Thursday, 30 September 2010

Marbella leads a double life. They beat together, complementing one another, overlapping, outliving one another. Marbella leads a double life, but it’s just one life. There’s the traditional, historical Marbella, inhabited by the men and women of the fields and the ocean. This is the hard-working, self-sacrificing Marbella, the Marbella of sweat and long traditions, the Marbella of quiet in winter and merrymaking in the summer, the Marbella that witnessed another city growing out of it and wrapping it in. And in this overlapping a new Marbella emerged. It is the Marbella of glitz, luxury, and celebrities, the Marbella of dirty politics. Marbella leads a double life. Perhaps it’s done so since its genesis. Perhaps it’s wired into its urban DNA, since the time it was called Salduba by the Iberians or Cilniana by the Romans. Marbella leads a double life, but the two lives make just one city.

Old Town

The heart that pumps bloods into both lives, the organ that keeps them alive, it the Old Town. Spotless white and colourful at once –a powerful combination of whitewashed walls and flowerpots and people– it’s spic and span and yet impossibly boisterous. My tour begins here today. In the Old Town of Marbella, where you can feel the sweet smell of spring: jasmine, night jasmine, orange blossom. The Old Town beats, and its beating can be heard from Plaza de los Naranjos to Las Chapas, Nueva Andalucía, San Pedro, Puerto Banús, La Concha, Sierra Blanca, and the Mediterranean, the sea that reflects the city in colourful kaleidoscopic style, fragmenting reality like a prism. I have prepared a conspiratorial wink for a city that keeps so many secrets. The first is its huge cultural and historical heritage: the city hosts at least three museums, a church, several chapels, an Arab fortress, a bunch of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century stately homes, plus one of the best-kept Old Town patterns on the Costa del Sol. Before setting out on your tour, come to one of the Tourist Offices, where the specialised staff can guide you on what to do and what to see. There are four Tourist Office in Marbella. They are the Marbella Town Tourist Office (Glorieta de la Fontanilla, s/n; tel.: (+34) 952 771 442 / 952 774 693; fax: (+34) 952 779 457; email:, San Pedro de Alcántara Town Tourist Office (Avda. Marqués del Duero, 69; tel.: (+34) 952 785 252; fax: (+34) 952 789 090; email:, Puerto Banús Town Tourist Office (main west entrance; tel.: (+34) 952 818 570; fax: (+34) 952 818 570; email:, and the Plaza de los Naranjos Tourist Office, next to the Town Hall–the one I visited. Also, there’re various public parking zones, with varying fees. If you’re not familiar with the town, you should park in one of these zones and reach Plaza de los Naranjos on foot. It’s a short and charming walk. So my tour begins in the heart of Marbella: Plaza de los Naranjos. It’s a spacious rectangular square with a lot of bars. Its peculiar, delicate smell attracts visitors and locals alike. After getting a street map and a few brochures, I set out on my way.

Plaza de los Naranjos

Los Naranjos is the epicentre of life in Marbella, of the coming and going of visitors and traders, of local politics. Three of the main buildings face it. The local Town Hall dates from the sixteenth century, with several renovations done for practical purposes, but still reflects the class and might of its noble origins. If you visit it, you’ll see the Committee Room, the former Chapterhouse Its double row of wrought-iron balconies greet the square. Matching the adjoining buildings, it’s painted white. To the left stands the beautiful Mayor House (Casa del Corregidor), which goes unnoticed by many as it hosts a bar on its ground floor. It was built in 1552. Its front viewpoint and four arches are the perfect combination of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Mudejar styles. Below the arches, there’s a brick portal flanked by two coats of arms carved in stone. The oldest religious building in town, the Chapel of Santiago, can also be accessed from the square. It was built in the fifteenth century to mark the victory of the Christian troops of the Catholic King and Queen.

