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Located to the east of malaga and stretching away inland from the Costa de Sol are rolling hills lined with vineyards and dotted with untouched white villages. Welcome to La Axarquia - Andalucia at its most beguilingly authentic.
Despite its breathtaking mountain roads, charming and historic towns, and a rugged landscape with peaks and outcrops, La Axarquia is one of Malaga province’s most unexplored corners.
With a dry, sunny climate, this region of Malaga province (pronounced ash-ark-EEa) is bordered by the sea to the south, and two mountain ranges – the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Almara to the north and east, and the Montes de Malaga – to the west.
Two of the most dramatically located towns in the Axarquia are neighbouring Alfarnate and Alfarnatejo, both at nearly 1000m. 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.
Frigiliana is regularly voted 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.
Like many of the towns in this area, hilltop Comares dates from Moorish times – 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.
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.
- Authentic rural charm: beautiful scenery with pretty Moorish hilltop towns such as Frigiliana, Colmenar and Comares.
- Accessibility: it’s 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 caña (cane syrup).
- Gastronomy: there are plenty of unpretentious country restaurants with spectacular views back down the hills to the Mediterranean.
- Great hiking: with stunning mountain and sea vistas, also wine-tasting, bird-watching, and horse-riding in a protected natural area.
Since the Axarquia region is famous for its wine – the sweet Moscatel (Muscat), made from sun-dried grapes – 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 – 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: the most challenging peak is La Maroma, at 2069m. From the top, you can see all the way to Granada to the north-east and Morocco to the south, across the Mediterranean.
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.
This mountainous area has scores of bodegas, or wine-makers, whose vines are planted along steep hillside terraces. The moscatel 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 – don’t miss the Noche del Vino in August, when free wine is served to all-comers and you can watch flamenco performances.
Dating back to the 13th century, La Venta de Alfarnate (in Alfarnate) is the oldest inn in Andalucia. Try the speciality mixed grill (for confirmed carnivores only), ‘huevos a la bestia’ – fried eggs with sausage, ham and black pudding. But there’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), while the area is also famous for its fresh produce – from avocadoes and mangoes to olives, cherries and peaches.
The Axarquia has a more rustic appeal than the glamorous resort towns west of Malaga. Which means that the retail therapy opportunities are fewer and further between.
However, if it’s local food, wine or artisan products that you’re after for a gift to take home with you, then you’re in luck.
Some towns, especially the larger ones closer to the coast like Nerja and Velez-Malaga, hold weekly farmers’ markets. Here you can find all manner of traditionally-made products such as wine, cheese, olives, and embutidos (pork products).
Other great buys to look out for in shops around the region include Moscatel wine, which you can buy in a bodega, and ‘caña 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, can also be picked up in many of the villages across the region.