Friday, 28 January 2011

Boats on the horizon, their reflections glittering on a silvery sea. A man is staring at the ships that come and go. They look tiny in the distance. The man’s wearing a sash and espadrilles. The work in the fields has been particularly hard today. He’s so tired. He’s leaning on a rock, letting the midday sun warm up his skin and get into his bones. His donkey is grazing. The man then looks at the road to the coast and sees them coming. A very young couple. Both of them have long fair hair. He’s wearing a flower print shirt and big dark sunglasses. She has her hair in a ponytail and is wearing a Panama hat and a broad smile. They greet the man in a language he’s not familiar with. They all smile. She comes close to the donkey and strokes the beast in its forehead and jaw. With gestures, he tells the man she’d like to take a ride. The man understands without understanding. Who’d like to mount a donkey just for pleasure? He nods and helps her. She gets on the beast and it begins to move slowly. She laughs. He laughs too. The man also laughs and looks at them. Ten other fair-haired, blue-eyed tourists wearing flower print shirts are coming down the road. They’re pointing at the woman riding the donkey. They’re clapping their hands. The man looks at the donkey and the woman, then at the approaching group. He now understands. And he smiles.

Approaching Mijas

Like a balcony overlooking the Costa del Sol, Mijas is a privileged viewpoint with a cluster of houses and an Andalusian essence. Stretching out from the sierras, it holds out its hand to touch the Mediterranean. Maybe it’s this privileged location that’s attracted tourists to Mijas earlier than to other towns in the area. And Mijas responded quickly and efficiently. In Mijas you can find donkey taxis, a miniature museum, and a bullring. These are the things that passing visitors, those who’re not staying for too long, must see. But there’s much more to Mijas than just this. Behind the glaring tourist attractions there’s a white village with an Arab layout whose long streets are crossed by shorter, steeper, twisting ones. Everything is impossibly white: the colour of sobriety and solemnity, the colour of honesty. Let’s say hello to beautiful, shallow Mijas. Let’s say hello to real, deep Mijas.


In the peak season, it’s not easy to find a parking space in Mijas. And it’s almost impossible to drive in the historic district: the streets are too narrow and the area is always crowded. So the best thing to do is leave your car in the large public car park in the town centre. Clearly signposted, it has ten parking levels. This is exactly what I did and, although I spent many hours in Mijas, the parking fee wasn’t too expensive. Besides, the public parking area is next to the Tourist Office –an must-visit place if you’re to get around Mijas and get to know the town. The Tourist Office is open Mon-Fri from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in winter or 8:00 p.m. in the summer (closed on weekends; phone number: (+34) 952 589 034; email: I walked in. The kind staff gave me a full, easy-to-follow street map showing two different routes (the shopping route downtown in red and the longer tourist route in yellow) and containing brief descriptions of the main tourist attractions. A useful document indeed, whose routes I’d follow to the letter. I walked out and turned left. I saw two buses full of senior tourists from Mollet, Catalonia.

Donkey Taxis

My tour began with Mijas’s best known attraction: donkey taxis. A simple idea that’s earned the town a household name, a means of transport that’s famous the world over. A sign reads the rates in Spanish, French, English, German, and Japanese –€10 for donkey rides, €15 for donkey-drawn carriages. The vehicles’ identification numbers can be seen on a plate above the animal’s eyes. All the donkeys are clean and harnessed with colourful gear. They’re peacefully waiting for their riders. Donkey taxis are a unique, original means of transport dating back to the 1960s, when summer visitors wanted to take pictures of field workers on their donkeys or mules as a souvenir of Andalusia. Some even asked for a ride! They gave generous tips, in some cases higher than the workers’ wages, so some of the workers decided to turn what had become a tourist ritual into a trade. This is how donkey taxis were born. Currently, there’re some 50 of them in Mijas, and they even have a stop and parking area of their own (Avda. Virgen de la Peña, s/n; phone number: (+34) 627 026 958). They might look like an incidental part of the Mijas cityscape, but donkey taxis are really conspicuous. The group of senior citizens who were hot on my heels for the whole morning stopped by the donkeys and smiled, stroking the animals under the watchful look of its owners. They loved how the animals were all dressed up. Some asked to mount them for a picture. A donkey brayed and the sound echoed beyond the nearby Chapel of Virgen de la Peña.