Virgen de los Dolores and Calle Ancha

The Old Town streets cut in on one another in an intoxicating maze of colours, smells, and textures. It’s amazingly pleasant to wander about them. There’s always a shop or another surprise round the corner. A blind alley that gives way to an intersecting street, side alleyways that seem to be running away… Sheltered in their own shadows, the whitewashed homes look silent, impervious to the visitors’ coming and going. Flowerpots, flowerbeds, flowers of all colours. Against the white background. I left Plaza de los Naranjos to walk up Ortiz de Molinillos Street, which then changes its name to Virgen de los Dolores. Purple bougainvillea bushes seem to explode on the cobblestones. Traces of their flowers can be seen on the floor, as if they were telling you which way to go, making a soft and smooth carpet. The restaurants haven’t taken their tables out yet, so the street shows in all its might, dominated by the blue niche of Our Lady of Sorrows. At night, Her face is brightened up by two lit candles. I take Calle de los Remedios, up to the left, and then Calle Ancha to the right –one of the main thoroughfares in the Old Town. It’s a wide street indeed, and not one of those streets whose name emphasises that which they’re not. Being one of the main streets of Old Marbella, Calle Ancha is right behind the Arab wall. It’s full of ancestral homes with huge portals, damascene-tiled hallways, and lush gardens where lots of plants and flowers live with lemon trees. The streets to both sides of Calle Ancha are a sort of botanical garden where colourful flowerpots are arranged in rows parallel to the line of home façades. Calle Príncipe, for instance, or the opposite street, Princesa, are incredibly green. At the far end of Calle Ancha you can make out the silhouette of Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz, a sixteenth-century chapel which was renovated in the eighteenth century. It has a white-and-blue-tiled belfry tower. The square preceding the chapel also houses an old fonda (closed), which used to draw the artistic and political elites, as well as national and international celebrities. Children used to sit here to watch the star-studded cars pass by. And there’s also a tablao flamenco, “Ana María,” which is open all year round (except on Sundays), starting at 11:00 p.m. I walk into a narrow alleyway to the right of the chapel.

City Walls and Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving

The Callejón del Santo Cristo leads to Calle Lobatas, one of the oldest and busiest streets in town. Legend has it that, in the dawn of time, wolf cubs used to come here (hence the name). The ruins of the Arab Castle seem to be part of the modern city. Until not long ago, one of its walls used to belong to the local police jail. In Marbella, the Arab Fortress used to lie at a strategic distance from the sea, ensuring a safe road close to the shoreline. Part of its walls and one of its towers are still in place. The fortress must’ve been built in the ninth or tenth century using Roman materials like ashlar and Ionic capitals. Skirting the earthy wall and using it as a guide, I go back into the Old Town. I come to Plaza del Santo Sepulcro, where the Chapel of Santo Sepulcro is. The chapel’s images are worshipped by the Infantry Regiment, who put up a show that goes beyond religion in Easter. The chapel is a small, secluded temple housing two images of great artistic value. The street to the right leads to the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving. The museum is housed in a building that used to be the Bazán Hospital, erected on the ruins of three Arab homes. Opened in 1992, it has become one of the leading spaces of its kind in Spain. Its collection includes many valuable items: engravings by Picasso, Miró, Tàpies, Antonio López, Palazuelo, and Chillida. Seminars and workshops on engraving are organised throughout the year, drawing high numbers of aficionados. The admission fee is €3 (free for senior citizens and children or teenagers under 18). Inside, the building features irregular-shaped rooms (as a result of its having been built on the ruins of the Arab homes), but the itinerary is clearly signposted. I roam through the rooms in silence. They all have the right amount of light –brighter or more diffused, depending on the works. I come face to face with a Picasso (overwhelming) and a Miró (filled with colour). One of the last basement rooms, blessed with a series of internal arches, shows an engraving and printing press. The Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving is open Mon and Sat, 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Tue-Fri 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 6:30-11:00 p.m. (C/ Hospital Bazán, s/n; tel.: (+34) 952 765 741; email:; website:

“Hospitalillo” and Church of La Encarnación

Walking out of the museum, I saunter down Calle Pelleja to Plaza de Altamirano. I’ll come back to the square later, to have lunch at Restaurante Altamirano. Calle Misericordia takes me back to the heart of the Old Town, where I stumble upon the former San Juan de Dios Hospital, a.k.a. “Hospitalillo,” which is being renovated to become a cultural centre (renovation work is at an advanced stage). I walk around the former hospital, along Calle Alderete. “The building was commissioned in the sixteenth century by the Catholic King and Queen under the name ‘Hospital Real de la Misericordia’. The original Chapel of Misericordia has been retained, with a contrasting brick and whitewashed façade. The upper part, housing the belfry, has been whitewashed after the popular Andalusian tradition. The wooden door has the royal coat of arms and the emblem of the Order of San Juan de Dios engraved on it. Its Mudejar roof has also come down to us” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website). Coming full circle, I am back on Misericordia Street. One of the sides of the hospital building gives access to the Chapel of San Juan de Dios, home to “La Pollinica”, whose float is the first to take to the streets during the Easter procession in Marbella. The chapel’s most remarkable features are the belfry tower –a conspicuous religious symbol– and the huge wood portal. The same street leads to the Church of La Encarnación. Boasting a spectacular Baroque façade –an over-elaborate carved stone entrance against a whitewashed background flanked by two columns where a big arch crowned by a rose window and a cross seems to rest–, this large temple is the nerve centre of all religious events in town. The double-height belfry tower features eight arches –and eight windows. The whole building is painted white, its edges being ochre. Built in 1618, the Church of La Encarnación contains lots of Baroque images and side chapels. The main altarpiece shows Saint Bernabé, Marbella’s patron saint. One of the gems is to be found against the façade. It’s the Órgano del Sol Mayor, a unique organ added in 1971. Check the organ’s official website,, for information on its history, repertoire, and concerts. Outside the church, groups of tourists get mixed with wedding guests in a melting pot that reflects the essence of Marbella: a village and a city, provincial and cosmopolitan, traditional and touristy, Andalusian and international –all at once in a perfect blend of accents, religions, countries, cultures, and foods. And talking about food…

Lunch Break: Restaurante Altamirano

Retracing my steps, I get to Restaurante Altamirano, one of Marbella’s classics. Specialising in fish (fried fish, grilled fish, you name it) and seafood, it draws local patrons and internationals alike –and even celebs! In the summer, you have to wait to get a table. In winter it’s easier, especially if you’re early. It’s characterised by a lively atmosphere: frying pans hissing, waiters coming and going, guests chatting, and so on. So much noise can be shocking, but it’s one of the restaurant’s hallmarks. I ordered a mixed salad for two (€7), grilled prawns (€15), grilled squid (€10.65), grilled hake (€9), and three ½l bottles of water. The bill = €48.50. Fresh fish, tasty prawns, generous helping of salad, squid out of this world. After the daily bread, time to see the sea.

