This is classic, sunny Andalucia all over. History, cultural cities and holiday villas are to be found among rolling hills of olives, rooted in red earth under blue skies.
It is a wedge of Malaga province that spreads inland from the southern Mediterranean coast, between Malaga town in the west and Nerja in the east. Enclosing it on either side like inverted commas are two mountainous Natural Parks: the Montes de Malaga and the Sierras de Tejeda, Amijara y Alhama.
La Axarquia boasts the best climate in Europe with 320 days of sun a year. It's one of the few places in mainland Europe where winter swims are a real possibility. The Mediterranean climate is guaranteed by mountain ranges which shelter the region and shore winter temperatures up to 20⁰ C or more.
Andalucia's Moorish history stands out in the form of hilltop castles".
Nearest the sea, villages such as Frigiliana have become the preferred choice of many Britons and other Europeans looking for a second home – or a new life – in the sun and near the coast. On the coast itself, wide, sandy beaches at Nerja go side-by-side with built-up stretches and small coves below high cliffs.
Inland, it's ideal holiday villa country. Here, surrounded by rolling countryside and in the shade of orange and lemon trees, you can enjoy fresh seafood from the coast, local avocados, custard apples and Moscatel grapes, while planning day trips to the city and coast.
The climate crosses over between the Mediterranean and semi-tropical. Olives and almonds, raisins, mango and kiwi grow here.
Andalucia's Moorish history stands out in the form of hilltop castles and also in the steeples of some village churches, which were once the minarets of mosques built during the centuries of Islamic rule.
The border with Granada province is formed by the Natural Park of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama, a mountain reserve of forests and rugged wildernesses, where ancient mule tracks provide excellent walking opportunities.
In the west, La Axarquia is bordered by the Montes de Malaga. These gentle mountains, rich in Mediterranean pine forest, offer views of the sea from their protected Natural Parklands. Prominence here goes to small towns such as Colmenar, whose surroundings are beautiful.
Naturally, the Mediterranean and its sandy beaches are hard to resist at some point during a stay in this sunny region.
Barbecued fish on the beach, a cold beer, an ice cream?
North of Malaga, on a fertile plain where it is surrounded by olive groves and sunflowers, we find Antequera. The town's long history was recently underlined by the discovery of a Roman city, the remains of which can be visited by passing under the tremendous stone Giant's Arch, itself dating back to 1585. An Arabic fort dominating the town retains its White Tower and Keep.
Once the Moors were defeated by the Catholic Monarchs in the 15th century, churches started to go up in Antequera with such fervour that there are now more here than anywhere else in Spain. More fascinating than any of these, however, are the Dolmen Caves on the edge of town. These Bronze Age burial mounds, the most impressive in all of Europe, were constructed by some of the earliest Iberian settlers some 4,500 years ago using huge slabs of stone.
The Dolmen de Menga alone comprises 32 of these megaliths, including one massive stone weighing in at 180 tonnes. When archaeologists opened the inner chamber they found hundreds of human skeletons.
The Antequera area shares the same warmth and sunniness of La Axarquia, exchanging immediate proximity to the Mediterranean Sea for a strategic location linking Andalucia's star cultural attractions: Granada, Cordoba, Seville and Ronda.
Natural beauty and interest are to be found in the bizarre rock formations of El Torcal Natural Park and the scenic lakes of El Chorro and Fuente de Piedra.
The friendly and cosmopolitan city is often overlooked by tourists who think of Malaga as being synonymous with its international airport. Malaga's Alcazaba fortress is the most beautiful living example of the period of Muslim domination. It is built on a hill in the centre of the city, overlooking the port, and comprises two walled enclosures.
The town's excavated Roman theatre remained buried for many centuries. It lies at the foot of the Alcazaba.
Malaga cathedral is often referred to as the La Manquita (The One-Armed Lady), as it still lacks of one of its towers. Legend has it that the money allocated for its completion in the 19th century was sent to pay for the wars in America.
Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, and the Picasso Museum (museopicassomalaga.org) here answers his wish that his work be represented in his home town.
The old town is distinctively Moorish in appearance. We recommend that you visit the old quarter in the evening to wander the narrow, winding streets and alleyways. Try Frigiliana's dark miel de caña (cane honey).
At nearby Nerja, you can enjoy beaches and the natural wonder of the great cave. Cueva de Nerja is a cool place to visit in both senses of the word. Galleries continue for 5 km. One stalactite and a corresponding stalagmite merge here to form the world´s thickest column of its kind. For one week every July, Nerja Cave becomes the unique evening venue for a Festival of Music and Dance.
Cliffs of Maro (Cerro Gordo)
The small bays are naturally beautiful and tranquil. Cerro Gordo has a naturist beach.
Natural Park of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama
Mountains and forest, with mule tracks to hike. If the higher peaks like Maroma (over 2,000 metres) are too challenging on a hot day, there are easier hikes in the foothills and valleys, where tree-lined watercourses provide cool shade.
