The La Viñuela reservoir in the heart of the Axarquía has capacity for 165 million cubic metres of water. It provides water for irrigation to hundreds of farms and drinking water to thousands of homes.
Up to the 26th of February – six months into a nine month “rainy season” – it held just 35 million cubic metres: 21% of capacity. So the promise of a week or more of rain seemed heaven sent.
We’re delighted that some long-promised rain has arrived. As I type this all I hear is rain pinging off the metal grills over my windows and spattering in the street from terrace spouts. Given the severity of the recent drought its a big relief. And the timing was perfect. Last week of Feb I was walking.
Sedella lies south of the main bulk of La Maroma, the great mountain of the Sierra Tejeda, which rises dramatically above this attractive village. Like all the villages it is not far from water – the Rio de la Fuente passes just to the east. It is surrounded, on lower slopes especially, with farmed lands but to the north you are immediately into the natural park. Walking routes bring you to the Molino Montosa, an attractive old mill; go above it and you find first a clear demonstration of the water system and then the reservoir used to supply it.
From the mill you can go on to the ‘buitrería’ – this was a vulture sanctuary for injured birds. There is still a birders’ hide, but this is essentially obsolete since the resident birds that were fed here (leading to visits from large flocks of wild vultures) have now died. I still live in hope of seeing what a friend once witnessed: a flock of more than 20 taking off from the bank below the hide. Failing this I can always head to a small picnic site, to round off this nice walk with an encounter with a vulture that is always happy to pose for photos.
Sedella’s neighbours are the nearby Árchez, which is easy walking distance (see Silk to Salt) and the more distant Canillas de Aceituno (though Canillas de Albaida is actually closer).
I have heard different accounts of the origins of the town’s name: a Cómpeta couple told me years ago that it derives from silk, the Spanish word being ‘seda’. Silk production was a significant industry here during Muslim times. However, other sources say different. Guide writer Hilary Gavilan, Andalucia.com, and the Diputación all mention the Latin word Sedilia, meaning rural possession as a possible name source. The latter two also mention Sedille as used by the Visigoths. Then there is the fact that, post-reconquest, it was referred to as Xedalia (an Arabic word, surely). Finally there is a long-standing tradition that the Catholic Queen Isabela created the place name on being told of a battle that took place nearby, when she said, “Sé de ella“, which means I know about it. No mention, it seems of silk. Perhaps the ‘seda’ in Sedella is mere coincidence.
I can wholeheartedly agree with Gavilan’s assessment of the town in her book The Axarquia, East of Málaga: “a delightful village with interesting alleyways and narrow streets. Well worth exploring”. Like so many of these villages there are lovely streets, attractive metalwork balconies and unexpected views.
As well as walks to the Puente Romano, the Molino Montosa or the Buitrería, there is great pleasure in just strolling through the streets. There is church and chapel – the Chapel de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza has a forecourt built with embedded stones in front of it, an old threshing circle. The little townhall is in an attractive square, just near the bus stop. There are several attractive and interesting mosaics in this square giving explanations of the towns history. There is also the old public wash-house, with the spring waters that come down from the sierra filtered through a dozen sinks. I imagine the centuries of work that would have been done by the town’s women here – hand washing all, linen, all garments, all fabrics – and in a climate like this, they would have needed endless washing. No more though: it has now been turned into a mini garden, decorated and full of plants. With such a simple adaptation they turn the utilitarian into an unexpected attraction.
Centro de Visitantes
This is the visitors centre for the Natural Park and an attractive facility with good displays, maps, explanations, and even some conference rooms for visits from the great and good, as well as toilets and a little shop. I wish it were open a little more, but it is worth taking a look round.
Restaurante Lorena is the only one I’ve eaten in here, being served good, traditional local food, though the boars’ heads displayed don’t appeal. The owners, who cure their own cheese and ham, are very pleasant, in spite of being Real Betis fans (I’m Malaga, of course).
On the same street (Villa del Castillo) there are two others, Chiringuito and Meson de Franco, which seems like a well-set up bar. In the Plaza, near the San Andrés Apostol church, there is also a bar. It is pretty basic but I’ve been perfectly happy to enjoy a beer or two here after a long walk.
