Passionate tales of tragic romance and star-crossed lovers are common in folklore and literature across the world. A secret love, thwarted by conflicting families makes for a compelling story; so unsurprisingly Andalucia has its own Romeo and Juliet couple too.
In the Malaga folktale a young man from Antequera and his girlfriend from nearby Archidona are the ill-fated pair. In a desperate bid to escape their feuding, rival families, they were said to have thrown themselves to their death off the nearby limestone mountain, now known as ‘Lovers’ Rock’; the ‘Peña de los Enamorados’.
It’s a powerful legend that remains an important part of local folklore. Residents and visitors alike are reminded of it as they catch sight of the uniquely shaped mountain that dominates the landscape.
Many of us will have passed this unusual rock formation, (which at certain angles looks like a giant Indian head) whilst travelling on the train or taking the motorway; but as many people who already know the area will concur, the towns of Archidona and Antequera are well worth a leisurely visit.
The rivalry between Archidona and Antequera captured in the local legends still continues, but nowadays it’s in a good humoured way, usually over gastronomy. Take for example the mollete, a type of soft, white traditional bread that is said to be from Antequera. Talk to anyone in Archidona and they claim to make the original and the best. Stay at Archidona’s ‘Almohalla 51’ guest house and you can enjoy an authentic Archidona mollete with oil, garlic and tomato or served as a side with a fresh frittata-style vegetable omelette; a great way to start the day.
Porra is another local speciality; a cold, tomato tapa, a little like gazpacho soup, but it is made with more bread to make it thicker and richer. Called ‘Porra Antequerana’ again it is challenged by the Archidona residents who believe that their version is superior!
A delicious and pleasurable way to navigate the best local dishes is to visit the family-run ‘Cozina de Arte’ restaurant and informal tapas bar. Found in a noble, seventeenth century building in Antequera’s old town, guests are welcomed by Charo Carmona and her son Luis who are happy to suggest dishes from their menu that changes with the seasons.
Charo Carmona has become recognised as one of Andalucía’s notable chefs and she specialises in using traditional recipes that showcase the best of northern Malaga’s produce and the rich culinary heritage of Antequera and beyond. Here one can try classic porra, as well creative, modern interpretations. The tapas menu includes mini gourmet burgers, mollete with pringa, classic meatballs, tempura prawns, and more; all served in a contemporary style and with the emphasis on freshness and taste. (You can read more about this bar in my other post on Arte de Cozina here).
Stylish Almohalla 51
My base for exploring Antequera and Archidona was ‘Almohalla 51’, a boutique style guest house, established by Brits Myles and David. This unique bolthole has been voted Spain’s top ‘B&B’ this year, by Trip Advisor reviewers.
Relaxing in the hammock on the shaded terrace of Almohalla 51, with the pine trees of the Sierra de Gracia providing a peaceful backdrop, I can understand why this intimate escape has become such a hit with visitors to Archidona. Sipping a glass of wine and watching agile Swifts dart and dive over the pristine pool, it’s clear this place captures the feeling of romance and magic of the area just as well as any legend or story.
Guest rooms reflect an attention to detail and sophistication more often associated with luxury hotels; high quality beds, antique furniture and luxe bathrooms make a short break or overnight escape here a memorable experience.
During summer there is a shaded Mediterranean patio for alfresco dining, as well as a garden sun terrace with pool. For cooler winter nights the cosy salon has an open fire, surrounded by classic wing back chairs.
This period property, in the quiet Archidona street of Almohalla, has been meticulously renovated by David and Myles, who left their London corporate lifestyles behind in favour of the authenticity and charm of Archidona.
Given a new lease of life, the house retains plenty of historic features like vintage Iberian tiles, twisted, antique beams, and the charmingly idiosyncratic layout of the original property. There are interesting alcoves, nooks and corners, perfect to escape to with a book or where to kick back on the sofa and relax after a day’s exploring of ‘El Torcal’.
Lovers of the great outdoors come to northern Malaga province for its craggy mountains and beautiful walking trails. The ‘Peña de los Enamorados’ is part of the rich geology of the region. Much of this limestone landscape has been sculpted by natural forces which created the remarkable environment of nearby ‘El Torcal’. It’s a unique place to walk, see wildlife and take in some of the unusual stone formations. Self-guided routes are well sign-posted or one can walk with a guide from the local visitor centre.
For history buffs, visit the copper-age megalithic tombs that dot the striking countryside. These ancient burial chambers are open to the public and feature huge monoliths of breath-taking dimensions that contrast with the medieval and baroque architecture found in nearby towns.
Archidona has a charming old quarter, and a unique octagonal square.
Zambra Morisca Festival
The annual festival of Zambra Morisca is one of the best times of year to immerse yourself in the living traditions of Archidona and Antequera. This arts and music festival is a celebration of ‘Andalusí’ culture and remembers the enduring legend of the ‘Lovers’ Rock’. The story so captured the imagination of the eighteenth century English romantic poet and story teller Robert Southey that he re-wrote it. In his ‘Laila and Manuel’ tale, the lovers were a Moorish Muslim girl and her father’s Christian slave, a version that pulls together the multi-cultural history of this fascinating region, inspiring the annual festival in Archidona.
How to get there:
Antequera is served by the national rail network, with direct services to Seville, Granada and Malaga. It is also on the national motorway network, at the intersection of the east/west A92 and the north/south A45. Buses and taxis run to Archidona.
Where to stay:
‘Almohalla 51’ is a guest house in Archidona, offering fabulous boutique hotel luxury and quality with the friendly, relaxed, low-key style of a family-run B&B.
Address: Calle Almohalla 51, Archidona, MALAGA 29300, Spain
Tel: +34 952 716 370
Mob: (David) +34 6229 16672 / (Myles) +34 6182 09174
Where to eat:
Both Archidona and Antequera have a vibrant food scene with bars and restaurants offering notably good quality food.
‘Arte de Cozina’, a restaurant and tapas bar in Antequera’s old town is one of the best in the region.