Community: It’s all about pulling together and sharing

Fire by the roadside, Competa You might remember that towards the end of June last year, we had a large wildfire on the outskirts of my home village of Cómpeta.  This event prompted me to write an article about what we should do about fire prevention and self protection in the event of a wildfire.

Yesterday afternoon, I was on my way home from Málaga when, just before the turn off to my house, I spotted a large plume of smoke, not far away.  Instead of turning towards my home, I carried on up the road towards Cómpeta, and only about 750 metres further on came across a burning hillside.

It was quite surreal as there was no-one else around, yet clearly it appeared that the fire had been burning for at least some minutes as the whole hillside looked to be alight.

I drove past the fire, turned the car around and pulled to the side of the road to call the emergency services (the number to call in Europe is 112) to give the exact location of the fire.

There was nothing else I could do, and I didn’t want my car being in the way of the emergency services, so I took this short video (only about 7 seconds) and then headed home to spread the word.

The fire is not only by the side of the road, but look at the flare-up near the top right of the frame.

After only a couple of minutes I had posted on Twitter and onto my own East of Málaga Facebook page, where I know that lots of local people follow me.  Within no time at all, that post had reached 6,000 people and had been shared 40 times – with lots of comments tagging others to let them know.

THAT’S THE POWER OF COMMUNITY and I am very proud of the community that has grown up around my East of Málaga blog.  

So I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU to each and every one of you and, to those who don’t follow my Facebook page , I’d like to invite you to “Like” the page, click on “Get Notifications” and join in with the community.  

I usually post a couple of times a day, and share many more photos over there.

C7 fire helicopter over Competa

C7 fire helicopter carrying water to douse the fire

As for the fire – well, I went back a couple hours later – after the helicopter had left, and the fire appeared to be largely out, though the fire fighters were still there, doing their job.  

Well done, guys and THANK YOU!

The fire is out, but the fire-engine is still near the untouched house

The fire is out, but the fire-engine is still near the untouched house

Fire fighters on the smouldering land, checking for flames

Fire fighters on the smouldering land, checking for flames

What’s YOUR experience of a community all pulling together for the good of others?

Have you met Malaga’s sensational Phoenician Goddess?

Phoenician goddess, Malac

Allow me to introduce you …..

This is Malac, also known as Noctiluca, Goddess of the Moon, the night and of fertility.   This beautiful lady cuts a lonely figure as she stands on the promenade in Rincón de la Victoria, gazing longingly at the sea.

Phoenician goddess, Malac, looks out to sea

Her people, the Phoenicians, who were experienced sailors, navigators and traders, founded the settlement of Malaka (which later developed into the city of Málaga) at the mouth of the Guadalhorce River, around 770BC.  

Yes, Málaga’s history can be traced back more than 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.

Phoenician goddess, Malac in Malaga province, Spain

Málaga’s early inhabitants were mainly engaged in fishing.  They revered their great Goddess, Noctiluca, and worshipped her with offerings and sacrifices at her sanctuary in the present day Cueva del Tesoro (one of only three such marine caves in the world)in Rincón de la Victoria.  

Each year, an image of the deity would be carried in procession and immersed into the sea to provide good fishing for the fishermen.  The Phoenician influence was considerable and many traditions and customs have been bequeathed and continue thousands of years later.  

Phoenician goddess, Malac

To this day, on 16th July each year, sailors and fishermen from villages along the Spanish coast,  parade their statues of the Virgen del Carmen though the streets and introduce her to the sea to bless the waters.

Phoenician goddess, Malac in Malaga province, Spain

The statue of the Phoenician goddess, Malac (Noctiluca) is by well-known Málaga sculptor, Jaime Pimentel.

The divinities may change, but the customs continue.

Looking after her geraniums!

Looking after her geraniums

One morning last week, I stopped to have a word with this lady who was cutting the dead flowers from her magnificent display of geraniums.

She told me that she only gave them water twice a week and, of course, they enjoyed the sunshine – (don’t we all?).  At the end of the season, she cuts the plants right back and takes them inside to store them.  After re-potting in January, she gradually reintroduces the plants outside (poco a poco) little by little to warm in the sunshine – and the following summer, they bloom again.

These geranium plants on her terrace are three years old.

So – now you know!