Fiestas & Events
January 17th: Fiesta de San Antón. Like the Canillas de Albaida fiesta (also the 17th) there is a procession followed by the blessing of animals that have been part of the procession.
Easter: several sources say that the Easter celebrations in Sedella are particularly deeply felt and so attractive to watch.
August: Celebration of the Day of Our Lady of Hope (to whom the chapel is dedicated)
Difficulty: Medium+. The uphill section from Sedella’s Roman bridge is on eroded paths, is fairly steep, and includes occasional exposure to drops.
Good Walk for: cooler days (the uphill warms you) – but a bit exposed for very rainy days or summer heat. Geology (the bones of the land, laid bare); wonderful open views on the route; village link up to see Sedella and Salares, both worth spending a little extra time in to take a look round. Lifting the spirits – love this walk.
Distance: 5 Km (about 2hr )
This is a linear walk from Sedella to Salares – the silk and salt of my title. If you taxi to Sedella stop at the bus stop (parada de autobuses) near the townhall (Ayuntamiento). If you have time take a look round the village – it is very attractive. Or at least, pass the end of the first road into the village, heading to the big white building: this is the Natural Park’s Visitor’s Centre. Hours are variable but if it is open go in for 10 minutes – it is free and rather good. Then back track and walk up that main street (Avda Villa del Castillo). You pass the townhall on the left straight away, then Restr. Lorena. At the top of the street just past Bar La Frasca, TL onto Calle Andalucia, then TR into Calle Daire. Quickly you TL again, away from a house with beautiful metal railings, towards a plazoleta with a mini statue. Opposite this statue TR and go down to the track, where you TL beside the sign saying ‘Puente Romano 806m’.
On the track look right over the valley and you’ll see the Fogarate ridge, which divides Salares/Sedella from our own Sayalonga valley. You can see a big house on the ridge. You reach and cross the Puente Romano – a very pretty bridge – then head a few steps to the left to pick up the steep path uphill; steep but fairly easy, though the ground is shattered. Since walkers, hunters, goats & goatherds use it there are multiple paths, but the direction is consistently up and generally right across rock beds; the path is never close to a serious drop and there are a few GR249 posts on the way. After 25 minutes at a rough cairn you arrive below the ruined Cortijo Herreriza. Follow the path that leads ahead and right passing the ruin on the terrace that has a big walnut tree growing on it; at the end find another footpath small but clear footpath leading into the rough. This heads away from the farm, right and gradually up; it is fairly clear. After 5 minutes you cross a gully and tiny stream; keep going on and up. You twice reach a junction with another small path; TR each time. Finally you get to the crest of the ridge, beside a big broom and another GR249 post: below is a concrete acequia, or water channel.
Go down to the acequia (be careful, it’s a bit steep), turn right and walk gently downhill along the channel, enjoying the wonderful views back of Sedella. You can walk on the concrete banks but mostly there is a little path to one side or the other if you prefer. I sometimes stop under the holm oaks (there are a couple beside the acequia) and have a sandwich in their shade.
After 15 minutes walking or so, keep an eye on the left hand side looking for a clear little path that heads uphill. If you miss it you’ll soon know: almost straight away the acequia becomes alarmingly steep – back track until you find the path. The path brings you up immediately to a track on which you turn right; it heads downhill past a rather grand house and comes out after a few minutes on a larger track, opposite a fairly large but somewhat delapidated goat farm. Turn right and follow the track for some 20 minutes. It comes out onto a road. Turn right and, as you come round the corner you will see a lovely view of Sedella. Cross the road; to your left is a track down into the town of Salares. Head down here.
It goes down quite steeply; at the bottom go right and you will be shortly find yourself at the town-end of the parade – where they have the party stands and activities during their fiestas. If you go up into the town and round the corner you’ll come to Bar El Theo – Theo is something of a character but I’ve always enjoyed his humour and found his and María’s food to be excellent. Equally you might enjoy a drink at the Los Arcos bar – I confess I don’t know what the food is like here – before heading home.
Beautiful village, tightly packed into the hillside by the deep gorge of the Rio Salares. They have made a really good job of creating a modern wide paseo linking to the main road at the foot of the village, that allows the Salareños space to park their cars when they are not using it for fiestas and parades, while keeping the maze of narrow white-washed streets in its orginal form. A retaining wall keeping the steep bank above the town in place has been turned into a beautiful and striking garden with steps up the slope and an arbour at the top. Alas, that was completed before the “crisis” and the nearby wall is rather ugly brick – I hope it can be transformed eventually.
