Málaga Province - Ojen

Ojen

Overview of Ojén

Ojén, population 3000 like Istán, has somehow remained relatively unspoiled in spite of its accessibility and closeness to Marbella.

Its name is derived from an Arabic word, hoxán, meaning "rough" or "bitter" place. It seems a curious description to give to such a tranquil and beautiful spot, and even more curious that the Moors should establish a settlement in a place they presumably did not care for. But they did, and in common with other inland villages such as Istán, it was allowed to survive the Christians' embargo on Moors living too close to the sea after the reconquest.

It is situated beside the Almadán stream above the valley of the rio Real at an altitude of 650ft, hemmed in by the Sierras Blanca and Alpujata. In that, we may have a clue to the Moors' determination to stay in spite of their apparent antipathy, for both ranges of mountains have long been known as rich sources of talc, nickel, iron and lead. This mineral wealth put the area in the forefront of the Spanish industrial revolution of the 19th Century.

Newer, more affluent houses rise into the hills around the stunted, almost invisible vestigial remains of the Moorish castle which in its heyday dominated the skyline. The village survived the reconquest, but the castle predictably did not. The few stones that are left are now scattered among weeds and rough grass, home only to insects and beetles, and scarcely worth the climb to see.



Of more interest to the visitor is the old part of town which spreads down the mountainside on the other side of the road. Here the cobbled streets are narrow and well served by welcome drinking fountains. But Ojén used to be famous for something a little stronger than water. The production of the anise liqueur, aguardiente, which many Spaniards take each day with their morning coffee, once played a major part in the town's economy. Certainly worth a visit is the Wine Museum.

Close by, in the Serrania de Ronda, is the Refugio de Juanar. Originally the private hunting lodge of the wealthy Larios family, and a favoured retreat of King Alfonso XIII, this former Parador is now a private hotel popular with tourists and hunters. For the Serrania is still very much a hunting reserve where ibex, wildcats and eagles abound. It is also a favourite with ramblers and hikers who come to relish the pure mountain air and climb to the peak of La Concha for the stunning views of Marbella and the coast 3000 feet below. Guy Hunter Watts describes the Los Cuchillos walk which also starts from the Refegio   

Ojén is not the most beautiful of the mountain villages, nor the most historic, but it is peaceful and pleasant and well worth a visit. A far cry from the harsh and bitter place its Arab founders described.

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For an insider's view of Ojen, read this article first published in Andalucia Magazine.