Tuesday, 23 November 2010

And the delicate landscape goes up. It goes up as if wanting to reach the summit of that huge crag emerging like a colossal barrier. The crag has a rock heart, a hidden garden throbbing to the rhythm set by Tethys, an ocean as old as humankind. The hidden treasure has been chiselled by time. It’s an ever-changing treasure at the mercy of cold, wind, or meteorites. It’s an ancient garden made of ancient stone. It’s the hidden heart of Villanueva de la Concepción. It’s garden featuring sinkholes and pits. It’s El Torcal, the hidden heart.

Coming Closer to El Torcal

And as I climb up, I can see the white rocks stand on end, the earth laden with rocks harden, the megalithic crags hang over me –huge stone sheets. Contrary to Lot’s wife in the Bible, I’ll become a statue of salt if I look ahead, for what I can see looking back is the full relief map of Málaga Province –a privileged landscape in which the sky and the sea blend, and the horizon merges with the peaks of the mountains. Only the morning mist seems to be unaffected by the distance spell. Before reaching the visitor centre, I park by the Diego Monea viewpoint. As soon as I get out of my car, I am met with bells. It’s the sheep and goats in their domains. The viewpoints affords matchless views; I could say it’s the best viewpoint in the province. I can see the boundaries of the mountains in Granada, Axarquía, Málaga City, Sierra de Ronda, Sierra de las Nieves, the Málaga Mountains. It’s just amazing: it feels as if the whole province could be kept in the palm of my hand. I drive ahead in the greyish lunar landscape, entering a world of impossible shapes and sizes. The sinkholes look like a giant’s fingers sunk in the earth. The ground seems to go down into hell and then rise up into heaven. Here nature leaves man behind. To highlight the idea, a flock of sheep blocks the road. I finally reach the visitor centre.

Visitor Centre

With so many visitors coming to El Torcal, the authorities have designed a system to avoid traffic jams along the narrow and winding road that leads to it. When the upper car park is full, you can leave your car in the access parking and reach the site on a minibus. A practical, sustainable, comfortable system. As it’s early in the morning, I can use my car to get to the top. After parking, I walk into the visitor centre. On the outside it looks just like one more rock, blended into the surrounding landscape. A modern facility inside, it caters for the needs of modern travellers, explaining everything on interactive boards, from karst formations to Tethys Ocean to erosion to the whimsical shapes of this wonderful place. You can even play a game on food chains, take a close look at some fossils, or smell the aromas of El Torcal: rosemary, thyme… A 15’ video tells the story of these beautiful geological formations in a sort of gothic tale. Finally, there’s a bar and restaurant to replenish your energy reserves. They’re serving paella today, but there’s more on the menu: migas, eggs and Iberian ham, homemade croquettes, and –of course– porra antequerana. After collecting all the necessary information, I embark on my tour.

The Green Tour of El Torcal

There’re two signposted itineraries to go about El Torcal: the Green Way (1.5km, 45’) and the Yellow Way (120’). I choose the former. The first stretch, however, starting in the car park, is common to both. El Torcal is a perfect combination of blunt and delicate shapes, an endless series of surprises in which your imagination finds monsters, impossible figures, princesses and armoured knights. Silence seems to have frozen here, whereas the rocks seem to move when you see them from the corner of your eye. It’s really a charming landscape, it looks magical –a rock garden where everything seems possible, a city of dolmens where crags become huge skyscrapers. The stone totems look down on me. They’re watching me. I thought what it would be like to walk around on a foggy day, one of those days when El Torcal frowns and shows it’s in a bad mood. It’s better to have read the weather forecast before coming. It’s sunny today; the sky shows its amazing bright blue autumn shades. When I reach the bottom of the ancient ocean, I feel as if a monster’s jaws were about to wolf me down. El Torcal is a place where geology must feel at ease, a sort of natural playground that makes it ideal for kids. The Green Tour is easy to follow. The course is a rocky one, though, so you’re strongly advised not to leave your trail. When I think I’ve seen everything there was to see, I stumble upon new shapes that face me like thousand-eyed giants. Suddenly I make out a silhouette on a hillock. I can’t decide whether it’s rock or man until I see it move. I cut across the monster’s heart, flow along its arteries, amidst the rocks and the twisted trees. I touch everything along the way, feeling the ancient rocks. My tour comes to a close at Mirador de la Escalerilla, a scenic viewpoint overlooking Colmenar, Casabermeja, the Mediterranean Sea, and the terrace roofs of Villanueva de la Concepción in the distance.

