Thursday, 10 March 2011

Salt residue. Sea aromas and white foam. Salt residue and sea aromas. Rincón de la Victoria: low-house fishing districts where fishermen still use their nets in the brave sea and tourist resorts that have earned the town a household name. Salt residue, ancient aromas, Mediterranean essence in boats aground, dark sand beaches reaching into the horizon, watchtowers, a blend of sky and water. Such is the role the sea plays that one of the main attractions, Cueva del Tesoro, is a gift from the sea. Rincón de la Victoria is the place where the ancient mariner meets the modern tourist. Salt residue and white sea foam. The occasional visitor might get the wrong idea, so you must look beyond to find the right corners and the essence in them. Look at the humble low houses where the fishermen live. Taste seafood as if it were the first time. Take a stroll by the walls of the Bezmiliana Fortress. Wander on the beach, feeling the sand and the wet presence of the Mediterranean below your feet. Rincón de la Victoria is an old, and modern, town, where crowded avenues rub shoulders with twisted alleyways. This is where its strength (and its charm) lies. And beyond, the winding silhouette of the beach.

Bezmiliana Fortress

The main street, where I’ve left my car, is a long thoroughfare running parallel to the coastline and connecting the town centre with La Cala de Vélez. Exit the highway and take the detour. Make a left to find the fortress; the cave stands on the right. I turn left and park in the first space I spot. The fortress is an imposing building, some 50m from the sea and opposite a row of fishermen’s homes. I imagine how powerful it must’ve been in times of the war against the British. Although it’s not big, its function is self-evident, strengthened by the towers of El Cantal and Benagalbón. It was built in 1766 after Gibraltar was seized by the British troops. An austere, straight-lined building, it’s softened by the angle towers. It’s really impressive. In 1992, it was converted to cultural and recreational centre. Now, its sandstone walls hold paintings and other works of art. The light filters through the windows, painting the interior in light earthy shades. Contemporary art on the ancient walls –a perfect blend. The fortress houses two areas, corresponding to the former house and stables. The house has a huge stone hearth on one side and doors opening onto a small porch with a wooden roof. I wander about inside and out. I feel so good in the warm light and the comfortable shades. I could stay here forever, but I have to move on.

The Beaches and the Sea

Reaching the Sea Promenade, I see the sea before my eyes –a February sea, somewhat darker yet equally attractive. The promenade is busy, with people walking, jogging, riding, or skating along. Groups of boys and girls bury their feet in the sand, or even in the water now that winter is turning into spring. The fishing smacks are lying on the beach, upside down, taking a break. La Cala del Moral, Rincón, Torre de Benagalbón, Los Rubios: these are the most popular beaches in Rincón de la Victoria, characterised by their dark sand. La Cala del Moral, to the west, is a 1.5km-long gravel beach. It’s crowded in the summer. Its promenade runs parallel to the coastline all throughout. La Cala is a secluded beach thanks to El Cantal, a mound and cape home to the watchtower mentioned above. Next to El Cantal there’s Rincón, a 3.6km beach in the town centre. It can be accessed from the Sea Promenade, drawing a lot of visitors in the summer. To the east, Torre de Benagalbón is a wild 700m, dark-sand beach. Also in the town centre, it can be accessed from the Sea Promenade. It attracts quite a lot of people in the summer. Then there comes Torre de Benagalbón (700m, semi-urban beach, moderately crowded). Last but not least, Los Rubios (1km long). Beaches can be charming on sunny winter days, the ephemeral bright sunlight adding dark greenish shades to the water sheet, broken by the foam of the waves. I ramble around with the roaring sea as background music. An old man facing the promenade is working on some nets, sewing them, far from the madding sounds of sportsmen and visitors. The fisherman is fixing his nets. As I walk along the promenade, I can see the signs inviting passers-by to taste local delicacies: fried fish, anchovies from Rincón, rice with fish, etc. The barges are used as small braziers for the sardine skewers, but the sardines are still cold, for it’s too early. I touch the sand and keep walking. Before reaching El Cantal I turn right and enter the Rincón town.

Church of La Victoria

In contrast to the quiet atmosphere on the beach, the town centre is full of people on their daily errands. Here you can feel the hustle and bustle of city life, both in winter and in the summer. Hearing trumpets, I turn around to see a small band rehearsing their Easter parade. The atmosphere in town is boisterous, lively. No fishermen’s homes in the area. Instead, weekend residences of Spanish and international visitors. For many years, Rincón de la Victoria has been the No. 1 getaway destination for many people living in Málaga City and the hinterland of Málaga Province. A square by the main street is home to the Church of La Victoria –a twentieth-century religious building in the Andalusian style. Three arches on the frontage and a gallery behind them. A belfry tower on the right, rising up against the bright blue sky. A modern interior with a seventeenth-century image of Our Lady of El Carmen on the left. The square is brimming with people, its two or three coffee shops serving breakfast: coffee, toast, sandwiches, and so on. There are children playing football in the sun with a green ball. Their parents are watching them.

