IT was in September 2003 that Alhaurin el Grande reached something of a nadir.
Already dubbed the Wild West by outsiders, its roads were studded with potholes, there were hardly any signposts and every other bar, it seemed, was run by a Brit.
Something of a hive for timeshare touts, petty criminals and ne’er-do-wells, for many it was no surprise when an English barman in the town was arrested and charged with the murder of two teenage girls.
The ramifications were far-reaching for the expatriate community and it started a vicious – and sometimes violent – backlash against anyone from the UK who lived in the town.
“They thought I was a witch,” says Rachel Goutorbe, from Posh Pets, who had only just set up her dog-grooming business in the town.
“Everyone got tarred with the same brush. And because I was on my own with half a dozen dogs I think they thought I was the devil. They certainly let me know about it.”
Something clearly needed to be done. And done quickly.
And thankfully within weeks the town hall had started a kind of zero tolerance campaign to clamp down on the illicit unregulated bars and clubs that had sprung up around the town.
It certainly had the desired effect and now, seven years on, the place has seen a complete turnaround.
The reputation it once had for being a party town, a hive for drugs and awash with illegal activity is a thing of the past. Everything in Alhaurin el Grande is, well, Grand again.
“It has come full circle since we moved here a decade ago,” says Louise Walker, from Deep Blue Pools. “The town had gone downmarket very fast, and has now come right up again.”
Owner of hotel Finca la Mota Daniel de Cock agrees. “In a very short time the town had become packed with too many British bars and residents. It was not natural. Too many of them used to get pissed and stumble around looking for trouble.
“Luckily that tattoo and souped-up car brigade has more or less gone and there are a lot less hooligans.”
The recent downturn has also led to a further clear out of Britons, with some estimating as many as half of the expatriates have now returned to the UK.
Steve Nelson, from funeral planning company SPN, believes it has not been a bad thing for the town.
“Mostly it was the idiots who got off the plane at Malaga claiming to be gas fitters or mechanics that have gone back,” he says. “And then there are the rip off merchants and chancers.
“You can finally go out again with your kids without fear of your two-year-old coming home effing and blinding.”
There is no doubt that Alhaurin has been through a dramatic transformation over recent years.
Wandering around the old town there is a new swagger about the place, despite the high unemployment that is effecting the whole of Andalucia.
The streets are impeccably tidy and the old buildings have been generally well preserved.
Heading uphill from the roundabout on Calle Gerald Brenan you are soon in the Albaicin barrio, which got its name due to similarities with the same district in Granada.
Nearby, leafy Plaza Alta is abuzz with childrens’ voices and roadside cafes ply their trade late into the evening, while further up the ancient Vera Cruz chapel sits alongside one of the best 180 degree views in inland Malaga.
From here you can see why Alhaurin has always been the nerve centre for the Guadalhorce Valley.
The views stretch for miles around, down towards Malaga airport and up into the Sierra de las Nieves mountains.
Sitting at 240 metres above sea level the town sits in a commanding position between the 1,100 metre tall Sierra de Mijas and the fertile valley below, where everything from olives to avocados have been grown for centuries.
Indeed it was in Phoenician times that Alhaurin became a market town, as the already established Iberian tribes bartered their goods with the new arrivals from the Lebanon.
Later the town thrived under Roman occupation when a number of wealthy merchants from nearby Malaga made money from the rich mineral deposits in the nearby hills.
They built sizeable villas, such as Villa de la Mata, and labelled the town Lauro Nova. Evidence has been found in the numbers of coins, statues and pillars, a trio of which stand pride of place opposite the town hall today.
But it wasn’t until Moorish times that the town really blossomed, as the Arabs planted new crops in the wide fertile valley that is crossed by two rivers, the Fahala and Blas Gonzales.
They introduced acequias (or water courses) to irrigate the entire valley and built a number of important mills, such as the Molino Morisco de los Corchos.
An area of particular beauty – not to mention an extremely clement climate – it had soon taken on an appropriate new name, that of ‘Garden of Allah’, or Alhaurin.
Remnants of the eight centuries of Arabic rule can still be found, particularly at the Arco del Cobertizo, which was a gateway to the medina, that had a souk, specialising, among other products, in silk.
But the best way to get a feel for the past is to take a walk out into the countryside, in particular in the area known as Hurique, on the back road to Coin.
Parking your car at the recently renovated hotel Finca la Mota, where you can get a great lunch, or just a cup of tea, you walk down into a lovely valley full of mixed agriculture.
Alongside charming white-walled ruins, sit small farmsteads of orange and lemon groves, orchards of plums and peaches and herds of goats and sheep roam around.
In the middle distance, seen from miles around, is the imposing 12th century Arabic fortress of Hurique, which is well preserved and mirrors a similar fortress, called Ortegicar, near Ronda.
Keep on going and you will eventually come to the even more beautiful open space of Barranco Blanco, where the famous Timoteo advert was once filmed underneath its waterfall.
One of the last towns to be conquered by the Catholic kings in 1485, it was eventually merged with Alora, Cartama and Coin in 1666 to form a single entity known as the Four Towns.
But it was anything but plain sailing for the united municipality and there were epidemics of plague and even an earthquake in 1680.
Later, Alhaurin was occupied for four years by the French during the Peninsular War in the early 19th century, which led to the inevitable destruction and upheaval.
Since then, apart from the turbulent period during the civil war, the biggest threat to civil peace has been an influx of English hooligans over the last decade. And then there was Scott Harrison, the former world champion boxer, from Glasgow, who made his home in the area a few years ago, but proceeded to live up to his hell-raiser reputation during a series of drunken nights out in the town.
After one particularly messy night out he ended up punching a policeman, after getting arrested for stealing a car in the early hours of the morning.
He is now languishing at his majesty pleasure, fittingly in nearby Alhaurin de la Torre prison, where he is expected to stay for at least two more years.
The town however, should perhaps best be remembered for its connections to Gerald Brenan, the celebrated writer of numerous books in southern Spain, such as South from Granada and The Spanish Labyrinth.
The writer lived in the town for two decades and described it as his “garden of Eden” (see story on page 17).
Finally, these days – and you read it here first – the town has a new celebrity living on its doorstep: with one Rick Parfitt, from Status Quo having recently bought a lovely country property near the town.
As he might say: Whatever you Want, Alhaurin has it all!
Check out http://issuu.com/theolivepress/docs/75w/1 for the full Alhaurin el Grande special
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