An Inspector Calls: Only this time it’s Alex Polizzi, the HOTEL Inspector

Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi with Karen and Sarah outside Hotel La Casa

Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, with Karen and Sarah outside Hotel La Casa in Torrox pueblo. Photo: Twofour/Channel 5

Following last night’s airing of the show as the finale of the current series, I can finally reveal a secret I’ve been bursting to tell you!   Alex Polizzi, also known as “The Hotel Inspector” came calling, east of Malaga and, as someone who knows the area well, I was offered an opportunity to work with her.

The Hotel Inspector is a UK documentary television series featuring hotelier and business-woman, Alex Polizzi, in her quest to turn flagging hotels into profitable ventures. The programme usually features some of Britain’s worst-run hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments, whose owners appear to have no idea how to run a hotel.

So why, you might ask, would the Hotel Inspector come calling in southern Spain?

The background to this particular episode evolves over several years and focuses on two British sisters who, from 2005 to 2008, transformed a dilapidated building in the charming town of Torrox in the foothills of the Sierra Almijara and Tejeda mountains, into a stylish 8-bedroomed boutique hotel.

On the face of it, whether you love mountains, beaches, the hustle and bustle of the big city or the peace and tranquility of a white-washed Andalucían town, this hotel has it all. With spectacular views of the mountains, proximity to blue-flag beaches, many interesting places to visit nearby, being only a 40 minute drive from Malaga’s vibrant city and airport and, to cap it all, the town of Torrox is officially recognised at having the best climate in Europe.

However, soon after the doors of La Casa hotel opened to guests in 2008, the global economic downturn took hold, resulting in a fall in tourism and leaving the sisters struggling financially. Despite working long hours, the situation has changed little in the intervening years, with occupancy rates still low.

The cast of characters in this particular three-act drama includes British-expat sisters, Sarah Melton and Karen Atkinson, (with a quiet, behind-the-scenes role played by Sarah’s husband, Neil); Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi; various international journalists and bloggers from such publications as Condé Nast and The Telegraph; Andalucía-based luxury travel writer, Andrew Forbes …. oh, and Yours Truly!

Alex, Sarah and travel writer Andrew Forbes on the terrace at La Casa Hotel

Alex, Sarah and travel writer Andrew Forbes on the terrace at La Casa Hotel

ACT ONE involved one of the sisters getting in touch with the show after seeing an advert in a local English language newspaper on the lookout for expat hoteliers. After being chosen to feature in the programme, the hotel was visited by Alex Polizzi together with a camera crew, to make her assessment of how to transform the hotel’s fortunes.

It soon became apparent that La Casa was not the usual type of establishment featured on The Hotel Inspector and, in this particular case, the problem appeared to be the marketing and branding of the hotel (and the local area), rather than its service and quality.

ACT TWO began towards the end of March 2015 and featured the return of Ms Polizzi and her camera crew, together with a string of travel writers, in an attempt to market the area to them.

At the same time, the hotel was being rebranded with the launch of a new website, logo and promotional literature, plus the main players were interviewed on local radio about La Casa featuring on the Hotel Inspector show.

ACT THREE saw the sisters leading the group of journalists around some of the delights of Torrox village, as well as giving a taste of what this ideal location has to offer today’s more discerning traveller.

Our tour began in the main square of the village before moving on to the local Nevaillo olive oil factory where we were given a demonstration of how the oil is produced and bottled.

Next, we were whisked back-in-time to the 17th century hamlet of El Acebuchal – known locally as The Lost Village where, after a brief look around, we headed to the local tavern where we were treated to a sumptuous tasting-menu featuring home-made bread, tropical salads, wild boar, venison and chicken. Antonio's tavern, El Acebuchal Our final stop of the day was a guided tour of the famous caves in Nerja, discovered by five boys in 1959 and which has now become one of the most visited attractions in Spain.

After a brief rest and just enough time for a shower, our evening continued back at La Casa hotel with a delicious A La Carte dinner. The menu was extensive with a choice to suit all tastes including antipasto, prawns pil-pil, pork with mushrooms, oven-baked cod and lamb shanks followed by such delights as “icky-sticky pudding” and platters of Spanish cheeses and hams.