Avenida del Mar, Sea Promenade, Beach

Back in Plaza de la Encarnación, next to the church, I walk down Callejón Gloria, past “La Paz,” a curious shop selling only religious items: rosaries, cards, scapulars, candles, and the like. Then I turn at Calle Valdés, facing Plaza África. I’ve completed my tour of the Old Town in Marbella, a district full of shops –shoes, jewellery, gifts, restaurants, bars and tourists–, as well as busy locals. Crossing Avenida Ricardo Soriano, Marbella’s main avenue, I step into the Alameda, a leafy garden with a nice fountain in it. It’s probably one of Marbella’s coolest, shadiest, quietest places. There’re seniors sitting on the stone or wrought-iron benches. The plinth of the fountain features the coats of arms of the Fraternities of Virgen del Rocío, which is where the fountain’s name comes from. The Alameda opens up onto Avenida del Mar, a pedestrian street leading to the sea promenade. So I’m right before the Mediterranean, the sun and the sand, the point where the Old Town meets the sea. There’re replicas of ten bronze sculptures by Dalí on raised platforms along the promenade: women, children, mythological creatures… I can now smell the sea, its salt, sardine skewers, paella, sunscreen –a unique mix of aromas, a colour blend typical of the Costa del Sol. I can now see the deep blue sea. The Marbella coastline is 20km long. It’s divided into 27 different beaches, some of which are really popular: La Fontanilla, la Venus, El Cable, Puerto Banús, Costabella, Bahía Marbella, Pinomar, Los Monteros, Cabopino (which contains a marina and a naturist area). Running next to the beach, the Sea Promenade boasts the highest concentration of restaurants and eateries in Marbella. Here you can eat Indian, Thai, Andalusian or international, have an ice-cream, or try some of the world-famous establishments, such as Restaurante Santiago. Facing the sea and walking to the left, you can reach the fishing port of La Bajadilla and a bunch of restaurants serving fish: Hogar del Pescador, Luca, La Relojera, Los Cañizos. If you go in the opposite direction, you’ll get past Río Verde to Puerto Banús and San Pedro de Alcántara along a cobblestone and dirt promenade. I take the latter and reach the Marbella Marina, whose deck has been rehabilitated and now houses a gravel park with wooden roofs and a children’s playground. This is where Marbella comes to life by night. I sit in the sun, feeling its warmth on my skin. I can hear the ships’ halyards beating against the masts in the wind. The sails rebel when they are taken down. I’ve decided to take a boat to Puerto Banús.

Puerto Banús

There’re regular boat services from the Marbella Marina to Puerto Banús. Fly Blue runs boats from 10:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (return tickets, €15 adults, €8.50 children; single tickets, €8.50 adults, €5 children; more info at I take the 4:00 p.m. boat. The boat ride gives you a different view of the coastline, with the peak of La Concha in the background, with its cold-and-heat dustbowl microclimate and the humid cold of Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de las Nieves. The boat reaches Puerto Banús in half an hour. I feel good amidst the mega-yachts moored in the port. Some of them are real floating mansions –30m in length and three or four storeys. I ramble around Puerto Banús. Tourists take pictures of luxury cars and ships. The owners let them do so; it seems to be natural. Here you can buy from the best brands and pick a restaurant to eat at (there’s a wide range, for all styles and budgets). Puerto Banús has a lot to do with looking and gossiping. At night, it gets filled with youngsters wearing their best clothes and meeting at the bars and nightclubs, which lie behind the forefront shops and restaurants. The whole port is dominated by the control tower and a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of El Carmen, the Patroness of sailors. A marina originally designed by José Banús and built in 1970, Puerto Banús is now an international tourist attraction. For more information, check its official website,, where you can learn about the port’s history, services, and fares. You can even take a virtual tour. I go all over the place, walking along the breakwater and feeling the sea breeze on my face. I watch the docking manoeuvre of a huge yacht. I sit down and get carried away. This is Marbella, too.


I can still see the whitewashed walls. I can still feel the sea breeze on my skin. I can still smell the salt and the sardine skewers. I can still see the engraving awakening my desire. I can still taste the squid. I’m still in Marbella and yet I’m no longer there. Marbella leads a double life. Marbella is two cities. Marbella leads a double life, it’s two cities in one. I stay in Marbella.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Marbelleros vs. Marbellíes: Whereas Marbelleros are the people born in Marbella, Marbellíes are those living in town but born somewhere else.
Cortijo de Miraflores Museum (C/Luis Morales y Marín, s/n; tel.: (+34) 952 902 714): Housed in a fully renovated early-eighteenth-century building, this museum displays temporary exhibitions. Its permanent collection includes an old oil mill and all the tools used in the oil-making process. The museum is also a venue for talks, lectures, and even wedding parties!
Bonsai Museum (Avda. Dr. Maíz Viñals, s/n; tel.: (+34) 952 862 926): Considered to be one of the most complete museums of its kind in Europe, it houses a remarkable collection of wild olive trees and miniature Spanish firs (an endangered native species). The former President of the Government of Spain Felipe González, who’s a lover of this gardening art, has donated a specimen.
San Bernabé’s Festival: Held in June, the festival honouring the patron saint has all the ingredients of Málaga’s typical fairs. There’s food, dance, and music in Arroyo de la Represa by day and revelry in the fairground by night. Easter: Easter celebrations in Marbella take place mostly in the Old Town, with floats highlighted against the whitewashed background as they’re taken on processions along narrow streets, turning their carriers into real jugglers. The floats and the images are really magnificent.
Useful links: Besides the links included in the text, you can visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Marbella Town Hall, and the local Tourism Department.


