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  The Costa Tropical

The Costa Tropical

The Costa Tropical offers a great variety of property to choose from where the varied histories and building styles have had an important influence on the types of property available – from village houses in small isolated communities to high end villas with quality finishes, spectacular views and dreamy sunsets. This area can boast some of the most spectacular coastlines in Spain, some of the most historically important sites in Europe, and plenty of destinations for a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable change of lifestyle. In advance of re-locating to this wonderful part of Spain here are some ideas to explore the area, taking in some of the nearby towns and villages, rolling countryside and high mountains, lakes and seashore, and to give a feel for, what is still considered today as the real Andalucia.

Andalucia is the largest and most populated territory, it is one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions and includes 8 provinces named after their capital cities, being - Cadiz, Málaga, Granada and Almeria on the southern coast – together with the inland provinces of Huelva, Seville (Sevilla), Cordoba and Jaen. The region is a land of very dramatic extremes. Andalusia is a richly varied area with a Mediterranean climate providing mild winters and dry, hot summers, although with snow on the mountains of the Sierra Nevada ski resort in winter months it is difficult to forget there can be such dramatic ranges in temperature within very short geographical distances. Andalucía has a rich artistic and cultural past only more recently being explored and appraised by the regional authorities in their aims to preserve its cultural and historical uniqueness. With remains evident from pre-history, through the Visigothic and Byzantine periods, and of course the Islamic period, that has left some records of once beautiful monuments. The Renaissance produced the cathedrals in Granada and Málaga, as well as Seville's City Hall. Mudejar art, a blending of Christian and Arab elements dominates the Alcazar in Seville. Countless buildings survive from the baroque period of the 17th and 18th centuries, while the Romanticism of the 19th century continued into the 20th century. Even on the Costa Tropical or inland from the coast you will discover many traces of these different styles still, just explore and you will see.

The Costa Tropical is not only offering beaches and glorious weather but with newly established motorway connections, the development of the AVE high speed train connections linking Andalusian towns with Madrid, and with the increased air travel opportunities out of Malaga, Granada and Alicante – then it is an area that is moving on. It is not difficult, therefore, to realise why Spain’s Costa Tropical remains an attractive opportunity for European second home owners, re-locators and first time buyers.  

Almuñecar lies at the apex of the Costa Tropical and is composed of a municipal authority that includes the old fishing village and seaside resort of La Herradura, the lavish leisure port of Marina del Este and the prestigious residential areas of Cotobro, Punta de la Mona and El Nogal on Cerro Gordo. Recently there have been attempts to divide the area of La Herradura from Almunecar and to make a more autonomous local authority; but with a few hundred residents short of the required nomination this has, failed to materialise. Nevertheless La Herradura has continued to develop its own independent social style and offers a bespoke, newly built, civic centre, a new indoor sports arena, as well as a newly restored 18th century battalion fortress, a daily municipal market, various diving schools and a vibrant mix of restaurants all to accommodate the many interests of today’s multi-cultural community. Since 1985, La Herradura is home to the acclaimed International Guitar Competition - homage to Andrés Segovia, an adopted son of the community, who demanded that the contest bearing his name demand only the highest standards from its entrants.

The province of Granada boasts 60 km of coastline, the Costa Tropical, much of which is tranquil and unspoiled. Almuñécar was founded by the Phoenicians as Sexi, then after renamed by the Moors as Al-Munakkab. The town boasts ruins from this and then later the Roman and Moorish periods. Circled by the original village homes, the Castillo de San Miguel, sitting on the headland that bisects two beaches of Puerta del Mar and San Cristobal, replaced the Moorish alcazaba in the reign of King Carlos V. It has a massive tower called La Mazmorra (the dungeon) and is the site of an ancient graveyard. The local archaeological museum, in the Cueva de los Siete Palacios, may have been a water reservoir at one time, and houses mainly local exhibits including a 17th century BC Egyptian vase which is inscribed with the oldest written text ever found on the Iberian peninsula. Today, the town authorities have declared the San Miguel area of local cultural interest; so that planning is restricted and is now subject to strict controls over use, expansion and change for al properties that lie within this area.

