Guide to La Axarquía
The region east of Málaga is La Axarquía. It is often overlooked as a holiday location, but it is full of authentic little villages, mountain trails, rolling hills of olive trees and 30 kilometres of clean beaches. Inland, the pace of life is unhurried and traditional, while the coast is fun but less touristy than west of Málaga. The variety of countryside on offer, in a relatively small area, means that you can ‘get away from it all’ in a landscape that suits you best.
A Mediterranean coastline bordered by mountains
The sun shines endlessly on the mountains in this delightful region. It's a perfect climate for olives and almonds.
For those looking to get a taste of the authentic, traditional Andalucía, this region is for you. Despite taking in unspoilt little villages, mountain landscapes, rolling hills of olive and almond, and with 30 kilometres of beachy coastline, La Axarquía is often overlooked as a holiday location. But for those in the know, it really is a hidden gem. It’s name comes from the Arabic ‘Sarqiyya’ meaning ‘east of a city’ and it covers the area east of Málaga. The region forms a triangle of Mediterranean coastline bordered by mountains—the Natural Parks of Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama to the east and Montes de Málaga on its western side. The varieties of terrain in a relatively small area means that you can ‘get away from it all’ in a landscape that suits you best.
And we have to tell you about the climate too. It has so much sunshine! Take for example its popular beach town of Nerja, on average it has an incredible 320 days a year of sun. While the summer temperature increases the further you go inland, Nerja has a microclimate where it’s July heat hovers around a more comfortable 25⁰c. The Mediterranean acts as an insulating blanket for this part of the coast and in winter the temperature doesn’t fall much below 11⁰c. Added to the fact that this region is an easy drive from Málaga airport, you have the ideal location, particularly for families with little ones.
Sleepy, rural life
This part of the world is unhurried and belongs to a forgotten time.
The inland part of this region is a haven of peace, where its life is still governed by the seasons not by the clock. La Axarquía’s economy is driven by agriculture: olives for olive oil, almonds and Moscatel grapes for the famous sweet wine from of this area. Although this rural area is gradually opening up for tourists and welcomes are warm and genuine, you will see what the ‘real’ Andalucía looks like, goatherds and all. Hospitality here is unpretentious, eating out will involve traditional Spanish meals generally using locally grown/reared ingredients. This is the land of the gazpacho, ajoblanco (another chilled soup, this time of ground almonds) stews of game and hearty portions.
A sign advertising a ‘venta’ denotes an eatery, often what used to be the village inn, offering home cooked meals. The olive oil here is luscious, green-gold magic, be sure to take some home with you.
La Axarquía was for centuries part of the Moorish kingdom of Al Andalus (so many of its villages begin with ‘Al’) and this legacy can be seen in how its villages look—narrow, cobbled streets of white houses, quaint corners, balconies with an emphasis on flowers and usually with a sleeping cat. Frigiliana is one such town, well known for its brightly painted ceramics and so picturesque with its abundance of bright geraniums, bougainvillea and jasmine.
Charming seaside and mountain villages
There are so many little villages to investigate, each one with its own character and personality.
Comares is a mountain village, set on its rocky perch with two towers of its Moorish fortress still to be seen. As you’d expect from this ancient look-out post, the views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular. Other inland villages of note are Competa and Colmenar, although there are numerous tiny villages to stumble across too. If you’re lucky you’ll see a fiesta, every village has one, on some weekend during the year (mostly in the summer months though) held in honour of their patron saint. These fiestas are street parties on a grand scale with parades, bands and costumes, there might be a giant paella to feed the whole village, you will never again see a pan so big! Everyone joins in with gusto and life at that moment is sweet.
Although the coast in this region is a little more touristy than inland, it’s pretty and certainly not as brash as the more westerly Costas. Nerja has already been mentioned, but it’s worth talking about it a bit more.
This larger town has palm trees and promenades, sandy beaches and watersports. Its main walkway ‘El Balcon de Europa’ looks out to the Mediterranean and on a warm summer evening everyone is out, all ages, strolling, eating, laughing and generally just enjoying the ambience. By day, marvel at the impressive Roman aqueduct or spend a day visiting its famous caves, the ‘Cuevas de Nerja’.
Maro is a charming little seaside village close by, offering a quieter beach and cafe bars where you can get a three-course Menu del Día for less than 15€. Further along the coast towards Málaga and things get more lively—Torrox, Torre del Mar for example, for those seeking beach life with more of a buzz. All along the coast here, as you’d expect, the seafood is excellent. A simple tapa accompanying a cold beer could be a plate of crispy whitebait or juicy prawns, whatever you’re given will be delicious.
This region is ideal for anyone who likes outdoor activities. There are plenty of uncrowded hiking trails and Lake Viñuela offers a variety of watersports.
Less than an hour’s drive from Málaga is Lake Viñuela, a large reservoir and beauty spot surrounded by pine trees. Picnic areas and barbecue sites are provided and there are two companies offering hire of bikes, kayaks, pedalos, dinghies and paddle boards. Sailing tuition is also available. Swimming is allowed with lifejackets (the lake is deep) and motorised boats are prohibited so your day at the lake will be great fun without the peace being shattered by jetskis. Rising behind Lake Viñuela is La Axarquía’s highest mountain La Maroma. This limestone peak is over 2000 m high and while there are various routes to climb it, it is a tough hike!
Luckily there are many other hiking trails, in both Natural Parks, with distances and difficulty levels to suit. Walking in the summer may be a bit hot, but winter and spring here are beautiful. Almond blossom season is at the end of January/beginning of February and the pink-white blossom drifting up the hillsides is incredible, an absolutely stunning sight that you’ll never forget.
La Axarquía is the place for a stress-free holiday, to get Spain under your skin and leave you feeling thoroughly rested.
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Julien Maury, Maximo Lopez, Chris, Ilhourahane, Luis Rogelio HM, Brianfagan, Paolo Trabattoni, Inma Molina, Cayetano, Mizra k and Zenderista.