THEY turn up in their droves. On tour buses, or in cars, and stretch their legs for about 400 metres. Out come the cameras and the ticklists and, wait… there is the donkey statue, perfect for a family snap, the vista to the sea, ideal for a selfie, and the chocolate factory to while away an hour.
And then there’s the other side of Mijas pueblo for those who do their utmost best to avoid the above like a plague!
What is striking about Mijas is its ability to satisfy both types of tourists and yes, there is so much more to this wonderful white village than at first meets the eye.
Want a quick and easy morning or evening visit with the family while on your hols? Well the village ticks plenty of boxes: It’s a simple 15 minute uphill drive from the coast, it’s pedestrian friendly and there’s a giant multi-storey car park right in the heart of the village, costing just €1 a day.
Even easier, you walk out into a charming, leafy square with a big playground for the kids and the donkey taxis (or horse-drawn carts) waiting to ferry you away on a whistle-stop tour of the pueblo. On your return a host of pavement cafes offer a splendid place for a bite.
For the more discerning tourists looking for authenticity, history and charm, however, you just need to know where to look.
My advice, just keep walking, shank’s pony, and aim to get to the far extremities of the village that spreads out like a ribbon along the southern slopes of the soaring Sierra de Mijas.
It is in these much quieter parts of the white village where you will start to appreciate its history and finally find some peace. And for anyone looking to really stretch their legs you can continue out of the village and eventually up into the pine-clad nearby hills.
At each end of the village there is a proper hike, with the main ones – to the Puerto del Pino or the Ruta de los Duendes – taking about two to three hours.
Alternatively you can go for the taster option of a half hour stroll uphill to the now defunct quarry, Cantera El Puerto, which promises a lovely view and a good spot for a picnic.
Whatever you choose, particularly in Spring, you will find an abundance of wild flowers and the fresh smell of lavender and pine at every turn.
Look up and you will most likely spot an eagle, European Short-toed or Booted, and highly likely a phalanx of Bee-eaters or a local Griffon vulture.
In contrast, the culture vultures among you mustn’t miss the municipal museum, a superb tour of local and regional history with some fabulous photos, to boot.
Whatever type of tourist you are, the town hall and tourist office make things incredibly easy. Maps and walking-tours are carefully planned and signposted, with excellent translations in English, which is almost unique for Andalucia.
Each walk is colour coded, with the yellow tour snaking through the town, and guaranteeing the main sites.
The first port of call is the shrine of the Virgin of the Rock, a cross-between a cave and a chapel carved out of the mountainside. This is the patron saint of Mijas and from its viewpoint, you can take in the phenomenal panoramic views all along the Costa del Sol.
It’s a nice shady spot to linger, particularly as there’s a cafe providing cold beers, coffees or waters, but perhaps you’ll wait for the central hub, Constitution Square.
It’s always a hive of activity and from here streets radiate out, lined with craft shops – packed with ceramics and textiles, many of a very high quality.
Next you head up towards the ancient bullring, which is unusual due to its oval shape, as well as boasting charming gardens.
Built in 1900 it has seen some glory days, with death in the afternoon provided by the great and the good of bullfighting, from Paquirri to Paco Ojeda and even the colourful faenas of British bullfighter Frank Evans, aka El Ingles, who famously fought in the ring at 71 years old.
Bullfights are pretty unheard of these days, but you might catch a horse-show if you’re lucky.
Alternatively head off at a tangent into the backstreets as getting lost in the maze of alleyways is one of the best things about the pueblo.
You’ll be amazed by what you might find, from sleepy chapels to a hidden fountain and from random caves to one amazing vaulted ceiling spit-and-sawdust joint, with a bank of ancient radios on the wall.
One of them could have been the ancient transistor that the former mayor, the famous Mole of Mijas, listened to when he hid for five years during and after the Spanish Civil War.
You can learn more about him at the municipal museum, as well as about the area’s traditional form of making money selling ‘esparto’ products (a kind of wild mountain grass).
Traditionally collected from the nearby hills, it was weaved into a huge array of items including shoes, hats and bags, many sold to tourists over the years.
There is a statue to an espartero worker in the main square and the museum explains well how it became an invaluable source of income during the tough times after the civil war and during the Franco dictatorship.
Beside an evocative photo of a grandmother stitching it together in the street, is a touching elegy to the trade. “One has to be born to the work in the mountains. Collecting esparto sounds easy, but it isn,’t. The mountain changes every year. It is full of cracks and holes that are covered with weeds, one must know how to walk there.
“I have travelled as far as Granada and Cordoba to collect it. On these trips, you had to sleep under trees, even at Christmas when it was far too cold. In the end we managed to save around 300 to 400 pesetas. We were used to living with so little in those times.”
Life for Mijas folk was anything but easy in the previous few centuries, particularly for women, who often worked the land, while their husbands went off to find esparto or went off to work abroad, particularly during the Franco dictatorship from 1940 to 1975.
People were so poor they had only one outfit for work and one for holidays. “It was a life of miseries a thousand times worse than I can explain,” explains one old timer.
The town has ultimately struck an impressive balance between encouraging its thriving tourist industry and maintaining its authenticity.
The streets have been carefully looked after and the level of tatty souvenirs are kept to a minimum.
But, without a doubt, Mijas is at its best after 6pm, when the sun starts to set and the tourist coaches have gone. It is then that you will feel the ambience of the place and really sense its past.
As you wander around, doors start to open and the locals come out with a chair and sit and watch the world go by, while children play in the street.
Looking at photos past and present, it is easy to feel yourself drift back half a century, harking to a quieter life, when there were no emails, nor the internet and, best of all, no mobile phones.
Hop in a bar, grab a cold Victoria beer, and sit on a shady terrace and take it all in. I promise you’ll come back.
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