The beginning of December and my virtual challenge was nearly at an end. Gibraltar and the ferry to Tangier were almost in reach, but December isn’t an easy month to fit in walking miles. The weather is often bad and far too many seasonal things get in the way of going for a walk. Would I get there or would I fall short?
As my virtual December began I left the plastic covered fields of Castell de Ferro and headed up into the mountains on a dusty road that danced over and under the Autovia del Mediterraneao. Five miles into the week I reached the small town of Calahonda. The town was developed by D. Juan de Orbaneja in 1963, and is mostly occupied by British, Scandinavian and German ex pats. Apart from an oddly leaning stone ruin on the beach, that may be a kind of lighthouse, there is little to recommend the place and the beach is overlooked by acres and acres of the plastic greenhouses that seemed to dog my virtual November.
There were ten miles of plastic scarred climbing into the mountains before I reached the outskirts of Motril, a large town, known for its sugar refineries. As rum is also produced there and I’m partial to a little rum occasionally, I might have stopped for a while to look around if I’d been there for real.
From Motril I crossed the sugarcane fields to the next town, Salobreña. This is a town of two halves, the old town, with a history dating back six thousand years, is a cluster of whitewashed houses and steep narrow streets sitting at the top of a rocky prominence. Overlooking it all is a tenth century Moorish Castle, El Castillo De Salobreña. The modern town, with its tourist villas, spreads from the edges of the old town to the beach.
There is no getting away from sugar in this part of Spain and the next town, Caleta-La Guardia, also boasts a sugar factory. This one has a small museum where it’s possible to watch the process of turning sugarcane into sugar. The town has three quiet beaches with crystal clear water, La Guardia, surrounded by fields growing crops, Caletón, an isolated cove and Cambrón, next to the urbanized area of Torre del Cambrón.
The week was coming to an end as I passed through Velilla-Taramay, a small suburb of Almuñécar. There were more winding streets sloping down towards the sea, villas and a couple of big hotels for the tourists.
My virtual week ended in Almuñécar itself. It is one of the most important tourist towns in Granada and, like so many Spanish towns, dates from a Phoenician colony. Originally it was a fishing town called Sexi and some townspeople still refer to themselves as Sexitanos. Over the centuries the town has been under the rule of Romans, Visgoths, Moors and, finally Christians. The Romans built four miles of water conduit in the area. All five of the original aqueducts are still standing and four are still in use today for crop irrigation. They also fortified the Castle of Saint Miguel, although much of their work has since been destroyed. Below the castle is the Cueva de Siete Palacios, or cave of the seven palaces, a large remnant of a Roman palace. Almuñécar, under the guise of Castillo, was a setting in Laurie Lee’s account of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.
From Almuñecar I began week two following the coast to the bay of La Herradura. Although relatively unknown, this is one of the most attractive bays on the southern coast of Spain. It has two large natural promontories, the Punta de la Mona and Cerro Gordo between which are two kilometres of sandy beach. The pretty little village of whitewashed houses has shops, bars, restaurants and a promenade stretching the length of the bay. There are small sandy coves and nineteen kilometres of natural coastline where watersports are popular.
Leaving the beaches behind I took the mountain road and, nine miles of winding climbing and descent later, reached the resort town of Nerja. Here I found another seafront promenade, more sandy beaches, cliffisde coves and caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites. There are even Palaeolithic paintings to be seen if you pay for a guided tour.
Following the coast road again for a while through the seaside resorts of Torrox Costa, La Morche, Lagos, Mezquitilla and Algarrobo, the plastic covered greenhouses were never far away. They loomed just above each village and, from the air, look as if someone has dropped white confetti all along the coast.
The week ended in Torre del Mar, a popular summer resort for Spanish people and the beach resort of Vélez-Málaga, capital of the Axarquia region. It’s said the town was once part of the Ancient Greek Settlement of Manake, destroyed by the Cartaginians. It has four kilometres of sandy beaches and an Esplanade along the coast with over two hundred berths for small boats.
The first stop of week three was in Benajarafe, another coastal resort, in the east of the Costa del Sol. In summer the long beach is full of tourists and there are beach bars, restaurants and watersports to occupy them. A little way inland the mountainous Axaequia region is a great place for hikers and walkers. In winter, it becomes a sleepy little town with lots of empty villas.
A little way along the Coast was Benagalbón. The town was founded by members of the Berber tribe Galb-un who produced raisins and wine there. In the early twentieth century the railway from Malaga to Vélez-Málaga cut through the town and soon tourism became the main industry.
As I continued along the Paseo Maritimo Virgen del Carmen the beach of Benagalbón changed almost imperceptibly into the beach of Rincón de la Victoria. There are caves here called Cueva del Tesoro or grotto of treasure. According to legend the emperor Tasufín ibn Alí hid his treasure here in the 12th century. Since then, many people have searched for it but the only treasure found was a few gold coins and an oil lamp. Perhaps the real treasure of these unique marine caves are the passageways and galleries formed over thousands of years filled with stalagmites and stalactites and the prehistoric cave paintings, and pottery.
Humans have been living here since the Palaeolithic Age and, in around 50BC, the Cartaginians built a port in a nearby harbour. Later the Romans built a fortified village and the Moors turned it into a larger city. The remains of the Roman village of Bezmiliana can still be visited, as can the treasure caves.
