Málaga Province - Montejaque

A local with his donkey. © Michelle Chaplow
A local with his donkey.

As in all the pueblos blancos, Montejaque dates from the time of the Berber settlers, after the Moslem conquest. Located in a semi-hidden bowl hidden by circular rocky outcrops, it overlooks a small fertile valley of olive groves.

Officially Montejaque is home to just over 1,000 people, although there is a concerted effort to improve its economy with rural tourism. Many homes were abandoned and fell into disrepair as the population left, firstly for Ronda then further afield. Indeed a plaque in the village commemorates the constant exodus of people, initially in the 17th century, to colonise America and in more recent times to Holland in search of work. The ever-expanding Costa today still attracts the young away in their quest for wealth and a less regimented social order.

Recent initiatives to introduce tourism into the mountains are popular and many deserted homes have been renovated as holiday homes and various hotel annexes. Arriving at one of the pueblo's two hotels, don't be surprised if instead of being shown to your room, you are given a bunch of keys and directions down a number of narrow streets until you find your accommodation. Though clean, these rustic homes evoke a way of life that is slowly dying out. Chickens, goats and of course campo dogs can still be seen in most of the small gardens and the indigenous community still wakes up early in the morning to make the most of the daylight.

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The village centre can only be approached by its own short side road, having left the Cortes-Montecorto route at the edge of the pueblo. Parking is not easy and therefore the sooner you park the better, as you will enter a dead end once you reach the Plaza Constitution. If you have a car that breathes in, then you might like to attempt the narrow medieval streets, only ending with a complicated parking saga, much to the amusement of the elderly pueblo residents, who sit out their remaining days watching life go by. Thursdays are a good day to visit as it is market day but parking is even more difficult for tourists but easier for determined locals as every available inch of space is fair game.

A walk up to the Plaza is lined by a number of simple shops hidden by uninviting blinds, some of them no more than front rooms of homes, with their TVs and armchairs at the back of the counter. The Plaza itself is dominated by the Parish Church of Santiago El Mayor built on the foundations of the mosque. Remodelled by Don Pedro Diaz de Palacios, the architect of Malaga Cathedral in 1604, the church did not remain untouched, as it was once again enlarged and re-dedicated in 1773. It has a large central nave and was built in the late Gothic style, with a vaulted roof covering the presbytery.

In the Plaza is the old noble mansion house, which today is the three star hotel Palacete de Marara. During the 17th century, this mansion was the seat of power for the Conde de Benavente and was used when he visited his domain to collect taxes and hunt on the then wooded mountain slopes. The family arms, carved in sandstone and rather decayed, can still be seen outside the main door of the building. The house was to see sadder times in the first half of the last century, when it became a sausage factory. This closed in 1995 due to changing EU legislation, when the owners could no longer afford to meet EU regulations. At the end of 1998, the noble's palace was converted into a three star hotel, with a very good restaurant serving local dishes.

Also sited in the Plaza, the Casa de Constitution was rebuilt in an interesting style after the Civil War. It was an obvious candidate for attack during that bleak period, when authority was attacked by both left and right sides. A Castillo located behind this area was destroyed after the re-conquest and many of the surviving walls were remodelled into homes.

Further hidden in the village on the way in, is the hotel and holiday business of Casitas Sierra. This is based around a reception and restaurant, with 27 different homes available on the same terms as a hotel room. A British holiday firm specialising in rural holidays has linked up with the local firm and many homes are taken up for two-week holidays, good news for the village economy.

Below the village, the old medieval road to Ronda zig-zags from the new cemetery and over the limestone outcrop. This track is still used today and passes the Hermita de las Escariguelas, visited every August by a procession in honour of the pueblo's patron saint, the Virgin of the Conception. Not an easy task when carrying a statue as it rapidly climbs more than 300 feet. Beyond the hermitage is the pass and a panoramic view of Ronda in the distance. The old medieval road led down into the valley below. However, of late serious walkers have made a route that follows the crest to the left and terminated at the highest point (Mures, 870m above sea level). The track then drops down to the road, very near the empty reservoir.

The village celebrates its various feast days on the 17 May, 25 July and 15 August.

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