Escape to the villages of the Axarquía and cool off

  • Head inland into the whitewashed villages of the Axarquía to find some cool and shady alternatives to the area’s busy beaches

During the hot summer months it is all too easy just to pack up the swimming costumes and parasols and head to the beach. Regular dips in the sea and beach bars serving a constant supply of drinks and food provide everything needed to keep cool. But the stress of finding somewhere to park and then squeezing your towel in between everyone else’s - when they set the alarm clocks earlier than you and beat you to the beach - may leave you wondering where else to go to keep your cool.

Head inland for shade and water

East of Malaga city there are plenty of places to cool down that don’t involve the often crowded beaches of Nerja, Torrox, Torre del Mar and so on. Many of the villages have outdoor municipal pools which are open most days throughout summer. Vélez-Málaga, Periana and Riogordo are such places which offer reduced prices for residents (people on the town hall Padrón).

The streets of the old town of Vélez-Málaga, the Axarquía’s ‘capital’, are narrow and provide plenty of shade, even during the hottest times of day. The town also boasts a number of museums, such as the contemporary art centre (CAC), the Casa Cervantes and MUVEL, all of which provide welcome shade and cool courtyards. It is possible to drive up to the Our Lady of the Remedios chapel, which is surrounded by fountains and water features. Although there is little shade on the esplanade surrounding it, the chapel itself is open in the mornings and the water features are a welcome distraction.

Fountains and water features at the Our Lady of the Remedios chapel in Vélez-Málaga.

Fountains and water features at the Our Lady of the Remedios chapel in Vélez-Málaga. / SUR

Nerja’s most obvious attractions are the beaches and Balcón de Europa, but tucked away by the El Salvador church just to the left of the Balcón is Plaza de Cavana. Protected from the sun thanks to the buildings around it and the many bars with covered terraces, this is an ideal alternative for lunch, an afternoon drink or ice cream.

Of course it is impossible to write about Nerja without mentioning the caves - possibly the coolest places in the Axarquía! Bookings must be made in advance to guarantee entrance and the covered tourist train takes visitors between Nerja town centre, the caves and neighbouring Maro, so there is no need to worry about parking.

Another hugely popular tourist attraction in Nerja is the Chíllar river hike. Often overcrowded at weekends, it is best to go during the week. The route starts off along a dry river bed and eventually gets to a stream and then waterfalls and the narrow gorges of Los Cahorros, which open up into a natural pool suitable for bathing. Many turn back at this point but it is possible to continue up through the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountains to reach the source of the river. Parking and visitor numbers remain uncontrolled due to a lack of agreement over management between regional government, the Junta de Andalucía, and Nerja town hall.

For more caves, head to the Cueva del Tesoro in Rincón de la Victoria - the only marine cave open to the public in Europe. Here, historical artifacts from the Neolithic to Islamic periods have been found as well as a series of impressive cave paintings.

Gardens and plant pots

Many of the villages of the Axarquía are home to flowered patios, streets lined with flower pots bursting with colour, shady plazas and small gardens. Some of the best examples of these include Algarrobo Pueblo, Benagalbón and of course, Frigiliana.

In Algarrobo Pueblo the gardens at the San Sebastián chapel provide greenery, shade and panoramic views of the Axarquía and the houses along narrow, cobbled streets are adorned with flower pots full of vibrant colours and smells.

Towards the other end of the area, Benagalbón Pueblo, just north of Rincón de la Victoria, is another great place to explore, even on hot days. The village is not as steep as some of its neighbours and the numerous fountains providing drinking water as well as pot plants on every house and street give it a cool feel. The village is popular with artists and there are a number of restaurants and bars to sit and have a refreshing drink. Alternatively just take recycled plastic bottles and top them up at the water fountains!

Part of the Baños de Vilo in Periana.

Part of the Baños de Vilo in Periana. / SUR

Fountains and museums

Talking of fountains, they are a common feature in the Axarquía villages and others which are worthy of note include the Fuente de Los Cinco Caños (fountain of the five spouts) in Alcaucín, which provide drinking water to residents, the ‘frog’ fountain in Sayalonga - which happens to be opposite the Axarquía’s narrowest street - Callejón de la Alcuza; measuring just 56 centimetres at its narrowest point it’s definitely shady most of the day. Another fountain in Sayalonga is Fuente del Cid, where legend has it that El Cid drank from it when he passed through the village on his way to Granada.

In Periana, locals head to the Baños de Vilo, which are open all year round, but particularly popular in summer. Situated about 2.5 kilometres from the village, the baths are believed to date back to Roman times. They are sulphur baths said to have medicinal properties and be particularly good for the skin. The average temperature of the baths is a pleasant 21 degrees centigrade.

The Axarquía has some wonderful museums, most of which are located in older buildings, designed to keep out the summer heat. As of 20 July the Museo de Gálvez in Macharaviaya will be hosting part of the collection of Salvador Dalí’s Divine Comedy paintings, known as Cielo or heaven. The exhibition will run until October.

Riogordo’s Museo Etnográfico is a fascinating collection of items particularly related to the grape and olive oil traditions of the village. Moclinejo has the Museo de la Bodega Antonio Muñoz wine museum belonging to the local Dimobe wine company, while Sayalonga has the Museo Morisco. Torre del Mar’s Azucarera has a curious but fascinating permanent collection of irons of the world as well as a history of sugar cane production in the Axarquía and another about the growth of the town. Both are in English and Spanish and the large, open plan building provides a cultural escape from the heat.

While perhaps many will argue that the beach is the best place to spend the long summer months, there are plenty of other options to keep cool and out of the sun in the Axarquía, be they fountains, caves, museums, shady squares and gardens or natural baths.