Authentic rural charm
La Axarquia Highlights
- Authentic rural charm â€“ beautiful scenery with pretty Moorish hilltop towns such as Frigiliana, Colmenar and Comares.
- A short, scenic drive from the Costa del Sol.
- Moscatel, Malaga’s famous sweet wine, is produced in this area and you can visit bodegas; the area is also famous for its raisins and miel de caí±a (cane syrup).
- Unpretentious country restaurants with spectacular views back down the hills to the Mediterranean.
- Great for hiking, with stunning mountain and sea vistas, also wine-tasting, bird-watching, and horse-riding in a protected natural area.
The Axarquia, an untouched area of southern Spain
The real Andalucía, with breathtaking mountain roads, charming and historic towns, and a rugged landscape with peaks and outcrops
One of Andalucia’s most unexplored yet accessible areas, close to the renowned beaches and coastal resorts of the Costa del Sol, the Axarquia (pronounced ash-ark-EEa) offers some breathtakingly spectacular landscapes, reached by stunning, snaking mountain roads. With a dry, sunny climate, this region of Malaga province is bordered by the sea to the south, and two mountain ranges – the Sierra de Aljama to the north and east, and the Montes de Malaga to the west. The entry points to this region from the coast, from where roads lead inland, are at Torre del Mar â€“ continue on to Velez-Malaga, known as the capital of this region, with its restored castle, then on to Colmenar and Comares; Torrox, to reach Competa; and Nerja, for Frigiliana.
Two of the most dramatically located towns in the Axarquia are neighbouring Alfarnate and Alfarnatejo, both at nearly 1000m. They are also the furthest inland and the longest drives from the Costa, close to the border with Granada. Alfarnate has the oldest inn in Andalucia (see gastronomy) which also has an exhibition dedicated to the bandits for which these hills were notorious, and much feared by travellers, in the 19th century.
Considered one of the most picturesque villages in the whole of Spain, with its white-washed houses decorated with zingy-bright flowers and hanging plants, and steep, narrow cobbled streets, Frigiliana is the closest of Axarquia’s mountain towns to the coast, and is a very popular destination with visitors looking for a nearby taste of Spain. This famed town is on the edge of the Parque Natural de Las Sierra de Tejeda y Almijara, teeming with wildlife such as the wild Spanish goat which can climb vertical cliff faces. Trees which typically grow in this area include fig, olive and almond.
Like many of the towns in this area, hilltop Comares dates from Moorish times â€“ look out for the hexagonal brick church tower, a former minaret from when the village had its own mosque; now it is known for the unusual hilltop cemetery. On the western side of the Axarquia, Colmenar (from colmena, the Spanish for beehive) has a ruined Moorish castle and a beautiful restaurant in a converted olive oil mill. Over in the eastern part of the region, cosmopolitan (but still very Spanish) Competa has shops selling English publications, handy for extra holiday reading material, and a good live music scene, as well as the Museo del Vino, selling the town’s renowned wine straight from the barrel.
ENJOY LEISURE PURSUITS IN STUNNING NATURAL SURROUNDINGS AND MOUNTAIN SCENERY
You can enjoy scenic hikes and horse-rides, or take in a wine-tasting at a local bodega.
Since the Axarquia region is famous for its wine â€“ the sweet Moscatel (Muscat), made from sun-dried grapes â€“ one of the most popular excursion for visitors is to one of the many bodegas. Some have such challenging terrain – vineyards on steep terraced slopes â€“ that they have retained old-fashioned methods, such as transporting the grapes in small quantities by donkey, to ensure they arrive in optimum condition.
Hikers will be in heaven here, with all the wide open spaces â€“ the most challenging peak is El Lucero, at 1779m, near Competa. From the top, you can see all the way to Granada to the north-east and Morocco to the south, across the Mediterranean. Starting at Competa, a few km inland, it is a 1150m climb; you can also drive up to Canillas de Albaida to make the walk shorter.
With the rugged terrain and fabulous views, horse-riding is a great option to enjoy the scenery of La Axarquia, and observe its fascinating flora and fauna, in a less energetic way.
GASTRONOMY IN A REGION RICH WITH HEARTY MOUNTAIN FARE AND SUPERB WINES
This mountainous area has scores of bodegas, or wine-makers, whose vines are planted along vertiginous hillside terraces. The muscatel grapes are laid out to dry in the sun, and then crushed to make wine. Some bodegas offer vineyard and winery tours, with tastings and tapas or a full sit-down lunch. Competa’s wine has a particularly good reputation â€“ don’t miss the Noche del Vino in August, when free wine is served to allcomers and you can watch flamenco performances.
The oldest inn in Andalucia is in Alfarnate – La Venta de Alfarnate dates from the 13th century, located deep in the countryside and frequented by Spanish families at the weekend. Try the speciality mixed grill (for confirmed carnivores only): huevos a la bestia â€“ fried eggs with sausage, ham and black pudding. But thereâ€˜s plenty of fresh fish and seafood from the nearby coast too.
Other popular local dishes in this area include chivo lechal al horno (roast suckling kid).
FOOD AND WINE GOODIES
Discover traditional local produce to take home, in bodegas and markets
Some towns, especially those closer to the coast, hold weekly farmers’ markets, where you can find traditionally-made products such as wine, cheese, olives, and embutidos (pork products).
Other great buys to look out for in shops around the region, as well as Moscatel wine which you can buy in a bodega, include caí±a de miel, the intensely-flavoured cane syrup used in the classic Andalucian dish, berenjenas a la miel (aubergines with honey), pretty ceramics, nuts and olives, as well as crafts such as jewellery.