The locals call us swallows. We fly down south in winter and then head north again in spring; I think it’s a fair description. As with other years we’ve spent the last few weeks enjoying the glorious winter sun of southern Spain. We’re in Axarquia, east of Malaga, in the hills above Frigiliana.
We’ve rented a little villa which is nestled at the foothills of the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama natural parks and from our terrace we can look down over the village and beyond to the blue, blue Mediterranean sea.
Frigiliana is one of Spains more famous pueblos blancos and is by many considered the pueblo más bonito de España… the most beautiful village in Spain. The entire old town is now a UNESCO world heritage site with good reason. Imagine in your minds eye a typical white Andalusian village tumbling down the side of a hill and you will imagine Frigiliana. It’s visited by tourists around the globe but in winter the roads are quieter and come late afternoon we feel like we have the place to ourselves.
We’ve spent our time here enjoying the company of friends and family and simply exploring the area. And of course, because it’s me, we’ve also spent a fair amount of time walking these glorious hills; just like today with our walk to Acebuchal.
Acebuchal is know as the ghost or the lost village. The actual name comes from the Arabic ‘acebuche’ meaning wild olive tree, and although records can confirm it’s existence from 1569, it is thought to have been inhabited long before. Archaeological finds in the area indicate the presence of the Iberians, along with coins from the Roman period and of course traces of its Moorish history. There is little remaining from those days but a short distance from Acebuchal is the 11th century Hermitage of Calixto believed to belong to Mozarab Christians who lived in Al-Andalus between 711 and 1492.
Acebuchal was an important staging post on trading routes between the provinces of Málaga and Granada. Travellers would pause on their journeys but history tells us that the arrieros (mule drivers) wouldn’t have stayed the night here (especially if carrying that days fresh fish). They would have simply rested their animals before continuing on through the night to their destinations.
Life in Acebuchal revolved around raising goats (they still make goats cheese here) mining and producing lime for fields and the coating of the outside of houses and the production of firewood and charcoal which would have been traded with travellers and local villages.
El Acebuchal’s history ended abruptly during the years following the Spanish civil war. In 1948 a detachment of Guardia Civil officers came and forced the villagers to leave their homes.
Although Franco had won the Civil War eight years previously, there were still pockets of guerrilla resistance. Frigiliana was quickly overrun by Franco’s troops by February 1937 and revenge was taken on anyone suspected of being a ‘red’. This reign of terror drove many villagers into the surrounding Sierra Almijara mountains where they joined rebels who called themselves the ‘Maquis’.
The Maquis were led by Juan José Muñoz Lozano, also known as ‘Roberto’ and they were around 100-200 in number. The authorities suspected that they received support from Acebuchal and so it was decided that all the citizens of this tiny village must leave and Acebuchal was abandoned. It fell into ruin, and was known locally as ‘Pueblo el Fantasmas’ (the village of ghosts).
Acebuchal lay undisturbed until 1998 when a couple, with family links to the village, decided to attempt restoration. Virtudes, and her husband, Antonio bought several houses and the tavern (which by then were just piles of rubble). They used the foundations of the old buildings and old photos taken before the war as guides to help them to restore the village to its former glory.
Their effort attracted other former residents and today, all 36 houses, the chapel, the tavern and even the cobblestone streets have been restored. And WOW what a beautiful little slice of Andalusia this village is.
We have just a few more days here before we fly back to our home in SW France. But it’s not goodbye… more of a hasta luego. It’s so beautiful here that I’m seriously considering planning a little group walking holiday for next year. And in the meantime I’m walking in Navarra in April so I know I’ll be back soon!