It would not have been easy to leave such an interesting place behind but leave I must. Beyond the town is a large cement factory and, once I’d passed it, I was in the suburbs of Malaga. To be honest, I’d hoped to reach Malaga much earlier in the month and it was looking like Gibraltar was going to be a walk too far, at least for December.
Malaga is the second most populous city in Andalusia, the sixth largest in Spain and the southernmost large city in Europe. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world, founded by the Phoenicians in around 770BC. To tell you everything about it would take several posts. Suffice to say it went from Phonecian rule to Cartaginian, Roman, then Visigothic, Islamic and finally Christian. It began as a place where fish was salted and the Phoenician name for it, Malaka, is derived from the word for salt. Parts of the Phoenician city walls are still visible in the cellar of the Museo Picasso Málaga. The Roman theatre of Málaga, built in the first century BC, was rediscovered in 1951 and can be visited today. The Moors built the Castle of Gibralfaro, connected to the Alcazaba, the lower fortress and royal residence, during the eleventh century to defend against pirates.
After Malaga came Torremolinos a veritable magnet to British tourists and, for that reason, somewhere I’d normally steer well clear of. Once a poor fishing village with roots in the Neolithic Age, the growth of tourism in the 1950’s saw it become the first of the Costa del Sol’s resorts to be developed. The Phoenicians founded the current town and built a road joining it to Cadiz and Malaga. The name means tower of mills after the water mills built by the Moors. The mill industry began to decline in the 1920’s but tourism took over. Now just one mill survives, Molino de Inca.
Torremolinos might not have been my kind of place but Benalmádena, where the week ended, had something to interest me. Although it’s known for its beaches, the Tivoli World theme park and the Sea Life Benalmádena aquarium, I was more interested in the old town where the Castillo Monumento Colomares, a castle-style monument, is dedicated to Christopher Columbus and his discovery of America. The Benalmádena Stupa, the largest example of a Buddhist temple in the Western World can also be found nearby.
My first stop in week four was Fuengirola, another major tourist resort with its origins in Phoenician, Roman and Moorish civilisations. If I was there for real I’d probably make a beeline for Sohail Castle, which dates from Phoenician times, or the Roman baths and villa, discovered in 1961.
The modern tourist town started in the seventeenth century with one inn near the beach, offering accommodation to travellers. A small fishing village grew up around the inn and the villagers grew crops and traded with ships visiting the bay. The real development began in the 1960’s, taking advantage of the eight kilometres of beaches. High rise hotels were built, along with attractions like the zoo, Bioparc Fuengirola, restaurants and a water park. It is a popular resort with both locals and British tourists.
When I left Fuengirola I turned away from the coast for a while and took the Camino De Acevedo to La Cala de Mijas, a smaller version of Fuengirola with similar origins. There is no castle here but there are four defensive towers.
The next town was Sitio De Calahonda, a small town built in 1963 by D. Juan de Orbaneja and Home to mainly British, German and Scandinavian expats. On the face of it, it seems like it would be a nice place to retire, with sandy beaches, azure sea and sun, but all the little villas are the same, like rows of pretty little boxes. Personally I’d prefer something a little less sanitised.
So I continued along the beach and soon I was walking through the suburbs of Marbella. This is somwhere I have been for real in the days when my job included leading educational groups. Like all educational visits, it was a pretty whirlwind affair and most of my time was spent making sure I didn’t lose any travel agents. All I really saw was the famous Golden Mile, with its five star hotels, golf courses, and luxury villas and a glimpse of Puerto Banús. There are, I’m told, the ruins of a Roman Villa, an old forge works and some wonderful botanical gardens dating from the eighth century but I didn’t get the chance to see them.
Although Marbella is undoubtedly a major tourist hotspot, there are plenty of things I’d have liked to see if I’d had the chance. In Las Chapas there are two ancient watchtowers, the Torre Río Real and the Torre Ladrones. Then there’s the garden with sculptures by Salvador Dali on Avenida del Mar, plus Roman ruins, old town walls, parks and churches to mention but a few.
A little further along the coast I passed through San Pedro de Alcántara, set on a fertile plain of lowland surrounded by a semicircle of mountains called the Sierra Bermeja. This little town is largely unspoilt by tourism at the moment but a new promenade has recently been built and new developments are springing up, soon to be filled with tourists. It feels as if there isn’t an inch of Spanish coastline that hasn’t been turned over to the tourist industry or the dreaded plastic greenhouses but, at least here, they are tucked away far from the coast.
The week, the month and the year ended a couple of miles later in Villacana about six miles outside Estepona. It is a small town built in the 1960’s by a Canadian development company in the style of a typical Andalusian white town. There are streets of lovely little white villas with beautiful gardens, some with beach views. The town is small, quiet and managed by the comminuity of home owners. It isn’t Gibraltar but there are worse places to end the year.
In January, when I started out on this virtual walking challenge, I’d hoped to end the year in Morocco, or at the very least Gibraltar where I could catch a ferry to Tangier. Perhaps if I had taken the straightest, most direct route instead of meandering my way, stopping to pass through places I like to see for real, I’d have been there. It hasn’t been the easiest year and I’ve walked far less than I’d have liked. Even so, I’ve walked 1627.72 miles and almost crossed Europe. Frustratingly, I’m just thirty five miles from Gibraltar and the ferry! All in all, I’d say that’s not bad going.
All photos from Google Street View