Friday, July 13, 2012

Smooth Getaway Postcard From Salares Spain

The Ruta del Mudéjar passes by Canillas de Aceituno and continues on toward Sedella. You can use the new bypass, which is still not finished but has now acquired a roundabout at the other end. (The bypass was finished after the writing of this article, complete with shiny new barriers and road markings at roundabouts with instructions to stop that locals largely ignore.) Disappointingly, the asphalt lorry seen hanging around suggestively for weeks mysteriously disappeared.

Now is not the time to speculate on the lorry's whereabouts or the likelihood of its return, as the road soon undertakes a series of hairpin curves entering the Rahige Gorge. There is also an interesting convex on this road stretch, provoking the unpleasant sensation that you're about to slide sideways over the precipice. I'm used to it now, but it once scared the hell out of me.

You realise the drive was worth it when you get the first sight of the gorge. Suddenly, the deep cleft in the ridge appears close ahead, with the peak of Maroma towering above. Here the Natural Park begins and the mountain is clothed with pinewoods. To the right, a waterfall cascades into the gorge where the whole riverbank is covered with oleander.

Set in the hollow of the gorge is a local picnic site. This is a truly idyllic spot. There is a natural spring running all year and the council has provided wooden tables with benches and brick barbecues under the trees. Above to the right, they've dammed the stream to create a swimming pool. I've never actually seen anyone swimming in the pool as I imagine it is pretty cold, even in high summer. Yet, it's certainly picturesque and a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the shade.

The sign at the entrance to this little paradise says the recreation area is closed. Actually, it was closed for a while some time ago, after a landslide (you can still see the great scar on the side of the mountain to the left of the site). Still, that was years ago and the whole area has been refurbished since then. I can only suppose nobody bothered to remove the sign. It was meaningless in any case, as no one ever took any notice of its directive. There is another sign noting that the spring water is not potable. Nobody has ever taken notice of that either. People come from miles away to fill containers with drinking water.

There's a nice little horror story about the place. Apparently, some picnickers were cooking a stew and discovered they'd forgotten to bring a spoon. So, they cut off an oleander branch. As commonly known, oleander is deadly poisonous. We know this because even goats won't touch it and they'll eat anything. They stirred the stew with the oleander stick and were later found writhing in agony at death’s door. One more stir of the stewpot would have done for them.

On that happy note, we cross the bridge and continue towards Sedella, climbing steeply up to the pass marking the boundary between villages. The road winds lazily along, bridging two great watercourses: the Stream of the Pomegranate Tree and the Valley of the Slaughter.

As the Valley of the Slaughter opens up, we see Sedella, perched above its neat terracing as the epitome of a white village with its church tower dominating the skyline. The Moors built the terraces and the irrigation system, plus the land is still moulded in Moorish patterns with perfect rows and steps rising like a ziggurat to the settlement above.

The road winds along the edge of the valley, touching Sedella then moving away repeatedly, giving an impression that the little village goes on forever. We pass the accesses to the cemetery and the chapel, then finally Sedella's last houses peter out on the left as the road turns into another valley. We can see Salares on the other side of the bridge, its Moorish church tower standing out against the jumble of white houses.

The obvious route to take is a broad, inviting road to the left, flanked by impressive columns and signed Salares 0.5 kilometres, but it leads to a plaza with a bus stop and no parking signs. Do not attempt the concrete road from here into the town proper, unless you're really good at driving backwards and round corners in steep, narrow places.

There used to be a lot at the bottom of the village with ample parking space, but this has become the building site, interestingly enough, for a new carpark. This is where a stream used to run above ground and must have once been a delightful spot. Yet, they imprisoned the stream underground and filled in the valley.

There is another road to the left, but it looks unpromising, then suddenly you're at the end of the settlement and heading off into the wild blue yonder. You'd be forgiven for abandoning the whole project at this point, but behind the almost-impenetrable thicket lies a sleeping beauty of a village. So, it's worth parking your car by the roadside and hiking up to it. Any way up will lead to the church, and the church alone is worth the trouble.

