Malaga for most visitors means one thing: picking up their rental car at Malaga airport, and heading straight for a sun-soaked holiday at a hotel or villa on the coast. Far from the crowded costa, though, is another Malaga: Malaga the province – a place of stunning, mountainous landscapes and pretty villages… lots and lots of pretty villages.
First up, a couple of places that didn’t make the cut: Antequera, Archidona and Ronda have all been immediately disqualified, not on grounds of prettiness (as they’re all undoubtedly very lovely), but on the grounds that they are, in fact, towns. So where does that leave us? With these five white wonders…
Heading inland from Estepona, the first of the pretty villages in Malaga you come to (after only nine miles of driving through some lovely scenery) is Casares. And Casares is undoubtedly pretty – the picture-postcard piles of sugar cubes clinging to the hillside, basically. Though unmistakeably Moorish in appearance, the village dates back to Roman times (when Julius Caesar, no less, dropped in to the nearby spa at La Hedionda and walked out miraculously cured). At the far westernmost point of Malaga Province, it makes the perfect introduction to the white villages and fabulous walking that surround Grazalema.
Over to the east of Malaga, there’s nothing particularly accessible about Comares. You reach the village via a road that snakes up through the avocadoes and vineyards of the Axarquia, up and up, until with a blinding flash of white against the blue of the sky, you catch your first glance of it. Dramatic first impressions aside, the village is a charming tumbledown assortment of houses clustered around a ruined castle.
Further still off the beaten track, in the shadow of the mighty La Maroma (the highest mountain in Malaga Province) is Sedella. The village’s white houses cling to one another, with narrow streets lacing their way between them and a couple of striking Mudejar buildings like the church of San Andres and the Renaissance-Mudejar tower house on the main square. Good looks and charms are not the only things the village has going for it, however: the Sierra de Tejeda and Almijara stretch away offering some fabulous wildlife-spotting opportunities and some of the region’s best walking.
Teba is not so much one of the best pretty villages in Malaga Province as a pleasant enough village with a fabulously wild setting, and one seriously impressive castle. One of the largest castles built by the Moors in the whole of Andalucia, El Castillo de la Estrella is an amazing complex of crumbling battlements and towers scattered across a hillside with a mighty keep at its heart. In winter it’s blistering cold, in summer it’s searingly hot; but all year round the views out across the turquoise reservoirs to the mile after mile of rolling, dun-coloured hills are absolutely spectacular.
Gaucin also gets into this roundup of pretty villages in Malaga Province on something of a technicality. Yes, it’s a pretty village – whose main streets, lined with some really rather grand houses, rise upwards gradually towards an eagle’s eyrie of a Moorish castle – but it’s the views that really wow. On clear days you can see down over the hills of olive and holm oak, past the Rock of Gibraltar and over to the misty mountains of Morocco. It’s truly spectacular.
Philip Mennell is a travel blogger and Malaga resident writing on behalf of Espacar Rent a Car, a family car rental firm specialising in car hire in Malaga and Gibraltar.