Travel Report: Frigiliana, Spain.
October 2016. A potential visit to the south of Spain conjures up daydreams of blue skies, golden sands and mouth-watering bowls of tapas. More often than not accompanied by a glass of blood-red tinto (wine). Or in my case a cheeky caña (little beer). You might also think of pristine, whitewashed villages and towns nestled between the mountains. If this is your idea of authentic Spain, there are countless destinations to choose from.
I think you’d be hard pushed to find a whiter or indeed more washed place than the delightful town of Frigiliana in Andalusia. This postcard perfect community sits just seven kilometres north of the town of Nerja. Usually, it’s possible to take a public bus. However, my friend Spackles and I arrived on a Sunday when the buses don’t run. Thus we simply cursed our luck, jumped in a taxi and took the twelve Euro hit.
There are plenty of people out there claiming Frigiliana is Andalusia’s prettiest town. As such, it often gets flooded with busloads of tourists. Pretty much my nightmare travel experience. Luckily, Spackles and I had timed our visit perfectly. Firstly, we’d come on a late October morning in the off season. Moreover, it was a desperately grey day, with a sky so menacing I felt certain the heavens would open up at any moment.
Not wanting to get caught in a downpour, we decided to duck into Bar El Picoteo for some breakfast. Located on Calle San Sebastián, the restaurant has a great reputation for fresh, tasty tapas. Furthermore, there are balcony views across the steeply banked old town and surrounding farmland.
Snatching a free balcony table, we ordered some pastries and sat reminiscing about the old days working for The Employment Service in the Scottish town of Haddington. As usual, Spackles was cracking me up with his sarcastic commentary and biting wit. In fact, we were so relaxed, and the views so pleasing, I ordered another cup of coffee and did some light reading on Frigiliana’s considerable history.
Historians reckon Frigiliana’s first human settlement dates as far back as 3000BC at the end of the Neolithic period. Then came the Phoenicians, while The Romans rolled into the territory in around 206BC. Under their rule, a fortress of some kind once stood here. But apparently the aptly named Germanic tribe, The Vandals, destroyed most of it and virtually no evidence remains.
It was The Moors who left a lasting impression on the region, much of which survives today. Following their successful invasion in 711, they farmed the hilly countryside by carving terraces. As part of The Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, they based their economy on the production of oil, sugar cane, raisins, figs and wine. Happily, all I had to do was look up from my phone and there were views of this hilly vista as far as the eye could see.
Much of this Moorish influence is alive and well in the town’s gorgeous white houses and cobbled streets. Hence Spackles and I set off to explore the old town and see if it lived up to the hype.
We certainly weren’t disappointed! Despite the almost overwhelming greyness of the day, there was no doubting Frigiliana’s appeal as we made our way through the winding streets.
Clearly proud of the town’s heritage, locals decorate their homes with ceramic plates, manicured plants, hanging flower pots and personalised house signs.
Along the way, I noticed that someone had left a thick wooden entrance door ajar, allowing me a glimpse into a shared hallway. It was absolutely gorgeous, with colourful mosaic tilings, a sculpted marble fountain and wooden stair rail.
The Moors held court in Frigiliana until 1569 when the Christians finally expelled them during The Battle of the Peñon. There had been years of struggle, a period documented across the old town by a series of twelve beautiful ceramic plaques. Written in the Castilian language, you’ll need local help to translate the various stories.
For more historical context, we dipped into Frigiliana’s towering church, San Antonio de Padua. Built in 1676, it overlooks a picturesque plaza with a near constant sound of clinking knives and forks from a nearby restaurant.
Church of San Antonio de Padua.
The church is dedicated to Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of travellers, sailors, fishermen and lost things. The pretty interior features painted arches, a wooden ceiling and an ornate, gold-plated altar with a sculpture of Christ on the cross.
In addition to the ever-present sense of history, much of Frigiliana’s enchantment lies simply in observing local life. An old woman hangs up some laundry out of her window, while a cat mooches between the plants of yet another lovely whitewashed house. Elsewhere, a queue at a tiny greengrocers runs out onto the street.
For the most part, visitors to Frigiliana come to eat, drink and generally laze around. There are restaurants and cafes everywhere, many of which are little more than tourist traps. One highly recommend option is Fandango’s, a cafe bar focusing on fresh Mediterranean and British dishes using herbs, fruit and vegetables grown locally.
Their menu is super simple and changes according to the season. At the time of writing their set brunch is a hot flatbread filled with roasted cherry tomatoes, avocado, goats cheese and Frigiliana honey. Sounds good to me!
It was fun exploring Frigiliana. Especially as, at its very core, this is a place where you can just sit back and admire its beauty. So much of my explorations around Southern Spain saw me pushing myself to tick off as many key sights as I could. In comparison, this was a refreshing change of tone.
If I ever make it back to Andalusia, it’d be interesting to see some more whitewashed towns and villages. If they’re half as charming as Frigiliana, it’ll be worth the effort.
Like this? Why not check out my other pieces from around Andalusia.
To delve further afield, I’ve also written a bunch of articles from all over Spain.
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