The Lost Village of El Acebuchal

El Acebuchal, Spain

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.

Mules in El Acebuchal

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.

Casa Antonio, El Acebuchal

Antonio's initials in stone = El Acebuchal

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.

Inside Bar El Acebuchal

Inside Bar El Acebuchal

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.

El Acebuchal

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?

Shining Brightly: Malaga’s Christmas Lights

 Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

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.

Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

Detail of Malaga's gothic Christmas lights  2014

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.

Xmas lights 2

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.

Malaga's gothic Christmas lights 2014

Malaga's Christmas lights 2014

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?

 

Málaga Feria: They’ll be Dancing in the Street

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria

Fireworks to start the Malaga feria  [Image credit: Manolo Gómez Flickr CC]

Even the smallest village here in Andalucía has it’s own fiesta or feria, but today sees the final day of the BIGGEST PARTY OF ALL (well, around these parts at least) – the Málaga Feria!   

Held every year during August to commemorate the reclaiming of the city from the Moors by the Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) on 18th August 1487, the Málaga feria is one of the largest fairs in Spain with millions of people joining the fun throughout the week.

Many daytime activities take place on the main shopping street - Calle Marques de Larios, Picasso’s birth-place – Plaza de la Merced and throughout the historic centre of the city from noon until  around 8pm each day.  There are open-air bars to tempt passers-by with sherry, delicious sweet Málaga wine and tapas while the sound of music fills the air.

Many people dress in traditional costume and spontaneous demonstrations of flamenco dancing often break out in the street.  

Yesterday, it was a joy to wander around the city, soaking up the party atmosphere before heading to the Bodega Bar El Pimpi for a spot of lunch.  El Pimpi seems to get bigger and bigger every time I go, with it’s warren of rooms and outdoor terraces, which were all packed with feria-goers.  The inside walls of the bar are decorated with photographs of famous visitors and historic posters of ferias past.  You can also see the enormous barrels signed by some celebrity patrons including former UK prime minister, Tony Blair and, one of Málaga’s famous sons, film-actor Antonio Banderas.

Tradition then dictates a short siesta before heading to the outskirts of the city (next to the Palacio de Congresos building, near the airport) for La Feria de la Noche (the night fair), which starts very slowly around ten in the evening and continues all night, until the break of dawn.

Here you will find hundreds of marquees (known as casetas) scattered throughout the fairground where you can enjoy more drinks and food, whilst dancing to the sound of both modern and flamenco music.

And, if like me, you LOVE fairground rides, then you can be flung here, there and everywhere on some wild, mechanical rides or take a gentle journey on the huge ferris wheel, for great views across the feria.

There are shuttle buses throughout the night from city centre to the fairground.

 Would you like to join in the party next year?  

Space Oddity: Searching the Night Sky for the International Space Station

International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132 (Public Domain)

One of the joys of a hot, summer evening for me is the opportunity to have a swim after the sun goes down, before hopping into bed.  I always make sure that there are no outside lights shining from the house and, because we live in the countryside where there is virtually no light pollution, on a clear night it’s a great place for star-gazing. 

The most awe-inspiring sight has to be the Milky Way, the luminescent band of light made up entirely of stars, clearly visible in the Andalucían night sky.

There are other cosmic masterpieces to be seen at certain times of the year when our planet Earth passes through bands of dust and debris that circle the Sun.  We see these as meteor showers, and a perfect example is the Perseids (a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle), which occurs around the 12th August each year.    Once again, I will be floating in the pool, watching these tiny fragments of space dust hurtling into our atmosphere at enormous speed, before burning up, to provide magnificent celestial fireworks.  

Much slower are our own Earth-launched satellites which drift lazily by.   There are so many satellites circling the planet these days, that you can usually spot one within a few minutes.  Their speed is deceptive though, because the satellites are very high, they actually have to maintain about 18,000 miles per hour to remain in orbit.

640px-STS-116_spacewalk_1Image credit: STS-116 spacewalk 1 by NASA (Public Domain)

But the object I’m always fascinated to see tracking overhead is the International Space Station – a man-made habitable satellite which serves as a microgravity research laboratory.

Flying at 27500 kilometres per hour (that’s an average speed of 7.65 kilometres per second), the ISS maintains its orbit at an altitude of between 330 km and 435 km.  With an approximate size of 110 x 70 x 20 metres, the International Space Station (ISS) reflects plenty of sunlight and is usually the second brightest object in the night sky (after the moon), so is easily visible with the naked eye.  

14797031062_180d1002fe_zImage credit: NASA Flickr CC

Just look at the amazing view from the ISS!

One of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station recorded the above amazing photograph of the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) on July 26, 2014.  Part of France can be seen at the top of the image and the Strait of Gibraltar is visible at bottom, with a very small portion of Morocco visible near the lower right corner.

I’d LOVE to take photos through this window!

640px-STS130_cupola_view1Image credit: NASA STS130 cupola view (Public Domain)

How can you get a good view of the International Space Station as it passes overhead?

Well, the first thing you should do is try to get away from the light pollution of a town or city, on a clear night.  If there is cloud cover you are unlikely to see anything.

The ISS looks like an incredibly bright, fast-moving star which can easily be mistaken for an aircraft.  What distinguishes it from an aircraft is that it has no flashing lights.  The light we see from the ISS is reflected sunlight, meaning that the best time to observe the craft is in the evening, not long after sunset or in the early morning, before sunrise.  

The next thing you should know is that the ISS always passes overhead starting from a westerly part of the sky, but not always from the same point.  It can be low on the horizon for some passes and very high for others.

640px-STS-129_Zvezda_sunriseImage credit: NASA STS-129 Zvezda sunrise

When can you observe the International Space Station from where you are?

To see the current position of the International Space Station click HERE.  Once you click through to that page, not only can you see what the astronauts can see, you can also view the ground track of the next orbit of the ISS.

Next, you need to click HERE and at the top right of the upcoming page you will see a box that says “Your location” and underneath that the default location is shown as New York City.  

Type YOUR location in the box, hit SEARCH and you’ll get something like the image below.  (This is the image I found last night when I did the same thing – that’s why it shows Spain).

ISS visible pass over Spain

So now you can see a list of the next sighting opportunities for YOUR location (on the left of the page), with the green bars indicating the brightness of the ISS on its pass.  The list contains all visible passes of the ISS during the next ten days.  If you select a particular pass, you can get more information about it.

In the photo above, you can see that for my location in Cómpeta, Spain there was an ISS pass last night (Friday August 8th) at 9.44pm lasting 5 minutes and 29 seconds with 2 green bars for brightness.  My next best chance to view the ISS is next Saturday night (16th August) at 11.19pm.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen the ISS.  Do you watch for it regularly?  I know I do!