On Almunecar towns outskirts there is a Roman aqueduct that in parts remains in use to this day. In 2005 when further Roman traces were uncovered they showed the continuation of this canal and a settlement located near the Plaza Major (behind the Carbonell building) – and just to the left of the road that continues up through Jete and Otivar and over the mountains to Suspiro del Moro. Just a short walk from the town centre are the catacombs of Laurita and Puente de Noy first discovered in the late 60s; they remain today important Phoenician and Roman evidence prized by both the Antigua Sexi Institute and Granada university.

Traditionally a fashionable tranquil Spanish holiday resort since the 1930s, Almuñecar thirty years on became a quiet retreat for Europe’s International jet set including stars of screen, stage and industry in the 1960s; and still under Franco’s regime. Today, hotel occupancy figures often show that hotels are continuing to attract more than 75% of their clientele from Spain’s cities, and the others form the rest of the world –which sustains up to 97% occupancy rates. Yet still the town does not languish in the past; over 70,000 Internet users visited the Almuñécar Town Hall web site last year, of whom two thirds were from outside Spain. The town’s mayor regularly attends tourism and trade fairs throughout Europe to promote the town’s attractions as a Mediterranean holiday resort and third age retirement opportunity. All contributing to the town being a heady mix of real Spanish life mixed with a dash of the cosmopolitan, and unlike other coastal resorts here on the Costa’s... here many bars will offer traditional tapas with a drink – free of charge. Here though you will need to speak some Spanish, especially if want to enjoy the real Spain.

The inland villages of the Rio Verde are popularly appreciated as being those at the heart of the Tropical valley. From Almunecar, taking the A-4050 northwards, the Carretera Suspiro del Moro (or La Cabra, as the locals call it) presents in perfect order, literally hugging along the banks of this fertile valley: Jete, Otívar and Lentejí villages. The road is also an alternative route as it snakes spectacularly up the valley, over the mountains and onwards to Granada city. Protected by the river Verde, that links the villages through kilometres of subtropical fruit farms and rich vegetation, the local communities here still continue to farm a rich variety of tropical fruits and plants that are exported the world over. For the sport lover too there is much to do - you can enjoy trekking, para-gliding, gorge climbing, walking and even caving here, the cave of the Perro, near the village of Lentejí (Lentegi) is more than 90 metres deep. Food connoisseurs too are also well provided for, with plenty of restaurant opportunities available to discover traditional local dishes based on meat and fish, and during the winter hunter's months, there is a rich variety of excellent game dishes to enjoy too.

Our first stop is Jete, a settlement of Arab origin, founded around the XII century. The narrow streets echo this village’s Moorish history and even in the dry heat of summer the gentle breezes of the mountains help to cool villagers as they did so many centuries ago. Jete is a popular starting point for walkers and hikers too, by following some of the more well marked and, in some parts; quite steep tracks some of the more enthusiastic can be seen making the 3 kilometre ascent to the hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza of Bodíjar, a venerated and restored local monument. It is here that on each last Sunday in April, the people of Jete annually set out on a pilgrimage or romería to this site; a somber occasion for penance and fiesta it nevertheless attracts many visitors from all around the county. From Bodijar, more experienced hikers can prolong the route until the top of the Picacho mountain, and from which point some of the most spectacular panoramic views of the coast, the Almijara Mountain range, and on a clear day, even as far as the Sierra Nevada peaks too can be seen. For a gentler path, and an easy introduction to the activity, simply follow the river bed of the river Verde in the direction of the sea and Almuñecar. Two kilometres south of the village you will find the cave shrine known locally as the Virgen del Agua, it was here that an underground stream from an earlier Roman aqueduct suddenly re-opened at the end of XIX century and the local community built a small temple. To this day, the cave is regularly visited by locals carrying gifts to the Madonna whose spirit, as many believe, stays to insure that the valley remains green and fertile.

