High up in the mountains of the Axarquía lies the charming town of Cómpeta. With a population of just under 4,000, of whom almost half are foreigners, this hilly enclave, 636 metres above sea level, has been a draw for artists and nature-lovers from all over the world for many years. In fact it lays claim to the highest number of foreign residents of all the towns in the Axarquía.

Cómpeta Councillor and Brit, Gwen Ferber, says she is often asked by Spanish tourists why there are so many foreigners living in Cómpeta and she believes it’s due to the friendly atmosphere, huge variety of bars and restaurants, proximity to the mountains and of course the sunshine!

Like the rest of the Axarquía and indeed the rest of Malaga province, Cómpeta’s history has been compiled by the various settlers that have, through the ages, called the area home, from the Romans, to the Arabs and then Christians, each of whom have left their mark, from the Romans who introduced the vines, olives almonds ad figs and the Arabs who are to thank for their influences on the area’s architecture.

One of the highlights of a visit to Cómpeta is the opportunity to see the numerous ceramic murals around the town, each of which depicts a different aspect of life in and around the town over the centuries. Other must-sees on a visit to Cómpeta include the museum with its impressive collection, over three floors, of costumes, history and art. The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is one of the iconic sights in the town; built at the beginning of the 16th century, the church, with its impressive bell tower, traditionally features on much of Cómpeta’s publicity, including the poster for Noche del Vino (see below), although 2016 was the first time that a design which didn’t include the building was chosen. A series of white terraced houses, known as the ‘hanging houses,’ are another fascinating site in the town, so called because they really do appear to be hanging off the edge of the town!

Art has always been an important part of life in Cómpeta and many of the original foreigners that came to the town were artists who were attracted by its vibe as well as proximity to nature and the wonderful landscapes that it provides. Today Cómpeta boasts a number of art galleries which regularly exhibit local work and every Easter week the town holds an art walk. Gastronomy is also part of Cómpeta’s rich offer – it’s famous in particular for its sweet wine, made from locally grown Moscatel grapes, as well as honey and roscos de vino; locally made biscuits made with local wine, which are traditionally eaten at Christmas.

A walker’s paradise

A maps of walks are available from the tourist office of walks both in and around Cómpeta, including one that takes visitors to the different ceramic murals as well as carefully written routes through the nearby natural parks, including to Acebuchal – an until recently abandoned village between Cómpeta and Frigiliana, as well as Casa de la Mina and an old electricity grid (fábrica de la luz). These routes are available in different languages and give detailed information including difficulty, distance and recommendations on when to do them. They have been lovingly prepared by a team of local volunteers who are themselves keen walkers.

Local festivals

Like any town in the Axarquia. Cómpeta has a long and proud tradition of festivals. In fact throughout the year, this small town celebrates 46 different days, from national ones such as New Year and Spanish religious holidays, to its own feria, which takes place towards the end of July every year. Noche del Vino, or ‘night of the wine,’ takes place on 15th August and celebrates the start of the grape harvest, when in the past, people from Cómpeta would set off into the countryside to gather the grapes and not return until the end of the harvest, sometimes meaning they were away for up to two months. The celebration starts off with the traditional ‘treading of the grapes’ and each year a local celebrity is invited to be the ‘Pisador de honor’ (honorary grape-treader). There is also dancing, especially Fandangos, which are traditional in the town, music and a market. In fact locals are so passionate about Noche del Vino that a book of poems about the night was published by the town hall in 2014. Easter week, or Semana Santa, is an important event in Cómpeta too, with processions taking place every day in the week leading up to Easter and this is also when the annual art tour also takes place.

Cómpeta is certainly a jewel in the Axarquía crown and with its many places to eat and drink, arty and friendly vibe, incredible views and dozens of little shops selling local and hand-made products and great fiestas, it definitely knows how to keep Spanish and foreign visitors alike wanting more!

Practical information

The tourist information office is on Avenida de la Constitución and is open every day; Monday to Saturday from 10am until 3pm and Sunday from 1am until 2pm. The main road into Cómpeta winds around the mountains from the A-7 motorway exit at Torrox. It is a spectacular journey, with a few hairpin bends along the way, but well-worth it! Loymerbus operates a daily bus service between Malaga and Cómpeta. For timetable information as well as further information about Cómpeta visit www.competa.es

Written by Jennie Rhodes ©

Photographs by Rob Bell Photography www.robbell.photography