Nerja and Axarquia
During our six months
stay we spent most of our days in Nerja or in the surrounding area. Most
of the distance we have covered on the Tiger has been driving in the valleys
and hills of Andalusia, more specific in the region enclosed in a square
made up by the towns of Malaga, Antequera, Motril and Granada, in the
region of Axarquia.
The Axarquia region
This region consists of hills and valleys dotted with small villages and
a network of excellent roads. When I say excellent, I mean roads created
for the Tiger, narrow with lots of curves and often gravel or semi gravel.
Semi gravel means that once upon a time they were covered completely with
asphalt, but this was a very long time ago. The region of Axarquia is bordered
to the east and north east by the mountain chain called Sierra de Almijarra.
There is only one main road crossing over to the high plains, leading from
Velez-Malaga to Alhama de Granada. Between this road and Almunecar it is
impossible to cross in a normal manner. If a road or path exist it's outside
our field of knowledge.
If you stop in the center of any
of the villages in the region, the talking between the locals fades away,
and slowly they come over to take the bike in closer view, and then we
have a conversation going. Just like that. People here are very open and
communicative, which is helpful to us when trying to improve our Spanish.
Most nice 'vueltas' or round trips starts in Velez-Malaga. From here
a network of roads go in every direction. You can take the back roads
directly to Antequera, Alhama de Granada and onwards to Granada or Loja,
or to Malaga. Because of the huge number of roads that does not show up
on any map, you can drive for weeks crisscrossing the region and hardly
ride along the same road twice. The best map for this region is the 'Mapa
Topografico de la Axarquia(Malaga)', purchasable from Libreria Idiomas
in the center of Nerja and in any big libreria(bookshop) in Malaga, I
The area close to Nerja is a good place to start exploring the region.
Go straight north to Frigilliana, a small village seven kilometers into
the sierra. The village is very popular with tourists, coming in from
the coast every day. But it has kept it's charm and a few steps away from
the main square and tourist traps the streets seems untouched by the outer
world. In the hills to the north-east of the village lies an old castle
were you can view the whole village and see all the way down to Nerja.
We went up there when we got married and had our wedding pictures taken.
If you ride a dirt bike you have got an excellent route to drive from
Frigilliana. This road, or path takes you into the mountains north-east
of the village in a long curve that ends up in Competa, another
white washed village. Take the road north from Frigilliana towards Torrox
for a couple of kilometers and turn right. You might take the wrong turn
and maybe have to turn back and try again, but that's exploring, isn't
it. We tried it two-up on the Tiger, guided by a Yamaha XT600 and a Suzuki
DR600, two-up on the XT as well but single handed on the DR. This was
one of my first off road experiences on the Tiger and I was sweating.
The road is no more than a construction road, full of obstacles and damaged
after bad weather. We passed an abandoned village, rumored to have been
wiped out completely during the aftermath of the civil war, and a hotel,
abandoned after it proved to draw zero visitors. It took us two hours
to drive the 30 km and I was exhausted when we arrived in Competa. I concluded
that the size of Rocinante combined with my inexperience off road called
for a halt in off road driving. With a pure dirt bike, the road is a dream
with no traffic and all kinds of challenges.
You can also drive the main road from Frigilliana to Torrox and then
onwards to Competa. The scenery is excellent and it's hard to believe
that you are still this close to the coast. Don't forget to stop in Torrox.
This village consist of one inland part, Torrox Pueblo, and one coastal
part, Torrox Costa. The latter is just another ugly high rise holiday
complex along Costa del Turismo. The former is the opposite. Ride through
the narrow streets, surrounded by flower decorated house fronts, and stop
for a cafe con leche and a tapa in the main plaza. If you drive a bike,
or if you just want a treat, visit Antonio and Nieves in their hole in
the wall tapa bar and get excellent service and tapas.
You can now choose between heading for the
coast or continue to Competa. The latter will bring you further inland
and reveal more and more valleys and hills. In Competa you can climb the
steep streets with the bike and people will smile and welcome you as a
guest. Go find a bar for another tapa somewhere in the back streets.
If this is your first trip on the bike that you have hired or bought,
the sensible thing would be to turn south-west and head for Algarrobo
Pueblo and further to Algarobo Costa. This village reminds me of Torrox,
the inland part is nice and untouched, while the coastal part is the same
ugly high rise complex as Torrox Costa.
If you head for the coast and back to Nerja, you will have covered no
more than 70 km which could be a good starting distance.
In between the area you now have circled, there is hundreds of gravel
roads leading to farm houses and holiday homes. They are unsigned, crisscross
in every direction and may lead you down to a river bed or up to a villa.
But it does not really matter. The scenery is excellent and you can't
get completely lost. Sooner or later you will meet one of the main roads
that will take you safely to a village on your map.
From Competa to Comares
You can take this road through Vinuela
and onwards to Periana or Alhama, south to Velez, south-west to Comares
or north-west to Rio Gordo or Colmenar. With other words, once you come
to Vinuela the options are many. Especially the last part of the trip to
Vinuela is magnificent. You will see the lake down to your right, Comares
straight ahead and Periana up to the right. It is completely up to you,
but lets take the trip to Comares first.
This village is well known among tourists and quite a few foreigners
have settled making the community multinational. The location is fabulous.
Among all the villages we have seen this is the highest, most untouchable
little collection of houses in the area. I remember well the first time
we saw the place. We were coming down from Periana, driving
towards Velez and saw this white hilltop high up in the mountain to our
right. We stopped and looked at it in silence and agreed that it was an
amazing sight. We decided to go visit it, but it had to be later. This
time it was already late in the day and we were on our way home.
