The Mountain Life

By Rob Innis

Frigiliana clings onto the side of a gorge with the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda mountains forming a dramatic backdrop contrasted by the coast just a few kilometers downhill. This is deep southern Spain, province of Malaga, Andalucia.

The better known Alpujjaras in Parque Natural Sierra Nevadas, made famous in the books of Gerald Brenan and Chris Stewart, lay a short drive north across the border in the province of Granada.

Frigiliana has a long and varied history of other civilizations and cultures including the Moors. But these days it is content to welcome its visitors to the steep narrow cobble stoned streets which intertwine throughout traditionally whitewashed village houses. It too has had its share of the construction boom. Many new apartments have been sympathetically added blending in with the original architecture. Most offer views across undulating campo and down to the beaches of Nerja. Truly the best of both worlds – fancy a day on the beach well jump on the local bus and off you go.

But I am here for the walking, to see if I can still make it up the mountain paths to be rewarded by those stunning views. It is temptingly green with not only the familiar olive trees but also mango and avocado trees, an uncommon site in our local provinces of Alicante and Murcia.

I decided to explore with local guide John Keogh, who offers a great selection of mountain walks suiting all abilities and fitness levels. He starts all of his walks near the old sugar cane factory, a central point in the village, easy to find and perfect for anybody arriving by bus from Nerja.

‘Some people stay down on the coast, but like to visit inland for a day in the mountains,’ explains John as we watch people getting off the bus from Nerja, a short ride up from the coast.

Being Tuesday it is what John calls a ‘stroll’ as is Thursday’s walk. However every Monday, Wednesday and Friday the going gets a bit tougher although always tailored towards the group’s abilities and wishes.

Our stroll takes us up through the village. Many of the friendly locals greet John as we pass and check to see if he is joining in with tonight’s fiesta for which they are busy making beautiful decorative flower crosses. He shares with us that his wife will be dancing whilst he watches. Like me he is of the opinion walkers don’t always make dancers.

We gently wind our way up (yes be prepared for up) to gaze down onto the village roof tops and out to the Mediterranean. Then we descend and add a bit extra on, to make up for losing yesterdays expedition to rain. Our walk takes us past a selection of country properties with varying plots and I wonder if living on a steep rocky slope would suit me. I begin to decide maybe you have to be born to working your land positioned on a 45 degree angle. We wave to an elderly gentleman busy tending his trees - perhaps he would uncomfortable on the flat.

After a delightful sunny walk we return to our start point to enjoy a well earned cool drink. Tomorrow John promises something more challenging craftily throwing in, ‘We can visit a bar on route after tomorrow’s ascent.’ A temptation few will be able to resist, including me.

Next day we eagerly set off through the village taking the path to climb up to the hamlet of Acebuchal.  I remarked to John I would not want to carry heavy loads up all the stairs in the narrow streets and what about if you were doing some building work?

‘No problem. Just hire Paco’s donkey for 100 euros a day he will carry anything up anywhere,’ explained John. A wonderfully traditional and practical solution to the problem.

Warm sun was giving us all a thirst as we neared our destination. I hoped (OK prayed) the bar would be open. The tiny village had been deserted in the early 1950s but was being rebuilt by an original inhabitant, fortunately now a builder, who is also the bar owner. We got our cold drinks and sat on his shady terrace. I awaited my chorizo tapa which was amazingly served in an ingenious dish with the chorizo suspended on a skewer over a flame - a sort of DIY BBQ. It was delicious with homemade bread. Fed and watered we reluctantly left the tranquil little hamlet of Acebuchal and returned downhill to Frigiliana. We had visited a little bit of Spanish heaven.

Deciding to see what the mountains were like underneath I visited the caves in Nerja (well sign posted) and experienced incredible rock formations in what is another world. The caverns are huge. Think not of crawling through narrow spaces. You will be truly amazed by what nature has created.

I stayed in a spacious rented flat perfect for exploring the village with easy parking. Beware some rentals - the parking might be a distance away, meaning a long uphill carry of those suitcases and shopping supplies unless of course you run into Paco’s donkey.

Since I wrote this article a Dutch lady went missing in this area for eighteen days having fallen down a ravine. She was very lucky to be rescued and fortunately managed to survive by having a nearby water supply. Please take all suitable precautions and preferably walk with a guide if you visit this area.

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