Town Centre

Leaving the soaring stone town of El Torcal behind, I drove down to Villanueva de la Concepción. In an attempt to make up for the stone maze, the town itself is full of long straight streets running parallel to one another. This modern layout is the result of the town’s late emergence as an independent village (it’s Málaga Province’s 101st municipality). Until 2009, it was part of Antequera. So, although it has a long history that dates back to the Neolithic Age, the town itself is very, very young. “The town of Villanueva de la Concepción was established on November 3, 1880. In March 1992, it was designated as a Territorial Unit Lower Than a Municipality (EATIM). Nine years later, in 2001, it became an Autonomous Local Entity (ELA), which paved the way to its transformation into a municipality. In 2007, the Andalusian Government acknowledged its right to independence from Antequera, and the right became effective on March 17, 2009, when the Málaga Council of Government authorised the construction of a Town Hall to turn Villanueva de la Concepción into the province’s 101st municipality” (source: Wikipedia). Following directions, I reach the Parish Church of Inmaculada Concepción, parking on San Antonio Street, only 5m away. The parish church is a late-nineteenth-century building with bright white walls and a simple belfry. Inside it features a single nave and a high altar housing an image of the Immaculate Conception and an unusually dark Neoclassical altarpiece. Walking out, I plunge into the straight lines of the streets, staring at the black iron window and balcony bars, at the hallways that anticipate the homes behind them. I feel the strong autumn smells and the homemade food, scented and pungent. I can smell the charcoal. The town is quiet; clean and quiet, as if some authority had just checked it over. Here the everyday hustle and bustle translates into pot and pan banging, into greetings and chit-chat, into distant radios and tunes. It’s impossible to get lost in Villanueva de la Concepción. The information boards lead the way to Plaza de Andalucía –the heart of town– from Callejón del Viento. All popular fiestas and major events take place in the square. What’s more, its benches and orange trees have witnessed the unfolding of recent historical events. It’s a rectangular square with a red granite eight-sided fountain in the middle. And it’s considered to be the town’s main source of water. Another board helps me find the next sight. But before going there I take a break on a bench by an orange tree, feeling the sun warm my skin. I can see the lower formations of El Torcal, still fresh in my memory. I compare its twisted shapes with the straight angles of the fountain, the square, the roofs. I stand up and take Real Street into García Caparrós Square. “The square is an idyllic place to spend the long summer evenings in the shade of its majestic elm trees,” a sign reads. I agree. My autumn morning is in fact quite similar to the summer evenings; the light is pretty much the same. Three streets lead to García Caparrós Square –Nueva, Plantel Juvenil, and García Caparrós–, so it’s a very popular transit area. In the middle there’s a gurgling fountain. When Charles III commissioned the construction of the Royal Road that connected Málaga to Madrid, Villanueva de la Concepción became a strategic node in the country’s communications network. Three bridges were built to improve access to it. They’re León, El Horcajo, and Arroyo Cauche. History fans can still visit them.

Bidding Farewell

With the warmth of the sun on my back, I fancy El Torcal. I draw it in my mind, I go about its furrows and twisted passageways, its dark caves and grey stone giants. It’s like a dream: ghostlike projections, teethed horizons, impossible trails. I imagine Tethys Ocean, deep under the place where I’m standing now. I can see how Villanueva de la Concepción emerged from the depth of the sea, bearing a crown of stone in its neck.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do before coming to El Torcal: Check the weather forecast; the road is easy to negotiate, but it can get nasty in the rain, ice, or snow. Bring your camera and binoculars along. And pay a visit to the visitor centre to get a clearer idea of what to see.
Independence Day: On November 3, Villanueva de la Concepción celebrates its establishment as a rural village. It’s one of the major celebrations in town, with sporting games, a festival, and a tribute to the contributions of the elderly to the town’s growth and transformation into a municipality.
Bean Day: Villanueva de la Concepción produces about 1 to 1.5 million beans a year. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s a day when the town pays tribute to its magic crop. On Bean Day, more than 2,000 bean casserole helpings are served for free. Celebrations begin at 10:00 a.m., when the local bars start serving beans in olive oil as the bands of verdiales begin to play. At noon Plaza de Andalucía becomes the heart of the feast, as here locals and out-of-towners can taste the casserole and other bean dishes prepared by local restaurants. Bean Day is held in April.