There are many and some fly the Blue Flag earned for the quality of the water, cleanliness of the beach itself, lifeguards, showers and good accessibility: Maro, El Playazo, Torrecilla & Burriana (Nerja), Torre del Mar & Benajarafe (Vélez-Málaga), and Mezuitilla (Algorrobo costa).
Montes de Malaga
These mountains form another, much smaller, Natural Park just north of Malaga city. Walks go through pine forest and present beautiful views of Malaga and other mountain ranges in the province.
The uncanny rock formations of El Torcal Natural Park are always make for a rewarding visit. Well-signposted walks lead from its Visitors' Centre via caves and extraordinary limestone creations. The Park is home to foxes and weasels as well as hawks, vultures and species of wild orchid.
Fuente de Piedra
Also near Antequera is the scenic Fuente de Piedra, sometimes called the Pink Lagoon, since the protected lake is the second most important nesting site of the flamingo in Europe. The pretty birds gather after winter at this beautiful, vast and unusual salt lake.
Warm, dry Andalucian days may have you looking for more lakes. We recommend the delightful lake district of El Chorro. It's a perfect spot to picnic, swim or fish. Three turquoise lakes, with pine forest reaching down to the shores, are watered by a river that over the ages has worn the astonishing 180-metre Garganta del Chorro chasm through the limestone rock. An infamously perilous catwalk following the rockface round to a bridge over the gorge is now strictly off-limits for safety reasons, but there are plenty of less hair-raising paths lower down.
Frigiliana Museum of Archeology
A highlight of the exhibition is the skull of a child, discovered in the Cueva de los Murcielagos (Bat Cave), and dating from the Neolithic Age between 4,000 and 5,000 BC. In the natural surroundings, you can enjoy beautiful countryside and walks.
Lagar de Torrijos Ecomuseum
It stands in the midst of the dense pine groves so typical of the Montes de Malaga, at the beginning of one of the most attractive trails in the Nature Park.
Some 35 km north of Malaga,Colmenar is set in the midst of the Malaga Mountains. The town itself is not so much old and entrancing as a genuine and pleasant agricultural village, where the production of honey is of particular note (colmena in Spanish is "beehive").
Lobo Park Antequera
Unique theme park with wolves. Enjoy a close sightseeing of these animals and learn about their behaviour. You can also go horse riding or take riding lessons.
Granada, Cordoba, Seville & Ronda
Antequera lies at the geographical centre of Andalucia's fabulous cultural cities, making it an exciting strategic hub for visitors. A good cross-country road from Antequera goes to Ronda in 1 hr 15 mins. Motorway takes you to Granada and Corboba in the same time and Seville in 1 hr 45 mins.
On 13th June, the town honours its patron saint, San Antonio. A salvo of rockets and the flourish of reveille herald the start of five days of fiesta, each with a different set of attractions and competitions.
Three cultures festival: during the last week in August, Frigiliana gets dressed up in its party finery for a fiesta of culture and leisure, as it becomes the focus for a meeting of the three historically important cultures: Jewish, Muslim and Christian. With offerings of gastronomy, music and cultural activities, it is a reminder of a bygone age when Al-Andalus was a nexus of harmonious co-existence for people of the different faiths.
Easter is a major festival in Catholic Spain and no more so than in Malaga. Processions begin Palm Sunday and dominate proceedings for Holy Week.
A special Easter tradition much enjoyed by both locals and visitors is Correr la Vega (Running la Vega). At the end of the solemn, processional route, a warning bell rings out and the bearers start racing their heavy thrones up a hill. An exciting (and exhausting) race.
Easter is also the highlight of the year in the village of Riogordo. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, El Paso (The Passion) re-enacts the Passion of Christ. The ceremonial open air performance has only been celebrated for 50 years but it is now considered an important local tradition.
Summer fiesta is held on the first weekend in August.
Virgen de la Candelaria Pilgrimage and Feast of San Blas: first Sunday in February.
Día de la Pipa Pilgrimage: 3rd May.
Young Wine and Pork Products fiesta: December.
Axarquia and Antequera´s cuisine embodies the Mediterranean diet perfectly. Vegetables, meat, fish, pulses and fruit are the basic elements, with dishes blending in whatever the mountains and the sea have to offer.
A varied local cuisine reflects the geographical diversity of the region. In the mountains, hams are cured and game dishes are common, whilst on the coast seafood predominates. However, seafood and meat are available everywhere.
In the Montes de Malaga, dishes are based especially on oil and wine. This area is well known for its olive oil, exquisite honey and excellent cold meats. Among our recommendations for eating out in this area are:
• El Puerto - Situated in Casabermeja, this restaurant is great for fish.
• Puerta de Malaga - Also in Casabermeja, this grill restaurant is great for meat dishes.