From a distance, the landscapes look like lunar landscapes: fields peppered with olives arranged into perfect green lines and floury earth. Clouds of dust rising from unbeaten paths like harbingers of the threshing machines, tractors, and trucks that plough across the land. Rows of trees rise high up to reach the highest peak without losing shape or messing up the patterns drawn with a set square. These are the new olives, for the old ones twist and turn in their gnarled trunks, giving rise to irregular thickets. These twisted trees look wild rather than grown in their whimsical shape. Maybe they were planted back in Roman times, when Cuevas de San Marcos was Belda, one of the thriving towns in Bética, later chosen as a hub of the Arab world. Its geographic location certainly helped, being as it was at the crossroads of Málaga, Granada, and Córdoba. Archaeological remains of past times include the Medina de Belda settlement and an Almohad site. The undulating, zigzagging road runs amidst mountains laden with olive trees. The glittering landscape appears and disappears after each turn. A pleasant drive past a bunch of cyclists has brought me here.

The Cave of Belda

Before getting to the town centre, I take the detour leading to the Cave of Belda, past the town football stadium and the swimming pool. I park next to a construction site. A sign indicates three sights, all of which are to be reached through the short trail PR-A234: to the left, the Almohad site (658m, 12’) and the Cave of Belda (953m, 17’); to the right, Medina de Belda (2006m, 29’33”). According to the information given by a local man, the cave is closed to the public right now. “The Cave of Belda is in Sierra del Camorro. Facing a north-to-south orientation, it develops along 350m. The cave has a huge archaeological, geological, and biological value. It’s a karst gallery with stalactite and stalagmite formations. Its oval-shaped mouth is 6m by 12m, offering a flight of steps carved out of the rock. A long, narrow hall leads to the first room, housing the most interesting findings: pottery and traces of life, possibly burial items. The high-domed cave also features three easily accessible interior lakes, robust stone columns, over 1m in diameter, and particularly beautiful corners. It’s one of the most important bat habitats in Europe” (source: Cuevas de San Marcos Town Hall website). So I take the right lane and park some 1km ahead to take pictures of the town below and take a look at the Iznájar reservoir –a real water mirror. Then I head back towards the town centre, where I park on Pablo Picasso Avenue.

The Town Centre

Wherever I look, the streets seem to blend into the sierras brimming with olives, which are ever-present in this landscape. I walk down Andalucía Avenue and reach a roundabout, where I take Doctor Marañón Street to the right. The town seems to be framed within the karst formations of Sierra del Camorro and the olive groves, no matter whether you look northwards or southwards. I turn right and take the first street to the left, Calle Cervantes. I prick up my ears and listen to a curious mix of accents from Málaga, Córdoba, and Granada which give rise to a unique, mellifluous speech. The accents multiply when I reach the square, with its characteristic hustle and bustle. Today is market day, so all Cuevachos go out and do their shopping in a festive atmosphere. Some of the stalls are sheltered by the shadow projected by the Church of San Marcos and its belfry tower. A group of men are sitting on the front steps, chatting.