El Compás Viewpoint and Chapel of Virgen de la Peña

To the left of the taxi donkeys there’re El Compás Viewpoint and the Chapel of Virgen de la Peña. They make a spectacular complex. The chapel, carved into the rock, looks like a temple for troglodytes. It stands against the bright blue sky in a picture brought down to me from time immemorial, like a Mozarabic cave church. It seems to have been snatched off the hills, as if the rocks had been removed and the resulting hollow filled with spirituality. Legend has it that the Virgen de la Peña was hidden here for five centuries, until She was found in 1586 by a bricklayer whose two sons, who were shepherds, had been brought there by a pigeon. Inside, the chapel features two chambers: the worship area, dominated by an altarpiece with an image of Virgin Mary, and a small museum showing clerical apparel: mitres, chasubles, and so on. Silence was overwhelming inside. The lit candles lent the place an air of ancient rituals; the Easter flowers added a red touch. The worship area has six elaborate golden benches for parishioners to sit down. I went out. The small gift shop on the left sold scapulars, rosaries, postcards, and other religious souvenirs. El Compás Viewpoint lies on a hillock overlooking the Costa del Sol –a sort of privileged balcony opening up to the west. This morning, the horizon had been seized by mist. The sea hid behind the mist; the villages seemed to have been swallowed up by the clouds. I leant against the rail and took a look of this ethereal, subtle section of the Málaga coastline.

Max’s Wagon

From the Viewpoint, El Compás Avenue led to a wonderful place. It looked like an old train carriage in brown and yellow which had run aground on the town’s white houses. Its name could be read on the roof: Carromato de Max ( It could be a magician’s trick or an illusion. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d heard about Professor Max and his wagon. His real name was Juan Elegido Millán; he was a successful hypnotist. He came to Mijas in 1972, bringing a curiosity along: a museum of small pieces, a miniature museum. The museum paid tribute to the tiny: a painting on a pin head, a ballerina on a match head, and so on. Admission tickets are €3 for adults and €0.90 for kids. The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. After getting my ticket, I went into the miniature world. The collection was protected by glass domes. Each of them sheltered a single, rare, miniature. A sculpture of Abraham Lincoln painted on the head of a pin. A copy of Leonardo’s The Last Supper on a rice grain. A ballerina accurately carved on the head of a match. The disturbing head of a Jivaro man. Max’s Wagon was entertaining and weird. According to a board inside, the collection was the result of multiple trips, of contacts with many different men and women, of the knowledge of tribes living as if in ancient times… in sum, “an ode to adventure.” I stood close to each glass dome, looked through the magnifying glasses, and marvelled at a world map on a button.

The Bullring

After visiting the miniature museum, I plunged into the centre of Mijas. Despite being a touristy town (tourism is its main industry), Mijas hasn’t got rid of its Andalusian essence, whose charm can still be felt in the whitewashed walls, the narrow streets, or the general layout. The streets, however, are a melting pot where you can hear a variety of languages and accents getting mixed with the singsong voices from Málaga. A bunch of Japanese tourists were taking pictures of every corner. Now I understood why the donkey taxi sign was written in Japanese too. Mijas is a very clean town. It looked as if the streets had been polished before the curtain was lifted. My route was clearly signposted. Across Plaza de la Constitución and down the street on the left, I came to the Bullring –a bullfighting temple, and ode to bullfighters, full of memories of matador names and unforgettable corridas. There was even a stuffed bull that seemed to be alive, and a picture of a bullfighter where you could stick out your head and pretend you were one of those ephemeral and eternal Spanish celebrities with just pushing down the button of a camera. Of course, I did it myself, using the name “Oliverita de Ojén,” and a friend of mine that went to Mijas with me, “Parrita Marbellera.” You were allowed to step on the bullring. The effects could be seen on tourists’ faces. The Mijas Bullring was built in 1900. It’s not round but oval-shaped. I went up the stairs, past the pens and the slaughterhouse. I sat in the president’s balcony, took out a white handkerchief, and waved it in the air. The Bullring afforded views of the ever-present sierras and the Church of Inmaculada Concepción. After several basic passes –molinete, chichuelina, veronica– and a finishing touch, I left the ring.

The Walls, the Gardens, the Viewpoint, the Church…

Before visiting the Church, I went to see the Walls and the Viewpoint. Despite the mist (it was now clearing up, though), the views were stunning. The Western Costa del Sol opened up in front of me: Fuengirola, the first mountain slopes, the sea, several housing developments… The gardens, coming to the edge of the gorge, were well taken care of. At various points along the trail were some benches facing the sea. The trail was interrupted by a terraced area and a row of balconies, with water flowing down. It was a pleasant stroll, sheltered by the exuberant vegetation. I took my time to enjoy it. The Church of Inmaculada Concepción lay in the open area between the bullring and the gorge where the viewpoint was. It was built between 1541 and 1565 on the ruins of an old mosque and castle. When they renovated the building in 1992, they found a series of frescoes dating from 1632. Murillo Street led under the arches and portal of the People’s University to Coín Street, which I took to get to Santana.


