The town of Carratraca, Málaga is known for it’s sulfur water spa, but the streets and the people of the town are what made us fall in love!
A few years ago in Spain there was a campaign to “adopt” a small town. So many people had moved away from the small towns where their families had lived in the past to the bigger cities, that they started to miss having a little town to go visit and disconnect on the weekends or over the summer holidays. If I were Spanish I would have been among those “adopting” a town.
I love everything about a Spanish small town. The streets are so narrow that you sometimes have to step into a doorway to avoid a car passing by; homes that look just right for a family with a grandma passing through the beaded curtain in the doorway; flower pots lining the walls outside and the gorgeous Spanish tiled roofs. So when our friend offered to take us to see his home town of Carratraca, in the hills of Málaga, we jumped at the chance.
Exploring the Streets of Town
We chose a chilly and damp February morning to explore the town of Carratraca, which, as our friend assured us, was a perfect day to get the real “pueblo” feel. We parked the car in the lower part of the village and walked from there. We headed up the winding Avenida de Antonio Rioboó with a spectacular view of a field of orange and lemon trees against the grey sky with an impressive mountain range.
The photographer in me was pleased as punch with the gorgeous landscape. We had taken the highway as we drove from Málaga to Carratraca, which is faster, but maybe not the world’s most scenic route. It was only later that we learned about the country road through the towns of Alora, Ardales, El Chorro and Teba. It would be a gorgeous trip in the springtime, especially if you were in the mood to stop along the way.
We made our way to the main plaza of the town, which wasn’t exactly bustling, even on a Saturday morning. The few people we saw recognized our friend and his family immediately. “That’s the thing about a small town,” our friend told us, “you actually know ALL of your neighbors and they ALL know you!” “How many people live in Carratraca nowadays?” I asked. “Only about 800.” At the town school there might be only 4 or 5 children in a class because a lot of the younger people have moved to the city for work. It made me wonder if the tide will turn at some point and we will all start heading back to the small towns. I can’t say the idea doesn’t appeal to me in some ways.
We wandered past the church and the gorgeous white stone steps lined with flower pots to the Calle Alta. One of the neighbor ladies stepped out to say hello and when she saw me snapping photos, she piped up saying that the street used to be so much more beautiful with more flower pots lining the walls. “Look here,” our friend told us. “This type of wall, with the cement in dribs and drabs that gave the wall a texture that begged to be touched; this is the most typical in town. All the other walls, you can tell, have been redone.”
There was a specific tile, too, that looked like it had swirls of white mixed in with the color. Lots of houses had it lining their windows. This was a trend in the town, as well. Those little details that only a person who had grown up in the town would know made the lonely streets come alive. “We used to sharpen our knives on this corner, just look how the stone is worn away. Looks like the kids still do it,” he remarked. Somehow, the walk around town had become not just a walk around our friend’s town, but a reminder that even though we don’t all have a “small town” that there is always something bittersweet about visiting the place where you grew up.
The Sulphur Water Spa
Carratraca’s claim to fame has always been the sulphur water spas. It was true, that as we walked, every once in awhile we caught a faint smell of rotten eggs in the air. That was the sulphur water. The spa has been around ever since Roman times and, the water comes from underground springs that maintain a temperature of about 18 degrees Celsius and are said to improve your health allowing for rest and relaxation. During the spa’s heyday in the 19th century, “taking the waters” was the height of fashionable travel, and much like the Balneario in Lanjarón (Granada). In fact, the town has seen many famous visitors including Lord Byron and the Empress Marie Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III).
On the edge of town, is the bull ring. Our friend explained to us that the town had decided to put the ring on the outskirts of town mainly so that if a bull happened to escape, it would be able to run into the woods of the surrounding mountain range, and not into the streets of the town. The ring itself is quite impressive because it is well taken care of, and built right into the mountains. Every year, during holy week, the town represents the Passion of the Christ in the bull ring. It’s something that everyone from the town has taken part in at least once over the years, and is well worth a visit if you are in Andalucia for Easter. They also celebrate the festival of the “Luna Mora” (The Moorish Moon) with candles and events in the bull ring.
The Old Town Hall
One of the buildings that was most impressive in the small town of Carratraca was the old town all. It was originally the vacation home of Doña Trinidad Grund, who was a bit of a forward thinker and included all kinds of Moorish details from arches with beautiful painted tiles to inscriptions from the Koran in the metal details on the patio. It was built in 1885 and the three story property is a mansion by any standards. What we couldn’t get over were the views. Just the idea of stepping out onto the terrace and seeing the mountains stretched out before you with fields of orange and lemon trees would be enough for me to move in.
La Fonda Casa Pepa
One of the main reasons for our trip to Carratraca, apart from getting to know the town, was lunch at the Fonda Casa Pepa. A “fonda” is basically a type of hotel that offers room and board at a good price. In fact, we met a man from Finland who had been staying at the Fonda for several months. We can understand why, too. A weekend with full room and board at La Fonda Casa Pepa is only 70 euros for a double room! Of course, we had an extra privilege at La Fonda because the famous Pepa happens to be our friend’s AUNTIE Pepa.
You might have to wait a bit for a table, but once you are seated, it’s like being in a family living room. There are family photos, memories and even a few bird cages on the patio. The family dog is roaming around in the entry way. This is the type of place to come when you aren’t in a hurry and just want to relax and eat good food with your friends. By the way, come hungry, because everything is delicious and served in large quantity.
We shared a liter of beer, just as if we were sitting around our own kitchen table, and then the food began to come out of the kitchen. For the first course we could choose between tripe (callos) with chickpeas, or paella. Both came out in huge serving dishes for us to choose or have a bit of each. Then the main course, which was either pork loin, cooked slow in home made tomato sauce and served with potatoes and a freshly prepared fried egg OR home made meatballs in a delicious brown sauce. It was impossible to choose and we had a bit of each. For dessert there were also several options, although we couldn’t resist the home made flan!
Bar La Bocacha
One unique point of La Fonda: they don’t serve coffee. Of course, we couldn’t expect you to go all the way back to Málaga after that huge meal. Next door is the “bar” La Bocacha where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea (which they serve with homemade cake) or an after lunch drink, should you fancy one. We tucked ourselves into a little table near the chimney with a real “brasero” (a bucket of coals underneath to keep us warm). I know this sounds like a fire hazard to everyone outside of Spain, but it is common, as the buildings in Andalucia are built for the hot summers and can be quite cold and damp in the winter.
Overall, our trip to Carratraca was a fantastic day trip in Andalucia. We can’t wait to go back and hike one of the trails in the surrounding mountains, or to see the August fair. If I had to adopt a pueblo, our friends absolutely convinced me that Carratraca should be in the running. A beautiful town with a rich history (and a spa!) How can you go wrong? We ruskommend a trip to Carratraca with 5 boquerones.