Inland from Nerja and the Mediterranean, the hillsides of La Axarquía enjoy one of Europe's warmest and sunniest climates …
Above all, La Axarquía is a land of sun. It enjoys one of the warmest climates in all Europe (the temperature rarely drops below 10º C, even in January).
Here you can be swimming in early spring and late autumn, sitting or walking under marvellously clear blue skies during 320 days of the year.
Head inland from its 30 km of Mediterranean coastline and La Axarquía, the ancient name given by the Moorish Arabs to their "western marches", begins to take shape.
The road meanders through low valleys planted with semi-tropical date palm and kiwi, chirimoya and avocado, mango and molasses, then the landscape becomes a gentle vista of rolling hills and almond, olive and lemon.
Now the mountains appear, the Montes de Málaga, las Sierras de Jobo, Alhama, Tejeda and Almijara, which join to form a natural border around this diverse and very beautiful region.
This is home to the famous Moscatel wine grape, which you will also see drying on the hillsides to make raisins. The historic capital is the castle town of Vélez-Málaga, an important crafts centre. North of Vélez and at the heart of the land lies the broad expanse of the azure blue Lake Viñuela.
Living primarily from agriculture, the people of La Axarquía are easy-going and hospitable. The mountains provide a protective barrier from northern winds for the 31 white villages dotted around, which means the sunshine is warm even in winter. In summer the climate is pure Mediterranean.
You will find this to be a gentle, hilly country, once sparsely populated but, in recent years, increasingly settled by foreigners. Quick and easy access to Málaga and its airport, and an even quicker journey down to the beaches of the Costa del Sol have made this a favourite for many northern Europeans wishing to "live the dream".
Local produce is plentiful and healthy; virgin olive oil is lavished on cooking without a second thought. Only water is precious, skilfully channelled to irrigate crops.
By contrast, Sierras Tejeda and Almijara are Natural Parks with peaks that are snow-topped in winter. Walks here will take you by crystal clear waterfalls among tall pines.
Holiday homes are found in lower countryside where the scents of flowering shrubs are intoxicating.
A leisurely drive takes us down from the beautiful hills and dales to the seaside resorts of Torre del Mar and Nerja.
Here one can enjoy sand, sea and sun, Torre del Mar's Aquapark, jetskiing or go-carting, beach restaurants and, perhaps, some nightlife before returning to the comfort of a house in peaceful, unspoiled countryside.
La Axarquía is far, far from being a mere inland extension to the busy highways and urbanisations on the coast. The countryside is beautiful and as rural as can be. A different route through the small villages of La Axarquía can leave one wondering whether time has jumped back a few hundred years.
An old, sinewy landscape and all one sees are olive trees, raisins drying on huge oblong paseros, gorges and seemingly deserted settlements. One might almost expect to hear a cry and Moorish horsemen ride out to greet the newcomer …
For nearly 800 years the Moors dominated this land, developing science and literature. Their mosques and minarets still rise above the white villages.
Today, of course, they are churches and bell towers, but you will sense the spirit of the former rulers, unmistakably present in both architecture and atmosphere of the streets and squares and in the philosophic "Que será, será" attitude of the people.
A complete history of the region is recorded in the millennia-old paintings in the fascinating caves at Nerja (also an inspired venue for classical and flamenco performances), the ruined Phoenician Castle of Zalía at Alcaucín, an astonishing four-tier Roman aqueduct near Nerja, the Moorish watchtowers along the coast and skin soothing sulphur baths at Vilo, Periana.
Not to mention 500 years of Catholic Christian rule, whose popular expression today is most notable in each village's devotion to its patron saint and the obligatory carousing fiestas in their honour!
Local produce fills tables with wholesome food, whether it be fresh seafood, local fruits, such as the pears from which Periana derives its name, or salads, soups and meat dishes. Many villages have their own specialities: try the gazpacho in Frigiliana, cured ham and other tapas in Alcaucín, the honey in Colmenar.
The ubiquitous, health-giving ingredient is, of course, olive oil, amongst the best in the world. After that one can allow oneself another glass of wine, or two …
Like anywhere with a sense of identity and human warmth, La Axarquía invites you to experience it in your own way.
It may be in watching wickerwork or pottery crafts, the enchantment of tumbling streams in the thick forests of Sierra Almijara, seaside swims, the colours across Lake Viñuela at dusk, the look on an old face in the shade of a roadside crag, or quite simply the charm of pleasing yourself in the peaceful surroundings of a comfortable home.
Almost always, under that life-giving, golden sun.
Towns & Villages
Vélez-Málaga, just inland from Torre del Mar on the scenic Route of 'Sun and Avocados' is the capital of the Axarquia with a population of 73,000. Good quality olive oils and wine are produced here. A busy working town, it has its share of interesting architecture and old palaces.
Described by the locals as the "pueblo with a taste of honey", Colmenar is a pretty, bustling little market town, its 3,000 inhabitants going about their cheerful ways. Right on the edge of the Axarquía, it's also the northern gateway to the beautiful Montes de Málaga.
The highest pueblo blanco in the Axarquía (739 metres above sea level), Comares can be spied for miles around, rising high above the surrounding countryside and resembling a natural extension to the craggy rock face. One of the prettiest villages in the province.
With stunning views of the surrounding mountains, countryside and down to the Mediterranean, Competa is best known for its locally produced wine (and the annual Noche del Vino fiesta!). Its fascinating labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets date back to Moorish times.
A 'full-on' beach resort, the extended esplanade follows the coast to the Marina of Caleta de Vélez which offers sailing and a variety of other watersports. Its lively cafés and restaurants are a good place to idle time away, as well as enjoy excellent seafood.
Once a sleepy fishing village, Nerja now has a population of over 22,000 and a very 'English' feel. Boasting 16 kilometres of beaches with powdery sand and sparkling clear water, all major water sports are available here, including water skiing, scuba diving and sailing.