Salares is one of the few villages that resisted the temptation to plaster over Moorish brickwork. Thus, it remains a marvel. Most of the village churches have clapped a bell tower on top the original minaret, but it appears to me Salares used existing arched windows to accommodate the bells. The windows have the distinctive horseshoe shape of Moorish architecture and the bells balance precariously, just fitting within the narrow apertures. The decorative brickwork is not so well-preserved as that of Árchez, but there's something loveable about its slightly-battered look. Plus, it has something else quite charming to offer.

On the right hand side is a narrow arched doorway to a tiny gatehouse. In the space within is a cobbled floor, little niches in the walls and an open fireplace. On the other side of the arch is a courtyard garden with mature trees and a low wall overlooking the gorge. This place can hardly have changed in hundreds of years. Few tourists penetrate this far, so you may well have the pleasure of sitting alone in this ancient garden. Undistracted by the intrusions of the modern world, your mind can people the sanctuary with ghosts of the Moorish builders.

If you go out the back gate, you come to a street running down to the river with its cobbled packhorse bridge. This is known locally as the "Roman Bridge." Although the present structure is largely mediaeval, its foundations probably are Roman.

You might now think you've seen all that is interesting in Salares, but it is well worth wandering up and down the small streets, looking at the houses as you pass. Here and there you'll see traces of Moorish wall-painting, little courtyards glimpsed through archways, views of ancient interiors housing original winepresses and antique agricultural tools.

I suspect Salares escaped the fate of many white villages because it was too poor to remake itself up for tourists when it became fashionable to do so. Now, it's a little oasis of Old Spain, proud of its Moorish heritage and anxious to preserve it.

Three years ago, the village instigated a new fiesta, the As-Sharq, specifically to celebrate Moorish roots. Market stalls with Arabic goods are set up in the streets in the manner of a soukh. A well-presented exhibition is set up in the town hall and musicians dressed up (more or less) as Moors stroll amongst the crowds. One year, a recording of the imam calling the faithful to prayer was relayed from the church tower. I didn't notice it last year, but I hope they've kept it in the act, as I found it very evocative. Some of the more interesting old houses are open for viewing and at least one establishment serves Moorish cuisine to a high standard.

I've been told that there's now a preservation order on Salares. It wasn't in time to save the stream, but I sincerely hope it will preserve the rest. It's one of the few places remaining where you can see what a real Moorish village is like, rather than the tarted-up tourist versions becoming so familiar.

Jenny Twist grew up in the British mill town of Heckmondwike but now lives in Spain. She studied history in Manchester and did post-graduate work at Oxford. Her novellas Doppelganger, Uncle Vernon and Mantequero have appeared in various literary anthologies, plus she authored the books Take One At Bedtime, Domingo's Angel and All in the Mind.


  1. Thanks so much, Lyn, for hosting me on your lovely site. You did a great job of updating the article.

  2. Enchanting, Jenny and beautifully described.
    The Spanish Tourist Board should pay you handsomely for this article. It makes me feel quite desperate to see this wonderful place.

    1. Gosh, do you think they would? That would be SO fab. I am actually quite desperate to see you and Alex. When are you going to fit me in?
      Loads of love

  3. Jenny, Gorgeous pictures. You really gave me the flavor of Salares. I loved hearing about the background of the city and it's Moorish influences. Thanks so much for sharing this rare gem.


    1. Thanks, Steph. Really glad you enjoyed it.

  4. I so enjoyed your travelogue and sorry to have it end. The area should be paying you for this. Thanks a lot for sharing.
    I hope the sparrows are less noisy.

  5. Hi Bob. The sparrows make a heck of a racket twice a day but I don't mind really. They're so much fun to watch. Wish you were here to join in the pandemonium.
    Thanks for commenting.

  6. I think I could be quite happy losing myself in that area for awhile....

    Thanks for writing about it!

  7. Hi WIlliam. You should come for a visit. There are lots of nice places to stay and so much to see. Trouble is you never want to go home!