Coast, villages or countryside of the Axarquía: THE INLAND VILLAGES

Competa and Maroma from the Mirador

As you might imagine, life can be very different, depending on your choice of location to visit or live. Always worth considering is that most of the Axarquía region, to the east of the city of Málaga, is mountainous with beautiful valleys running down from the inland sierras to the coastal fringe, giving plenty of opportunity to choose the landscape that best suits your needs.

There are broadly three main area choices – the coastal zone (la costa), the inland villages (los pueblos) and the open countryside (known locally as “el campo”).  Each has its fans and all offer advantages or disadvantages, depending on what you are looking for.

In this series of articles entitled “Axarquia: Coast, Villages or Countryside” we are exploring each in turn, to give you a flavour of what you can realistically expect in the various landscapes.  Last time we looked at the coastal region, so now we will consider what holidays, or more permanent life, is like in our inland villages.

The Inland Villages or Los Pueblos

Frigiliana, Spain

Almost anyone with a passing interest in southern Spain knows that they are usually referred to as the “white villages”, and the Spanish translation is almost as well known, “pueblos blancos”.

Once you have seen one of the white villages you can easily understand that they could not be named any differently.  Every house is whitewashed in the traditional way using slaked lime (which is a white dust) mixed with salt and water and then painted onto the houses.  This is a cheap and durable alternative to paint, and has the joint advantage of making them look typically Andalucían and, at the same time,  by reflecting as much of the summer sun as possible, helping to keep the interiors a little cooler.

The rooves of these village houses are typically covered with red or brown tiles.

Looking across the rooftops in the village of Comares, Spain
Many of these ancient villages date back many centuries and were mostly originated by the Moors, who came over from North Africa and formed the Moorish kingdom of Al-Ándalus in this part of Iberia, between 700 and 800 AD.   They resided here until driven out by the Catholic armies almost 700 years later.

The Moors were an advanced race who introduced many of the ingredients now typically used in Spanish dishes – such as rice, saffron and almonds.  They knew how to build and manage irrigation systems and many of the villages were built where they are because there was, and remains to this day, irrigation from the porous mountain rock which is vital throughout the long hot summers for making agriculture possible.

Two white villages and pink almond blossom, Andalucia

So, what is life like here?

The villages are rarely built on flat land so they can usually be described as “tumbling” down the hillsides.  This means that the streets are often steep, curving and twisting their way around the village,  often with little side passages which, if you investigate, also contain terraces of houses, some accessed by steep steps.

Many of these old houses have, at street level, a short flight of steps going up to the living space with a low doorway to one side giving access to a semi-basement, which would have been the place where livestock would have been kept.

Mules are still used in many of the villages as a means of transporting goods up the steeper streets, where there may be no access for vehicles.

Main square, Torrox

What is true of most Spanish cities and large towns is also true here, with the church usually forming the focal point of the village, often with a nearby square, called La Plaza.  Wherever there is a square there are cafés, bars and local shops nearby.  Of course, facilities vary from village to village regarding gift shops and the like, but usually there will be many places selling local produce and groceries. I’m always intrigued when I see a little shop in someone’s living room!

Most villages have a visiting street market each week, where local traders sell a wide variety of goods including freshly-picked fruit and vegetables.

You’ll no doubt find the doctor’s surgery or Health Centre, a school, the Post Office – which will probably only open for a couple of hours in a morning, plus a variety of shops and bars.   You may be surprised to discover perhaps, that in even quite remote villages it would be very unusual not to get good quality coffee, wine or beer and a good range of tapas or more substantial meals – often at a cheaper price and with no interruption from the sunglasses/fake DVD sellers you encounter down on the coast.

Village houses in Cómpeta, Axarquía, Spain

Many villages have their own speciality produce, for example Periana has delicious peaches (melocotón),  Sayalonga is the centre for the medlar fruit (nispero) and Alcaucín celebrates an ancestral tradition each October, paying tribute to their typical fruit, the chestnut (castaña). Some areas around the village of Cómpeta are well known for their sweet Moscatel grapes, most of which are used to produce the local wine, but many are dried in large open-air drying beds under the late summer sun and sold as pasas, which are large juicy raisins.

