Nestled into the foothills of the Sierra de Mijas is one of Andalucía's well-known pueblos blancos or white villages. Just 8 kilometres from Fuengirola the village of Mijas has become a popular tourist destination.
There was a settlement on the site of modern Mijas in prehistoric times. It became known as Tamisa during the Roman occupation and was a stopping point on the trade route between Málaga and Cádiz. Later Mijas came under the rule of the Moors and resisted the Catholic Kings attempts to remove the Moors from the peninsula and restore the country to Catholicism during the siege of Málaga in 1487. Eventually surrendering, and with many of the inhabitants sold as slaves, the village changed its allegiance and stayed loyal to the crown earning the title of 'Muy Leal' (very loyal) during the Revolt of the Comuneros a few years later. Evidence of all these parts of Mijas' history are still there to be enjoyed along with the more modern industries of papermaking and of course tourism.
Dropped off at the entrance to the village we passed through a garishly decorated turreted arch that was a leftover from the village's fería of the week before when the patron saint, Virgen de la Peña, was celebrated with flamenco, music and a party atmosphere. It was to her shrine that we made our way, past the burro (donkey) taxis. As with all legends there is conflict over the dates of discovery, miracles and attendant acts concerned with the shrine but the general consensus is that for five centuries an image of the Virgin Mary was hidden within the outcrop/hermitage/tower only being discovered when two shepherd boys were led there by a dove. It is now an intimate place of worship.
When tourism first hit the village of Mijas the men who returned from work on their burros were often stopped to have their photograph taken and the tips were generous compared to the daily wage they were earning at the time. With an entrepreneurial spirit they set up the Donkey Taxis which have become a tourist favourite. In recent years, after complaints of sick and maltreated donkeys the Refugio del Burrito (Donkey Sanctuary) have become involved and now monitor the well-being of the donkeys. I am all for seeing working animals worked so long as they are well-cared for.
Past the Miniature Museum, which houses a collection of miniatures once owned by a hypnotist known as Professor Max, we reached the Plaza de la Constitucíon. The fountain and benches were created from marble rocks that were deposited in the village after the flood of 1884. Restaurants and shops line the edge and walking through the shopping area we were stood at one of the viewing points of the village. The panaroma of the town and port of Fuengirola below with the Mediterranean Sea stretching out before us is worth taking the camera for. Sadly it was a rather hazy day on the coast so our pictures were not as effective as they could have been.
I made a fatal mistake as far as my waistline is concerned by stopping in the chocolate factory, Mayan Monkey Mijas, which sits in the Constitution Square. Eli, the proprietress is knowledgeable and enthusiastic and as well as chocolates (of which you must try) there are smoothies and ice-creams and other chocolate influenced products to enjoy. If you want to avoid the sun for any time there are also short courses where you can make your very own chocolates that you get to take home; an interesting alternative to some of the more run of the mill activities on the Costa. With taste bids tingling from a ginger and chilli chocolate we climbed up the slope to the Plaza del Toros.
Built in 1900 the bullring is a rather cosy affair and boasts of being unusual in having an oval form rather than the standard round ones. Fights are still staged there (I shall not get into a discussion of the whys and wherefores of bullfighting here, that is for another day) with tickets available for sol (sun) or ssombra (shade), and attached to the ring is a similarly small museum of bullfighting. Looking at the size of the matadors costumes these chaps are also on the small side. The view from the president's seat in the bullring takes in the village rooftops, the Shrine of the Calvario which is on the side of the mountain and reached by a walk through thick woodland and the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the old defensive walls that sit next to the ring.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception is the Parish Church of Mijas and was built on the site of the Moorish castle. Three naves are supported by columns at the top of which are what looked at first glance to be copies of pictures stuck on as added decoration but are in fact frescoes of the apostles dating back to approximately 1632, a year after the church was completed. The frescoes were re-discovered during renovation works in the 1990s. We took lunch by the fountains outside the church in the shade of the trees. The central fountain has a changing display which made for a pretty spectacle with the dappled light dancing off of the water spumes. A bird poo-ed on us as we ate which, despite meaning I had to forego some of my pate on toast, I took to be a sign of good luck (which indeed it was as only a water pump had to be replaced on my car rather than a whole engine which was feared).
We wandered along the old walls past numerous scraggy cats afflicted with all sorts of mange, back through the Plaza de la Constitucíon and to San Sebastian church and the surrounding streets. The streets are cobbled and narrow giving a true feeling of the village as it would have been. With little time to spare as we needed to catch the bus and get back to the garage for a diagnosis on the car we were unable to view the Caves of the Old Forge or the Casa Museo (Folk Museum) both of which give an insight into the Mijas of old.
We caught the bus from opposite the town's Ayuntamiento (town hall) back to Fuengirola, they also go to Benalmádena and Torremolinos, for the very reasonable sum of €1.45 each. I enjoyed returning to Mijas, a village that continues to embrace new ventures whilst still retaining some of its old world charm. There is something for everyone here and if the timing is right you can enjoy free Flamenco dances in the Plaza Virgen de la Peña (usually on a Tuesday) or purchase some of the local pottery and leather goods that are available in many of the shops. It is a pleasant change from the beach and more obvious tourist traps of the coast.