The Inland Villages of the Axarquia
Up until 10 years ago, this area was little known. Then, northern Europeans discovered some of the villages, encouraged by the arrival of the motorway east of Malaga, and started to buy village houses and old fincas to restore. Nearly all the villages in this area are of Muslim origin, with narrow, winding streets. They are all worth a visit.
Alcaucin is a very pretty village at an altitude of 510 metres and has a population of 1,500 also the nearby small village of Venta Baja is situated within the municipality of Alcaucin.
A feature of the countryside is an enormous U shaped gap in the mountains, known as El Boquete de Zafarraya. A road runs through the gap linking the Provinces of Malaga and Granada.
Prehistoric sites have been discovered at various places in the area including a cave where the remains of a Neanderthal Man were found.
Also near to the village is the Castle Zalía which was later used as a fortress by the Moors. The village layout is typically Moorish, the name Alcaucin is derived from the Arabic Al-Cautin (arches). An 18th century parish church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, stands in the village square.
The Alcázar Nature Reserve and the sulphur springs of Las Majadas are both within the area.
Colmenar is in the most westerly point of the Axarquia being 35 kilometres from Malaga and 35 kilometres from the coast at Torre del Mar. The town is at a height of about 700 metres and has a population of 3,600.
The economy of the town is based on agriculture, livestock farming and several food and drink industries including the production of honey and specialist hams. In the surrounding countryside there are many beehives, actually this is where the town got it’s name ('colmena' is Spanish for beehive).
The town has two areas, an upper area with steep narrow streets clustered around the hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, the lower part is of more recent construction with café bars and shops etc. There are supermarkets here as well as other small grocer shops, butchers and banks etc. A good meeting place is Pepes bar in the square who serve daily tapas.
Comares can be seen for miles around as it is perched on the top of a hill, at a height of 740 metres it has coastal, lake and mountain views.
The village and surrounding houses form a lively community. There are no souvenir shops here but several bars, restaurants and a very nice hotel which was converted from an olive mill, it has breathtaking views.
Comares has a history of rebellion against Muslim and Christian rulers. Of interest are a series of ceramic plaques which depict the village's history, Medieval arches and footprint paving tiles are a guide to the main street.
There is also an old Moorish fortress, once a Roman military outpost, the church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación was built in the 16th century of Mudejar style.
Los Romanes is in a dramatic setting overlooking Lake Vinuela.
There are fantastic views over the lake towards the backdrop of the Sierra Tejeda mountains.
Los Romanes hosts three main annual festivals and many smaller ones throughout the year. The first festival is in the first weekend of May which involves a 4 kilometre procession following a scenic route around the lake.
Refreshments and tapas are provided free-of-charge along the way. This three day event finishes in a picturesque spot beside the lake with camping, BBQs, picnics, beer tents, horse shows and other amusements and attractions. Well worth a visit.
The next fiesta takes place in June in the market square where flamenco, dancing and food and wine are provided by the Town Hall for free.
The main town festival takes place in mid-August when again different types of music plus flamenco are performed but this time huge pans of paella are cooked in the streets.
Periana is around 20 mins from Villa Alta mobile home development at an altitude of 547 metres.
Periana began it’s days as a simple farmstead, now it’s a pretty white village with stunning views. There are fabulous mountain ranges and of course there is Lake Vinuela.
The streets are quite steep and narrow which is typical Moorish style. The original church of San Isidro can be found in the Plaza de la Lomillaja.
Two kilometres outside of Periana, at Banos de Vilo, there are the sulphur baths which continued to be used for their medicinal waters until the 19th century, they have recently been restored.
There are banks, shops, plenty of tapas bars and a playground for the kids, peaches are the main crop of the region and are said to be the best in Spain. There is even a peach fair which is held every summer, one of a series of fiestas held throughout Axarquia.
Olive oil is another product for which Periana is renowned. Local dishes include 'sopa cachorrena' (bitter orange soup) with salt cod, and 'morrete' made of asparagus, mushrooms and potatoes with almond sauce and excellent ewe's and goat's cheeses eaten with honey from the local bee hives.
The village of Riogordo has an altitude of 400 metres. The town has kept it’s moosish feel, although newer construction also exists.
A number of ex pats have made Riogordo their home to get away from the hustle and bustle of the coast. The parish church is called the Virgen de Gracia. There is also a small rural museum.
The history in the area goes back to the Phoenicians and Romans and remains of these civilisations can be found.
During the 19th century the position of Riogordo in the mountains made it a centre for bandits. During Easter Week plays are enacted that attract many visitors, there are some excellent tapas bars in the Plaza de la Constitucion, also some good grocery shops and small supermarkets.
Lastly, let us look at Velez Malaga and Frigiliana which are very near the coast.
Velez-Malaga is situated 1 kilometre from Torre del Mar on the coast and is the county town of the Axarquia.
Despite it's proximity to the coast it has not developed a tourist industry and is a real working town.
Now there is an ongoing programme of restoration works and new projects funded by the Town Hall
The town lies in the wide valley of the River Vélez from where its main resources are found. These are agricultural products of vines, olives, sugar cane and vegetable and salad crops. Good quality olive oils and wine are produced here.
There are also many garden nurseries growing and selling a wide range of plants, trees and seeds. Velez-Malaga has a varied and interesting architecture with old palaces.
There are supermarkets, car sales garages, cafe bars, shops and just about everything you could think of.
The bus station links up the rest of the Axarquia and Malaga.
Under 5km inland from Nerja lies one of the most beautiful villages of Spain that has won many national and regional awards to prove it. With a population of around 2,000 it is cared for day-by-day, to keep up its high standards. Situated in the foothills of the Almijara mountain range, Frigiliana has spectacular views of the Higueron River which lies in the Chillar Valley. It has a sub-tropical climate which has attracted population since pre-history. The Romans built a fort here but unfortunately it no longer remains. The history of the village is pictured in 12 mosaics in the old quarter, created by Pilar Garcia Millan.
If you walk through the steep and narrow streets you will still see mules delivering in the village. Brightly painted houses with colourful doors adorn the narrow passages. At the top you will find an interesting if not plain church. Opposite is a pleasant square to rest and enjoy a traditional meal. There are many good restaurants hiding away and you must seek them out. The mirador at the top has particularly impressive views while you eat.
There are many little shops in which to buy the local handicrafts which include fine basketware, linen and lace as well as beautiful ceramics. At the foot of the village you will find new houses being built but unusually, they have been kept in character with the rest of the village - white painted and very square in design.