93 NERJA: Intensely blue

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Nerja is blue. Blue like the summer in the TV show, blue like the water sheet the Maro Cliffs carve into. Nerja is blue. Blue like the sea the Balcony of Europe leans onto. Blue like the sky above. Nerja is blue like the Mediterranean sailed across by the Phoenicians and the Romans and the Arabs and the Christians and the Ottomans. Nerja is blue and blue is Nerja.

A cavity carved out of the guts of the earth, covered by the silent cloak woven by the passage of time. I look up and see the dark sky full of stalactites. I look down at the thorny ground, full of stalagmites. The Nerja Cave lets out an old smell and a primitive sigh. After being in it, you’ll feel the warmth of the winter sun as if you’d been born again, dazzled by the intensely blue light of the pure sky. After the journey to the centre of the earth, the Maro cliffs will look amazing, falling sharply into the pristine sea. Then, a walk in Nerja, the Balcony of Europe, the statue of a king leaning against the rail and looking at the sea in the eye. A labyrinth for tourists and for sailors: intertwined streets and smells of fresh fish, charcoal, and delicacies brought from the sea. A sun-bathed, robust church and parks leading to the sierras. An old fisherman on the deck of La Dorada; childhood memories: it could be Chanquete.
Impressions of Nerja, intensely blue.

The Nerja Cave

You can’t get lost. Driving from highway A-7, you’ll see many signs. The Nerja Cave is the most popular attraction in Málaga Province, welcoming 500,000 tourists a year. So it’s only natural that there’s some basic infrastructure associated with it. The signs, for instance. You’ll probably be surprised by the lots of staff available to assist you, the parking areas (fee: €1), and the multiple gift shops and restaurants at the entrance. After parking, I go to the ticket office. For opening hours, ticket prices, and additional information on the Cave and the festival held in July, visit or call (+34) 952 529 520 (ticket prices: adults, €6; children aged 6-12, €4,50; children aged 0-5, free; special discounts for groups, schools, associations, etc.). People flow in and out of the cave non-stop. I go into the womb of Nerja. The Nerja Cave isn’t as wild as Cueva de la Pileta in Benaoján or the Cave of Doña Trinidad Grund in Ardales. It’s ready to welcome all manners of visitors: well-lit, it gives a clear idea of its size, and it can be toured easily and comfortably (700m). It was discovered in 1959 by a group of boys from Maro who’d gone bat hunting in the area named Minas del Cementerio. The boys squeezed through an opening and a passage and reached a bank. This way they reached one of the first cavities. The light from their torches was swallowed by the dark. The Cave was opened on June 12, 1960. At first, it was known as Cueva de las Maravillas (Wonder Cave), but soon enough it got its present name, Cueva de Nerja. Despite the huge numbers of visitors, it’s silent inside. It’s also hot and damp. I can’t believe the stalactites and stalagmites I see. They’re humongous, especially in the cavity known as Cataclysm Hall, which houses what according to Guinness World Records is the largest natural column on Earth (18m wide and 49m tall). Most children and teenagers in Málaga visit the Cave at least once during their school years. I come across two acquaintances of mine: a teacher and a spelunker. We talk for a while, speaking in a hushed voice. The Cave makes a natural stage where an internationally renowned music festival is held every year. José Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, Alfredo Kraus, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yehudi Menuhin have all performed here. Every new cavity contains new fantastic formations; hence their names: “Hall of Ghosts,” “Ballet Hall,” and so on. When I get out, the bright blue sky dazzles me for a while. I can’t believe I’ve been in the bosom of the earth for about 40’. Time really flies. When you get in, they take a picture of you which you can then buy. I do so (€8). I also get myself my usual postcard (€0.50). Then I head towards my car.

