MALAGA - "Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind"
Thanks to its Moorish heritage, Malaga, and in fact all of Andalucia, is full of fragrance, flowers & fruit from the scent of jasmine to vibrant hibiscus petals and the abundant almond, lime and olive trees. Summer nights are full of the fragrance of jasmine, the scent filling the tiny squares in almost every town & village.
Legend says the Greek God Hercules separated Europe from Africa at the Strait of Gibraltar creating the Mediterranean Sea. Hercules, son of Zeus, became a special symbol and his image can be seen today on the coat of arms of the green and white Andalusian flag, along with the two legendary columns.
Malaga is the second largest city in Andalucia and has one of the largest Moorish fortress in the area, the Alcazaba built between 8th and 11th centuries. The palace currently houses the archaeological museum and exhibits remains from the Phoenician and Roman periods.
A circuit of walls connects the fortress with the Gibralfaro castle affording an excellent view of the city. A partially excavated Roman amphitheatre is found at the entrance to the fortress.
A short distance away is the bullring, popularly known as La Malagueta, and only a short stroll from the Paseo Maritimo.
Nearby is the cathedral which only has one finished tower and another half finished and has been called La Manquita, (the one-armed lady). This religious temple is a splendid example of the Spanish renaissance style and the interior houses a rich array of chapels.
To one side of the Plaza de la Merced you will find the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, the painter, and now the site of the Picasso Foundation. There are also a number of museums in the city, all worth visiting. The most tranquil part of the city can be found along the promenade, La Farola, next to the port. In contrast a vibrant Malaga can be found along Calle Larios.
The Costa del Sol is the most well known stretch of Andalucian shore and a world famous holiday destination. The reason is the mild climate with calm, temperate waters and thousands of hours of sunshine a year. The Costa del Sol extends like an arch between the provinces of Cadiz and Granada, from the cliffs of Tarifa to the beaches of Nerja.
The Mediterranean coast of Tarifa is studded with rugged cliffs bordering on the region of the Campo de Gibraltar. The capital of the bay is Algeciras, one of the busiest ports in Europe, from where there is a regular ferry service to North Africa.
Marbella, the capital of the Costa del Sol, has a charming old quarter where there are white churches and ancestral homes with spacious courtyards. Not far from this tranquil spot is the famous Milla de Oro, (Golden Mille), home to some of Europe's wealthiest people.
The Costa del Sol boasts some fine beaches and the lively resort of Torremolinos was the pioneer of fun in the sun. The Carihuela district has beaches of fine white sand and typical seaside chiringuitos that serve sardines, paellas and a medley of fried fish called pescaito frito.
In the northwestern part of the province are the famous white villages such as Ojen, Gaucin and Casares, these picturesque villages are often Arab in origin and many are perched on high hills.
The Serrania de Ronda is rich in fauna and flora with stunning scenery and the Sierra de las Nieves is a biosphere with the undisputed king the wild goat. Mongoose, wild boar and wild cats are also found, and otters inhabit the rivers in this magnificent region.
The Spanish fir, the Pinsapo, is found here and you must visit the pretty villages of Alozaina, Casarabonela and El Burgo to name a few, and sample the local hospitality.
In the northern part of the province is the monumental town of Antequera in a flat agricultural area and stands in the shade of a Moorish church, the Nuestra Senora del Carmen, with its fine Baroque altar piece.
Antequera is full of beautiful monuments and excellent shops. The bullring is a stunning masterpiece incorporating a superb restaurant.
The complex of prehistoric dolmen in Menga Viera and El Romeral are on the edge of the town. Nature is represented by the Lovers' Rock, the symbol of eternal love, described in a legend which tells of the impossible love between a Christian man and Moorish girl who chose to throw themselves from the top of the rock rather than renounce their love and separate.
Above all nature is present at the amazing beauty spot of El Torcal, the most important karstic formation in Europe. The imagination runs wild at the sight of so many stone shapes at this spot.
El Chorro, Malagas' very own Lake District, is nestled between the mountains of La Huma and Las Nieves Sierras. Only an hour inland the savage area is studded with high crags and soaring limestone cliffs. Itï¿½s a place where you might glimpse the last species of wild goat in Europe foraging among the crisp-leaved green oaks, fragrant citrus trees and sweet smelling pine forests. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
El Chorro is hardly more than half a dozen houses hemmed in by the Estacion railway bar, La Garganta restaurant and Miguels charming tienda. Cross the dam, turn left and head for El Pilar, a roadside cafe shaded by grapevines.
Carved out of the earth by the Guadalhorce River a 5km-long, 200-metre-deep Garganta del Chorro is alive with eagles, falcons and extreme sports enthusiasts who float and swoop and hang glide. It also home to a film star, the sheer limestone cliffs that frame the backdrop for some of the Sergio Leones' spaghetti westerns.
The Camino del Rey teeters across the gorge some 100 meters above the river. Built in 1921, the catwalk was opened by King Alfonso XIII of Spain but is currently now open. The bridge was where Frank Sinatra was shot and died while running back towards the train in the war movie "Von Ryans Express".
Head back over the dam, drive past the campsite at the bottom of El Chorro village and park up. Walk the last 200 metres uphill and partake of the possibly-even-more-stunning vistas, while watching the rock climbers embark on heart-stopping descents of the sheer bluff.
Follow the road past Bar El Pilar bar and after a ten-minute drive through the cactus-strewn countryside, you'll arrive at the Ardales Lake District. From afar the reservoirs, created in 1921 when a 200-metre high dam was built across the Guadalhorce River, glitter like they are on fire. Up close the artificial lakes - built to provide Malaga with electricity and drinking water - boast a stunning diversity of wildlife, as well as host of bars and waterside restaurants.
Heading back from the lakes it's worth making a slight detour to visit the Moorish ruins of Bobastro. Built in the 10th century the once fortified village was the headquarters of Umar Ibn Halfsun, the man who led a revolt against the Caliph of Cordoba before cannily converting to Christianity. Little remains of the ruined village except for the churches monumental arches, but an intangible atmosphere still hangs over the deserted site, while the views over the olive fields and surrounding countryside are stunning.
The region known as La Axarquia has been mute witness to the comings and goings of many civilizations, for ever since prehistoric times this area has been coveted by man.
Proof of this are in the Caves of Nerja and El Higueron, and the remains of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs, which await us even in the humblest Axarquian village.
The Axarquia region is threaded between two mountain ranges and there is much to discover in the quaint villages, where you will find friendly people, white washed houses and still retaining the simple life.