Far from the madding crowd of tourists, Santana is a quiet district where you can experience a more genuine form of life in Mijas, less vibrant but equally beautiful. It’s white and clean and apparently simple, but its alleyways crossing the main thoroughfare house many hidden treasures. I walked around, greeting the kind local people. At the far end of the street there was the eighteenth-century Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, a.k.a. Chapel of Santana, on Plaza de los Siete Caños. It looked austere, but it had a character. Two men were sitting next to it, with their backs to the seven-spout fountain, which produced no water. The alleyways followed the typical Arab pattern. The walls were laden with flowerpots painting them in blue, red, or green. There were so many plants and flowers. A few steps here and there led to patios and secluded corners. The murmur of everyday life came from Calle del Agua, Sierra, Larga del Palmar, Nuñez Sedeño, Alegre, Olivo, Del Pilar, Cruz… Cruz Street flowed into a viewpoint in the higher part of town, by the road to Coín, which afforded spectacular panoramic views of Mijas with the coastline and the sea in the background. With the mist, it all looked magical today, and the coast that was “sunny” almost all year round seemed to have acquired extra symbolic meanings. I went back, taking note of house names: “Falhala,” “Casa Vistas,” “Margarita,” “De mi abuelo,” “Cueva,” “Romanos”…

The Museum of Ethnography, or the Reconstruction of Everyday Life

I ambled down San Sebastián Street to Plaza de la Libertad, where the Church of San Sebastián and the Museum of Ethnography stood. The Church, standing on a corner and separated from the world by a screen, was a simple single-nave building. Given its central location, it drew many local church-goers. Next to it, in a house that used to be the Mijas Town Hall, the Museum of Ethnography. As a matter of fact, it was a house museum, since it recreated life in an early-twentieth-century home –a not-so-distant past that we tend to forget about. A great sight. Each room shows a different activity, and so I was able to take a look at a baking oven, a bedroom with all its furnishings (even a chamber pot!), a flour mill, and several farming tools. In some of the rooms there were models showing how a task was performed. It was like taking a journey back in time, looking back at life unfolding in the old days of our grandparents, a past that’s still part of our present. The senior tourists from Mollet seemed to be enjoying themselves. They recognised some of the tools and explained what they were used for to younger visitors. They smiled at the sight of a bed that looked exactly like the one in Granny’s bedroom, or a washbasin just like the one Grandpa used to wash his face. I loved looking at their joyful faces. The Museum was in the heart of the shopping district: a zillion gift and craft shops allured me with their bright and colourful goods. A man I met on the street told me that the Town Council had made an effort to have all the shops look alike, in an attempt to protect the white village’s harmony. They all had the same creamy-coloured awnings. I walked into one or two shops, looked at the crafts, asked prices. I realised this should also be an integral part of a tour of Mijas, so I let go.


I wandered along the gorge, stopping at the viewpoints and watching the Mediterranean before me –a bewitching creature, a huge water sheet that could have brought Ptolemy here. He was the first to mention this town, Tamisa, in the second century AD. Close to the Appian Way, the town connected Málaga with Cádiz, so it was really active in Roman times. After the arrival of troops from the Maghreb, it became Mixa, by 714 AD, it was a thriving Arab city. A few centuries later, it was Mijas, the town that witnessed the advance of General Torrijos on December 2, 1831 in a campaign for freedom that ended in bloodshed and death. These were the streets I was stepping on: the streets of history and the past, but also the streets of the present and the future. Standing on its ancient hillocks, Mijas was a silent witness to civilisations that rose and fell. They disappeared and Mijas stayed, its physiognomy and character unaffected by the passing of time, adding new lines to the book of its living history.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

La Cala de Mijas and Las Lagunas: Climbing down the sierras to reach the sea, Mijas is divided into three population centres, namely, Mijas Pueblo, La Cala de Mijas, and Las Lagunas. La Cala and Las Lagunas are residential districts for holidaymakers in search of sun and sand. In La Cala there is a Watchtower Visitor Centre, a museum housed in the rehabilitated local tower. Comprising three rooms –Watchtowers, Torrijos, and Traditional Fishing–, the museum focuses on the function, history, and importance of the watchtowers that punctuate the coastline. The tower also houses the local Tourist Office. The Visitor Centre lies on Calle Torreón, s/n, La Cala de Mijas. In winter, it’s open on weekends and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Its summer hours are Tue-Sun from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, you can call (+34) 952 590 380.
Mijas Racecourse: It’s considered to be one of the best in Spain, housing horse races as well as concerts and several eateries. Races take place on Sunday mornings in winter and Saturday afternoons in the summer (
Mijas Water Park: This water park features lots of slides of different heights and speeds, and a full range of eateries (

Useful links: To learn more about Mijas, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Mijas Town Hall, as well as the others mentioned in this blog entry. They’ll all come in handy when planning your trip to this amazing town.