Remaining in Jete, in a narrow street just 50 metres behind the town hall is the village’s award winning winery. "Try them, try these grapes," are the first words that Horacio Calvente exclaims when you arrive at his cellar. Impossible to miss with its brim-filled baskets crammed with fresh moscatel of Alexandria grapes, kept at the bodega entrance. Snr Calvente, a modest man, only began experimenting in wine production in the late 1990s, yet his vineyards of Calvente Wineries that are located at an altitude of almost one thousand meters, in the mountains of Cázulas north of Otivar, continue annually to produce high scoring wines that are often listed in the best wine guides in Spain. Among the varieties cultivated by Snr Calvente are the Moscatel of Alexandria, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo; but the real star is its white wine, of characteristic and quite complex flavour, blended with grapes of La Guindalera on the slopes of Sierra Nevada, it is the estates biggest seller.

On from Jete village, and passing the road access to Itrabo (GR-5400) on the right, at more than 280 metres above sea level is the village of Otivar. The name can be traced to the Basque country, and is similar to the name of the Guipuzcoan valley of Beotívar. Otivar is a popular place for lovers of rural tourism, there has over the last few years been a significant increase in the population, thanks in part to the dynamic of foreign property owners and artists choosing this typically white washed Andalucian village as the place to re-locate and enjoy tranquillity, light and stunning scenery. Encouraged by the local mayor, a dynamic programme of social events and courses have been offered to promote greater community integration between the various nationalities. The mayor recognises that more than 15 per cent of the current population are northern and eastern Europeans, and as such offers various language and cultural events to help accommodate them. Otívar, lies at the foot of the Cázulas and the La Almijara mountain ranges, and because of the light, the views and the pure air it has become both a tourist spot and an idyll for many escaping the rat race to find a different way of living. From the Rio Verde viewpoint (Balcón), located near the town hall, this lush valley can be truly appreciated. Nearby too is the monument to the Tio Caridad, Juan Fernandez Cañas, an important local character who was both a hero of the Spanish Civil war and was a mayor of Otívar. For nature lovers the ideal place to cool off is the waterfall and lake known locally as the Junta de los Rios. This privileged natural beauty spot is ideal for trekking or simply bathing in the secluded natural streams that unite in the gorge. Approximately 6 kilometres from the village, down a short gated track access it is best to take a picnic and enjoy a full day with the family in this peaceful retreat. Otivar is also home to other activities, like gorge walking or hang-gliding, horse riding and much more. For the less active; a visit to the Church of San Jose, built in the XVI century, in Mudejar style, displays strange relics of armour and is located in Constitution square. Or one can take the family up to the high village district and spend a lazy day around the municipal open-air swimming pool.

For food lovers, Otivar is well served with traditional restaurants and bars serving very good local foods like, pimentón of pumpkin, fig bread, gachas (a peasant stew of sausage and red peppers), migas (fried bread crumbs), pestiños (aniseed bread twists) or egg rolls. Fennel stew or choto al ajillo (goat fried with garlic) are typical plates during the winter, and a stop at any of the restaurants will offer a taste of the excellent local black pudding or other dishes like carbonero rice or chicharrones (fried pork rind – scratching), sausage or barbecued meat. A few years ago, Otivar was simply known as the end of the chicken run… in the days before the Wallace and Grommit movie. It was here on Sundays, as they continue to do to this day - that parties of foreigners and locals alike would drive from all around, having booked their table in advance, to sit al fresco on the restaurants terrace overlooking the valley and enjoy fresh roasted local chicken filled with apple and served with salad and sliced, fried potatoes…

Finally, a further 10 kilometres up the valley a side road now winds up and in to Lenteji - a village that in the 1970’s could only be reached by mule. Here it is said that the village people (mingos) claim that the Magay, or maquis (the resistance fighters of the Spanish Civil war) took refuge here before marching to Granada. The Lentegi women too were once celebrated as the finest needle workers in all Spain – as evident by their achievements producing the fine embroidered jackets of the bull fighters in eighteenth century. Along the journey to Lentegi village, where once subtropical plants dominated the journey up the valley to Otivar, at this point the fauna and flora is replaced by pines, oaks, carob trees, junipers and aromatic bushes, like thyme and rosemary, producing a strange and wild perfume to the air. Aside from admiring the impressive landscape, formed by the mixture of steep mountains, the green of the fertile valley and the dramatic view down to the sea; it is not a drive for the feint hearted as the road, in parts, literally hugs the hillside as it winds up the mountain and in to the village. Nevertheless the journey is worthwhile and there are sites here that visitors should not miss. The Mudejar church of the XVI century, recently renovated, the pretty square with its fountain and stunning viewpoint to the western mountains, the many tranquil corners in the village that can be enjoyed while wandering about, not to mention the newly built balcony walk at the top of the village.

Lenteji offers many outdoor pursuits too. Like the other villages of the Tropical valley that offer a municipal pool, Lenteji’s also provides stunning views, and is a cool respite from the heat of the sun in July to September. Two kilometres before reaching Lentejí is the recreation area of El Sequero, with wide beautiful and fragrant pine groves and an established picnic area – it remains still one of the areas great, and hidden, places to escape. The village is an ideal place to enjoy hiking and walking. Here there are two routes well known by the villagers: the first that goes east out of the village and up until Entresierras, where the landscape of the Guajar valley opens out with Sierra Nevada in the distance. The second route, leaves northwest and follows a path leading first to Guardajamas, where there are a series of deserted cortijos and where it is possible to refresh yourself in the crystal clear water of the spring before continuing on to Aguasblanquillas, where here you find another hamlet of deserted cortijos. Take a camera to record the unbelievable views...

“On receiving the town, the traveller must raise the head to look at the cliff top Salobreña castle, more than one hundred and ten meters above sea level with two white backgrounds framing it. First the town, with its whitewashed houses and, above it, the luminous whiteness of Sierra Nevada giving testimony to the tourist of Granada of sun, beach, snow... and sugar cane." Anon, a 19th century traveller.

South of Granada on the N-323 the ancient settlement of Selambina was the first town of the Costa Tropical. Today it is known as Salobreña with its golden sandy beaches, its rocky El Peñon point a popular corner of the promenade for diners, and in the winter a warm sunny shelter for sun worshippers from the cool easterly winds is a typical Spanish holiday destination. The town is surrounded by the Bodíjar mountain range that slide towards very green and fertile valleys filled with plantations and tropical fruits unique in Europe; mangos, chirimoyas (custard apples), avocados or guavas all grow in this pleasant climate. The centre of the town is crowned by the hill top Arab fort – once the winter palace for the Nasrid kings of Granada – around which the original village houses cling in a classic but amazing white washed array of monumental proportions. Below the hilltop town, the plains of the once productive sugar cane plantations can still be seen; and at La Caleta to the west of the town the old sugar cane factory of Azucarera del Guadalfeo remains. The castle of Salobreña is a most emblematic and significant monument (it appears on the coat of arms of the town), is located at the top of the promontory, so its towers over an impressive panoramic view where in the summer the limits of the sky and the sea get confused, combined with the green of the fertile plain, the mountains and, in the distance, the summits of Sierra Nevada. This fortress of Phoenician origins, has suffered successive transformations throughout history. The castle has a trapezoidal design and is formed by three enclosures: an interior one of triangular design, which corresponds with the alcazaba or Nasrid palace of the Alhambra in Granada; and the other two strictly defensive ones built by the Christians at the end of the 15th century. During the 70’s the castle housed a lion that was very popular with visitors.

Today’s tourist can still see evidence of the old sugar industry and while local farmers continue to operate the leafy sugar cane plantations of the Salobreña valley; this is now done in rotation with other crops like maize, beans and artichoke. The new town planning that has developed and lines the coast also gives a proud nod to these times; a testimony to a past where the economy of the town depended almost exclusively around the sugar cane industry with 12 factories (ingenios) operating during the golden age of the late 19th century. The visitor will see at various points around the town, at the centre of a roundabout, a striking relic of 19th century factory machinery installed; a very simple but crowning monument to this bygone industrial age.