Useful links: To learn more about Villanueva de la Concepción, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Villanueva de la Concepción Town Hall. I’ve also relied on two personal websites on the town itself and El Torcal.

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


Tolox rests. It rests on a hill, in a gorge that shelters it from the wind. It looks like a white chasm, a whitewashed wound against the huge mountains. It seems to fall from the majestic summit like an avalanche in the form of a white hamlet. I watched it from the open area by the humble Chapel of San Roque, a few steps before the town centre –a natural viewpoint affording matchless views of the powerful rocks of Sierra de las Nieves, a Biosphere Reserve as well as the recipient of the EDEN Award and the Skål International Eco Tourism Award. Tolox oozes with the sap of the sierras. If you want to visit it, you have to find it, spot it, reach it. It’s not the type of town you come to because it’s just by the road. You have to go to Tolox. You have to make your way to Tolox. And it’s worth it.

Of Characters and Stories

The history of Tolox is pregnant with interesting characters and legends. Maybe it’s because it’s a secluded place, where the embers helped cook beautiful stories while sending charming smells off. I could fancy old ladies weaving stories about Umar Ibn Hafsun, his son Soleiman and their defeat in the hands of Umayyad caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III, or about the Spanish Inquisition and the banning of popular dance and music, where Arab rhythms
reverberated. There’s also the story of Micaela Merchán and
Padre José: “This ‘story’ has its origin in the preaching and influence of a former convict known as ‘Padre José’ and Teresa Villatoro on local women, Micaela Merchán among them. The women said they’d seen Virgin Mary and dead people too, hurling anathemas and warnings of hell against those who didn’t believe them. In the evening of March 23, 1886, they announced the end of the world was coming and burnt everything they had in a bonfire. They got undressed (“encuerichi,” they said in town) and danced around the fire, flogging themselves like Medieval flagellants. Then the Civil Guard arrested them and they went trial. Only Micaela Merchán was sentenced to serve four months and one day in prison for injuries and public scandal” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).

Arrival, Parking, First Impressions, Museum of Popular Arts and Crafts

Tolox is a town of ups and downs. And narrow streets. The best thing to do is park on one of the streets adjoining the town centre and then just go for a relaxed walk. I parked on Cuesta del Caño and reached the town centre from Calle Encina. There were signs clearly showing the way. If you want your tour to be even easier, you can download and print your Tolox street map at the Town Hall website. Calle Encina housed the Museum of Popular Arts and
Crafts and the Tourist Office. “The Museum of Popular Arts and
Crafts first opened in 1992. Its furniture, utensils, and photographs recreate life in town in the late nineteenth century. Its rooms include a bedroom containing a bed with a wool mattress, a missal, espadrilles, and the traditional Tolox outfit; a high-class dining room with toys, radios, a ration book, and ‘pan de higo pintao;’ a kitchen with a boiler and chimney, a coffee bean roaster, jars, salt grinders, and irons; and a shed where you can see farming, baking, milling, or carpenter’s tools, the most amazing being the threshing machine. The museum is open Tue-Sun 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 3:00-6:00 p.m. (October-May) and 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 6:00-9:00 p.m. (June-September)” (source: Tolox Town Hall website).

To Plaza Alta

From the museum, Balneario Street leads to Plaza Alta as it gives an idea of what Tolox is like: narrow snaking streets, tight clusters of houses and doorways that allow for shreds of the bright blue sky only when you look up. The sun glittered against the whitewashed walls, giving rise to playful lights and shadows. The streets came suddenly to a halt and were replaced by flights of steps leading to new streets, and so on. There were climbs everywhere around. Plaza Alta is the venue for local feasts and celebrations. On one of the sides there’s the House of Hidalgo Fernández Villamor. Built in the sixteenth century, the house could only be accessed through a staircase even in the twentieth century. A mansion with barred doors, balconies, and windows, the house lies in a privileged setting. You can feel its noble character.

