Monday, 25 October 2010

Algarrobo breaks, forks, divides into two distinct realities. One of them wedged on the banks of the river Algarrobo, amidst farming plots of orange and fruit trees, peaceful and scented with orange blossoms in spring, lemon trees in the late autumn, and the sweet smells of pies all year round. The other faces the sea, which laps at its dark sandy coast, getting pregnant with foam and salt, a hardened sun in the summer, skewers and burning charcoal, Bavarian or German accents bringing their hopes for warmth to the beach. Algarrobo has a coastal life, yet it is also the gateway to deep Axarquía –a region leaning over ravines, breathing an unmistakable Mudéjar past, boasting silent whitewashed homes, spick-and-span streets, hidden gardens, towns like Árchez or Sedella or Salares or Cómpeta or Arenas… This dual life of sense and sensibility is the foundation where Algarrobo stands –a small town where contrasts come alive, a town feeding on sunlight and fruit on equal parts.

Zooming in and Starting the Tour

The road that connects the hinterland with the coastal area runs across the lower part of Algarrobo. A square shows the way to the town centre up ahead. A narrow one-way alley joyfully brings me to the heart of town. The sign of a white P against a blue background indicates where I can park. I find my way to an empty spot, opposite a huge park with a playground, sports courts, table tennis tables, and benches. It’s Escalerilla Street. Algarrobo Pueblo is a cluster of houses of huddled streets, flights of steps, bridges, and little squares. I walk up Calle Las Flores, collecting evocative street names: Calle Corta, Calle de la Iglesia, Calle Desamparados. Old homes mix with more modern constructions, although the essence of Algarrobo is purely traditional.

The Church and the Chapel

The maze of streets has brought me to Plaza de la Iglesia, dominated by the tall religious building. Its white and ochre-trimmed façade featuring a square belfry tower. It’s the Parish Church of Santa Ana, dating back to the seventeenth century. It’s a three-nave cruciform church with round arches separating its naves. Its most remarkable features are its wooden coffered ceilings and an eighteenth-century side chapel. Back on Las Flores, I walk down Santo Domingo Street to bump into a shop whose sign read: “Carmen Lupiañez. Algarrobo pies. Baker’s shop.” Of course, I walk in. The pies from Algarrobo are famous all over Málaga Province. Carrying two basic ingredients –olive oil and almonds–, they are part of the local Arab heritage. I buy two dozens of the highly-prized jewels (€8). To the left of the baker’s shop, Desamparados Street leads to the chapel, besides showing a bunch of surprising patios, corners, little squares, and high alleys. Algarrobo’s Arab past is written on the town’s body, in its unfathomable labyrinthine layout. I climb a flight of steps and reach Enmedio Street. Following the directions they gave me at the baker’s shop, I turn right and come to a new flight of steps to the left. Then Sol Street, a new turn to the left, and a climb to Mirador del Cielo, whose “Sailor’s Window” affords views of the Mediterranean gnawing at the sandy beach of Algarrobo Costa. From the viewpoint I access the Chapel of San Sebastián, walking across its beautiful gardens. This is the higher part of town, so I can take a look at the surrounding mountains, which, without being steep, box the river Algarrobo in. Their slopes have been converted to farming plots where subtropical and citrus trees grow. I take a seat in the well-kept gardens and watch Mare Nostrum from such a privileged location. The chapel is at the far end. It was built in 1975, based on an older, seventeenth-century temple. The breeze hailing from the sea makes my break sweet, for it’s smooth, mild, and cool. I think of a story from the rich past of the area: Legend has it that there used to be a secret passage which linked to old fortress in Algarrobo to the Bentomiz Castle in the neighbouring town of Arenas. The passageway was never found. The legend in mind, I resume my tour, going back to town along an alley bearing a rock & roll name: “Escalera hacia el Cielo” –just like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Only that I climb down the alley, so instead of taking me to heaven, it brings me back to earth. Santo Domingo Street, Beatas Street, Cobertizo Street, and back to Escalerilla Street where my car is.

