Axarquia, Costa del Sol, Andalucia, Spain

EXPLORING TORROX

El Penocilla Beach, Torrox Costa

“The best climate in Europe” boasts the tourist pamphlets in Torrox and by all accounts this is a pretty accurate description of the weather in these parts. Boasting an average temperature of 18°C with no drastic seasonal changes, the area is blessed with an extremely comfortable climate year round.

Although evidence of human presence has been detected in the area dating back to the Neolithic period, it was the Romans who really put down roots here, with their settlement on the coast called Caviclum. Probably a centre for the production of the foul smelling, yet revered garum paste, ruins of thermal baths and a necropolis can still be seen. The Moors preferred to settle farther inland, protected to the north by the hills and valleys of the Axarquía and to the south by the watchtowers which are spread all along the coast. In Torrox village, evidence of Moorish occupation can be seen in an original Arab turret and gateway. Like most Andalucían villages, the narrow streets and whitewashed houses are a throw back to Moorish times; another common feature being that the church was built atop the ruins of the old mosque. In Torrox, the church is the 17th century Iglesia de la Encarnacíon. The Hermitage of our Lady and Iglesia de San Roque are two other religious buildings that date back to the 17th century. More recent are the ruins of the 18th Century Hospital de San José and the elegant houses of La Moneda and La Hoya where King Alfonso XII spent the night after the catastrophic earthquake of 1885. In the Plaza close to the house, an old mill has been converted and reformed and now houses interesting exhibitions. To learn about the history of the village first hand the local authorities have thoughtfully laid out a route where a circuit of handmade ceramic tiled murals tell the tales of old alongside signs with English and German translations.

Torrox Pueblo

Torrox village, located just two kilometres inland, is steeped in history and surrounded by some of Andalucía’s most beautiful countryside providing endless opportunities for walking and hiking and generally getting out and enjoying Mother Nature’s earth. The coast too is packed with cultural sights as well as enjoying miles of blue flag beaches and modern sporting and leisure facilities.

Perhaps the best way to see the Axarquía, as the Eastern Costa del Sol is called, is to walk and rural tourism now plays a big part throughout the entire region. The first thing you need to do if you are planning any sort of excursion into one of these areas is find out about them. A good place to start is your local town hall or tourist office where guide books and maps are available. Although the majority of these guides are in Spanish, some are available in German and English. The Internet also contains some useful information.

If you don’t fancy going it alone, there are plenty of walking groups and tours throughout the area to enable you to join others and be guided through the wonders of nature – great if, like me, you are not up to speed on your local flora and fauna. For example you could join the “Hiking School” of Torrox which organises twice weekly walks with professionally guides. For the more adventurous, there are plenty of trekking routes, some newly devised like the ones outlined in Elma Thomson’s excellent book “Twelve walks around Torrox and Torrox Costa” while others are ancient routes used traditionally by vineyard workers, smuggling muleteers and even people fleeing from the horrors of the civil war.

Lighthouse at Torrox Costa

Some routes take in one or more of the little white villages which are scattered over the breathtakingly beautiful countryside; some clinging unfeasibly to mountain sides, others nestling in verdant valleys. These villages make wonderful stopping points when walking and can combine with the rugged terrain to string together longer walks or treks of several days, stopping off for a plate of hearty local fare and / or to sleep. Wonderful views of the coast and mountains are at every turn when walking in the Axarquía, along with old Moorish castles like the Castillo de Bentomiz, at one time a true stronghold of the Moors. From here the views are amazing: the Axarquía stretches out all around you; huge mountains, clusters of white villages, the far off Mediterranean, and in Spring complete with fantastic floral display.

Andalucía is home to a wealth of natural beauty and is one of the best natural habitats for flora and fauna in Western Europe. Due to the sub-tropical climate of the area, much fruit is grown and throughout the Axarquía olive and almond trees cover vast areas of the land; the gnarled trunks of the former and pretty spring blossom of the latter decorating the rolling hills beautifully. If you walk along river valleys you will be in the shade of poplar, ash, willow, maple, elm and alder trees, which in autumn burst into every imaginable shade of red and gold as they shed their leaves for winter. Look beneath your feet in autumn and you will find some 2,000 species of fungi sprouting – many of which are edible and will appear on country menus and in markets. Others however are highly poisonous so unless you are a master of mushrooms the identification is probably best left to the locals!

Thousands of animals and birds make the Axarquía their home and if you look up you are sure to see sparrow hawks, harriers, common kestrels, buzzards and the acrobatic red and black kites. If you are really lucky you might even spot the rare and emblematic Spanish imperial eagle. Lots of smaller birds fly the skies of the Axarquía and bird watchers will certainly be kept busy for weeks.

Torrox Pueblo

It’s a good idea when visiting and walking throughout the Axarquía to try and catch one of the local festivals. Many of the fiestas centre around the natural products of the area, the most famous of these is the Dia de Migas celebrated on the Sunday before Christmas in Torrox. Migas are basically breadcrumbs and were once the staple diet of the country folk of the area and an essential source of energy. On Migas Day, the locals gather to sample migas prepared with different additional elements and the sweet, local wine. If wine is a favourite of yours (as it is mine) then head for Cómpeta in August when the Noche de Vino sees the uncorking of barrel after barrel of the local wine. Alfarnatejo pays tribute to the humble Gazpacho and Iznate celebrates the Moscatel grape. Olive oil, the mainstay of local diets has its fiesta in Periana and the little orange fruit, the nispero, found only in Andalucía gets its turn in Sayalonga. All these festivals and many more are celebrated throughout spring, summer and autumn.

Religious festivals are taken a little more seriously but are none the less enjoyed by the local inhabitants. In Torrox, as all over the Andalucía, the townsfolk head for the beach for the Noche de San Juan on June 23rd. Lighting fires on the beach, the combination of fire and water is said to banish evil spirits. Also in June is the Romeria de San Antonio, which is celebrated in the Protegidas quarter of the town. In August Torrox goes mad with days of celebration for its annual feria and in September La Candelaria is celebrated with bonfires, drinking, dancing and singing late into the night.

Whether you want to delve into history or laze on a beach, walk on the wild side and trek through the hills and villages of the Axarquía or dance till dawn at a village fiesta, Torrox and its environs has it all. It is no wonder that the area continues to attract more and more visitors and also no wonder that those same visitors often later become residents as they too fall in love with this perfect corner of Andalucía.

Jaqueline Roberts, Words & Pix

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