Marbella Twenty-Thirteen | Ojén
When I think Andalucía, I think narrow white washed streets clinging to steep mountain sides; seas of terracotta tiled roofs jostling for space in a crowded maze of twisting ancient streets; houses almost spilling from inside out, as residents take to sitting outside in the cooler evening air; and those white washed walls being intermittently punctuated by rich floral sprays such as the vivid pinks of brugmansia and the fragrant perfume of jasmine. And while Marbella, the location of my ultimate of August holidays, has its fair share of white washed wonders collected together in the winding cobbled streets of its stunning old town, it’s the little hilltop Andalus villages which for me characterise the very epitome of Southern Spanish charm.
So to discover these little hilltop gems one has to leave Marbella, and the sprawling Costa del Sol behind, but this isn’t exactly easy to do for the likes of me who has no car – the Costa, unbelievably is not on the Spanish train network, and the destinations served by the local bus service are limited. Happily however, there is one exception to this sorry state of transportation – every few hours, a bus leaves from Marbella centre and makes the 30 minute journey, up into the mountains, to the nearby hilltop village of Ojén, home to none other than Julio Iglesias himself.
Scenery from Marbella to Ojén
As soon as you leave Marbella’s centre and begin to ascend the main road into the Sierra Blanca mountain range which rises so prominently behind the town, you notice the scenery begin to change. As the bus descends and the road skirts the steepening mountain sides, the landscape opens up before you so that urban dwellings are replaced by vast ochre planes, their rocky arid topography punctuated by olive trees and the odd cypress. At this time of year the landscapes are particularly dry, but this year they retain the black charred scarring which a devastating forest fire caused last year when it spread across the planes of Andalucía. This does nothing to distract from the beauty of the landscape however, whose slopes and pastures meander and undulate downwards towards a stunning view of the Mediterranean sea and Marbella some 1000 metres below.
A few minutes of winding roads later, and the little village of Ojén appears. Home to around 1000 people, it is a cluster of dazzling white set against the ochres and browns of the surrounding hillsides. Those hillsides are reflected in the streets and homes of the village which, in places, appear to be almost precariously clinging to the hillsides and near vertical angles, the stone sloping streets following suit and making a climb upwards under the midday sun a challenging prospect. But my goodness me, what a gem of a town this is – a magical collection of Andalucía’s best – those white washed houses and little tiled roofs, old woven chairs left outside tiny town houses, windows open in a vain attempt to catch a little breeze.
Perhaps the highlight of this town is the central square, surrounded by little bars and a tiny church at its centre, the baking marble pavements cooled slightly by the sound and spray of trickling water from a large fountain which remains remarkably cold even in the average 40 degrees of a typical summer’s day. It was there that my partner and I headed one lunchtime, braving the heat in order to recapture a moment we had enjoyed in the village a few years before, when we ate a plate of Spanish ham in the cheapest of cafes, but whose flavour was so intensely salty and rich that no tapas has lived up to it since. This time round, the ham did not disappoint, and basking in the almost oven-like heat of the square, we revelled in the soft melting fat and unctuous meaty texture of that ham, washed down with a small cerveza, some bread and olives. Surely as typically, simply delicious as Andalucía gets.
I leave these reflections with some photos from the day; a collection of images straight from the heart of Andalucía.
All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm.