Frigiliana, nestled up in the hills north of Nerja, has been voted most beautiful town in Spain on several occasions, since first winning the prestigious title in 1967 (it came second in 1961). It isn’t difficult to understand why.
Roughly one third of Frigiliana’s population of 3,000 is foreign and the Brits make up the majority of that third. They and many other nationalities have fallen in love with this small town’s beauty over the years and have made it home. Despite its diminutive size, Frigiliana is a town in its own right and has a town hall and a dedicated councillor and foreign residents’ officer.
The prize-winning town has a constant stream of tourists and organised bus tours frequent the town, bringing day-trippers from all over the world to what is said to be the best example of Moorish architecture in Malaga province; an olde-worldy place but with the conveniences and tastes of modernity, like cute little cafés offering anything from a Malagueña ‘sombra’ to a cappuccino. Art galleries, artisan chocolate shops and bohemian-style boutiques have opened up alongside the traditional souvenirSpain – Frigiliana in The Directory magazines and ceramics shops.While practically any town or village in the Axarquía can lay claim to the area’s rich diversity of olive oil, mangoes, avocados and muscatel wine, Frigiliana has something the others don’t, at least not any more: its own, still-working sugar cane factory.
Nuestra Señora del Carmen factory, or ingenio, as it’s known in Spanish, stands proudly at the entrance to Frigiliana. Since 2014 it has opened its doors to the public once a year, for the annual ‘día de la miel de caña,’ or ‘molases day.’
Although the area stopped producing sugar cane several years ago, Frigiliana’s ingenio has outlived its neighbours in Torre del Mar, Nerja and Maro, by importing the raw product from the Caribbean and in particular Cuba. The final product can be bought not just in souvenir shops in Frigiliana, but in major supermarkets across Spain too and the dark, treacle-like liquid is highly revered locally for its health benefits, but it is perhaps more widely known as an accompaniment to deep fried aubergines (berenjenas fritas); a local delicacy.
One of Frigiliana’s biggest annual events is the 3 Cultures festival, which usually takes place at the end of August. In 2017, the event, which is in its 12th year, will take place from 24 to 27 August. The event attracts well-known names from World Music and to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2015, Manu Chau performed.
This hugely popular music and dance festival also includes a medieval market and tapas route around the village and aims to promote the three cultures that make up the history of Frigiliana; Arabic, Christian and Jewish. The artists are always carefully chosen to represent the three elements of this hugely popular festival, which started in 2006. By 2016 it was attracting up to 35,000 visitors over the four-day period. Frigiliana’s annual fair (Feria) takes place around 13th June and pays homage to Saint Antony (San Antonio), the town’s patron. The main event is the Romería, or pilgrimage, in which images of the saint are carried to the Higuerón river, commemorating the Christian victory over the Moors in the Battle of the Rock of Frigiliana on June 11th 1569.
The town also celebrates the Día de la Cruz, or las cruces de mayo (the May crosses) like other towns in the area, which takes place on 3rd May. Crosses are decorated with flowers and displayed around the town, symbolizing the cross that Jesus died on. Frigiliana also holds its own Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, San Sebastian and Carnival celebrations.
What to see in Frigiliana
The Mudéjar area, or old town, gets its name from the Moors who remained in Spain after the Catholic Kings reclaimed the country (the Reconquista), but who didn’t convert to Christianity. Frigiliana’s Mudejár area is considered to be the best example of Moorish architecture in Malaga province. It’s the narrow, cobbled streets, unending steps, which donkeys used to climb carrying wares often brought up from nearby Nerja, which have been replaced by bohemian shops, that lure visitors back to Frigiliana. Add to that tiny squares with even tinier cafés and higgledy-piggledy houses adorned with flowers and ceramics and this town really does offer an irresistibly heady mix of old and new.
There are a number of important sites in the town that are well worth visiting: The Arab castle, the old fountain, the royal granaries and the Casa del Apero, home to the museum and municipal library all offer an insight into the history and culture of this fascinating town.
There are plenty of options for hiking too, with the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountain range surrounding the village. The most accessible walk is from the entrance to Frigiliana and follows the river higuerón, so called because the source starts at a small fig tree (higuero), down to Nerja.
Frigiliana’s tourist office is in the Casa del Apero on Calle Cuesta del Apero, along with the municipal library and museum. Plenty of information can also be found on the town hall website: www.turismofrigiliana.es
A regular bus service goes between Frigiliana and Nerja. From the A7 motorway take the 243 exit onto the A5105 (signed to Nerja and Frigiliana). There is plenty of street parking in and around Frigiliana, although at weekends and at festival times getting there early is the only way to secure a spot.
Written by Jennie Rhodes ©
Photographs taken by Rob Bell Photography ©