My Christmas wish for you is that love, hope and happiness fill your hearts this holiday season, and may all your dreams and wishes have wings.
El Acebuchal isn’t so much a village as a 17th century hamlet within the unspoilt mountains and natural park of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama.
Situated close to the border of the provinces of Granada and Málaga and coming under the control of Cómpeta, El Acebuchal is actually nearer to Frigiliana in terms of distance – yet a world away from the hoards of holiday-makers visiting the Costa del Sol.
The name comes from the Arabic “acebuche” meaning olive, and even though we know of its existence since 17th century, it is thought to have been inhabited long before then.
El Acebuchal was an important staging post on the ancient mule-trading routes between Competa, Frigiliana, Nerja and the inland city of Granada.
Fresh fish caught on the coast and locally grown crops including tomatoes and raisins were traded for chickpeas, wheat, lentils and other goods not easily available in the nearby mountains.
Life was hard for the inhabitants, as it was in most of rural Andalucía, but became even more difficult when they were caught between the Franco regime and guerrillas in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Authorities had long suspected the villagers of supporting Republican rebels hiding out in the mountains, by providing them with food and refuge. In truth, the villagers were literally caught in the crossfire, and hassled from both sides.
In the summer of 1948, the villagers paid a heavy price for their isolated location in the mountains when the Guardia Civil ordered that El Acebuchal be cleared of its 200 inhabitants, who were forced to flee, leaving behind their homes, belongings and livestock.
The abandoned mountain hamlet soon fell into disrepair and eventually into ruins, becoming known locally as “The Lost Village” or “Pueblo el Fantasmas” – The Village of Ghosts.
Fifty years later in 1998, Antonio García Sánchez, son of one of the original villagers, returned with his wife, Virtudes and family to restore a couple of houses in the village. Once these were completed, they rebuilt a further five houses and the tavern when they noticed an increase of rural tourism in the area.
People were starting to return to El Acebuchal.
This family’s adventure became contagious as other former residents turned their attention back to their old family homes to begin their restoration, so that today, all 36 houses, the chapel, tavern and cobblestone streets have been returned to how they once were.
If you head to El Acebuchal and discover the tavern during the morning, you will probably find Antonio and some of his family gathered on the shady terrace opposite, performing some of their duties. The tavern restaurant serves dishes appropriate for the mountain environment: choto (kid), lamb, wild boar, rabbit and venison, with delicious home-made cakes and bread.
Step inside the tavern and you will find the walls proudly lined with old photos of El Acebuchal and its former residents. Whenever I visit, I always find myself lingering a while, trying to imagine what life must have been like for these people.
With only a handful of permanent residents, most people you see around the streets are visitors, hikers or holidaymakers staying in one of the village rental properties.
The countryside near to the isolated hamlet is almost deserted except for the crumbling ruins of long-abandoned cortijos. There are plunging ravines, tinkling streams, mountain slopes covered with pine trees and the rocky crags of the mountain tops reaching up to the blue skies above.
This area is ideal for visitors who want to get away from it all …. and you can certainly do that in El Acebuchal as there is no telephone reception, no shops, credit cards or internet.
Rural tourism has breathed life back into the village which has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.
How to get there:
There are main two routes to El Acebuchal. You can get there from the Cómpeta-Torrox road (A7207), where you turn off near to the Km 8 road marker. Follow the direction signs for El Acebuchal. Here you will face a 6.5 kilometre un-made mountain track to the village. It’s not for the faint-hearted as there are no barriers, but it’s certainly drivable – and you don’t need a 4-wheel drive to do it. Along the way you will drive through a stream and see spectacular scenery. It’s quite an adventure!
Alternatively, the more popular and shorter route is from the village of Frigiliana. Take the scenic back-road towards Torrox, and after two kilometres you will see the turn-off sign to Acebuchal on your right. This road is asphalted – except for an easy 1500 metre section near to the village.
Tell me – would YOU dare to drive along an unmade mountain track with no barriers?
During the festive season, the Christmas Lights in Málaga are always a great place to visit, but this year they have really surpassed themselves.
They are nothing short of spectacular!
Each evening, Calle Marqués de Larios, the main pedestrianised shopping street is crowded with people enjoying a party atmosphere with balloons and street performers to entertain them. What I particularly love here in the city, as in every village and town across Spain, you will see all the family generations out taking their evening stroll together.
Whilst they are still open, the shops, as well as the bars and restaurants are brimming over with people either doing their Christmas shopping or just soaking up the festive atmosphere.
The stars of this particular light show are shining brightly on Calle Marqués de Larios (famous for being paved with marble), and this year’s display has a Gothic feel, with a cathedral-arched frame dominating the street.
Most surrounding streets have a more modest display of lights too, so have a wander around and see them, but don’t forget to look up at the beautiful buildings, too.
You’ll see bright red poinsettias everywhere – planted on the roundabouts, hanging from lamp posts and displayed in huge cones around Calle Larios.
There’s a huge choice of bars and restaurants to tempt you – many with their gas-flame heaters burning outside to keep you warm. If you have to drive back home again later, you might prefer to try the best chocolate and churros in Málaga, at Cafe Aranda in Calle Santos. The light, crispy churros and thick, creamy hot chocolate to dip them in are absolutely scrumptious!
Afterwards, wander down Calle Larios to the main road through the centre, Alameda Principal, to see the beautifully lit trees and the flower stalls or turn left and walk along the edge of the Paseo del Parque to enjoy the many Christmas stalls lining the route.
Marvel at the huge Christmas tree in Plaza Constitución, with the Gothic arches peeping at you from Calle Marqués de Larios, inviting you to come closer.
It’s easy to be fooled by the blue skies and warm sunshine, but yes, it’s only two weeks until Christmas Day.
You can really get in the mood for Christmas by visiting the outdoor skating rink in front of El Corte Ingles, or go to see one of the many the Bélens (crib and Nativity scenes) around the city – of which the best (in my opinion) is in the Town Hall.
Malaga’s Christmas lights shine from 6.30pm – 2am daily, until 6th January 2015
What’s YOUR favourite thing to do or visit at Christmas?