Maro and its Sharp Cliffs

The Nerja Cave lies in Maro, and from the entrance you can climb down (or ride down a bike lane) to the cliffs. It must be quite a hike/ride, affording views of the glittering sea and the horizon beyond the whitewashed village. I approach the cliffs, looking at the blue, green, and white shades merging in the sea. I follow the parking signs. Maro is a small district famous for its cliffs, its quietness, and its stockbreeding and sailing atmosphere. Its greatest attraction is the Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs Nature Park, where the Sierra de Almijara plunges abruptly into the sea, giving birth to sharp cliffs cutting deep into the Mediterranean Sea. The cliffs are still virgin land. There’re secluded coves whose inaccessibility makes them particularly charming. Many foreigners come to Maro with their caravans, in search of crystal-clear water. Take your time to saunter down to one of the cliffs, amidst gardens and groves. You’ll enjoy one of the most unusual landscapes on the Costa del Sol. I go down to Maro Beach, a peaceful sand strip where four or five couples are lying in the winter sun, reading, or taking a stroll. I feel the cool water on my feet and walk along the shore for a while, feeling the sea in all its might. To thoroughly explore the Nature Park, you can go diving, snorkelling, kayaking, or canoeing with one of the local companies specialising in these sports. Check with the local Tourist Office. Life Adventure ( and Actividades Acuáticas Playa Burriana ((+34) 615 974 679/679 942 691), for instance, offer their services all year round. After such a delightful walk, I climb my way up to the centre, where I take a look at the outside of Ingenio de Maro, a large sugar refinery dating back to 1585, which was operative until de 1860s, when it was torn down by fire. (There’re five refineries in Nerja.) The original structure and walls can still be seen, as can the travertine tiles, the round arches, and the strong buttress. The refinery is next to the parking area, on the square that houses the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas –an austere seventeenth-century building, renovated in the following century, featuring a tile steeple and a small belfry in the front. Impossibly white, the Church sticks out against the bright blue sky. Maro is an incredibly quiet place, where all clocks seem to have stopped and time seems to stand still. Men are chatting as they look for the sun to warm them up. A couple of foreign residents are doing their shopping. A bunch of tourists are sitting on the terrace of a bar, eating tapas and drinking beer. I’d gladly join them.

Parking in Nerja

Leaving Maro behind, I drive towards the centre of Nerja along road N-340. To the right there’s the Acueducto del Águila, an aqueduct in Roman style built to carry water to the factories of Las Mercedes and San Joaquín: four brick layers with 37 round arches. The aqueduct is still in operation. I leave my car in the Balcón de Europa public parking bay. It’s one of the best choices in Nerja, given its central location and the fact that the town has kept its Arab layout, which means it’s a maze of twisted streets, many of them for pedestrians only. It’s close to the Town Hall building, the Tourist Office, and the Balcony of Europe. And it’s quite inexpensive. At the Tourist Office I get a lot of maps and brochures. The friendly staff are willing to help. They show me what to visit on the map and recommend a few places where I can have good fish: El Chispa, El Pulguilla, Pacomari, or the famous Chiringuito de Ayo (on Burriana beach), which appeared on Antonio Mercero’s TV show Verano Azul. It’s noon by now, so I choose the closest restaurant, Pacomari, on Gloria Street. I have to get to it from Pintada Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Nerja –it’s full of stores and gift shops, restaurants, and passers-by or patrons sitting at bar tables on the street. There’re many foreigners living in Nerja. In April, the town pays tribute to them by celebrating Foreign Resident’s Day. Then in September, it’s visitors’ turn with Tourist’s Day. At this time of day, you can come across those who have just woken up and are having breakfast –coffee, hot chocolate and churros…–, tourists talking over desert, or locals having a snack before lunch.

Lunch at Pacomari

There’s a zillion bars and restaurants in Nerja, from beach bars or fried fish stalls to restaurants serving international cuisine: pizza, fast food, hamburgers, seafood… you name it. Pacomari has a sunny terrace in the heart of town. I don’t have to think it over. I let the warmth from the sun get into my bones. I order ajoblanco with grapes, a mixed salad, prawns pil-pil, grilled kingklip, two beers, a bottle of water, a regular coffee and an iced coffee. The bill = €40.70. The ajoblanco is sweet yet hot. Really refreshing. Just the right amount of garlic and almonds. Yummy. The serving of prawns is very generous, and the kingklip is garnished with a sauce of crushed garlic, oil, and parsley. The salad has fruit: pineapple, kiwi, or orange. I feel happy with the food, the terrace, and the sun.

