Riogordo is full of passion this month as residents are rehearsing for its evocative annual representation of ‘El Paso’ (known as The Passion Play in English). The outdoor performance, which follows the life of Jesus Christ until his death, is performed on Easter Friday and Saturday. This year’s dates are Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March and the play will start at 4.30pm.
Riogordo’s passion play, which has been performed annually for over 65 years, is recognised by both the Junta de Andalucía and nationally as an event of tourist and cultural interest and has its own home – an outdoor stage which can be seen all year round (from outside). Tickets are on sale before the event. See www.elpasoderiogordo.es/en for further information in English. Over the years a number of foreign residents (just under 10 per cent of the town’s population is made up of foreigners – especially Brits and Belgians) have participated in the performance and one of the organisers is Leila Lawson, who along with her husband Rob, has lived in Riogordo for 16 years.
Other traditions that Riogordo is well-known for include olive oil – there are a number of producers in the area, including the Cooperativa Agro-Olivarera, which is situated at the entrance to Riogordo just off the A356 road from Vélez-Málaga. During the olive picking months, 6pm is rush hour around the town, with olive growers queuing up to deposit their harvest at the cooperative. The olives are sorted depending on the type of olives for example, those that have fallen from the trees naturally and those that have been ‘shaken ‘ off and amazingly not one bit of the olive goes to waste. For anyone with a pellet burning stove, the chances are that the pellets contain crushed up olive stones! Organised group tours can be given of the cooperative with advanced reservation.
The main variety of olive grown in the area is the Verdial, which is native to the Axarquía and not grown anywhere else. Other varieties are also used in the local olive oil, such as hojiblanca. The olives have three stages of maturity; when the fruit is still green in October, when it is beginning to turn black, between the end of October and early November, which is considered the optimum picking time and when the fruit has already turned black which is later in December and into January. The word ‘envero’, which is sometimes seen on olive oil labels, is the Spanish term to describe the stage of maturity of the olive.
La Molienda is Riogordo’s big festival paying tribute to the area’s most important product; the olive. Always over the last weekend of February, the celebration includes demonstrations of how olive oil was produced before modern technology took over. At the town’s fascinating museum – Museo Etnográfico, a donkey is used to turn the wheel which would have milled the olives during the event. Other highlights of the festival include tours round the cooperative and an olive stone spitting competition! They even have an official ‘olivodromo’ for this highly competitive sport (why it isn’t an Olympic event, I don’t know).
The museum can be visited all year round and is open on Thursday mornings and Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons. Admission is free and the original olive mill can be seen there along with a superb collection of other artefacts related to the traditions of olives, wine and bread.
From passion to oil to snails – yes, the other thing that Riogordo is passionate about is the humble caracol (snail in Spanish). They eat them in vast quantities, especially during – you’ve guessed it – a fiesta – Día del Caracol. It always takes place on the last Sunday in May when over 350 kilos of the molluscs, which are gathered from the countryside surrounding the town, are cooked in different traditional ways and served up with a glass of local sweet wine.
Riogordo’s main feria takes place in August and is a tribute to the town’s patron saints, Nuestra Señora de la Gracia (15th August) and San Jacinto (17th August).
There are some wonderful hiking routes that can be done in and around Riogordo, taking in the river Cueva and the Tajo de Gómer mountain, which overlooks the town. For more information ask at the town hall or www.malaga.es/turismo also has suggested walking routes. Riogordo is also on the Ruta del aceite.
The best way to get to Riogordo is by taking the A356 up from Vélez-Málaga. It can also be accessed via the M3107 going through Triana and Benamargosa. From Malaga take the A45 and then the A356 through Casabermeja and Colmenar. The town is equidistant from Vélez-Málaga and Málaga city and takes around 30-40 minutes to get to from either place.
Written by Jennie Rhodes
Photographs taken by Rob Bell Photography
and The Directory magazine
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