The Church of San Marcos and the Chapel of El Carmen

The church has a brick belfry tower whose blue-and-white tile pinnacle shimmers against the bright blue sky. Inside the tower, there are four ringing bells. The church is really beautiful: three naves with ochre columns and moss-green bases matching the tiles of the floor, an impressive over-elaborate altarpiece with four highlighted images, a neoclassical green-marble side chapel on the right housing an altar for Our Lady of El Carmen. Next to the front door, on the right, there’s a another chapel. Three documents are hanging from its walls: a Papal Blessing for the Fraternity of Nuestra Señora Auxilio de los Cristianos from pope John Paul II, the appointment of queen Sofía of Spain as Grand Chapel Stewardess, and the appointment of king Juan Carlos as an Honorary Grand Brother. The image under a canopy in the altar is carried on a procession in Easter. I stroll down Molinos Street towards Plaza de la Constitución. The whole area remains busy when the market is in full swing. The first street from the square to the right leads to the Chapel of Virgen del Carmen. Grey wrought-iron windows; cool, shady hallways; doors half open; bright-coloured, geometric-patterned curtains as the only barriers between the street and home interiors. The curtains sway in the breeze, opening gaps that allow a glimpse inside: a boy sprawled out in an armchair, a man having a glass of wine and some olives as he watches TV… The chapel has a high, soaring belfry tower scraping at the bright blue sky. The tower is bright red. Inside, the chapel is silent and cool. Its euphuist high altar is too important to be in a chapel. Paintings on the side wall depict scenes from the life of Jesus. A woman is sitting on the bench at the back; in deep mourning, she’s staring heard. When I pass by her, I hear her murmur, “She works miracles, she does.”

Noria de la Aceña: The Water Wheel

Cuevas de San Marcos is brimming with life today. People are talking, smiling, filling the air with their peculiar accent. I go back to my car to reach the water wheel on the banks of the river Genil. It’s about 1km from town towards Cuevas Bajas. The whitish dirt road zigzags amidst the olive groves, dodging the lowest branches. The car leaves a cloud of dust in its wake. I stop for pictures and drive on. A curious, 100% Mediterranean landscape where young olives grow alongside older specimens, some of them being centuries-old. Getting to the water wheel is really easy. The two forks I come across bear clear signs reading “Noria de la Aceña/Ribera del Genil.” I am surprised at the good condition the water wheel is in. It dates back to the last quarter of the eighteenth century. It was made of iron, although the original buckets were made of wood. Partially rehabilitated, the area contains boards explaining how the water wheel works: Since the river flows faster here, the wheel buries its blades in the water, splashing around and humming a never-ending tune. The scene lends some coolness to the hot olive groves. The humming of the wheel sounds natural, like water flowing regularly, falling once and again.


I come closer to the water wheel and its buckets, little by little, step by step. Splash. Splash. Splash. I can feel a few drops on my face. The splashing tune goes on. Splash. Splash. Splash. I look around and feel the privilege of being right here right now: the olives, the might river, the rhythm of the wheel. Splash. Splash. Splash.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Museum of Archaeology: The Cuevas de San Marcos Museum of Archaeology contains items whose timeline goes from prehistoric times to the Early Middle Ages. There are, for instance, Palaeolithic and Neolithic findings, as well as Punic-Roman artifacts found in the Iznájar reservoir (loom weights, glass, etc.) or Spanish-Muslim pottery and Visigothic material from Medina de Belda. The collections at the museum are used for educational purposes. (Phone: (+34) 952 727 007; visits: by appointment only.)
Andalusian Hound Fair: In mid-April, Cuevas de San Marcos plays host to the Andalusian Hound Fair, which includes a Blackberry Bush Competition for Andalusian hounds. Boasting a long tradition of Andalusian hound breeding, Cuevas the San Marcos is home to some of the finest pedigree dogs of this breed worldwide.
Useful links: If you want to learn more about Cuevas de San Marcos, the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Cuevas de San Marcos Town Hall, and the region of Northeastern Málaga can be of great help.

