More attractions in Alcaucín... Zalia Castle Boquete Gap Boquete Cave Alcazar area Las Majadas
From castles and caves to campsites...
There are plenty of places to visit and explore close by, or only a few kilometres away from Alcaucin. And they really showcase the extraordinarily long presence of man in the area – including a different species of man!
If you scramble up to the Boquete de Zafarraya cave, you’ll be visiting the home of Neanderthals that lived here 30,000 years ago. Then there’s the imposing ruins of the Zalia Castle (photo, right) to visit that possibly dates back to Phoenician times.
If you just want to unwind and take in the fantastic views around here, there is the ‘Area recreativa el Alcázar’ created for picnickers and campers, and the countryside near the Majadas Springs.
If you’ve visited any of these places don’t forget you’re invited to leave a comment describing your experience, (note that a Facebook account is necessary).
The Fortress of Zalia
The most ancient legend concerning Zalia, the first settlement in the area before Alcaucín, would be that of Odysseus who it is said visited its castle, and is speculated to have lived around 1200 BC, (see the full story here).
Four hundred years or so later, says another legend, the Phoenician city of Tagara was situated near the fortress of Zalia, and there is certainly evidence that a village with an accompanying castle, was originally built in the area by the Phoenicians.
According to ancient tradition, Zalia was a wealthy place, a sort of a meeting point where all kind of travellers enjoyed the pleasures of life. There is a legend that in Roman times, San (Saint) Patricio, the first Bishop of Málaga, visited Zalia and thought it was an iniquitous place, and wrote that he was concerned for the souls of its citizens, (see the full story here).
Nobody knows the true history. Certainly, the Bishop of Málaga’s letters are evidence for the existence of this pre-Moorish Zalia, but remains of it have still to be found. However, there is strong evidence that it was probably somewhere near the fortress.
What is certainly true is that the settlement in this area was one of the oldest in the Axarquia, and the Moors built (or perhaps reconstructed) the imposing Zalia fortress, from where a great part of the area could be dominated.
Zalia was strategically placed at a crossroad of old routes: one that led to the beaches of Menoba (today’s Torre del Mar) and Vélez-Málaga, and continued up to the ‘Boquete de Zafarraya’ pass towards Nazari Granada.
A second one that began at Cómpeta and crossed the Tejeda mountains (habitually used by smugglers), and a third, a military route, connecting it with the Bentomiz fortress.
Most of the castle ruins we see today date back to the Islamic period. Originally the castle would have had a double walled enclosure surrounding strong square towers with crenellated parapets. It doesn’t have a regular, geometric overall shape, but rather follows the contour of the land.
[Above: Recreation of Bentomiz Castle. A still from “Castillos de la Axarquia”, by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan – see YouTube video right – financed by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan].
The first definite reference to the castle was in AD 909 during a riot against the Cordovan state. It is also known from Islamic chroniclers that in 1082 it surrendered to the King of Granada.
The fortress was one of the most important ‘Tahas’ in the Axarquía region along with the Bentomiz and Comares castles. The Tahas were the main district military forts usually owned by several farmsteads.
The fertile and irrigated land was very important to the Moors and well worth protecting. The fortress fell to the Catholic monarchs in 1485, two years before Vélez-Málaga itself fell. Legend says that the last ruler of the castle gave an order to hide the treasure he had amassed deep in the castle so that it would not fall into the Catholic’s hands.
How to get to Zalia
From Velez-Málaga take the A-335 road up to the turning to Alhama de Granada along the MA-128. After passing Puente don Manuel, the road becomes narrow and winding.
The ruins of the fortress can hardly be seen from the road but there is a signpost up to the castle, and eventually, at 958 metres above sea level, you will see why this spot was chosen!
El Boquete de Zafarraya
Although 12 km away, the spectacular Boquete de Zafarraya still lies in the municipality of Alcaucin, and is an important mountain pass marking the boundary between the regions of Málaga and Granada.
For centuries, if not millennia, this large, dramatic gap in the mountains has been a key trading route between the communities north and south of the pass.
Its name comes from the village of Zafarraya that lies the other side of the pass, in the province of Granada.
The road through this natural formation, which still links the provinces of Málaga and Granada, is known as the Camino Real (Royal Road). It is a good road, so the stunning El Boquete is definitely worth the 20 minutes trip in the car up from Alcaucin.
Cueva del Boquete de Zafarraya
This ‘cueva’ (cave) near Alcaucin was discovered by Cecilio Barroso Ruiz, who started excavations in the early 1980’s. It has been found to contain some of the oldest human remains in the Axarquía, next to the finds in the Nerja caves, and is still being studied by experts.
In subsequent years of archaeological research 55 human remains were found, as well as over a 1000 stone tools.
The site has the highest number of Neanderthal remains in Spain and has greatly helped to reveal the way of life of the last Neanderthals. It wasn’t used as a home, just as a place where prey was cut up and marrow extracted from bones.
The animal remains that have been found at various levels over a period of some 20,000 years included horses, goats and pigs.
The jaw and femur from the individual, called the ‘Zafarraya man’, has been radiometrically dated to 30,000 years ago.
This dating is more evidence that Neanderthals co-existed with modern humans – in fact for almost 10,000 years – disproving the earlier theories that they weren’t around at the same time.
The cave opens at the foot of a large limestone cliff. It is very small, only penetrating the rock some twenty metres, and just 0.5 metres to 2.5 metres in width. It’s saving grace, as far as any occupant would be concerned, is that its entrance faces south, giving it sunlight for most of the day.
How to get to the Cueva del Boquete
The cave can be visited but it is quite a rough climb up to it. Although in the Alcaucín Malaga province, a quarter of a mile southwest of the Boquete de Zafarraya pass, it is actually only 450 metres from the village of Ventas de Zafarraya, in the province of Granada.
El Alcázar recreation area
It is located within the Natural Park of Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama, five kilometres from Alcaucín.
The ‘Area recreativa el Alcázar’ was created for picnickers and campers.
There are a number of facilities provided like showers and tables, etc.
There are some staggering views of the nearby countryside to be had.
The surrounding landscape is dominated by the Alcázar stream and gorge, and it is a popular spot with walkers.
Las Majadas springs
Fed by sulphurous waters, the waters here were used in Roman and Moorish times, and even up to the beginning of the last century, and were used to cure skin rashes and other dermatological disorders.
The ‘Manantial las Majadas’ are on the riverbed of the river Puente de Piedra (a tributary of the Alcazar), about 5 kilometres from Alcaucín and are difficult to reach. Once you have driven to the hamlet that they’re named after – Las Majadas – it is advisable to inquire for precise directions before trying to access this place, as although there are numerous trails in the area access to this old spa is not signposted.
Unfortunately, there are hardly any remains of what were once Arab baths, and at present, only one spring is conserved. Furthermore, given the presence of sulphur, the smell from the water doesn’t exactly invite bathing or drinking!
However, even if you decide not to see the old baths, it is worth the drive up to Las Majadas to take in the views; see photo on right.
A majada is actually a small collection of houses and huts used by shepherds and their livestock to sleep in at night, rather than returning to their main homes in nearby villages, usually during Spring. They are often located in areas where water, pasture and food are abundant so the animals can be adequately supplied.
- Map to places to visit -
Attractions inside Alcaucin pueblo
There are many attractions in Alcaucin village itself, from old churches and little flower-bedecked houses to fountains and children’s play areas. We have a dedicated page with them on, and clicking on any of the ‘view’ links below will take you there.
Alcaucín pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Alcaucin, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.