During recent years, many people from other parts of Europe have discovered these inland areas and, for some, seeking this kind of life has resulted in many white villages now have quite substantial cosmopolitan populations.

For the largest expat communities here in the Axarquía (usually, but not exclusively northern Europeans),  choosing life in one of the villages can often mean looking for something different to those who choose the coast.  There are various ways to express it, but if I said they were looking for a more authentic Spain, it might make it clear what is meant.

Typical street in Frigiliana

The English language is not as widely spoken as down on the coast, so if you spend time in these lovely white villages it helps if you can speak a little Spanish, to get you by.  If you can adopt an outgoing manner and try speaking the local language (even if you make lots of mistakes), you will find that your efforts are appreciated.  You will be rewarded by friendly neighbours, who will often turn up at your door with gifts of their food, or you may find bags of lemons, onions or other such locally-grown produce, hanging on your door when you get up in a morning.

One thing common to life in Spain is noise.  Not unpleasant or offensive, but the commotion of life that the Mediterranean races generate.  Motor bikes (motos) are one such source, but just as common is any excuse for a fiesta or the setting-off of fireworks.  How the Spanish love their fiestas and, living so close to your neighbours, you can’t help but join in to feel a real part of the community.

Families and friends might stop to have a chat or admire a baby, and if that happens to be in a shop doorway, then so be it – you wait. Deliveries have to be made by vans and trucks where most village streets are quite narrow so,  while this takes place,  everything else comes to a stop.  A small queue of traffic builds up,  but that is how it is – you wait, no problem, no rush.  There are a couple of phrases you often hear  which indicate the mentality of life, “no pasa nada” (roughly translated as – it doesn´t matter) and “poco a poco”  (little by little),  in other words, “do a bit today and do a bit more later”.

Fiestas and festivals are part of every day life

Life here is very civilized and public mis-behaviour is a rarity.  Maybe this is because children and teenagers never get the run of public places, like they do in the UK.  Fathers, grandfathers and especially the womenfolk are a permanent presence and they would soon bring inappropriate behaviour to an end.  The local children are brought up observing and joining in with all local traditions, fiestas and festivals, so to them this has always been a part of their lives.

You’ll never find any sense of threat if you walk through the village on a dark night – indeed you will see many windows and doors wide open with either no occupants in sight, or a little old lady wearing a shawl sitting in her chair watching the world go by.  Most people will say hello as you pass them.

Crowds at the Migas Festival, Torrox

There is a strong sense of community, with everyone coming together to celebrate fiestas, carnivals and religious events. Family bonding here is, in many ways,  like stepping back in time – by fifty years.

Life is simpler.

You might need to bear in mind that the higher you go into the hills, the chillier it will be on winter nights, but also the air will be fresher on hot summer mornings.

Not so long ago, many villages were largely inaccessible, with the only form of transport being the mule, but these days there are adequate tarmac roads giving good access to even the most remote of inland areas.

As I mentioned in my previous article about the coastal region, most major Spanish supermarkets, shopping centres and the cinema are nearer to the coast and as far as public transport from the inland villages goes, there may only be a couple of buses each day, down to the coast or Málaga – so it’s probably better if you have access to your own car, or at the very least, know the bus schedules before you make your decision.


This kind of authentic lifestyle suits many expats and visitors, where money tends to go further when buying or renting property than on coast.

Pretty much anywhere in the Axarquía is less than one hour to Málaga airport, and half an hour at most from the beach.  Good roads mean that within a couple of hours you can be in Granada, Ronda or Córdoba and there is a constantly developing range of rural activities being offered to visitors including horse riding, cross country expeditions on motorbikes and bicycles, hiking and much more. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and usually accessible for walking.