Rinconadas del Castillo and Church of San Miguel

You could smell the autumn in Tolox: maybe roasted chestnuts, maybe the traces of homemade stews, maybe the embers of orange trees… Opposite the House of Fernández Villamor there was the road that brought me to the church. My steps got me deeper into Rinconadas del Castillo, a district with an unmistakable Morisco past visible in the zigzagging alleyways and labyrinthine layout. The Parish Church of San Miguel Arcángel featured a main door with a
surprisingly red brick lintel, just like the edges below
the eaves or the belfry tower roof. The bells rang, the door opened, and I entered a dark world. The church looked old inside, full of shadowy corners under an impressive coffered ceiling. The main altarpiece features St Michael clutching his fearful redeeming sword in his fist. Built in the sixteenth century, this parish church sheltered the Christians during the Morisco riots in 1568. Burnt down in 1577, it was rebuilt and then renovated in 1632.
Leaving the church behind, I plunged into Rinconadas del Castillo. Beyond the streets, the mountains, peaks of all heights adjacent to
the harsh façades of the houses. Rinconadas del Castillo
spreads around the church where the old Arab fortress used to be. The district closes on itself and then opens up again and closes back, its many surprises including a narrow covered alleyway, just 1m wide, which could be a match to “Callejón de Araceli” in Canillas de Albaida (Axarquía). It’s a short passageway, but it’s a journey in time to Tolox’s Moorish past. You’re strongly advised to let go in Rinconadas del Castillo (after a short stroll you’ll understand the meaning of the name), getting lost and finding your way once again to stumble upon amazing corners, impossible squares, broken alleys, and minute courtyards brimming with flowers. When I emerged from the maze, I was faced with the steep horizon of the mountains again. The autumn sun painted the walls in shades of ochre. I took a look at the shady fertile ravines, where orange and lemon trees grew. I could hear the murmur of flowing water.

Fuente Amargosa Spa

Led by the water, as if its sound were a secret tune, my feet retraced their steps along Calle Balneario and came to an eucalyptus-lined walkway. (Later I was to find the trees had been planted by the students of a public school some 20 years before.) I bumped into one, two, three men walking at a slow pace with their hands in their back. “Good morning.” “Good morning.” My step was faster than theirs. I could picture the Fuente Amargosa Spa after having
read about it: “Water springs had been popular in
Tolox since the dawn of time. They were classified as ‘amargosas’ (bitter) after their funny taste. Locals relied on their healing power for a series of illnesses in infusions or baths. It was the Tolox-born chemist José García Rey who first noticed the healing power of the springs and conducted a study which ultimately led to a deep understanding of their properties. Mr García Rey performed all the
necessary tests on the mineral water, analysing it and
classifying it as alkaline-bromide, ammonium-sulphite, crenate-
ferromagnesian. The spa opened in 1869, but it was destroyed by river flooding in 1906. It was redeveloped by Manuel del Río. In the late nineteenth century, the spa attracted politicians, artists, and bullfighters” (source: Fuente Amargosa Spa website). The spa is set on a depression, yellow and white under the green sierras in the background. I felt I was in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, when the members of the Málaga bourgeoisie came to alleviate the symptoms or their illnesses. It was very quiet this time of year, for the spa is closed in winter. I took a look at the terrace and the silent corridors and then sat down, listening to the murmur of water and feeling the subtle smells that are typical of spas. I closed my eyes and just let go.


