The story of Alfarnate begins with its inn, La Venta de Alfarnate, and it is fitting, therefore, that we begin with the history of the oldest Venta in Andalucía and meeting place of travellers, kings and bandits.
The first documented evidence of La Venta de Alfarnate dates back to 1691, although some believe that it has been there since the 13th Century. Now easily found at KM 6.5 of the A-4152, it served as a resting place for travellers on their way from the coast to the north; to Granada, Córdoba and up to Madrid.
King Alfonso Xiii is reported to have been one of its more illustrious guests, while some of Spain’s most notorious bandits frequented the place, often using it as the scene of their crimes. Legend has it that Luis Candelas, a bandit operating in the early 19th Century, was kept there under armed guard after stealing two horses and a mule and there are reports that he even intercepted a letter from the royal family of the time. José María, or ‘El Tempranillo’, whose exploits have been documented by the English writer, John Ford and painted by Ford’s friend, the artist, John Frederic Lewis, also committed a series of crimes in and around the Venta.
Nowadays, the Venta is a quiet restaurant which offers traditional Axarquía food, such as the local Sopa Cachorreña; a kind of onion soup and a typical dish in Alfarnate. It also calls itself ‘El Museo de Bandolerismo’ (the banditry museum), although banditry aficionados shouldn’t get too excited as it’s really little more than a small room with a few artefacts. A fascinating place nonetheless to find out more about this part of Andalucía’s history.
In Alfarnate itself, which is the highest village in the province, standing at 925 metres above sea-level, some of the architecture takes the visitor back even further, to Islamic times, with examples such as the beautiful arches of Callejón Aljofar, as well as Callejones Fortuna and Sol.
The Santa Ana church, Virgen de Monsalud chapel and town hall building all date from the 16th Century and it is said that Alfarnate’s town hall is the oldest in Malaga province. The Sabar river passes through the village and a series of pretty bridges join the two sides. We visited on a Friday, which was market day. A beautiful sunny day in February had brought many of Alfarnate’s residents out onto the street to visit the market and take a stroll along the riverbank.
The drive up to the villages of Alfarnate and Alfarnatejo takes in some of the most spectacular mountainous scenery in the Axarquía. The landscape changes completely and huge rock faces mix with lush greenery, for which it is no surprise that the area is sometimes described as “The Alps of Malaga.” Alfarnate is also famous for its cherries and spring is the best time to see the trees (cerezos) in blossom. Día de la Cereza (cherry day) is celebrated in June (see below) and other typical produce from the village include olives and cereals.
There are plenty of hiking routes in the area and Alfarnate town hall can provide descriptions and maps (in Spanish). The most popular include the Bosque La Morillas route, which is a 5.3 km circular walk through nearby woods; the 11.2 km (return) linear Pico de Vilo and the 12.7 km circular Las Pilas route.
Along with the Fiesta de la Cereza, which this year will take place on 22 June, in September the village holds the La Embajada de Alfarnate; a festival which celebrates the village’s Islamic and Christian heritage over the course of two days in mid-September and involves re-enactments, processions, children’s activities and other events.
The village has a primary school, doctor’s surgery, a number of small supermarkets, sports facilities and a municipal swimming pool.
As you approach neighbouring Alfarnatejo the first thing you see is an attractive well- kept municipal park. The Parque Municipal has a large arch, in the form of a horseshoe and is designed in teh Mudéjar style. There is a ceramic plaque with the name of the park, which is dedicated to Miguel Alba Luque; “el último alcalde republicano del pueblo” (the last Republican mayor of the village). As well as outdoor gym equipment the park offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. In the village itself there are a number of good bars and restaurants on its Plaza de la Constitución, near the town hall.
Alfarnatejo’s Día del Gazpacho, which is in its 19th year, takes place during the first weekend of August and visitors are served the cold soup in a ceramic bowl, which they get to keep as a souvenir. The bowl is decorated differently every year and has the name of the fiesta as well as the date on it. The village celebrates its annual feria at the end of September, which is in honour of San Miguel.
Town hall staff in both Alfarnate and Alfarnatejo told us that there were “very few” foreigners living in the villages and even the ‘campo’ around the two villages hasn’t attracted many yet!
There are various roads that lead to Alfarnate and Alfarnatejo and all will, at some point become mountainous and windy! We took the A-356 from Vélez-Málaga up to Riogordo, the A7204 towards Mondron and then the MA-4102 which goes past Alfarnatejo and up to Alfarnate.
Photographs taken by Rob Bell Photography