Even if you would still prefer to base yourself near the coast, you would be missing a great deal of what I have already described as “The Real Spain” if you didn’t venture inland and see a way of life, some aspects of which, have not changed in a long time.

Give it a try –  you may be surprised how beguiling this kind of life can be.  

You might also enjoy reading:

Coast, Villages or Countryside: Where to Visit or Live in the Axarquía


Looking along the coast, east of Málaga.

Looking along the coast, east of Málaga.

I receive a lot of messages from East of Málaga readers, either on the blog or over at my Facebook page.  It seems that many folks think I know pretty much everything there is to know about Spain!!  It’s absolutely not true, of course, but I have lived here in the Axarquía region, to the east of Málaga city for almost ten years, so I guess I do know a few things.

Anyway, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the Cost of Living in Spain, and in particular in Málaga province – and this is a subject I have written several articles about.

However, another frequently asked question is about where is the best place to rent or buy a house.  This week I received the following message:

“We’re all booked for 10 day holiday to Cómpeta in October, viewing properties in Malaga, Torre del Mar and Cómpeta. So this week I’m searching the internet and organising viewings. My problem is we can’t decide where to buy – countryside, city or seaside! I was hoping for some guidance.”

It’s a valid question – so let’s see what I can do to help.

View across to the coast, east of Málaga, in autumnAs you might imagine, life can be very different, depending on your choice of location. Worth bearing in mind from the start is that almost all of the Axarquía region, and Andalucía in general, is mountainous with beautiful valleys running down from the inland sierras to the coastal fringe, giving plenty of opportunity to choose the landscape that best suits your needs.

Even though it’s an over-simplification, but let´s say, for the sake of argument that there are three main choices of area – the coastal zone (la costa), the inland villages (los pueblos) and the open countryside (known locally as “el campo”). Each has its devotees and all offer advantages.

In this series of articles entitled “Coast, Villages or Countryside” I will explore each in turn, to give you a flavour of what you can realistically expect in the various landscapes. Who knows, I might even get around to writing about what it’s like to live in the city of Málaga, too!

The Coast

View across La Herradura Bay

First, let’s look at what is perhaps the most obvious choice for many, and particularly for first-time visitors, the coast.   It would probably be more accurate to describe it as the coastal fringe, as many of the hills plunge right down to the sea with wider, flatter areas in between, where valleys run down to the coast.

In times gone by, most coastal villages and towns were fishing communities, given that the Mediterranean Sea provides a plentiful and varied supply of fish and sea food.  Fortunately this tradition continues today, with a substantial fishing fleet at the port of Málaga as well as in nearby Caleta de Vélez, situated between Torre del Mar and Nerja.

Fishing boats in Caleta harbour

As a result, all of the coastal areas have a large number of chiringuitos, which are beachside restaurants, often constructed right on the beach. Chiringuitos always offer a great range of fish and seafood on their menus, which would typically include fried pieces of cod (bacalao) in a lovely light batter, Dorada (gilt-head bream) cooked to perfection over a wood fire, as well as the local Málaga speciality of sardines (espetos de sardines).  Don´t be put off by those dreadful tinned sardines they sell in Britain – these are the real deal –  skewered on bamboo spikes and cooked next to a blazing wood fire. You might also like to try Rosada a la plancha, which is a succulent grilled fish, often flavoured with garlic.  Absolutely delicious and one of my favourites!

Making paella at Ayo´s restaurant, Nerja

Chiringuitos are also the place to try out the world-famous paella. Everyone knows of this flavoursome Spanish dish which, even though it originated in Valencia, is cooked to perfection all along the coast of the Axarquía.  Even though most people will have heard of paella, dishes do vary from one place to another, some leaning towards chicken or pork as the base meat, but mostly on the coast you can expect plenty of fish, large prawns (gambas) and shellfish.  I’ve never had one I didn’t like!

