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Rustic Idyll: Nerja, Spain
Notwithstanding the growing presence of tourists, the Mediterranean village of Nerja retains a charming core of bucolic, rustic freshness and warmth, writes Al Auger.
(Above): The sparkling blue Mediterranean against snow white columns presents a magical setting in Nerja, Spain.
After returning from Morocco we decided it was time for a break and organize the mess of eight months on the road. As if it was Karma, we found the village of Nerja on the southern Costa de Sol of Spain. It was a bit of a mind boggler when we walked into the nicest looking motel in town and was met with “What’ll you have, mate?”
The most important element of travel is the people.
Especially the Spanish who are so open and interested in you, but Nerja is a double country with the Spanish citizens and growing U.K. population. The people of Nerja inquire about you gracefully and with discretion. Nerja is on the tip of the Mediterranean with large rocks where the waves would crash and thunder. Bringing back memories of Mendocino and the Big Sur country.
(Above): The caves in Nerja present some breathtaking sights.
Today, Nerja can no longer be called a village, but luckily it was still in its nascent tourist/ retirement period when we arrived. As we sat there drinking our pint, it was as if we were back in the U.K. The crowd was nearly completely English or Irish and the motel was owned by the English bartender. The motel was modern and as up-to-date as one could ask for. The rooms were large and nicely furnished with Mexican rugs, figurines and furniture.
We were so captivated by the village and the people that Louise and I decided it would be a good plan to stop for awhile and put everything in order after all the months and miles of travel. We made a most advantageous deal with the motel’s owner for a month’s stay.
One day I was cleaning out the camper bus when I looked behind me and found two of the biggest brown eyes I have ever seen. He was about eight years old and was holding a soccer ball. I gestured for him to come in and see our home on wheels. At first he was a little shy, so I sat him behind the steering wheel and he settled into cruising down the “highway.” He told me that his name was Paco. I continued to work on the bus when another pair of oversized brown eyes peeked around the corner. Turns out it was Paco’s six-year-old little sister.
Like the captain of the ship he told her to come in. Paco formally introduced me to his sister, Luisa, as Alfredo. She was enthralled with the many features of the camper such as the bed, stove and wash basin. Paco even let her drive for a while. Later I found myself playing catch with Paco and demonstrating my stumbling style of soccer. Then it was time for them to go home, they waved back as they ran home.
(Above): Crowds of tourists throng in the narrow streets of Nerja.
Our budding relationship continued as the next day after school I heard a voice calling: “Alfredo, bola, bola.” So it went for days as Paco and I would play with his bola (ball) and Luisa played house in the camper.
One day they showed up with a large bag of fresh fruit. Not knowing Paco’s family’s economic situation I was hesitant to accept the gift, but you can’t refuse a gift freely given. He also added his mother would like us to visit the next day for tea.
Both of us looked forward to this with great anticipation.
The next afternoon Paco led us to his apartment home and his mother Maja, with shining deep black hair and the big eyes of her children. We further learned her husband was a fruit and vegetable vendor in Malaga, just down the road. This relieved us of our anxiety of accepting their gracious gift. I noticed, during our visit, the door was left open and every few minutes a face would suddenly appear and just as quickly disappear. We concluded Maja had told her many friends in the building of the visit from the travelers from Estado Unidos de America.
(Above): Sheer rocks and the sparkling sea provide spectacular settings in Nerja.
Although Nerja has become sophisticated and modern due to the growing European population, the village of Nerja is pure Spanish with houses decorated with hand wrought iron gates and window covers. Every home had brilliant flowers at each window. Walk anywhere in the old town and the locals will greet you with a wave, a smile and welcoming “Hola.”
There is so much one can do in the vicinity of Nerja. The beaches offer everything from a refreshing dip to windsurfing and sailing. The hermitage of Nuestra Senora de las Augustias, built in the 16th century, it is the patron of the town and the frescoes which decorates its dome are not to be missed. Stroll down the Paseo de los Carabineros promenade where the old town ends and the 21st century begins.
(Above): Map of Nerja.
But without a doubt, the most unique and intriguing destination for us were the caves of Nerja. Remains of the Neolithic and Epipaleolithic periods are displayed at the Entrance Hall, Inside you will find the huge galleries of geological formations and the cave paintings said to date back to the Paleolithic period. Stalactites and stalagmites are like prehistoric sculptures in what the locals the “Prehistoric Cathedral.” Surrounded by the unusual shapes of stalagmites, the Hall of the Waterfall is the site of the Nerja Festival. The festival brings together dancers, music and other famed performance artists.
Nerja also is famous for its gastronomic tradition with such dishes as ajoblanco con uvas (cold soup with almonds, oil, garlic and grapes), imagora salad or noodle casserole. As you might expect, Nerja’s real dining fame comes from the sea. One of its best known is Burriana sea bream on the grill or fish and clams with paprika.
The festivals of Nerja are interesting and entertaining along with destinations close by. There are so many fetes and so much to see it would be impossible to list them all. For information on Nerja visit their Web site at www.spain.info.
Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.