The Axarquia is the area of Malaga province which stretches from Rincon de la Victoria to Maro. It borders Granada province from the cliffs of Cerro Gordo, which offer unique diving and snorkelling opportunities, to the mountain range of the Sierra Almijara, Tejeda and Alhama, which stretches from the coast up to Malaga province's highest peak, La Maroma, measuring 2,064 metres above sea level.
The Axarquia is a land of contrasts, rich in history and culture, dating back to Neolithic times, evidenced by the discovery of Neanderthal Man high up in the mountains of Zafarraya, near Alcaucin, and the world-famous Nerja Cave; to Phoenician settlements and church towers which have been built on what would have been mosques during Spain's Islamic period of Al Andalus. All of this has left a strong mark on modern-day Andalucía.
Fishing and agriculture have always played a vital role in the economy of the Axarquia and are no less important today. Traditional crops include almonds, muscatel raisins and olives. Caleta de Velez, which is one of Andalucía's most important fishing harbours, supplies the many fish restaurants that pride themselves in their locally caught catch of the day. Local favourites are pescaito frito (the general term for small deep fried fish, from anchovies to squid) and espetos (sardines grilled on canes over fires in dug-out boats) during the summer months.
Much of the 45 kilometres of the Axarquia's coastline, which includes the popular seaside resort of Nerja, along to Torrox, Torre del Mar, Benajarafe and Rincon de la Victoria, boasts blue flag status and some of the province's most beautiful beaches.
Vast expanses of sand from Nerja to Rincon de la Victoria provide the ideal sun, sea and sand holiday, while summer music festivals, including the Weekend Beach in Torre del Mar attract music fans as well as big-name artists, including David Guetta and the Black Eyed Peas.
The international music and dance festival in the gardens of the Nerja caves, as well as the Three Cultures festival in Frigiliana, are also well worth visiting.
In July the annual International Torre del Mar air show draws air craft aficionados from far and wide.
Traditional way of life
Meandering up through the mountains lie 31 villages that make up the rural inland part of the Axarquia. Here agriculture is a way of life, with many maintaining the centuries-old traditions of cultivating muscatel raisins which are made into the delicious local wine.
the Malaga raisin, produced in the Axarquia area with Muscatel grapes, was officially recognised by the Food and Agriculture culture organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in April 2018. The organic cultivation of muscatel grapes in the Axarquia and the delicate process of drying them in the sun to turn them into raisins has been carried out since Phoenician times and festivals take place in villages like Competa and La Vinuela annually to celebrate this centuries-old trade.
Olive-picking season is in full swing in autumn and winter when olive farmers can be seen carrying their harvest to the local olive oil cooperatives of Periana, Riogordo, Torrox or Puente don Manuel, to mention but a few. The season typically lasts from November to April and there is even a handful of foreign residents who have turned their hand to the trade.
Olive woods is typically used for fireplaces in the Axarquia and the unique, pleasant aroma the smoke gives off lingers in the air along with that of roasting chestnuts sold on the streets of towns and villages in the lead-up to Christmas.
Autumn and winter is also the time to collect the area's newest arrivals - mangoes and avocados. The subtropical fruit sector is witnessing something of a revolution at the moment with worldwide demand for the super foods at a high. Local market stalls are abundant with the fruits which thrive in the Axarquia's warm climate.
In January and February, the almond blossom covers the mountainsides with its beautiful tiny white and pink blossom as a sure sign that spring is on its way. While the highest peaks in the sierra can often have snow at this time of year, the beaches and beach bars are still busy with temperatures often reaching the mid-20s during the day, even in the middle of winter.
A year-round programme of festivals, which celebrate local patron saints - from Our Lady of Mount Carmel (VIgren del Carmen) who watches over fisherman, to St Isidore the Labourer, who protects farmers and the land, are highly revered and parades are followed by great outdoor parties to pay tribute to them. Many of the villages mark Easter Week Villages mark Easter Week with parades of the great images of our lady and Christ and the biggest of these in the area is held in Velez-Malaga, where on any evening during the religious festival the streets will be packed with people following the processions.
Food also has an important role in what is arguably Spain's most important religious period. In the main town of the Axarquia, Velez-Malaga, 'ajo bacalao', a tasty fish paste made with salted cod, garlic and bread, is eaten instead of meat, and torrijas - bread fried in olive oil and honey - are also enjoyed. In the village of Riogordo the annual Passion Play, depicturing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is held during Easter Week, attracts many visitors and has gained international recognition.
Each of the villages offers its own unique intrigue, from the quaint, whitewashed streets of Frigiliana, which is home to Spain's only working sugar cane factory, to curiosities such as the discovery of a 500-year-old version of the Quran, which was found in the walls of a house in Cutar, and the fascinating honey museum of Colmenar, which means bee hive in Spanish.
The mountain-top village of Comares houses the ruins of one of the watchtowers used by Islamic forces before the Spanish Reconquista as does the village of Arenas where the village of Arenas where the Bentomiz fort can be found. Velez-Malaga's fort still stands tall, offering views of the area to which the town is the main administrative centre; the lost village of Acebuchal hides secrets of Spain's bloody Civil War; and La Vinuela reservoir provides the area with water as well as offering a stunning backdrop to the many villages that surround it.
Thanks to its mild winters and summers that cater for hedonism to full-on relaxing, the Axarquia offers year-round possibilities, from the traditional sun, sea and sand holiday, to those seeking adventure, culture gastronomy.