Cueva del Tesoro and Mediterranean and Mediterranean Archaeological Park

Knowing the cave is not far from here but not exactly where it is, I ask for directions. A young woman advises me to go by car, whereas an old man says I could walk my way, but it’s quite a long way. I choose to follow the woman’s advice. I’ll drive to the cave and then visit La Cala de Vélez. I retrace my steps, take a detour to the Sea Promenade and walk along the shoreline to the place where my car is, opposite the Bezmiliana Fortress. The Cueva del Tesoro (in English, Treasure Cave) is accessed from the mound of El Cantal, for it’s right above it, while deeply rooted in the bosom of the Earth. It’s one of the three sea caves that can be visited in the world, and the only one in Europe. They call it “the Daughter of the Sea,” and the name is appropriate (you’ll soon find out why). The cave can be visited in a guided tour only. Tour times are 10:45 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. Admission fees are €4.65 for adults, €2.15 for children under 15, and €2.75 for seniors (65+). My tour starts in 20’, so I have some time left to visit the Mediterranean Archaeological Park –a 90,000sqm recreational and scientific dissemination area showing the original geomorphological features and native vegetation. A series of rock paths guide visitors around. In addition, there’s a one-to-one scale model of the part of the cave where paintings were found, as well as multiple signs and boards providing information. I walk around, take a seat, look at the sea, let the sun warm my skin up. Time for my guided tour. The group comprises some 20 visitors. I’m a lover of legends, and the Cueva del Tesoro has one. In the twelfth century, the Almoravid emperor Tashfin ibn Ali was forced to leave Rincón de la Victoria. Before leaving, he left a huge treasure chest buried in the sea cave: coins, necklaces, jewellery… In the twentieth century, Manuel Laza Palacios entered the cave in search of the treasure. And he did find something: 6 gold dinars. That’s all. But he offered the world another treasure: the cave itself. The Cueva del Tesoro is very different from other caves I’ve seen. There’re very few stalactites or stalagmites. Instead, what you get is rounded white formations full of cavities. Ghostly shapes can be seen on the walls, as if many eyes were watching you. And the murmur of water is ever-present. Six rooms within the cave are open to visitors. In the Hall of Virgin Mary a candle is always burning. In the Hall of Marcus Crassus, the Roman general is said to have taken shelter for eight months when he was being chased after by Marius and Cinna. Then there’s Eagle’s Hall and Noctiluca Hall, housing a sanctuary dedicated to this Palaeo-Christian goddess of fertility, the Hall of the Volcano, where it gets really hot and really wet, and the Hall of Lakes, where water is the prevailing element. I enjoy the tour, thinking of Manuel Laza and his expeditions in the 1950s, of his carbide lamps, his wooden ladders, his findings. When I get out, words and images still reverberating in my head, I can feel the embrace of the sunlight.

La Cala

From El Cantal, I drive towards La Cala and leave my car in the first car park I see. More of the sea, more of the Sea Promenade, more images of passers-by. Beach bars and restaurants are preparing their spits for the sardine skewers. I can now smell them. In La Cala, I come across the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. It’s a huge church, with a remarkable belfry tower with four balconies and a blue-and-white tile roof. Next to the tower, the façade boasts a rose window like a single eye, just above the main door. The walls are white and salmon-pink. The church is preceded by a large square where there’re children playing and a couple sitting in the shade. It’s time for lunch, but I haven’t made up my mind. Where to go? When in doubt, go tapas. At last I try the Rincón anchovies in different forms: fried (in clusters, tied by their tails), with lemon, in vinegar… They’re all delicious. To wash the anchovies down, beer and sodas. The prices are affordable: all plates are less than €10 each.


I pluck up courage and sink my feet in the sea. It’s cold but comforting. I sit on the beach and watch the sea before me: a sheet of water transporting people and cultures. The Mediterranean, whose arms reach into Rincón and carve into the entrails of the Earth to create a unique cave. I fancy the fisherman fixing his nets, the smacks aground, the boats getting ready to set sail in search of those silvery treasures called “anchovies.”

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Museum of Popular Arts: This museum in Rincón de la Victoria takes you back to the recent past. It recreates a peasant home with its living room, kitchen, bedroom, and multiple traditional tools and utensils. Most of the things on display have been donated by the local people.
Our Lady of El Carmen’s Festival: Rincón de la Victoria’s fair takes place in mid July, coinciding with the Our Lady of El Carmen’s Festival. Virgin Mary is taken out to the sea in a fleet of several boats and then brought back to the shore on the shoulders of fishermen, who carry Her along the streets of town. The festival draws hundreds of people, both locals and out-of-towners. In addition, there are smack regattas. (In Spanish, fishing smacks are called jábegas. They’re traditional Phoenician boats, typical of the Málaga coastline. Source: Town Hall website.) Verdiales Competition: In the second half of September, Benagalbón plays host to the Traditional Verdiales Competition. About 12 bands or pandas sing their verdiales in the mountains style –a token of the best folk music from Málaga (source: Town Hall website).
Useful links: To read more about Rincón de la Victoria, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Rincón de la Victoria Town Hall.