Algarrobo Costa: Algarrobo’s Coastal District

Algarrobo Costa lies some 3km away from Algarrobo Pueblo. Its beaches are watched over by modern apartment buildings that overlook the ancient sea from their cheeky twentieth-century façades. The skyscrapers make a puzzle against the bright blue sky. The two beaches, La Mezquitilla and Playa de Algarrobo, are connected by a wooden bridge across the river Algarrobo. They’re dark sand beaches, sun loungers scattered on their blackish grey gravel. I can hear a mix of accents, with prevailing German sounds. Maybe it’s because Algarrobo is celebrating its own version of Oktoberfest this weekend: Bavarian beer, sausages, knuckles, cabbage and potato salads, and Ein Prosit songs under a huge blue and white gazebo. Strolling along the Sea Promenade, I can see the traces of old sea architecture –low houses with open porches facing the sea where boats sleep, two-storey homes decorated with fishing nets and the like. I walk on, across, in the opposite direction, across the bridge leading to La Mezquitilla. There’re archaeological sites in the area that attest to its rich history: Age of Bronze, Carthaginians, Romans. There’s a bunch of restaurants on La Mezquitilla. Most of them serve fish and seafood, notably sardine skewers and salted fish. There’re options for all kinds of guests, catering everyone’s tastes and pockets. On my way back, I search for Algarrobo’s two watchtowers. As a matter of fact, the whole of the Andalusian coastal strip –including Costa del Sol– is peppered with such towers, which were used to spot privateers and Berber pirates. The unique feature of the towers that have stood to this day in Algarrobo is that one of them is straight whereas the other is leaning. This is why they’re known as “Torre Derecha” (derecha is the Spanish word for “straight”) and “Torre Ladeada” or “Ladeá” (ladeado means “leaning”) –a local version of the Tower of Pisa. According to a woman I talked to, the tower’s so close to the sea (it’s only 20m away from the beach) that it was battered in a storm and hence its present shape. I take a look and a couple of pictures, too. Yes, it is leaning. I think the lean could be some 20º. But then, how come it’s still standing? Walking away from the beach, I visit the Phoenician ruins of Trayamar, some 500m away on the road connecting the beach to Algarrobo Pueblo. A detour to the right shows the way to both a tree nursery and the ruins. I drive into the nursery and reach the office where they give you the keys to visit the ruins. They’re private property, but the owners are kind enough to show them to visitors. They believe they’re part of everyman’s heritage. I get off the car. The owners are a couple with an eight- or nine-year-old daughter, Eva, who tours me around. “There used to be a tomb here and another over there. The vase was found when they unearthed the tombs and was just left there,” she explains. “Aren’t you afraid of the tombs,” I ask. “No way. I’m never afraid,” says the brave girl. The boards on the walls inform of the unearthing of the Phoenician necropolis of Trayamar: the artifacts found, their conservation, the most valuable pieces, and so on. I say goodbye to Eva and go back to my car, once again feeling the ever-present strong fruity smells.


The breeze from the sea reaches me from the beach, with its subtle yet unmistakable salt aromas. It blends with the strong smells of the fruit trees, conjuring up a unique essence. I’m sitting in the Gardens of San Sebastián, staring at the sea from this high place. I can also smell the freshly watered grass. A unique viewpoint, indeed. The early slopes of the Axarquía mountains at my back, with their farming plots; the shimmering Mediterranean Sea in front of me. I take a deep breath and gulp down my first Algarrobo pie. There’re 23 left now.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Feast of San Sebastián: On January 20, Algarrobo pays tribute to its patron saint. His image is carried in a procession to the Chapel of San Sebastián, along the winding alleys of the town centre. Pilgrims are accompanied by boisterous fireworks. Mardi Gras: Carnival is becoming an increasingly popular fiesta in Algarrobo. There’re fancy dress, dance, and street musician competitions. Folklore Festival: The last weekend of August, Algarrobo holds its Folklore Festival, drawing the best of the local, regional, and international popular dances and traditions. This festival is an attempt to make different cultures converge in town.
Algarrobo’s Flamenco Evening: The first weekend of September, there’s Algarrobo’s Flamenco Evening, one of the oldest flamenco festivals in the area. Deeply rooted in Andalusian popular culture, Algarrobo’s Flamenco Evening gathers the leading flamenco artists in town.
Useful links: To read more about Algarrobo, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Algarrobo Town Hall.

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