By Eloise Horsfield
WE arrived after nightfall, having left Granada late in the afternoon and woven through the Andalucia countryside in our hire car.
Aiming for Colmenar, we had somehow ended up a little too far south.
But none of us were complaining since the roads were pleasantly empty and the views nothing short of delightful.
“Um, how about Canillas de Aceituno?” asked Mario as we reached yet another crossroads, dusk by now well upon us.
And what a charming choice it turned out to be, this stunning spot, sitting high up in the foothills of the Sierra Tejeda.
Within an hour we were supping a welcome cana at Bar Sojahi, whose friendly barman had helped sort us out with our own apartment for the night, for just €45.
We later dined at the Asador la Maroma, which offered massive portions, great wine and a chatty waiter.
By the time we left we had discussed the local team’s football loss that day and learnt all about his love of snowboarding in the nearby Sierra Nevada.
“I go there every weekend in winter but I always love coming back to Canillas, my real home,” he said.
It was only the next morning however that we discovered Canillas’ true glory, as we took breakfast in its tiny square while soaking up in the autumn sunshine.
Surrounded by towering peaks such as Rompealbaldas and Maroma – Malaga’s highest mountain at 2,068m – the village boasts fabulous views, stretching all the way to the sea, some 20 clicks south.
We then set off towards Colmenar, of course stopping to admire Lake Vinuela, a peaceful oasis in a landscape of gullies and rolling hills, rather like a scene out of The Hobbit.
The rather sleepy village of Colmenar is named after the Spanish word for hive, colmena, and – unsurprisingly – has a bee-keeping tradition dating back to the 18th century.
There is even a honey museum, which aims to explain the importance of beekeeping and revive its origins.
“Families have passed on the knowledge from generation to generation,” explained museum director Fernando de Miguel Rey, one of just 10 beekeepers left in the village.
“And while there is more modern technology today, the process is basically the same and you can still get stung.”
He added: “The honey here is more expensive than the cheap stuff you get in the supermarket but it is much better – and you can taste that.”
After a picnic lunch – only in Andalucia is this possible in early November – we set off to visit one last Axarquia village, Riogordo.
This historic, little-visited town, sitting in a dip in the landscape, is known for its rich mineral water – which was probably what attracted Neolithic settlers to it.
After a brief clamber along its river bank, we grabbed a quick coffee before jumping back in the car, full of pleasant memories of the Axarquia.