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


Cortes de la Frontera is a hamlet that seems to have sprung out of a brush rather than a chisel, the mountains gambolling in the background. A white slash in the greyish rocks, a longish stain, an almost straight line across the corn fields and the cork oak groves, a meridian of white houses studding the sierras. Cortes de la Frontera looks like a balcony overlooking the Guadiaro valley, a watchtower looking after life in the river, along the railway tracks where trains come like sighs in the bosom of the earth. Leaving the Ronda-Algeciras road, I am soon out of the leafy chestnuts of the Genal valley and meet the first cork oaks, showing coyly at first and becoming increasingly thick. The Mediterranean forest is at its best in the rolling hills and the soaring peak. The mountains, made of granite and dominating the valley from above, are watching me. At the far end, I can see the neighbouring town of Jimera de Líbar. I can hear the river, even in the warm summer. I drive across and into El Tesoro, a district that has sprawled on the river bank, along the Bobadilla-Algeciras railway. From the bottom of the valley, I climb up to Cortes de la Frontera, a haven in the sierras whose life is inconsistent with history and the origins of its name. The Romans called the village “Cortex,” a noun that means “shield” or “defence.” Given its strategic location, the Arabs kept the name.

After Parking: Visitor Centre

Following the town centre signs, I came to Avenida de la Libertad, one of the two main thoroughfares. I parked there. Cortes de la Frontera is a slim town, its layout resting on only three streets connected by a myriad of alleys up and down. The geographical situation is just great: by the Genal valley, next to the Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves nature parks, and part of Los Alcornocales, another nature park stretching out mainly in Cádiz. The easy-to-find Visitor Centre lay near the Bullring. From July to September, its opening hours are Thu-Sun 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and Sat 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m. The assistants here gave me a lot of information on the village and its main sights, as well as on the trails in Los Alcornocales. At the centre itself, I first came into contact with one of hallmarks of this town: cork crafts. You can buy them here on the ground floor: little benches and other objects for as little as €1.5, alongside wood carvings, travel guides, hiking maps, T-shirts, and more. The first floor holds the Visitor Centre proper, where you can get multiple-language information on the village and the three parks within its boundaries.

Up to the Bullring

The Visitor Centre was only 10m away from Avenida de la Libertad. A tour of Cortes de la Frontera is an easy thing to do: all sights are close to one another, as if along an imaginary straight line. Nobody can get lost here. Being 30m in diameter, the Bullring is the second largest one in the Serranía, coming behind the one in Ronda only. Its presence bears witness to the important role cattle has played in the local economy and social life, as Cortes de la Frontera used to be a transit village between the ranches in Cádiz and Sierra de Ronda. Built in 1824, the Bullring was fully renovated in 1921. However, bullfighting events are attested much earlier: “The bullring is exactly 27.7 metres in diameter, accommodating 1,000 people. There’s a single bullfighting event taking place in it, in the context of the August fair” (source: plate at the entrance). I caught a glimpse of the barrier and the ring, as well as the first stands. There is an upper floor featuring a row of round arches and wrought-iron balconies. The outer walls are painted ochre and framed by brick arches.

The Church and the House of the Valdenebros

I strolled up and down the carefully kept cobblestone streets of Cortes de la Frontera, laden with trees (some palms among them), black iron window bars, long hallways, flower beds, and orange blossom perfumes. Suddenly I bumped into Fuente de los Caños, a fountain whose four spouts delivered cool water. I couldn’t resist the temptation: I splashed my head and face. Oh… delicious water from the sierras! A few metres ahead I spotted the belfry tower of the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, the only peak interrupting the skyline. Next to it on the right, there was the House of the Valdenebros –an imposing house indeed. Bearing a tall belfry and red stone on its frontage, the house includes a chapel. It was built in 1760 in the Mudejar-Baroque style. The only part that has come down to us from the original design is the façade. The interior is absolutely modern. Legend has it that there used to be a secret underground passageway connecting the chapel and the church. Now it’s blocked, or so they say. The House of the Valdenebros is also known as “Casa de las Tetitas” (“House of Tits”) after its gate’s round metal rivets. Next to the house, the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Nobody knows exactly when and why this parish church was built. There used to be another church in its place in the early sixteenth century, but the first real evidence of the existence of a religious building, a document making reference to an altarpiece, dates back to the eighteenth century only. The church is quite big, its most remarkable feature being the attached belfry tower, whose brick trims and blue-and-white spire make it stand out. Inside, the church is austere and impossibly white. Its altarpiece is very simple. Above the choir rises a spectacular organ. The creamy-coloured ceiling makes the building look ethereal. I lit my candle and prayed for protection in my walks. Then I stepped out in the morning sun.