I fingered the shapes of the sun on the façades. A painting made with light and shadow with ochre hues, sky-blue, and mountainous green. I fingered the silhouette of the majestic sierras, followed the smell of autumn stews, brought the legends to life, remembered past riots… And now Tolox painted a subtler, more complex work in my mind, a painting in which unique colours merged to create a unique, undecipherable essence combining history, nature, deeply-rooted traditions, old rituals, and secret places. You have to go to Tolox. You have to make your way to Tolox. And it’s worth it.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Hiking and mountaineering in Sierra de las Nieves: Tolox wouldn’t be what it is without the sierras. The town is part of the Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve and El Torrecilla, the second highest mountain in Málaga (1,919m) lies within its boundaries. It can be accessed from amazing places like Puerto de los Pilones and its gall oak wood or Cañada del Cuerno and its old population of Spanish firs. Hundreds of hiking trails cut across Tolox, taking visitors to unforeseen peaks, unfathomable caves, impossible spots. Click here for hiking routes. Look for the traces of defunct trades, e.g. snow remover, along the way.
Mardi Gras and Día de los Polvos (Powder Day): “Tolox is a white village, but it gets even whiter in Carnival, especially on Monday and Tuesday, after the old rite of men covering the women they love in talcum powder as a token of their love. This tradition has its origins in the fight of a Moor and a Christian girl over a single man. They were both baking bread when they began to quarrel. Soon they were throwing flour at one another. Now the situation is somewhat different, for people powder one another irrespective of love or gender, with many out-of-towners taking part in the feast. Also, people wear fancy dresses and enter competitions. There’re bands, traditional dances (guasa, tío del candil), and the burial of the sardine. All the events contribute to the creation of a festive atmosphere that makes Carnival unique in Tolox. The festival has been designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest. It’s held just before Ash Wednesday” (source: Tolox Town Hall website).
Día de las Mozas (Girls’ Day): This tradition began in Christmas 1539, when a Moor girl and a Christian woman fought over the use of an oven to bake their confections. Their fight led to a strife between Moors and Christians in general. The latter went to locals for help, for they couldn’t relay on troops. They rang bells and conches to summon the people. The racket frightened the Moors, who thought a Christian battalion was coming and ran away. Since then, locals have taken to the streets on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, banging pots and pans and offering local foods to taste.
Useful links: For more information about Tolox, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Tolox Town Hall, where you’ll find a lot of updated information and related documents. If you’re interested in the spa, check the website of Fuente Amargosa. For general information, go to the official websites of the Association of Sierra de las Nieves Town Councils and Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve.

N.B.: The photos of the Museum of Popular Arts and Crafts and Powder Day have been taken from the Tolox Town Hall website.

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


Monday, 8 November 2010

It’s no illusion. It’s a real water sheet, surrounded by olive groves and scrubland. It’s no illusion. It’s a cloud of moving white and pink wings, a soundtrack of clucking, quacking, crowing, a cluster of autumn peace and winter starts. It’s no illusion. It’s a transit area, anesting zone, breeding ground. It now looks like the destination of its most famous inhabitants, flamingos. It shouldn’t have water this time of year, but it does. There shouldn’t be flamingos this time of year, but there are. “Nature teaches us that nothing remains unchanged,” a good friend of mine used to say. He knew what he was talking about. I stare at the shimmering water before my eyes, the rippling surface rocked by the breeze, and blended the bright blue sky and its reflection. Everything I see is an illusion right now.

Visitor Centre

I drive across the town centre of Fuente de Piedra. A flat town with houses spread along its longish streets. Low, two-storey homes. Windows behind black and silver bars. The signs show the way to the lake and its visitor centre. I enter the protected space and take a look at the water. Polished steel, grey on grey, like melting lead. Wild olives stand as if knowing they’re before something really powerful. I leave my car in the parking area. As soon as I get out, I can feel the unmistakable smell of damp earth lumps. I breathe in and the primitive sense of smell is enough to picture the whole place. I can fancy the early birds, the reed on the banks, dry autumn layers, plants… The visitor centre lies up on Cerro del Palo, which is why it’s blessed with amazing views of the lake. An old building, it’s kept its old country estate exterior looks, while housing modern facilities inside. The information boards in pink and fuchsia –associated with flamingos– give a lot of information to newcomers andexperts alike. You can read about the different types of birds and other species living in Fuente de Piedra, flamingo nesting, or the annual ringing of newly-born individuals. In the main room you can see real-size flamingo replicas. The best feature of this visitor centre, however, is the huge window overlooking the lake, affording views of the water sheet in all its glory. I look out of it, staring at the complicated network of trails across the lake banks, thanks to which visitors can get incredibly close to this wonderful, one-of-a-kind ecosystem. Fuente de Piedra is considered to be one of the largest wetlands and the most important flamingo breeding habitat in Europe. The lead appearance of the lake can fool you, but once you’ve seen one of the pink guys, you’ve seen them all. The first of them is like a pink dot in the horizon. “Look, there’s one over there,” I say. “Wait, wait, there’re more of them over there, and there,” I go on. “And over there, and there, and there.” A pinkish cloud a few inches from the water, moving in a tempo of its own, marked by the funny march of flamingos. I smile at the discovery, rushing out of the visitor centre and heading for the lake itself (following the guide’s directions). There’re so many things I could tell about Fuente de Piedra… From its past days as a hunting preserve to its present status as a nature reserve. The Fuente de Piedra Town Hall website provides information on the ecosystem’s history and geography. I will, instead, give you a personal view, based on the feelings this tour has aroused in me.