Now, this is typical for us. We didn't know at the time what the village
was called and forgot to ask when in Nerja. Anyone local confronted with
this question would have revealed the name of the place. Every time we
drove in the valley north of Velez we could see the white houses up there
on the hilltop, not knowing where it was.
Finally we made the decision to find the road
that led up there. If we had known the name of the place a look at the
map would have been enough. But for the sake of exploring it was better
to be in the dark and guess which road to take. We ended up in Benamargosa
on our first try, passing Comares on two sides, but not reaching the road
Finally someone told us the name of the village and we headed for it,
driving from Malaga after a service on the bike. We took the old road
towards Colmenar which takes a couple of 360º turns, then turned
off this road and came straight to Comares from the west. Suddenly we
realized that we had driven here before, namely the first day the bike
was on the road. That day we didn't even have a map and had been driving
randomly in the area. We took to the left in a junction were last time
we had turned right, and after five hundred meter we were in Comares.
We had been very close.
The town was amazing, but not so much the first
impression when we drove in. Most of the buildings hanging over the cliffs
on the south side were in bad need of restoration or were being restored.
When we came to the main plaza there was a funeral in it's final stage.
People were scattered over the plaza talking and smoking. Rocinante stopped
the talking for a while and we were met with smiles and nods. From one
side of the plaza the terrain dived steep down and we could see all the
way to Velez. We parked the bike and walked in the narrow streets for
an hour. From the houses we sometimes heard spanish and sometimes english
tongue. It was obviously lots of foreigners here. At the other end of
the town is the church yard. It's quite a sight, hanging over the mountain
side with open air on three sides. The views are even more breathtaking
her, now we could see not only to Velez but far north and east into the
San Isidro festival
This festival is the biggest happening in Nerja during the year. The festival
is officially just one day, the 15th of May, but the party starts the night
before and stops on the morning of the 16th. It is a great party and well
worth experiencing if you have the opportunity.
We were told the great party would be on the night before the 15th, so
we dressed up and danced through the night with our spanish friends. It
was amazing to see so many bars and stands moved up to the local caves.
A huge area is used for the purpose and everyone is there. And still,
the only overly drunk people we saw was the tourist.
The 15th we had slight hangovers and regretted this pretty soon. To us this day seemed even more lively, as every living
soul in town gathered for the trip they were going to do from Nerja town
center to the caves, a three km walk. The parade consisted off all kinds
of vehicles and people in every dress imaginable, but with most people
dressed according to the San Isidro tradition. This year there was a protest
going on from the owners of the few hundred horses that were supposed
to participate. The police had decided that the horses were not allowed
to stay the all day up by the caves, explaining this with the mess they
made. This made the horsemen hold back their animals with the result that
not one single horse participated in the parade. Every local we talked
to said that because of the protest, everything was very quiet this year.
We found it terrific. Imagine what it must be like in a normal year.
So we followed the parade, where the peasant San Isidro came in front.
San Isidro was a farmer once upon a time who, according to the legend,
left his fields on a Sunday to visit church, then came back and found
that the work was done by divine powers. This was enough for the locals
who dedicated a Fiesta to his name.
The whole day passed with Flamenco shows from the local
schools and us studying the fantastic lively crowd. Everyone, from the
new born baby to the grand mother was dressed up and everyone seemed to
have a time of their life. The flamenco dancers were from 7-8 years and
up to 40's. They represented several schools in the area and like in every
other sport there are talents and greater talents. But all in all it was
a marvelous spectacle.
As always, the level of noise was outstanding,
in every corner in the area a different song was trying to overcome the
noise from the others. The result was complete chaos in sound. This doesn't
bother anyone but traveling northern europeans who live a silent life.
So we ignored it and shouted to each other and everyone else, just like
the locals did.
The next day the town of Nerja is like a ghost town, even the police
seemed to be resting. I asked one of the locals what the criminal elements
did on a night and day when the town is almost completely empty. The answer
was that even they wanted to participate, so there was no real danger.
Every spanish city or village has numerous days during the year when there
is a reason for dressing up. On excuse is the carnival, another is the
'dia de los tres reyes'. Anytime you visit the town there's something
around the corner. It seemed to me that the people in this town were simply
surviving between each fiesta, looking impatiently forward to the next.
We only experienced a few, but rumors have it that there's a long lasting
fiesta in the autumn as well.
Nerja is still a reasonably quiet tourist town. It seemed to me to be
the last frontier along costa del Plastico, which stretches from Marbella
to Nerja. The first meeting with the coast can ruin anybody's day. The
drive from Malaga airport to Nerja goes along one of the ugliest stretches
of the Spanish coast(my very personal opinion!). The thing you don't see
is the amazing landscape in the interior. This is the place to go visit on excursions when on a holiday
down here. But Nerja is still fairly untouched by the high-rise hotel
complexes and is still a nice little town.
Nerja offer splendid lookouts over the Mediterranean. The town rests on
a cliff that dives straight into the ocean, only split up by the numerous
beaches along the coast.
During the months we stayed we established our favorite bars and restaurants.
We spent a lot of time in the bar La Cabana, where Isabel and Antonio
served us Tortilla Espanola and beer. This was the place to watch Real
Madrid win the Champions League in football. Antonio and his son went
ballistic together with the rest of Nerja. Five minutes after the closing
of the match, the streets were lined up with parading cars, flags waving,
horns sounding and scooters flying in every direction.
Now it's november, it's a cold and snowy day in Norway and I'm
writing the last few words for this homepage(at least for now). Spain
is 6 weeks away. We're going down in January to spend five more weeks
on Rocinante. I can't wait but time passes slowly. For anyone who consider
doing what we did; Do it! and please contact us for information(while
in Spain, there might be quite some delay in the feedback).
Have a nice trip!
Porsgrunn November 1998