The village’s symbol is its mudejar tower. Attractive and unusual the ancient tower was once the minaret of the town’s mosque and considered a historical monument. I had begun to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t starting to lean over when, early this year, the whole thing disappeared behind scaffolding. Now it looks brand-spanking new, but I’m afraid ‘rebuilt’ is the adjective that springs to mind, rather than ‘renovated’.
The river and the little bridge (‘puente arabe’ – though possibly built by the Romans) are very attractive. In truth the whole town is, and a great place for several lovely walks, even before your consider the fiestas. This village is home to the ‘Fiesta Arabe’ in September, one of my favourite of the village fairs. It also boasts Bar El Theo, a bar-restaurante I have frequently taken weary walkers. It might be described as ‘authentic’ or even ‘rough-and-ready’ but we have always had a warm welcome from the rotund Theo and his diminitive wife María. Besides, the food he serves is excellent – fresh, tasty, plentiful and great value for money. I have long been amused to find “Bar el Theo” graffiti’d onto rocks on various tracks that might link the walker to the restaurant after a good hike.
Cafés/Restaurantes (2): Bar El Theo, Mesón Los Arcos
Shops: 1 small supermarket
Accomodation: The townhall site lists 4 country houses available as accomodation.
March-April Semana Santa: processions from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday.
Late July: summer feria (in honour of Santa Ana)
Mid September: Festival Arabe Andalusi is a marvellous Arabia themed weekend fiesta, with belly dancing, dressage, flamenco, falconry and general fun. One of the best fiestas of them all! Click on the link to see my blog from this year’s Fiesta.
Salares is a gorgeous little village tucked in a river valley with a deep gorge crossed by a neat ‘Arabic’ bridge. It’s ancient church tower was once the minaret of the town’s mosque, and can be seen above a beautiful maze of houses, that are dissected by steep, narrow paths. How does modern life fit in? It fits in well; there is one good broad ‘paseo’ from the main road that runs in beside the town from the main road, giving the town access and space. This is where they set up the stalls, the marque and the displays for the Festival Arabe Andalusí.
It is a very Spanish Arabic festival, with flamenco dancing as well as belly-dancing and a brass band and clowns as well as dressage and falconry, but it is all the better for its variety: all the more fun.
I missed the first day this year, having gone down the valley to see a flamenco performance at Bodegas Bentomiz in Sayalonga. But on the Saturday I wandered up at midday, when not so much is happening, between the plastic-toy stalls, the donut stand, and past the marque where the brass band would shortly perform to almost bump into José Manuel Carrascal near the henna-tattoo stand. I’m glad I didn’t crash right into him though; it might have upset the boa constrictor he was wearing.
José Manuel, who runs
Fauna Sur, is a falconer with an interest in other exotic animals. His birds include eagles, owls, crows and falcons and they are wonderful.
He had them in a covered pen, these gorgeous birds. “They are not tame,” he told us, as he brought one out and then another. “They belong to themselves. They come to the glove when they are hungry for their meat reward. They will not fly unless they are hungry”. Then he hurled the bird upward and it soared to a balcony ledge and perched there glaring round to see what lay below, turning its head when he heard the falconer’s breathy whistle for it to come back.
I watched and watched and the crowd stayed with him, though it was a long display. At a certain point thirst drew me off to the Los Arcos bar and I went back down the parade to see what else was about.
There were dancers in costume coming out into the crowd, ready for the next round of entertainments. I love the laid back atmosphere of these fiestas, though the lack of any reliable timetable can be frustrating.
I love the flags and decorations; I love the costumes, whether it’s the traditional outfits of the horse riders, the flamenco dancers dresses or the belly-dancers dresses – and especially the fact that all these performers seem to be enjoying it.
The horses were also being dressed up, one with an elaborately plaited mane. The three riders I watched turned and danced their horses back and forth. One of the riders was very young, maybe just 12 or 13, but was guiding her horse to walk backwards, stand and circle around a wooden lance she held, with consummate skill.
Then I went back to the birds.