The local park La Fuente, where trees and fences give way to all manner of tropical plants like bananas, chirimoyas, canes, avocados... At the centre of the park is a monument to the cane, where bronze figures are shown giving life to a zafra, an ancient word used to denominate the harvest. The monument displays the harvester, machete in hand, and the woman clearing the leaves of the cane trunks. However, this romanticised tribute is not strictly true to practice. At the beginning of the 20th century this method of farming was replaced by a more popular technique that consisted on burning the plantation the day before the harvesting and cutting the stems the following day. Unlike potatoes, the sugar plants only last four years after which they lose their glucose content, and so they need to be lifted and new plants sown.

The Parochial Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario remains the pride of the townspeople. Built in the 14th century on the site of a mosque, it is a work in Mudejar style, and its interior was completely reconstructed in the first half of the 19th century, after being destroyed by a fire in 1821. In its interior, many relics remain, the most significant being a Mannerist chest of the 12th century, made in golden silver it has enamels of fine design, in blue, ochre and green. The most venerated carvings are those of the Virgin of the Rosario (the town’s patron saint), the Christ of the Perdon and the Christ Yacente, all of which have suffered great damage since the Civil War, but a program of restoration is being campaigned. Close by the church, the Villa de Salobreña historical museum located in the old town square summarizes the six thousand years of history of the town through scale models, ceramics, tools and exhibitors illustrating for the visitor the historical importance of the community through time.

Though rare, it is still possible to see the odd mule or oxen being trailed down to the fields, and in late summer if there are not mules, there are many garcetas, African birds that gather before returning to the wetlands of the Guadalfeo river.

Salobreña is not afraid of its past or is it reluctant to look to the present. The stunning hill top community of Monte de los Almendros, an urbanisation where stunning designer villas look over the hill tops to the castle town below and offer owners some spectacular coastal and Sierra Nevada views. The progressive town hall administration has encouraged not only tourism but also historical attractions too. During the summer months the town hosts a medieval market in the old town streets with a blend of stalls and jugglers, where locals and visitors are encouraged to join in to these unique attractions even through to the early hours. Other local fiestas include San Juan and San Pedro in June, and the patron celebrations of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in October where a fantastic firework display is launched from the castle turrets across to the shimmering Mediterranean below. The area is becoming a greater attraction now that the new motorway network is complete; with Madrid just 4 hours drive. Those living in the city of Granada are now looking to base themselves in more relaxing homes along the coast and yet still being less than 40 minutes drive from the office. Just 7 kilometres east of Salobreña lies Motril, Granada provinces second town and home to a seaport, thriving commercial centres, a marina, 18 hole golf course, 20 kilometres of sandy beaches along Playa Granada and Playa Poniente and the new thriving urbanisations of the Costa Granada ideal for golfers and water sports enthusiasts alike.

Motril town is also home to the Calderon de la Barca theatre, the building dates from 1880 and is designed and decorated in Italian style. The building was recently restored and has been declared a Monument of Cultural Interest by the regional government of Andalucia - it is still used to host the many theatre, music and cultural events held in the town during the winter months. Other buildings of interest in the town include the house of the Countess Torre Isabel with its classical Andalusian patio; and also the Casa de Palma or Lucas Palma’s mill which today is home to the town’s library.

Apart from the popular fiestas of the Three Kings, Easter, day of the Crosses in May and San Juan in June; Motril and its districts also have specific local dates celebrating either religious or social events. At the beginning of the year, January 13 is Earthquake day. On this day in 1804 a series of disastrous earthquakes came to an end when two of the town’s most sacred Saints images were taken through the streets in a procession that is still to this day annually repeated. July 16 is the procession of Virgin del Carmen – saint to the fisherman – that is paraded from the town to the port and then taken out to sea in a boat before being landed again at Torrenueva. The townsfolk also enjoy a full week of fairs, parties and celebrations in August when to commemorate the town’s patron saint – Nuestra Senora de la Cabeza – the night of the 15th ends with procession through the streets of the saint’s effigy followed by a spectacular display of fireworks. Later in the year, in October, Semana Verde is an important local agricultural fair that attracts not only farmers but also visitors from all over the region who come to sample the best wines, rum, raisins, olive oils, almond sweets, sausages and other foods that the area produces.

Edit: 08.2017