A short drive inland from Malaga and the Costa del Sol brings you to Axarquia a warm land of olives and raisins, mango and kiwi with neighbouring Antequera, an ideal location for visiting Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla and Ronda.
La Axarquia and Antequera form a wedge of rural Malaga that spreads northwards from the coast as far as Antequera town, the Sierra Tejeda mountains and the border with Granada.
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.
They remain attractive places that have only partly succumbed to the zeal for development exported from seaside resorts like Fuengirola and Torremolinos.
A more genuine Spanish feel is guaranteed if you push a little further inland: to Colmenar, for example, and rural heartlands by the Natural Parks in the Antequera area.
La Axarquia is one of the very 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.
It boasts the best climate in Europe with 320 days of sun a year.
It’s classic villa holiday 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 Natural Park of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama is a mountain reserve of forests and rugged wilderness where ancient mule tracks provide excellent walking opportunities. 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.
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.
To 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 villages like Colmenar and the historic town of Antequera.
This area is the most rewarding in terms of natural beauty and interest. Of special interest are the bizarre rock formations of El Torcal, a Natural Park with well signposted walks from its Visitors’ Centre via caves and extraordinary limestone creations. It is home to foxes and weasels as well as hawks, vultures and species of wild orchid.
Colmenar village, although just 35 km north of Malaga, is set right in the midst of the Malaga Mountains. The village 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"). The town’s surroundings are beautiful and there are a number of well-situated holiday villas here.
Fifteen kilometres up the road, 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.
Near Antequera is the scenic lake at Fuente de Piedra, sometimes called the Pink Lagoon. Flocks of flamingos gather after the winter at this beautiful, vast and unusual salt lake.
If more water attracts you in the warm, dry Andalusian climate, the delightful lake district of El Chorro is 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 sliced the astonishing 180 metre chasm of the Garganta del Chorro through 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.
Of special note is the exceptionally easy access from Malaga Airport and the good motorways linking the area with Granada, Cordoba and Seville for day trips.
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?
Read our full Andalucia Holiday Guide
For accommodation, see our selection of villas for self catering in Andalucia