Now José Manuel was having some trouble with a young falcon that was newly trained that wouldn’t come down. The problem was distractions – not human nonsense, but flocks of house martins turning and flying and turning again in the evening light. I walked up through the town to the balcony near the townhall to watch them and thought them beautiful birds. The little falcon was certainly interested in them, but after fidgeting and flying from one roof top to another roof top for some 20 minutes he finally came down to the falconers wrist.
The time had come for me to get home too. As the crowds were coming in for a night of music and dancing and the main road was filling up with cars I headed out. Brilliant fiesta though; must spend more time there next year!
The spotting started about 10.20 am (I know, I was out) and didn’t stop until about 11.30 pm. During that period the valley from the Sierra to the coast filled with cloud (fog lights on). We had drizzle, rain, heavy rain, stair-rods and waterfall weather.
This is boot weather for the simple reason that the narrow streets are often stepped or cambered so that the centre of the street becomes a riverlet. The edges of the street are dry but they also receive the spouts loosed from every terrace in sputtering fountains. You can feel when half a river is roaring by outside and tumbling in a waterfall down the steps that the whole village will tilt, heave, and float away like a blocky white Arc heading towards the Med.
The next day it was windy and sunny; the day after, sunshine dawn to dusk.
This is not remotely untypical here. We have quite reasonable rainfall in the “rainy season” of September-May: an average of around 500mm in Sayalonga. That may not sound a lot but can feel like it because it all comes at once. We have a lot of hot weather and are near the sea – no wonder we get a lot of thunderstorms. They are always hard to predict but cluster on the mountains. Rising steeply from sea level to the Sierras, with dozens of deep cut valleys and gulleys channelling any weather into micro-climates the landscape was built by torrential downpours and encourages them! I have sat in the sun watching a thunderstorm that was hammering Cómpeta – barely 10 minutes away. I have left Salares in sunshine and then fought my way over the Fogarate ridge, barely able to see through the sheets of rain, the thunder growling in my ears. To be perfectly honest, I like the drama.
It is not that we never get sustained rain. We often get to see heavy swathes of cloud hanging on the mountain or creeping up the valley; you can be enjoying the sunshine in Sayalonga while Corumbela, across the valley, needs fog-lights and raincoats. And although it usually doesn’t stay for long, you can be unlucky. I have had friends who, after hearing how walkers I had been out with were sunbathing in the February (honestly) had booked 10 days in March … and got 9 days of rain. There was the October when I spent three weeks watching the grey rain and the delighted farmers and thinking glumly that the November walking I’d planned would be a bit damp. (I was lucky – the left at the end of the month having brought all the flowers out). Or there was the wet winter of 2009-10 when it seemed to rain non-stop from December to April. We changed walking routes because the rivers were unpassable. Lots of water damage with landslips and pipes exposed. The Mill below Canillas and the bridge and La Peña bar at Árchez were flooded. But although it sometimes rains for a while, its the violence of the rainstorms you notice most.
The force of water causes a lot of damage (erosion never stops) as well as flash floods at the coast, both regular problems. If you have ever driven on the autovia and wondered why the pathetic trickle you are crossing above deserves such a huge riverbed, this is the reason: narrow it and flash-flooding will get the town. In the same way after every rainstorm you must take the winding roads more carefully because great rocks may have come down into the track around the next tight corner. Erosion is something you learn to adapt to here, with retention walls, water channelling, bridge and the like: the tarmac roads get maintenance because without it they fall away; farmers bank their land or lose it.
And then it stops and the sun comes out. At least it is pretty well guaranteed – even after a rare wet winter – that you’ll get back to warmth and very steady sunshine. You can never guarantee that it won’t rain, but it’s a fair bet that rain today will be followed by good weather tomorrow. (Fingers crossed).
I was out again with the Cheshire Amateur Ramblers (pictured on another bridge, above) but, in spite of Jaz emphasizing the “amateur” they walked like professionals, strolling up hill and down at a very good pace and mucking up my timings, which are based on less sturdy folk.
We went from Sedella, walking through the town and out past terraces and open views (right), and rough banks and a goat farm (left). The stone-built goat shed, which has slots in the foot of the wall, is above the track. Below the track is its owner’s terrace, which means that in winter, when the herd is home, the slurry empties onto the field. Auto-manure! Happily for us the goats were off grazing somewhere. We walked on with clean boots.
Close to the river the landscape is dramatic, rising steeply on the right, with the rock showing streaked diagonal lines. “Imagine the forces involved,” a geologist once commented, her eyes agleam, “to push these rocks up to these angles!” I think I only replied with “Watch your feet!” (the path is steep), but she was right, it’s incredible.
The bridge itself is absurdly picturesque and we went so far as to pose upon (most unusually I’d put my camera away) before heading on up. The path is a difficult to find because there are dozens: this route has been used by walkers, goats and hunters till there is no “right” path. It is steep, but not brutal and every glance back reveals a new view of the bridge or the town. Up we went.
Half way is at the abandoned terraces of the long-ruined Cortijo Herreriza and can be a good spot for a snack. You can head up to La Maroma from here. Instead, we skipped over to a single big walnut tree growing beyond the building, (starkly leafless but in bud); from near it another thin path winds up the hill. This route is less obvious but also less confused, although hunters use it – we saw plenty of cartridge cases. It winds up and across a gully thick with oleander, then up to the top of a ridge near a big bush of broom.
Once again very impressed with the pace, on a hill where many need to take the time and have plenty of breathers. Millie, who had been flagging in Monday’s rain, must have had a second cup of coffee that morning: she was ahead of them all and right on my tail. We got to the top in double-quick and looked around to enjoy the view. The views back to Sedella a really lovely. Looking on you see the Fogarate ridge. In the valley you could see Salares. I love to be able to see all around.
We went down, walking along an acequia (water channel). I don’t disapprove of farmer’s use of pipes, which reduce leakage, maintenance costs and water loss, and the channel is only concrete so not attractive, but I hope they leave some channels open: it’s a pleasure to walk beside water. At the end of the acequia, cutting up to a track above that leads down to the track to Salares I was shocked by how early we were. I told the Ramblers about what they could see, about Salares, about the big goat shed (another one) that we were walking down towards. Alex looked at me cynically and commented, “That sounds like someone filling time…”
But Salares isn’t a bad place to fill in time. It is attractive to wander in, from the park-like retention wall with benches and mini gardens set into it, to the little tiles around the town that mark the stations of the cross, to the church with its rare Mudejar style bell tower. This last, however, to my surprise, was under restoration. It’s a good thing; it seemed to me it was leaning. Since I understand this tower and the one in Árchez are unique in Europe I’d wondered whether Archeros were coming at the night to chip away (what a scurrilous thought!).
We had a coffee at Los Arcos then a very good dinner at bar El Theo, served by the ebullient bar owner, who is rotund, and his quiet wife, who is very slim. Jack Sprat… Theo has made in sugar and chocolate superb scale models of both the church with its tower and the Salares bridge, which he shows off with pride.
The lunch was so good I lost two walkers, who opted to get a taxi back (and have a post-prandial nap). The rest of us rolled down to another picturesque bridge, this one, apparently Arabic, sitting across a deep gully.
Crossing the bridge the walk takes you through a holm oak wood. This is a nice change in a landscape dominated by pines: I love to see the lichen that grows on the trunks. It’s also the only place in the region I see buttercups (not Bermuda Buttercups – they are everywhere!). The path is attractive and easy to follow though exposed to a drop on the left; it eventually comes up to another ruined farm. A colony of horseshoe bats has regularly been seen here, but the building is shattered. We looked in with binoculars from the outside. It’s less disruptive to the bats if there any and a lot safer: I do not believe the building is safe to enter.
We went onto the Fogarate ridge to wind down into the Cómpeta valley. There were views of the villages from the ridge; looking back we saw lenticular clouds over the hillslopes, the lentil, or flying-saucer shaped clouds that usually mean we will get windy weather. Then we walked down through lovely pine woods (where the puddles on the track are used as wallows by wild boar); we went across vineyards to olive groves and then through farmed land, down to a tributary that joins the Rio Cájula. Of course, having gone down we had to come up again (law of the Axarquia). But it was only a gentle pull up to Las Cuevas and across, to reach Finca Cerrillo where the Ramblers were staying.
A good walk in good company. Having missed out on the bridge photos I celebrated with a party shot, starring identical twins two sets of identical twins. I did say there were 10 Rambers, didn’t I?