• Meson El Pilar - Great local food and wine) in Colmenar.
Soaked dried beans are often added to meat stews. The classic method of preparing fish and seafood is to quickly deep-fry it in very hot olive oil.
• El Tintero restaurant is Malaga´s popular restaurant, famous for its pescaíto frito (fried fish).
Other fish and seafood are grilled a la plancha. Seafood soup (sopa de marisco) is found everywhere, varying in recipe and universally delicious.
The region also produces some fine sugary cakes and pastries.
Malaga's characteristically sweet wines have been mentioned in Andalucian literary texts over the centuries. Almost every village makes their own blend. Once the taste is acquired taste, they become very palatable, but be warned they can be mightily potent. The better known in Axarquia are from Frigiliana (from the Moscatel grape) and Competa, and taste similar to sherry.
Frigiliana makes a thick, dark cane honey that the locals like to pour onto avocado.
La Axarquia covers the area immediately behind the coast between Malaga and Nerja and as such experiences a classic Mediterranean climate.
Antequera, moving further into the interior, still enjoys a strong Mediterranean influence, but the thermostatic effect of the sea becomes diluted as the climate becomes more continental.
That encapsulates the principal climactic characteristics as you head north and inland from south coast.
But there's a secondary effect also, from west to east. The further you go from the Atlantic, from Malaga towards Frigiliana, the dryer the ocean-borne winds become, leaving behind their moisture and rain in the Malaga Mountains.
Long seasons of dry, sunny Mediterranean weather".
La Axarquia prides itself on having 320 days of sun a year, and its popularity with holidaymakers undoubtedly stems from being one of the sunniest spots in Europe.
Even in winter, rain is scarce and light, making the area dryer than anywhere else in western Andalucia, if not as parched as the extreme east.
This is the land of figs, sweet wine and almonds. Close to the coast, an often semi-tropical climate allows the cultivation of avocados, custard apples and mangos.
The days of blue skies seem endless. This guarantee of long spells of uninterrupted sun has made La Axarquia Spain's main producer of raisins. La Axarquia tastes sweet: that goes, too, for the Malaga dessert wines from here, ripened by the dry heat.
Nowhere is far from the sea here. Even in hottest months of July and August, there is always a regime of sea breezes to bring relief from the heat at dusk and through the night, as well as early morning.
The hot, dry season is long. Even in April and October temperatures can be an invitation to swims in the sea or swimming pools.
Winter days are often surprisingly warm with a beautiful light.
In interior Malaga, the Antequera region has a very comparable climate, but with an attenuated oceanic influence. In the dry summer season, this means daytime temperatures are slightly higher and nights fresher than in La Axarquia.
The climate is no longer semi-tropical as we move inland, but the summer is equally long and sunny.
Axarquia & Antequera climate summary
Axarquia and Antequera enjoy typically long seasons of dry, sunny Mediterranean weather. Areas close to the sea reach semi-tropical conditions, while the soothing influence of the sea is felt less further inland.
The dry season lasts from April to October, when swims in the Mediterranean are still possible.
Winters can also be warm although the chances of rain rise compared to the rest of the year.
The closest airport for Axarquia and Antequera is Malaga Airport (AGP) at just 45 mins from many holiday villas in La Axarquia and 1 hr from villas in Antequera.
Jerez Airport (XRY), Seville Airport (SVQ), Gibraltar (GIB) or Granada (GRX) are 2 hours or less away, but Malaga is the common choice. It is both the nearest airport and has the largest number of flights to choose from.
To find flights, you can use this search tool provided by Skyscanner:
We recommend a car for getting to your rural holiday villa in Axarquia & Antequera. It's practical, convenient and needn't be expensive. A car may well be the only way of reaching your property, and is then invaluable for shopping, visiting places of interest, and making an easy return trip at the end of your stay.
The road in network in southern Spain is good and well-maintained, roads are quieter than in many other European countries, and parking in villages is free.
Driving times from the airports above are shown on the villa's individual property page. You will receive a map with detailed directions for your holiday villa as one of your holiday documents from Rustical Travel.
Unless you're making the long drive down from France, or Santander / Bilbao ferry ports, you'll need to hire a car.
Rustical Travel doesn't have a professional arrangement with any particular car hire company and we suggest you shop around for car hire using a broker such as rentalcars.com or similar.
It's easy to compare prices of rentals with companies that operate at the airport you fly into, and all the reputable agencies have online payment for advance booking these days.
You don't have to use the broker. If you prefer, you can check the car hire companies own websites, compare prices, and book direct.
If your villa is up a track, be sure to rent a vehicle with good clearance. This means most normal cars: simply don't be tempted by a low-slung sporty model.
Public transport in Axarquia and Antequera is limited. Plenty of buses (and few trains) run between major population centres such as Malaga and Antequera, but rural outposts are poorly served.
For convenience, we strongly recommend hiring a car