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.

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.