Chapel of Las Angustias, Verano Azul Park, La Dorada, Church of El Salvador…

After lunch, I embark on an itinerary designed after the Blue Route suggested in one of the brochures I got at the Tourist Office, with slight differences. From the restaurant, I’ll visit the Chapel of Las Angustias, then the park inspired by Verano Azul, where there’s La Dorada, the boat steered by the character called Chanquete, and then back to the town centre for the Church of El Salvador. Afterwards, I’ll lean out the Balcony of Europe. I’m in no hurry walking along Cruz Street. The old district is busy yet clean. It’s cobblestone streets, most of them for pedestrians, invite morose walks. Sunny terraces, flowery patios, tiled-floored hallways. Despite being one of the main touristy cities in Málaga, Nerja has managed to keep the charming essence of the fishing village it used to be. Its size and flatness make it easy to reach almost any point on foot. So I soon find my way to the Chapel of Las Angustias. It’s a curious building, both inside and outside. The outside is simple: a single structure preceded by a three-arched portal and a belfry standing on the tiled roof. The inside is dominated by an amazing altarpiece crowned by a Pentecost dome. The Chapel was built in 1720. A nun greets me and we comment on its elaborate ornaments. She delivers a proud smile. Behind the door, we can hear clashing pots and pans. From the Chapel, I take Antonio Ferrandis “Chanquete” Avenue, leading to the Verano Azul Park. The Park is a great recreational area for children. Besides, it pays tribute to the TVE show aired from October 11, 1981 to February 14, 1982 (and then rebroadcast on several occasions). The plot was very simple: a group of boys and girls and their summer adventures in Nerja, as well as their relationships with a painter called Julia (María Garralón) and an old fisherman, Chanquete (Antonio Ferrandis), who lived on his boat on a hillock. In the Park, the alleys have been named after the characters’ names –Tito, Piraña, and so on– and the show’s episodes are used to signpost the parking area. The real star, however, is La Dorada, Chanquete’s boat and home. It’s a must if you grew up watching this show –and if you’re prone to nostalgia. Without my realising, my head begins to sing Verano Azul’s theme song, which has since then been the soundtrack of many blue summers. I get back to the town centre walking along Jaén Street and Diputación Street, which brings me to the back of the Church of El Salvador. Close to the sea and the Balcony of Europe, the Church frames the large tree-lined square in front of it. The area is busy: the Tourist Office, the Town Hall building, several bars and restaurants… Built in 1697 (the belfry was finished in 1724), the Church is a baroque building featuring a central nave and two aisles. A curious fact: it’s one of a few religious buildings in the world containing images of the three archangels (St Michael is the patron saint of Nerja).

… and Balcony of Europe

They say it was King Alfonso XII who called it like this, after his visit to Axarquía in 1885. Probably it’s a mix of fact and fiction, but the place couldn’t have a better name. Overlooking the cliffs that separate the beaches of El Salón and Calahonda and above an old fortress protected by cannons (two of them can still be seen) and destroyed by fire from English ships during the Peninsular War, this balcony stands between a wide palm-lined promenade and the sea. The warm winter sun sparkles in the Mediterranean. The breeze brings old, strong smells from the sea. Leaning out the Balcony of Europe is taking in the blueness that bewitched the Phoenicians and the Greeks and the Romans, the Arabs and the Ottomans and the Carthaginians when they sailed across the Mare Nostrum, the waterway that connected them to the rest of the world. The balcony is indeed a balcony, the last bastion of Europe facing Africa –so close and yet so distant. Tourists take hold of the balcony. They take pictures of one another, with the glittering horizon in the background. Some of them lean out; others just turn their backs and smile; still others sit down and stare at the infinitely blue sea. An illustrious king is watching us; he’s scanning the horizon to the west, his left elbow resting on the rail and his eyes lost somewhere in the distance. He seems to be grinning. And we’re grinning with him.


The sea strokes my feet; the breeze brushes past my face. I can make out a fishing boat. There’s a man fishing on board. He’s got grey hair and a bushy beard. A group of children rush to the wooden beach bar. A woman’s placing her easel on the cliffs. She unfolds her chair and starts painting. It could be that Blue Summer, but it’s today, in the winter of 2011.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

How to find information:
In order to plan a good trip to Nerja, you must visit the Town Hall website ( Not only does it have a lot of interesting information; it will help you plan your trip thanks to the facts it contains on the opening hours, ticket prices, and phone numbers of most tourist attractions and many travel companies. Likewise, at the Tourist Board ((+34) 952 521 531) they can tell you how to turn your trip to Nerja into an unforgettable experience. If you’re bolder than average, check out the active travel options.
What to visit: The Tourist Office gives information on multiple tours taking visitors to various points of interest: factories and sugar refineries that are part of the local historical and industrial heritage, bridges across the coastal gorges, watchtowers (there’re five of them), cemeteries (Maro and San Miguel), archaeological sites… The possibilities are endless.
Hiking: Nerja is the starting point of multiple hiking routes with different levels of difficulty leading to some of the highest peaks and the most beautiful landscapes in the area. For instance, there’s the 8km route to the dam along the bank of the river Chillar, across the various gorges in Los Cachorros (they’re so narrow you can almost touch both their walls if you extend both your arms). You’ll need one full day to complete it, for there’s a lot of water to wade across.
Popular fiestas: The Festival of El Carmen is wonderful in Maro or Nerja, since both of them are fishing areas. On July 25, boats take to the sea and stay until late into the night. The Virgin of El Carmen is carried along the streets and the fiesta ends with fireworks.
Useful links: My trip to Nerja was planned using the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Nerja Town Hall, and Nerja Cave.

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