can be said to have been born with the village itself. It is a sixteenth-century religious building whose arcade made of pilasters and round arches.” Just like the church I’ve just seen, the chapel was heavily damaged during the Spanish Civil War.

Alfarnate’s Old Inn

I stroll down Ermita and Robles Streets, back to the bed of the Palancar stream. Locals are focused on their daily errands. The river regales us with its fresh, delicious air. Across one of the bridges, I return to where I left my car. I drive out of Alfarnate along the same road I used to come here. But before leaving for good, I have to visit the old inn. The Old Inn of Alfarnate has had an eventful history. Being at the crossroads, it connected the coastline of Málaga with the hinterland of Granada. Both kings and bandits stayed here. According to the Costa del Sol Tourist Board website, “This inn was built in the late seventeenth century. After several renovations, it is still a hotel. It used to be on the only way from the eastern coast of Málaga to Granada. Now, it is part of the only way for gourmands in search of the best cuisine in the area. Celebrities from different spheres have stayed in this venta. For instance, king Alfonso XIII, or the renowned bandits El Tempranillo and Luis Candelas. Over the past few years, it has become a popular venue with writers and artists. The range of dishes you can taste at the Old Inn of Alfarnate is wide, but one of its most famous dishes is huevos a lo bestia (hearty eggs), a unique dish made with fried eggs, breadcrumbs, fried peppers, loin in lard, chorizo, and a vegetable garnish.” It’s too early to have lunch, but I’ll taste it in the fall (€12 for two, with an appetiser).


My body and mind are still by the stream, in the shade of the trees growing on the bank. A pleasant, delicate feeling runs down by back –a sort of natural massage. I sit on a bench, close my eyes, and feel the shadows caressing me while the birds sing on. I get carried out. I want to stay here for ever.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Country travel and hiking: These two activities go hand in hand in Alfarnate. There’re many country accommodations to choose from –houses in different sizes and for different budgets. The Town Hall website contains a long list of country hotels and apartments. Likewise, this website also includes a downloadable PDF file with the most interesting hiking routes, as well an street map with the main natural sites. Route of Olive Oil and Mountains: Alongside Alfarnatejo, Periana, Riogordo, Colmenar, Alcaucín, and La Viñuela, Alfarnate is part of the Route of Olive Oil and the Mountains.
When to come: Cherry Day: As a result of the boom of the growing of quality cherry trees in Alfarnate, in 2006 the town began to play tribute to the red fruit. On Cherry Day, locals and out-of-towners can both try and buy cherries. Starting at 11:00 a.m. and unfolding until late into the evening, there’s a fair to buy cherries and other locally-produced foodstuffs –vegetables, olive oil, bread, or sweets. Also, the local Town Hall offers almost 1,600k cherries and prepares regional dishes. Celebrations include dance shows and fandango. Finally, there’s an award ceremony acknowledging the efforts of those people and institutions who make valuable contributions to the town or the fiesta.
Useful links: If you’re planning your trip to Alfarnate, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Alfarnate Town Hall (featuring a full array of useful contents), 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.