Málaga Province - Tolox

© Michelle Chaplow
The village of Tolox.

Tolox lies between the rio de los Caballos and the rio de los Horcajos at the end of a side road hanging like a loose thread from the C-344 Málaga-Ronda highway. When they reach the village the two rivers call a truce and combine to form the rio Riachuelo.

 

 

The hills here are steep and show no mercy to the unfit in the flame-grilled Andalucían summer, but that should not deter the visitor. The heat determines the pace, and the pace in the white villages of Andalucía should always be slow.

Tolox has a long history. In the tenth century it formed part of the independent Moorish kingdom of Soleimán, son of the rebellious Omar den Hafsun. Soleimán was far too friendly and tolerant towards the Christians for other harder-line Moors' liking, and in 921 Abderrahman III overthrew him and absorbed his domain.

Michelle Chaplow

It is a place of much charm: peaceful for the most part, with two notably manic exceptions. Shrove Tuesday, the final day of the annual Tolox carnival, is known as Dia de los Polvos (Day of the Powder). In a tradition which has undergone many changes, but which is said to have its roots in a Christians vs Moors riot in the 16th Century, the entire population takes to the street to hurl talcum powder at each other. The second outbreak of communal lunacy is saved for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Known as la cencerrada, this involves running around ringing bells and making as much noise as possible. Once again, this is said to be an echo of Christan/Moors conflict.

Today the village is quietly famous as the site of the Fuente Amargosa Health Spa. Standing at the entrance to the spectacular nature (and hunting) reserve of the Sierra de las Nieves, the spa makes use of the water which flows at the rate of 15,000 litres a day from the mountains. The water gives off a mildly radioactive gas which is said by its aficianados to work wonders with respiratory ailments. At the spa, the gas is sprayed directly into the mouths and nostrils of the "patients".

Due to the large numbers of pilgrims who make their way to the Tolox spa every year, there are a many places to stay in the area. However, just this year a spectacular alternative to the in-town offering came onto the scene: a rustic wonder in typical Andalusian architecture perched high on the mountain above the spa and looking out on the vast rolling country side below.

The Cerro de Hijar hotel was built by the Andalusian Regional Government ten years ago, but left without operators until three young entrepreneurs stepped in to spiff the place up and open its splendid rooms to guests seeking more than just the spa experience.

© Michelle Chaplow
Driving in country.

Complimented by exquisite on-site cuisine and a lounge complete with books, games and a cup of tea if you like, hotel Cerro de Hijar is obviously welcomed by spa-goers, but also aimed at the rural tourist looking to explore the vast Sierra de las Nieves natural park.

The Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, to which Tolox is one of the gateways, is a wild and beautiful area still recovering from a disastrous fire which ravaged through it in the early 1990s. The dead stumps of burned and blackened trees cover the hills like exotic dancers caught forever in some dervish-like whirl. It is a hunting reserve, and the wildlife is abundant and impressive. The views, too, are outstanding and frequently breathtaking. A far cry from the average tourists' idea of Spain.

Tolox is no tourist hungry hawker shouting his wares at the passing traffic, though it does have a tiny but engaging municipal museum. Visitors are welcome, but it sees no reason to pack its streets with shops selling postcards, plastic castanets, and cuddly bulls to dangle over the dashboard. Like an old man sitting in the shade of a tree, it is content simply to be there.

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