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?

One Trip EVERY Month: Canillas de Aceituno

Canillas de Aceituno

My trip this month, is just the kind that I began this challenge for – to go somewhere I’ve been meaning to go, but have never got around to it!

The white, mountain village of Canillas de Aceituno lies, like several others, in the shadow of the largest mountain in the Axarquía region – La Maroma, a bare, pointless peak reaching to a height of  2065 metres.

I chose to take the back road to Canillas de Aceituno from Cómpeta, driving past Archez, Salares and Sedella along the way.  It’s a beautiful drive, with a natural landscape of hills, mountains and ravines and it was worth stopping a few times to take photographs of the open vistas towards a shimmering La Viñuela reservoir in the distance, or the towering Monte Maroma, nearby.  A quicker route would be up the A356 from Vélez-Málaga and then turn right towards the village, but I had the time to linger.

On the approach to Canillas de Aceituno, I came across La Rahige, which is a wooded area with a ravine, pools and waterfalls.  As it was late July, the water was only a trickle, but I’m sure it rages through here during the winter months.

As I explored the shady ravine, I looked up and caught a glimpse of a mountain goat – the first I have ever seen.  He seemed to be watching my every move as he expertly perched on the edge of the cliff face.

Arab archway, Canillas de Aceituno

Records show that there has been a settlement on the site of Canillas de Aceituno since the Moorish occupation in the 8th century, when the main industry was the growing of mulberry trees for silk production. Indeed, there are still two Arabic arches preserved within the village, the first on Calle Agua (which is the prettier of the arches, pictured above) and another on the narrow Calle Calleja, a little higher in the village.  These arches once formed part of a wall that surrounded the settlement, and in which gates were closed at night for protection.

After parking the car, I headed towards the Town Hall in Plaza de la Constitución at the centre of the village, to the Tourist Information Office (open Monday to Friday 10am-2pm) to obtain a mapCanillas de Aceituno is not a large village, but if you visit, it would probably be wise to ask the lady in the Tourist Office to mark the position of the 1000 year old Arab Cistern, as you would probably never find it without some directions.

House of Tithes. Canillas de Aceituno

As you leave the Town Hall, on the diagonally opposite corner you will see the white tower of La Casa de Diezmos (the House of Tithes).  Now a private residence, this is where the production of the mulberry tree leaves and the manufacture of silk were controlled and taxed.

Wandering around the village with it’s impossibly white walls reflecting the summer sun and flanked by flowerpots overflowing with blooms, I came across the plaque where the old castle used to stand, and the Church of Nuestra Señora de Rosario, constructed during the 16th century on the site of the old Arab mosque.

Canillas de Aceituno

From the square at the side of the Town Hall, a maze of narrow streets climbs steeply up the hillside to the Mirador Blas Infante, a scenic viewpoint which offers panoramic views across the terracotta roofs of the village towards La Viñuela reservoir.  There are many other white villages dotted on the hillsides in the distance.

Pathway to La Maroma, Canillas de Aceituno

If you are a hiker, it is from here that you can continue the 6 kilometre climb to the summit of La Maroma – but as it was a hot July afternoon, I decided to pass on that option.

Almonds, Canillas de Aceituno

In the upper part of the village, I stopped to chat with a Spanish couple who had almond shells spread out on their doorstep, ready to be cracked open to expose the nuts inside.  This is a laborious, time-consuming job which I know only too well, as we have 47 almond trees on our land (though this is not something we do as we have never developed the knack of being able to extract the whole nut from it’s tough exterior with ease).

It’s difficult to explain where the old Arab cistern is, but I’ll try.  Sadly there are no signs and the area is in a state of disrepair.  If you have the mark from the Tourist Office on your map, you will see that you should head for Calle Placeta and as you pass the parking area, there is a row of houses on your right side.  Walk past these houses and you will now be next to a patch of rough ground.  As you approach the next house on your right, you will see some very rough steps going down to the side of the house, and an opening in the side wall.  Here you can see into the 1000 year old cistern full of water, which is still used to irrigate the nearby terraces.

Morcilla, Canillas de Aceituno

Each year, on the last Sunday in April, the village of Canillas de Aceituno hosts the the fiesta of El Día de la Morcilla (the Day of the Black Pudding) when the speciality black-pudding stuffed with onion, and for which the village is famous, is celebrated and available for all to try.

If you don’t fancy the black pudding, I can certainly recommend Asador La Maroma for lunch, where not only are the food and surroundings very pleasant, but we were treated like old friends by Paco, the owner and his family.

OH and by the way, don’t forget your camera when you visit Canillas de Aceituno!

One Trip EVERY Month Logo

This post is my contribution to the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge. If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  • Each month, visit somewhere and then write about your trip or describe it using photographs – whichever suits you best.
  • Don´t forget to title and tag your entry ’One Trip EVERY Month Challenge’, and link back to this page.
  • Display the Challenge logo on your post or in your sidebar.
  • HAVE FUN!  

Are you ready to join me by taking ONE TRIP EVERY MONTH? What are you waiting for? GO!

Black pudding Image credit: Town Hall of Canillas de Aceituno