Salobreña: History in a tropical landscape

Drivers along the Costa del Sol, intent on getting to Almeria or to Nerja or wherever their next big destination might be, cannot fail to notice Salobreña perched to one side of the road, but might decide that it is not worth going up to investigate. They would be wrong, because its quiet, winding streets, the castle, and above all, the panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and down to the sea make it a delightful place to visit, at any time of the year. One of the most eye-catching features of the surrounding area are the vast fields of sugar-cane which grow vigorously in the sub-tropical climate on the rich soil of the river delta and are harvested to coincide with the harvest in Cuba. Other crops which are found here in abundance also owe much to the unique climate, such as avocados, bananas, guayabas, maracuyas, mangos, and the delicious chirimoya, usually translated as custard apple – a description which does not do justice to its soft, sweet, pear-like flesh. Chirimoyas come into season in late autumn.

What to see

The centre of Salobreña, which is built on an impressive rock, is a maze of white houses making up the picturesque districts of Brocal, Albaycín, La Fuente and La Loma. There is no need for a map – just wander at will. Even if you don’t know which direction you are heading in, it will nearly always be either upwards or downwards!

Right on top of the rock, 105 metres above sea level, is the Arabic
fortified castle, the Castillo. Every year the castle attracts thousands of visitors, and the best views are obtainable from this high point. The story goes that early in the 15th century, the Sultan of Granada was on his deathbed and feared that his son might be cheated of his inheritance by the Sultan’s brother Yusuf, even though Yusuf was already imprisoned in Salobreña. So he sent someone to kill Yusuf – who asked for a last favour, to be allowed to finish a game of chess he had been playing. He stretched the chess game out so long that when news arrived of the death of the Sultan, he was still playing – and was proclaimed in place of his nephew.

Just below the castle is the parish church, built on the site of an old mosque and distinguished by a Moorish style arch.

The other main feature of Salobreña is its wide beach, split in two by a rock. The beach, although a short walk away from the town itself is the location of several “chiringuitos” (beach bars), very popular eating places with locals and tourists alike.

To find out more about the physical history of Salobreña, the museum, found inside the municipal library, is well worth a visit. With the help of a model and visual aids, the museum tells how Salobreña was once practically an island before the river gradually deposited its sediment to form the rich delta which along with the climate explains the abundance of crops such as sugar cane.

Like any other Spanish town or village, Salobreña has its share of traditional festivals and fairs. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is worth experiencing just to see how on earth they manage to carry the “tronos”, up and down the awkwardly narrow sloping streets. Then from the 24th to the 29th of June the people of Salobreña celebrate their San Juan and San Pedro fair which is followed in October by the festival in honour of the Virgin of the Rosario, the patron of Salobreña.

The summer season brings many concerts and shows to Salobreña, many of which take place by night in the spectacular setting of the Arabic castle. One of these events not to be missed is the “Lucero del Alba” flamenco festival turning the historic castle into a romantic setting for a delightful display of traditional music and dancing.

The experience….

If one of the main objects of the expedition is to do some shopping, a mid week break is better than a long weekend – because of the different religions, closing day also differs and some shops will be closed on Friday, some on Saturday and some on Sunday.

A good place to eat is the “El Caracol II” restaurant in Calle Poeta Salvador Rueda, which has a selection of Moroccan and Spanish dishes. The service is slow, but the “kefta” (minced lamb sausage) is definitely worth waiting for.

One of the sad things about Melilla’s unique situation is the almost inevitable preponderance of beggars in the streets, many of them Moslem women with their infants draped over their knees. Look down, and you see misery on the rubbish strewn pavements. Look up, and you are surrounded by magnificent buildings with modernist façades, every one of them worth a photo.

Wherever you decide to eat, you are likely to feel over-full afterwards. The solution is to ask for mint tea instead of coffee – for some reason, the hot sweet “green” tea instantly settles the stomach and makes you feel light again. If the restaurant or hotel can’t serve it, there are plenty of “teterías” around.

How to get there

By plane from Malaga or Almeria, or by ferry, also from Malaga or Almeria. Two companies run regular flights – Pauknair is slightly faster than Binter, (about 35 minutes as opposed to 45) but the flights are so frequent that they sometimes overtake each other in the air. The Transmediterránea ferry is a daily service, except Sundays, and takes approximately seven hours to make the crossing.

When to go:

Any time. Holy Week has the added attraction of processions, but fewer shopping hours, and the annual fair is at the beginning of September. July and August can be spectacularly hot.

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