The Lake as I See It

It’s a cool autumn morning, stimulating and joyful, inviting quiet strolls –the perfect setting for a walk around the lake. The place is apt for visitors, photographers, and bird watchers, featuring huge wooden frames as part of the landscape itself. I can hear the birds quacking, clucking, crowing. I can see the flamingos in their languorous fuchsia poses, partly immersed in water. From Laguna de la Paloma you can spot lapwings, black-headed gulls, ducks, plovers, and other birds. Signs indicate the time of year when youcan spot each species. Staring at the lake, I’m already thinking of the next time I’m here, maybe in spring, when it’s at its fullest, to walk its 21km perimeter and stop at each of the privileged vantage points. Binoculars and a camera are a must here. I can smell the damp earth, and also rosemary plus a mix of plants and flowers. The smells are rocked by the mild breeze. It reaches two of the viewpoints, Observatorio de las Albinas (surrounded by whitish earth; hence the name) and Mirador de la Vicaría, across several wooden bridges. Only 2.5km across flat ground in an amazing setting. I meet several hikers. They all speak in a soft voice, as if careful not to disturb the peaceful setting. The observatory is closer to the lake, and to the flamingos, which I can now see and hear. Clucking, quacking, crowing, croaking… that’s Fuente de Piedra’s soundtrack. Apparent silence and wonderful views. The flamingos are hiding their necks and beaks in the water, in search for food. I can fancy the whole flock flying in the bright blue sky, painting it in pink and fuchsia. A bunch of laughing black-headed gulls (or at least that’s what I think) fly off, laughing in the sky, making circles that grow bigger and smaller.
The silvery water gets dyed with white and pink shreds. The flamingos are morose creatures: they stand on the bottom of the lake like graceful dancers. “You shouldn’t expect to find water or flamingos this time of year,” I was told. “But the flamingo population in the area amounts to 30,000,” they explained to me at the tourist office. “The brood (some 7,000) have stayed, and some of their 20,000 parents have stayed along.” “You shouldn’t expect to find water or flamingos this time of year.” But here they are. It’s no illusion.

Fuente de Piedra Town Centre

The Fons Divinus of the Romans marked the town’s name and early fate. Within Hispania, Fuente de Piedra was held to be a place where water could dissolve your kidney stones. Therefore, its water was thought to come from a divine fountain, Fons Divinus, a name that later became “Fuente de Piedra,” probably because of the association with the disease the water was supposed to heal –kidney stone (“piedra” is the Spanish word for “stone”) . The effectiveness of the water continued until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was bottled and sold, even exported to Naples and the Americas. Where the original Roman fountain used tobe a new, more modern one was erected using stones from its predecessor. But before getting to the fountain, I need to go from the lake to the town centre. It’s easy. Everything in Fuente de Piedra –the sights and the streets– is clearly signposted. I park in Plaza de la Constitución. There’s a tourist office on the corner. I walk in. The assistant gives me information and advice. When I leave, my hands are full of brochures, cards, and catalogues. Most important sights –the square, the fountain, the church, the town hall building– face one another. I’m hungry after visiting the lake, but lunch will have to wait. Juan Carlos Primero Street leads to the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Virtudes. A curious church, indeed, which seems to merge with its background in reddish, sandy hues. Built in the nineteenth century in the neo-Mudejar style, it features a remarkable belfry which is not a tower but a double-arch structure crowned by an iron cross. The façade is very simple, with two huge glazed windows above the main door. A plate to the left reminds of the fallen in war. The same street brings me back to the square. I come across some interesting homes on my way. The fountain that’s lent its name to the town has brought prosperity and misfortune: After a dry season, disease spread in the region, and the prophets of doom associated this to Fons Divinus and its stagnant water, a medium where disease could thrive. The give-and-take of history. Now, the fountain dominates the square, its four main spouts and a smaller tap on the left flowing into a central basin. It’s a beautiful fountain, indeed; its central part could have ended in a cross in the past. I splash my face with water. Following a local woman’s advice, I head for Bar Tejeda for lunch.