There are bars and cafés on nearly every corner in towns and villages, in fact all along the eastern Costa del Sol you will never be far from a bar. Fortunately, bars and cafés as well as tapas bars and chiringuitos, are largely interchangeable. It´s unusual to find people going into a bar merely to drink.  Beer, wine, fino sherry or coffee are just one part of the combined eating and drinking culture, and luckily the Spanish and most long-term residents seem to have this well-balanced. It is rare to see things get out of hand.

Head for the beach

A typical “snap-shot” view almost anywhere along this relaxed coastline is likely to be of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, rarely more than gently rolling waves, sandy shores with plenty to do, sun beds for hire with the usual sun-shades in all the tourist areas, many wonderful places to eat freshly-prepared food of consistently high quality and a climate which is reputed to be the best in Europe.

Talking of climate, something that you might not have thought of when you are considering where to visit or live is that the temperature can differ by a few degrees from the coastal areas to some of the inland villages. This is not surprising really, given that some of the villages in Andalucía are situated more than 700 metres above sea level, but it might be an influencing factor to your decision about where to live or visit if you knew that a particular village was colder in the winter or hotter in the summer than the coast.

El Ingenio Centro Comercial

El Ingenio shopping centre, near Torre del Mar

No matter whether you spend your time at the coast or inland it is as well to know that the major supermarkets are usually situated along the coastal area.  Both Spanish and German chains are represented, for example with Eroski,  Mercadona and Supersol from Spain, as well as Aldi and Lidl from Germany, each one having their own appeal.

As well as supermarkets there is a larger range of shops near the coast than elsewhere and substantial indoor shopping centres are available on the outskirts of Torre del Mar and at Rincón de la Victoria, with cinemas  and other entertainment options at each location. The Axarquía’s only Carrefour supermarket can be found at the shopping centre at Rincón de la Victoria.

Atarazanas market, Malaga

Atarazanas market, Malaga

On the topic of shopping and extra facilities, you should not overlook the provincial capital city, Málaga, also on the coast. There is the recently refurbished city market, Mercado Central de Atarazanas, as well as large branches of the Spanish departmental store, El Corte Inglés.  Naturally, the city is also home to a fantastic range of tapas bars, sporting facilities, art galleries and entertainment.

One thing you should be aware of is that although May to October is the main holiday season, the seaside in this part of the world can, and often does, provide really warm sunny days all year round – in fact, around 320 of them!.   We enjoy lovely sunny days in January and February, although the weather is not quite as dependable around this time of year.  A common feature during the winter months, not only on the coast but also inland, might be to have a couple of days with rain and some wind, after which the weather reverts to clear sunny days once again.

Tree-lined walkway, La Arana

The main beach resorts east of Málaga are much more low-key than some on the western Costa del Sol,  but make no mistake, they each have their charms, and are worthy of a visit, though they do still tend to get crowded in July and August.

Have a look on a local map and you will see Rincón de la Victoria, Torre del Mar (which is very popular with Spanish tourists), and Torrox Costa, a lovely smaller town (very popular with Germans).  Near to the easterly limit of Málaga province is the delightful town of Nerja, with few high-rise buildings, still retaining its quaint narrow streets in the centre, and popular with British holiday makers.

Entrance to Balcon de Europa, Nerja, Spain

Balcon de Europa, Nerja

Fortunately, all the towns and villages along the coastal strip are easy to travel between, due to two excellent and largely uncongested roads running roughly parallel with each other – the N340 coastal road, and the wonderfully named Autovía del Mediterraneo, which is the motorway. Each of these roads connect the coastal region of the Axarquía direct to Málaga and the airport.  If you don´t have a car available to you, there is a frequent (an inexpensive) bus service run by a company called ALSA, to get you back and forth if you choose.

Another thing to bear in mind about the coastal areas is that the land is flat. As I mentioned at the start of this article, the Axarquía is generally a mountainous area with beautiful valleys running down from the inland mountains to the coast. By the sea, there are lovely flat promenades and public gardens along many of the coastal towns and villages, which might be important to you if you have any problems with mobility.