The Town Hall

Coming out of the church, I could hear bells ringing. They were not the bells in the church. It was a more severe, urgent sound, coming from down the street. I followed it as I would’ve followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin. 20m ahead I was faced with an architectural marvel: the Cortes de la Frontera Town Hall building. Let me quote the description here: “Our Town Hall is a robust stone building boasting a neoclassical façade. It is dated 1784 in its frieze, times of the Enlightenment. Commissioned by king Charles III, this civil architecture monument was built using sandstone ashlars. Like all other town halls, it is autonomous at the local level, the coat of arms above the clock being a reminder of this. The façade comprises two-storey galleries with ten round arches supported by plain stone pilasters. The central three-arch section protrudes slightly, with a triangular pediment on top, bearing the clock and the royal coat of arms.” The stout, dark stone façade is really impressive, standing in stark contrast to the bright blue sky, festooned with white clouds. The Town Hall dominates a square that must be home to many events throughout the year, for it’s a sort of natural amphitheatre. The building is crowned by a spire made of three bells of different sizes, from smaller to larger. These were the bells whose sound I’d followed. They were ringing again now, telling a new hour had begun.

Las Camaretas Viewpoint

The alleys behind the Town Hall are a maze of bends and corners, little squares, and more bends and corners. They were brimming with life, with Cortesanos walking up and down, doing the shopping at the grocer’s shop or sipping a cool beer in one of the bars, with or without tapas. The Food Market is here, and it has a lot to do with the hustle and bustle in the village: men and women chatting, children playing around, and so forth. I asked for directions to get to the viewpoint. It was so simple that I was embarrassed at having to ask. It just had to climb Las Camaretas Street and the viewpoint was just there. At the Visitor Centre, they had told me to come here to get wonderful views of the Guadiaro valley. They were right. To the left, Jimera de Líbar, up on the hill; to the right, Sierra Crestellina, Casares, and Campo de Gibraltar; in the background, the railway station district and the railway tracks; all around, peaceful shadows rocked in the breeze, quiet benches and balconies, warm temperatures cooled down by the situation of the viewpoint. I took a deep breath, taking in the sweet smell of flowers. I could only hear the distant rustling of branches. I sat down, closed my eyes, gave in, and felt the breeze carrying me into the depths of the valley.


I wandered about in Cortes de la Frontera, my footsteps echoing smoothly in the cobblestones, sheltered by the shadows of the homes and hearing the murmur of life. Sitting on the benches facing the Bullring, men were fanning themselves, women were complaining about the price of fish, young girls were talking about the dresses they would wear in the evening. They all created a soundtrack for my stroll in the town, for my getting lost and finding my way, for my wandering and my encounter with Cortes de la Frontera.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

La Sauceda: Under the management of the Federation of Andalusian Protected Natural Spaces (FEMPA), there is a campsite in Cortes de la Frontera comprising 23 bungalows with chimney, toilet and shower, and hot water but no electricity. Additional facilities and services include a reception, a green store, a lounge, a classroom, bellboys, firewood, a shelter, a camping area, and barbecues. The campsite is open all year round. At La Sauceda you can go horse or donkey riding, caving, hiking, or wandering in the nature park. Special tours are organised for the laurel forest, Pilita de la Reina, Peñón del Buitre, and Cortes de la Frontera town centre (information at (+34) 952 117 236).
Cañón de las Buitreras: This 100m-deep canyon, with 200m slopes, is the result of erosion by the river Guadiaro on a limestone basin. It’s been designated as a Natural Monument of Andalusia. It’s quite inaccessible, for the walls are almost vertical in some stretches, which makes it a point in many climbing routes. To enjoy the landscape, get to the so-called “Puente de los Alemanes,” or find your vantage point in the upper part of the gorge.
Useful links: For more information on Cortes de la Frontera, go to the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Cortes de la Frontera Town Hall.

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