Lunch Break

It’s a simple bar, where I can see locals coming and going. I choose an outdoor table. The specialties on the menu whet my appetite: fried aubergines with honey, black pudding croquettes, and so on. I order a crusty salt steak, an entrecote, and a charcoal-grilled veal chop, plus two sodas, a plate of olives, and bread. The bill = €51. The steak tastes like carpaccio, olive oil poured on top enhancing its natural flavours. The entrecote and veal chop are fresh and well-done, seasoned with cooking salt and served with homemade French fries. The olives vanish as soon as they are landed on the table. Over the meal I discuss what I’ve seen so far, the lake and the history of Fuente de Piedra, with its uninterrupted flow of dwellers: Iberians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs.

El Refugio del Burrito

On the outskirts of Fuente de Piedra, clearly signposted amidst olive trees and vines, there’s El Refugio del Burrito –a non-profit initiative associated with a common element to the past of various towns in Málaga: donkeys, a beast of burden and an endangered species. El Refugio del Burrito is a place where abandoned or maltreated donkeys and mules can be safe, negligent behaviour is reported, and guided tours for general visitors or schoolchildren, as well as donkey activities for children with special educational needs, can be taken. El Refugio del Burrito is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (summer) or 6:00 p.m. (winter). For more information, call (+34) 952 031 622. I’m surprised at its clean, carefully-kept facilities, including pens and fences. The donkeys are separated by age and breed, with files indicating their names and dates of birth, and other data. Visitors are warmly welcome. I walk between the enclosures, stroking the friendliest of the donkeys while the more timid ones crane away. I take a look at the stables and the feeding troughs. I take a seat in the early evening, listening to the chewing around me. I make a small donation and go back to my car, to get lost amidst the olive trees, leaving a trail of white dust behind me.


It’s the moment of discovery, the excitement of having spotted the first pink specimen against the silver lake, the initial surprise. And the walk among the reed, on sandy ground filled with water in spring, with the red flowers and the wooden bridge, the clucking of the birds, the delicate singing of a bird delicately perched on a delicate twig, the apparent silence about the lake, its ever-changing colour –from lead to silver, from white to pink, from pink to fuchsia–, the pendulum movement of the pelican’s neck, going down the water and up again. Standing on one of the viewpoints, I leave my binoculars and camera aside and enjoy the show with all five senses.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What you must know before coming: Don’t forget to bring your binoculars to the lake. You don’t need to be a flora and fauna expert to enjoy the place. As it is a nature reserve, binoculars are the only way of getting close to the flamingos. Also, you’ll need a camera with a good zoom to capture the best moments.
Flamingo ringing: In the summer, newly-born flamingos are ringed at the lake. In July, depending on the arrival of the birds and the birth of their offspring, the Fuente de Piedra Department of the Environment organises guided tours of the lake, exhibitions, an Andalusian breakfast in the square, and a verbena to welcome environmental volunteers and visitors alike. Ringing flamingos is key for their monitoring, and it’s done under strictly controlled conditions. This is why volunteers are carefully picked and visitors must comply with a series of strict behaviour rules. Besides ringing, the best time of year at the lake is spring, when flamingos come and make their nests, mate and breed their first brood. Spring is the time when the lake is at its fullest and when there’s the largest number of flamingos living in it.
Country travel: There’re many country travel companies and country hotels in the area. Just google “Fuente de Piedra” and you’ll find a wide array of choices to meet your profile and your pocket.
Useful links: To learn more about Fuente de Piedra, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Fuente de Piedra Town Hall, especially the information they contain on the lake. You can also visit the page on the nature reserve hosted by the Andalusian Government and the virtual tour of the lake.

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