Antequera is a small town about 45 minutes drive north of Malaga, on an incredible motorway that speeds across bridges high in the air and twists through gorges whose rocky walls tower above the road. It is perched on the edge of El Torcal, a national park famous for its limestone and “karst” landscape.
The town itself cascades down the hillside from the Alcazaba at its highest point to the flat plains below, a maze of cobbled streets and white walls. From the Alcazaba the views are incredible – the town stretching out to meet the fields of the Vega de Antequera, the vast Pena de los Enamorados rising out of the flat plains on the horizon, and behind, the mountains of the Sierra del Torcal.
It is stunningly beautiful. We went for a little bit of luxury, staying in the Parador on the north side of the town. Antequera is so small that it was only a 20 minute wander to the Alcazaba on the other side of town. It was a really nice hotel, if slightly “business-y” and had incredible views from its breakfast room.
We stayed one night, arriving on a cloudy afternoon and having a tapas lunch in a crowded bar on Calle Alameda. The food was delicious, and then it was back to the hotel to relax on the last full day of our holiday. I had noticed signs in the street about a Miró exhibition, and being a big fan of his work we set out to find it. It turned out to be in a brand new art gallery called the Museo de Arte de la Diputación (the MAD) which had only opened at the end of March. The museum was in an old 18th century building in the centre of Antequera and was free to enter, with an exhibition on the local area by local artists, as well as the Miró exhibition.
After the gallery we walked up to the Alcazaba to stare at the view and watch the sun begin to set. It’s a view you cannot get tired of so we decided to go for a drink in a quiet bar at the top of the hill to enjoy it more!
We then wandered back down into the main town for dinner, getting a seat at the Arte de Tapas at the early time of 9pm.
There were people in the restaurant but it was by no means busy. We settled down at a perfect little table in the window and had a wonderful tapas meal, each dish ridiculously cheap so we kept ordering more and more, each deliciously tasty.
Post dinner we set off for a wander around town as James was keen for some sherry. Every restaurant was full by this time (10.30pm) including Arte de Tapas and families with kids were still turning up looking for somewhere to eat. The Spanish really do do things differently!
The next day we set off to explore the Alcazaba.
The entry fee covers both the Alcazaba and the Church and comes with an audio guide which I would really recommend taking as it really evocatively describes the history of Antequera and turns the visit into something more than just wandering around ruins. And Antequera is filled with history, layers upon layers of history.
The town itself originates from when Spain was part of the Roman Empire. It was called Antikaria and was really important commercially, especially due to the quality of its olive oil (olive oil from the region is still mass-exported to Italy today, where it is bottled and stamped with “product of the EU” for much lower prices than if bought directly from Andalucia).
Remnants of this time are still visible, such as the foundations of the Roman baths which can be seen from the top of the Alcazaba. The Roman Empire crumbled and the Visigoths began to conquer Spain, building a church at the highest point in Antequera – its foundations can still be seen today within the gardens of the Alcazaba. And then another layer of history as the Moors swept through the Iberian peninsula. It is widely believed that they only ruled Andalucia, but in fact the Emirate of Cordoba reached all the way to the Pyrenees.
Antequera was a Muslim city for almost 700 years and it was in this time that the Alcazaba was built, to protect against the armies of the Reconquista. The audioguide tells the story of the siege extremely evocatively as you climb the stairs to the top on the tower and look down upon the ruins of a mosque in the Alcazaba gardens, and wider, at the city itself and the plains around it. It is all too easy to imagine watching the approaching army.
Ferdinand I of Aragon conquered the city in 1412 and moved into the fortress – it became a Catholic stronghold against the Nasrid dynasty in Granada.
He set to building a grand cathedral called the Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor which was finally finished in 1550. Entry is included in the ticket for entry for the Alcazaba… but to be honest both times I have visited, I’ve found it a slightly letdown after the stunning views and tangible history of the Alcazaba.
We spent most of our wander around on top of both towers in turn, listening to the audioguide, staring out at the view and planning our future life in Spain.
James wants a farm, I’m thinking a boutique hotel Casa Olea-style. If I could live with that stunning view to look at every day, I don’t know how I could ever be stressed or sad. Just one glance out of the window would calm me down. (Yes I know it doesn’t work like that in practice!)
After a few hours wandering around it was lunch time so we found ourselves an outdoor table at El Angelote in a square called Plaza Coso Viejo. It turned out James hadn’t had enough jamón y queso on our holiday (apparently) so we ordered another huge plate of ham and a huge plate of cheese – delicious!
All too soon it was time to head back to the car and drive to the airport… I dropped James off and then began the five hour drive back to Madrid. And that was our holiday!