Looking towards Torre del Mar

Family holidays or a place to live, along a beautiful coastline, without rowdyism, with great facilities and fabulous food – East of Málaga is as good as it gets.

Next time I’ll look at the inland villages in more detail.

Which area do YOU prefer – coast, villages or countryside?

10 interesting facts about Málaga’s new Ferris wheel

As if the city isn’t exciting enough, Málaga has a new attraction on it’s skyline – a giant observation wheel.  The giant ferris wheel is located at the entrance to the port, parallel to Muelle de Heredia.

Here are ten facts about the ride you probably don’t know, but might be interested to find out:

Malaga's new ferris wheel

1.   La Noria de Málaga (as it will be known) stands 70 metres tall – that’s just short of 230 feet.

2.   Weighing in at 600 tons, the Mirador Princess ferris wheel is Europe’s largest transportable attraction – yes, it’s moveable!

3.   There are 42 air-conditioned cabins, each accommodating up to eight people.

4.   Each cabin offers 360 degree panoramic views across the city, port and Mediterranean Sea and, on a clear day, vistas of up to 30 kilometres.

Cabins on Malaga's Ferris wheel

5.   Maximum capacity is 1000 visitors per hour.

6.   An operating licence has been granted for an initial period of eight months.

7.   The wheel is LED illuminated, offering a stunning after-dark show.

8.   La Noria de Málaga is suitable for disabled passengers

Malaga's new ferris wheel at Muelle de Heredia

9.    A full turn of the wheel takes four minutes.

10.  It takes 25 special trailers to transport the wheel between sites, and 25 men working for two weeks to put it together on arrival, with a little help from a 300 ton crane.


If you’re inspired to ride on La Noria de Málaga, the observation wheel is open daily from 11am to 11pm (1am at weekends).


While you’re here, you might also be interested in:

My detailed “Cost of Living in Málaga” report

Jurassic Park: Andalucían style


Malaga hosts the Spanish cycle race – La Vuelta

Riders in La Vuelta, Spain

Málaga province has been experiencing the passion, emotion and excitement of La Vuelta a España (the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France) during the first four days of the famous cycle race, before it moves on to other parts of Spain.

The time trials began last Saturday in Marbella, before the race pushed off with Stage 2 from Alhaurin de la Torre, finishing the day at the world’s most infamous walkway, the Caminito del Rey.

Stage 3 brought La Vuelta riders to the east of Málaga, yesterday, through spectacular mountains before heading down to the coast and turning west towards the finishing line in Málaga city.

Road closures meant spectators being in position more than an hour before the riders came through, but fold-up chairs, beach umbrellas offering shade from the hot sun and a cool-box full of cold drinks made the wait all the more pleasant.

Looking towards Torre del Mar

Having decided to watch the race pass by at the start of the sprint section, just west of Torre del Mar, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of Tour de France winner, Chris Froome, riding for Team Sky.

We had stunning views of the mountains and the road back towards Torre del Mar.

First sight of La Vuelta riders

Soon enough, motorcycle outriders started appearing and roaring past, first one then another. Surely they must be coming by now? The time of the riders’ scheduled arrival came and went, when suddenly, a helicopter appeared.

They’re here!

The first six riders sprint towards Malaga

The leading group consisted of just six riders and the few people standing outside the Go Karting track on the N340a near to Almayate, started waving chequered flags, clapping and cheering.

Only just over a minute later came the main body of cyclists known as “the peloton”.

Would I be able to spot Chris Froome?

HAwatch my video and have a guess!! (HINT: it takes 50 seconds)

The support vehicles follow closely behind

The peloton streamed by and, it was all over in moments.

Following closely behind were the many support vehicles vying for position and pipping their horns.  At one stage, I thought I might end up filming a pile-up of vehicles!

All that was left was to collect the water bottles that had been discarded by the riders as they passed.

Did you notice one come whizzing my way (at 11 seconds) during the video? Yes, it hit me on the ankle!

Discarded water bottles from La Vuelta riders

Anyone want a used water bottle?