Saturday, 16 January 2016

Acebuchal, Andalucia

Shangri-La, Kafiristan, Avalon... All places with misty, mythical auras. You hear about them, you know that to get to them you'll have to endure some sort of challenge that will test your resolve and you're not entirely sure they exist. That's how I'd come to think of Acebuchal, the one-time ghost town in the hills of the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Almara Natural Park above Nerja and Torrox on the Andalusian coast. It's also referred to as 'the ghost village' and 'the lost village', heightening the image of somewhere that's possibly of some mass imagination. Added to these rather fanciful descriptive names is the fact that, of course, for somewhere with this reputation, it's hard to get to. Especially if you're out of shape and not used to hill walking...

However, I'm here to tell you it not only exists, it's become home to a thriving restaurant, which serves local produce prepared to perfection, as well as offering a number of restored village houses to rent for holidaymakers.

What's all the fuss about then? In a nutshell, the 17th-century village was an important pitstop on the old trading routes to Granada. After the Spanish Civil War, the village was caught in the mash up between Franco's regime and the Republican guerrillas who were hiding in the mountains. Its inhabitants were accused of aiding the rebels and, in the summer of 1948, the Guardia Civil ordered them to abandon their homes and leave Acebuchal.

Fast-forward 50 years and one of the original families moved back, set up their restaurant-bar and began restoring the village houses and it now makes a rewarding end to a long, mostly uphill walk (approx 7km) from Frigiliana, which you can get to via local bus from Nerja (but not on Sundays).

After a wander through its pretty streets – I counted two – head back to the restaurant-bar for something to eat and drink while you recover and prepare for the walk back. You'll have a sense of accomplishment, a full belly and be able to tell the world that it really does exist...

Monday, 4 January 2016

Frigiliana, Andalucia

You know a place is truly beautiful if it holds its own when the sky is overcast and grey. Frigiliana is just a 15-minute and €1 bus ride from the seaside town of Nerja, which is itself about an hour's drive east of Malaga. And, although the bus is always busy, somehow Frigiliana swallows everyone up without getting crowded.

December is an excellent month to visit. It's warm enough to get by without even a sweater most of the time, but cool enough that climbing its fairly steep alley-like streets won't raise a sweat.

It's one of Andalucia's white towns and was named Prettiest Andalucian Village by the Spanish Tourist Board. There's a 'main' alley leading up, along which are craft shops, tiny groceries and signs in doorways to alert you that Frigiliana vino can be bought within. If you see one of these notices, take a little step out of the ordinary and knock on the door. The wine will probably be sold to you by an elderly couple or widow who speak only Spanish, in a recycled plastic or wine bottle (our latest purchase came bearing the label of whatever had been in it before), at about €3 per litre. It's rosy hued, very sweet and so makes a tasty dessert wine – as well as supporting the local economy.

Take any turn you like, so long as it goes up – and just about everywhere does. They aren't streets as such – more alleys wide enough for a donkey, though there aren't many of these around anymore. When you get thirsty or hungry, you'll find you're never more than a few doorways from a restaurant or cafe, all making the most of the views from their rooftops and terraces. The Mirador, as the name suggests, has possibly the best view and a big terrace at the top of the town. They use local ingredients with a modern twist, there's always something for vegetarians and the proprietor speaks excellent English. You can wind your way up any which way, or stay to the right-hand side of the village for the shortest route.

Keep on going up and you quickly leave the town below you, passing a few houses that make you feel both envy (what great views they have!) and sorrow (imagine having to lug your groceries up here!) for the occupants. Eventually, you will pass a little stable and think, 'Awww, how sweet.' However, a bit further on you come to a sign warning you of the donkeys. Take heed - they really will come for you if you get too close.

Alternatively, head southwest out of town and you'll get a nice view when you look back and, also, shortly come to a goat herd. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll see the goat herder and his three dogs leading them off to graze, which is a wonderful glimpse into a way of life most of us don't see much of. On our latest visit, we found the goats in their yard and got to see a kid being born without the slightest fuss. We also spotted one of the goat-herding dogs asleep amongst them. If you look carefully at the picture, you may see him too.