The renaissance of a forgotten 'ghost town'

The cobbled streets and restored houses of Acebuchal.
The cobbled streets and restored houses of Acebuchal. / J. Rhodes
  • Acebuchal was abandoned after Spain's Civil War but is enjoying a revival thanks to a local family

Tucked away in a valley overlooked by the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountain range lies the diminutive hamlet of Acebuchal. Situated between Cómpeta and Frigiliana, this once forgotten place is enjoying a renaissance.

During Spain's Civil War it is said that the residents of Acebuchal hid and fed Republican Guerillas who were hiding from Franco's Nationalists in the surrounding mountains. In 1949 General Franco embarked on a final bid to rid the country of remaining Republicans. His forces ordered the remaining residents of Acebuchal out and they fled the hamlet, leaving their houses and many of their belongings behind. The Guardia Civil - the then Francoist police force - used the hamlet as a base to hunt down remaining Guerillas. The police eventually left, Acebuchal was forgotten about and the buildings fell into ruins.

A family's vision

However, in 1998, a couple from Frigiliana saw the tourist potential of the place and started to buy up property. Their son, Sebastián, who now runs Bar Restaurante El Acebuchal, along with his brother, Antonio, says that his mother, Virtudes Sánchez, whose father was born in Acebuchal, “bought her first property for just 1,000 euros”.

The restaurant, which is a converted school, opened in 2005. The menu is full of locally-sourced products and the homemade bread is sold as far afield as Malaga city. It is open from 10am until 4pm every day, serving breakfast, coffee and lunch. It also doubles up as a museum, with old photos of Acebuchal and nearby villages along with poems written by Virtudes lining the walls. The menus explain the hamlet's history in both English and Spanish.

Other investors have followed in the couple's footsteps and the streets of Acebuchal are now a collection of freshly-painted whitewash houses with brightly-coloured doors, windowsills and matching flowerpots. Most of the properties are either second homes or holiday cottages available to rent and another restaurant, La Montés, has opened up in the last year.

Ask for Antonio

Antonio García, Virtudes' now ex-husband, runs the only shop in the hamlet, which is located about ten metres further down the hill from the two restaurants. The shop doesn't have a sign, but Antonio vows that he is always there and that visitors only have to “ask for Antonio” if they find it closed or unattended. It sells a variety of goods, from his own local sweet wine, to some of the ceramic pots and other trinkets that were found during the restoration of houses.

Although what makes Acebuchal famous is its 20th-century history, the earliest documentation related to Acebuchal dates back to 1569 and the Battle of Frigiliana during the Spanish Reconquest, according to a book detailing the history of the hamlet, published earlier this year and written by siblings Vicky and Ramón Fernández, whose family once lived there. Acebuchal also provided a stop on the trading route between Malaga and Granada and it could even date back to earlier times like most of its neighbouring towns and villages. However, the hamlet became known as 'the ghost village' between 1949 and 1998 and the name has stuck.

Although Acebuchal actually belongs to Cómpeta, it is slightly closer to Frigiliana and is easier to access from Frigiliana than Cómpeta by following the road up past Frigiliana and turning right at a sign for Acebuchal and the restaurant. Although the road is untarmacked in some areas, it's accessible by car.

While a few years ago only the most intrepid might have set foot in the ghost village, nowadays it is popular with both Spanish and foreign visitors alike.