Guide to Antequera
The region of Antequera and its surrounds is authentic rural Spain, an important crossroads for thousands of years. Antequera is at the very heart of Andalucía not only geographically, but in spirit too as successive civilisations have all left their mark. The landscape here is of olives and sunflowers – and perhaps because it’s off the usual tourist path, the local welcome is as warm as the sunshine.
The warmth and heart of Andalucía
This region is one of our favourites for its smiles and sunshine. Located at the centre of Andalucía, the geography is ideal for exploring the iconic cities of southern Spain.
Antequera is a richly historical city under 50 kms (less than 30 miles) inland, north of Málaga, and forms the true crossroads of Andalucía. If you are going to make the most of your stay in Andalucía by visiting ‘the big three’ Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba, then Antequera is the ideal choice.
The main motorways to these magnificent cities join just a little to the north. Ronda is also easy to get to and of course so is Málaga which in itself has plenty to see and do. For those who would like to spend most of their holiday time staying put and resting in their villa (and why not? that’s what holidays are about!) there are still many attractions close by, mainly focusing on the natural world, for interesting days out.
Let’s start by introducing Antequera the city. People have lived in and around this place for thousands of years as evidenced by the megalithic burial chambers which lie outside the city centre. These sites are classed as a UNESCO World heritage site and include the Dolmens of Menga, Viera and Tholos de el Romal.
Moving forward from neolithic times, the next civilization really to leave their mark were the Romans who gave the town, already considered ancient, its name—Antiquaria. The Romans knew about the quality of the olive oil from here and exported it back home. Times haven’t changed that much and the olive oil (still being exported to Italy) is as superb today, it must be to do with all the sunshine.
Ancient legends and cultural landmarks
Having been settled since time immemorial, there is a rich legacy of times past.
Antequera continued to flourish under the Moors who built the imposing Alcazaba, the fortress castle to defend the city against Christian forces. When the city fell, churches replaced mosques and gradually their gothic, renaissance and then baroque spires dominated the skyline. The many palaces, convents and fountains with their ornate carvings and sculptures are a photo opportunity to capture images of the prosperity of Spain’s golden age. Today Antequera is a bustling, cultured city, not too big, but with interesting shops, cafes on cobbled plazas and lots of restaurants for an eating out experience that is a little more sophisticated than rural fare.
Overlooking the city is the huge limestone outcrop called La Peña de los Enamorados. Its name comes from the medieval legend where two lovers, a Muslim princess and a Christian captive ran away together.
Her father’s militia pursued the couple to the rock, and rather than face capture, they held on to each other and jumped to their deaths. The story is recreated in a modern fountain sculpture in the city.
The countryside to the south of Antequera rolls into a fertile plain of wheat, sunflowers and olive trees. Here are working farms, tractors on the road and a generally slower pace of life. The colours of the fields are vivid—green in the spring with the growing wheat, yellow with sunflowers, silvery grey with the leaves of the olive trees, all contrasting with the blue blue sky. The land is gentle until suddenly you come to a landscape that belongs to another planet—El Torcal.
The miracle that is El Torcal
This natural wonder has to be seen to be believed. The limestone karst formation is a rare phenomenon and to take a walk in its landscape is an opportunity to see geology at its weirdest.
El Torcal is a Protected Natural Area of weathered limestone karst, rearing up into the sky over a kilometre high and extending 17 km around. It is the second largest area in Europe of this unusual geological phenomenon. Wind and rain have eroded the rocks into weird shapes like towers, creatures and stacks of plates—it’s of another world. There are three walking trails marked along the way in coloured signposts for different abilities (stout shoes or at least trainers are a must), a restaurant and a visitors’ centre where you can learn about El Torcal’s formation. While scrambling over the rocks keep a lookout for wild mountain goats nibbling the grass on high ledges and birds of prey circling overhead. The crannies in the limestone rock offer suitable habitat for a variety of animals and plants including wild orchids.
At the foot of El Torcal is the country town of Villanueva de Concepción, a town which services its local agricultural population with bank services, a supermarket or two, clinic, pharmacy and a decent number of restaurants and bars serving traditional Spanish-style food.
This region is not on the main tourist trail but you’ll be made to feel welcome here. Tapas, that most hospitable of Andalucian customs, are always given with a drink in this part of the world, usually local cheese (cured, tangy), slices of sausage or cured serrano ham and always olives.
Although this area is unhurried and unspoilt, there are lots of things to do and see. The region is home to the summer breeding ground for Europe's second largest colony of flamingos.
Roughly 15 kms from Villanueva de Concepción and 5 km from Antequera is the Lobo (Wolf) Park. This attraction, where you can see wolves in semi-wild conditions, is fun and educational. The aim of the Lobo Park is to research wolf behaviour and to give proper facts about these beautiful creatures. Tours run throughout the day and are taken with an expert guide. Night time ‘Howl Night’ tours during the full moon are an unforgettable experience.
Another spectacular sight to see in this region are the flamingos which congregate at Andalucía’s largest wetland area— Laguna Fuente de Piedra. The lagoon is 25 kms northeast of Antequera and is home to many birds. The flamingos migrate from Africa in the spring ready to mate, build their nests and raise their chicks here. About 20, 000 mating pairs have been registered.
A stone’s throw from the Laguna is the Refugio del Burrito, a traditional farm that has been converted into a donkey sanctuary. The animals are cared for with love in their retirement and visitors can pet the friendly donkeys. The Refugio is a feel-good experience for everyone and children especially will love it.
A little more adrenalin-pumping, for those who like their thrills sky high, can be found 30 kms southwest of Antequera. The El Chorro gorge is a spectacular rock landscape popular with climbers. The newly opened Caminito del Rey (King’s Walk) is a breathtaking catwalk which clings to the cliff face and is not for the timid.
The gorge feeds into a system of three turquoise lakes, the Ardales Lakes, which are surrounded by pine trees, perfect for picnics. You can swim, fish, hire pedalos and kayaks or just take a walk around the lakeshore enjoying the peacefulness.
This somewhat undiscovered region of inland Spain has a real heart to it. There is a lot to appreciate here with its marvels of nature, historical culture and friendly people. It’s a privileged invitation to somewhere very special.
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Shadowgate, Ronnie MacDonald, Jean Françoise, Pom, Andrew & Annemarie, Teo Ruiz, Juan de Dios Santander Vela, Johanes Schawanbeck, Abel Maestro Garcia, Jose Vicente, Frayle, Angel M.Felicisimo and Weldon Kennedy.