The tiny hamlet of Acebuchal, situated between Cómpeta and Frigiliana, could be described as new and old at the same time.
It is old. In fact historians know that it has existed since the 17th Century, when it provided a stop on the trading route between Malaga and Granada and its history could even date back to earlier times like most of its neighbouring towns and villages. However, the hamlet became known as ‘the ghost village’ between 1949 and 1998, from when Franco drove the inhabitants out, believing that they had supported the Republicans during Spain’s bloody Civil War, until a family whose roots lay in Acebuchal saw its potential and started to redevelop it towards the end of the 20th Century.
The fact that it has only been inhabited again since 1998 makes it new, in a sense, although the buildings that stand today have been rebuilt from the ruins that remained when the last residents fled at during the early years of Franco’s regime.
During Spain’s Civil War, which was fought between 1936 and 1939, many of the villages of the Axarquía declared themselves as Republican and fought againstor at least opposed Franco’s Nationalist forces. Two of these were Frigiliana and Acebuchal and it is said that the residents of Acebuchal hid and fed Republican Guerillas who were hiding from the Nationalists in the surrounding mountains.
In 1949 General Franco embarked on a final bid to rid the country of remaining Republicans. His forces ordered the remaining residents of Acebuchal out and they fled the hamlet, leaving their houses and many of their belongings behind.
The Guardia Civil – the then Francoist police force, used the village as a base to hunt down remaining Guerillas. The police eventually left and Acebuchal was forgotten about and the houses fell into ruins.
In 1998, a couple from Frigiliana saw the tourist potential of the place and started to buy up property. Their son, Sebastián, who now runs Bar Restaurante El Acebuchal, along with his brother, Antonio, says that his mother, Virtudes Sánchez, whose father was born in Acebuchal, bought her first property for just 1,000 euros! The restaurant, which is in fact a converted school, opened in 2005.
The restaurant is popular and the telephone doesn’t seem to stop with people phoning to reserve tables. The exciting, modern menu is packed full of locally-sourced products and the homemade bread is sold as far afield as Malaga city! It is open from 10am until 4pm every day, serving breakfast, coffee and lunch and booking is definitely recommended. It also doubles up as a museum, with old photos of Acebuchal as well nearby villages. Poems written by Virtudes as well as paintings of the couple who rediscovered the hamlet line the walls and the menus explain the hamlet’s history in both English and Spanish.
Another restaurant, La Montés, has opened up in the last year and owner Rafa, who is one of a handful of permanent residents in Acebuchal, says that business is booming, with individuals and group bookings coming in daily.
Other investors have followed in the couple’s footsteps and the streets of Acebuchal are now a collection of freshly-painted whitewash houses, with brightly coloured doors, windowsills and matching flowerpots and decorations. Most of the properties are either second homes or holiday cottages available to rent.
Antonio García, Virtudes now ex-husband, runs the only shop in the hamlet, which is located about 10 metres further down the hill from the restaurants, which in turn are almost opposite each other at the beginning of Acebuchal. The shop doesn’t have a sign, but Antonio vows that he is always there and that visitors only have to “ask for Antonio” if they find it closed or unattended. It sells a variety of goods, from his own local sweet wine, to some of the ceramic pots and other trinkets that were found during the restoration of houses. At the right time of year mangoes and other local produce will also be on offer!
There is a small chapel, which was built with the help of a number of people, whose names appear on a plaque on the outside wall. It’s hard to get lost in Acebuchal; just two small streets make up the hamlet, which is set deep inside a valley surrounded by the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountain range. There are plenty of walking routes from Acebuchal too.
Although Acebuchal actually belongs to Cómpeta, it is slightly closer to Frigiliana and is easier to access coming from Frigiliana than Cómpeta. Although the road isn’t tarmacked in some parts and there is no barrier, it is accessible in a normal car and you don’t need a four by four to get there. The sign to the right on the Frigiliana to Torrox pueblo road is misleading as it appears to suggest that it’s a further 17 kilometres down into the hamlet. In fact it is only about three kilometres down the mountain road.
Acebuchal is a must, either just for a morning visit finishing with lunch in one of the two superb restaurants, or for a start, middle or end point on a hike around the area.
Photographs taken by Rob Bell Photography