Of course, every step of the way, we were filmed and interviewed about what we had seen and experienced. At first this proved rather daunting, but it was amazing how quickly you got used to having a fluffy sound microphone hovering over your head and/or having a camera crew nearby.

It was an absolute delight working with Alex Polizzi who is a lovely lady and comes across just as naturally as she does on TV.  She is outgoing, very friendly and willing to pose for endless photos or exchange a few words with people who recognised her from the show.

Gaudi room at Hotel La Casa

Gaudi room at Hotel La Casa

La Casa hotel features seven individually designed double/twin rooms (mine was named Gaudi, after the famous Spanish architect) and a spacious suite with a private terrace. The en-suite rooms are comfortable and spotlessly clean with A/C for cooling or warmth, whatever the season.

There is a beautiful sun terrace with amazing views of the mountains and valley, a bistro restaurant serving delicious food and, rave reviews from people who have stayed have earned this #1 rated hotel in Torrox a Travellers’ Award on TripAdvisor for the past four years.

Early morning view from La Casa

Early morning view of the mountains from La Casa’s terrace

From 5th June, the hotel’s restaurant (also used by many people not staying as guests) will be moving to a new venue in the main square of Torrox, so if you are in the village, I’d certainly recommend a visit.

Karen and Sarah are attentive hosts, and whilst I arrived as a guest we parted as friends – testimony of which is obvious by the many people who return to stay at La Casa hotel, year after year.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Karen, Sarah and Neil all the best with Hotel La Casa and their new venture – the restaurant which will open shortly in Torrox village.

La Casa hotel is situated at Calle Baja, Plazuela de Barajas 3, just off the main square of Torrox village, with free parking nearby.   Telephone: (0034) 95253 5471    Website: www.hotellacasatorrox.com 

Disclaimer: Whilst I stayed at the hotel as a guest of La Casa Hotel/Twofour Productions, I was not asked to write any reviews or recommendations in return. Any views expressed here are my own, and I am happy to do so because I enjoyed my stay and would genuinely recommend a visit to the hotel or restaurant.

Come and visit La Axarquía, east of Málaga – it’s the AUTHENTIC Spain you’ve been looking for!

A Peep-show for 20 cents? I know just the place!

Near to the entrance of the old part of the village of Frigiliana is this rather splendid coin-in-the-slot “mechanical theatre”, known as La Casita de Información y La Fantasía (The House of Information and Fantasy).   You might remember these old-fashioned machines from when you were a child – you know the kind, where your coin makes the clown inside laugh manically?

Well, the one in Frigiliana isn’t an old machine, but a more modern version, crafted in the old-style way by a collaboration of artists known as Arte-matico de Bernado y Amigos.  

There are two quite large mechanical theatres back-to-back within the casita, both featuring marionettes, with one entitled “The Moor and his Parrot” and the other “Carmen and Dolores”.   If you were to put your 1 Euro coin into the slot (it’s 2 Euros if you’re a millionaire!), the former will talk about the history of Frigiliana, whilst Carmen and Dolores, depicting two old ladies from the village, chat together about “the good old days”.

So, what about the peep-show, I hear your scream?

Blue door with peep shows, Frigiliana

Look out for this blue door on Calle Alta (and notice the sign on the wall up the side street)

Well, you’ll have to climb up the steps to the upper part of Frigiliana and, as you wander along Calle Alta, keep a look out for this blue door.  

Can you see the peep-holes?

This time you have a choice of two peep-shows in the door – El Milagro de La Vida (The Wonder of Life) or La Esfera Mágica de Cristal (The Magic Crystal), and the good news is, that even if you are a millionaire, the price is just 20 cents!

The third show, to the right of the blue door will set you back 50 cents (also with no additional cost for rich folk) and this is called The Marvellous Seaview (Merveilleuse vue sur mer).

 Did you notice the sign on the wall, up the side street beside the blue door?

Well, here is the fourth (and final) peep-show in the upper part of Frigiliana village – The Fantastic Harem (Harem Fantastico).  This time, for us poor folk, the cost is 50 cents, (there is a reduced rate of 20 cents – but it’s not very clear how you qualify for that), whilst once again, the millionaires have to pay one Euro.

So there you have it!

What’s the cheapest peep-show YOU’VE ever seen?  On second thoughts – don’t answer that!