Where to visit in Almayate...
Ancient and modern...
There are many interesting places to look out for around Almayate. Some are comparatively modern like the black silhouette of the Osborne Bull that dominates the skyline, the only one in the Axarquia, and then there are extremely ancient sites like at Toscanos going back nearly 3000 years.
For those that want to see a little verdant nature, head for the mouth of the River Vélez. This is the only significant estuary that exists on the entire eastern Costa del Sol, with hundreds of different types of marine birds use it for nesting and migration throughout the year.
However, for beach lovers, Almayate offers one of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline left in the province, the Playa de Almayate, a very large secluded beach offering peace and tranquility.
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La Playa Bajamar
La Playa Almayate Bajamar is a very large secluded beach, about 2.8 kilometres long and 30 metres wide, comprising of dark sand and gravel, that enjoys moderate waves. One end is next to the mouth of the river Vélez.
Being located in such an out of the way spot, it never gets busy, even at the height of summer. But while there are little facilities, Almayate’s beach offers peace and tranquility, and people come far and wide to spend the day here.
In the last couple of years there has seen a couple of interesting developments for visitors. In 2015 its 2.8 kilometre long beach hoisted the ‘Ecoplayas’ flag, and was described as one of the last ‘virgin’ pieces of coastline left in the province; and then in 2017, a permanent boat launch was constructed for small craft, open to all residents and visitors, along with a free car park.
Further along, at the eastern end of the beach towards Torre del Mar, there is also a popular nudist section – apparently one of the three most important nudist beaches in Spain – look out for all the vegetation that runs parallel to the Vélez river. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Naturist Campsite Almanat’ (a completely nudist site), is situated just in-front of it. There are two bar-restaurants that belong to the campsite and provide a great spot for an afternoon’s meal or snack. Note, however, that although they are open to clothed beach-goers, it is somewhat frowned upon! There is also parking, showers, the beach is regularly cleaned.
However, being such a large beach, you’ll always find a quiet corner to yourself, and families do come here. There is also another campsite at the western end called Camping Almayate Costa, which is a normal one, not naturalist!
To get to Almayate beach you drive out of Torre del Mar, and just after the Osborne bull there is a left turn immediately past a small white building. Follow this tarmac road until you can’t get any farther, and the beach is just behind a rock sea wall.
Unlike some of the more developed coastal areas, El Hornillo still consists of just a few houses next to the beach (photo, left), though there are a couple of bars and restaurants, including Chiringuito El Hornillero, set inside its own tropical gardens. The stretch of beach just in front of this restaurant is a popular spot for concerts and summer beach parties.
The Osborne bull and the Cerro del Peñon
The Toro de Osborne (Osborne bull), stands silhouetted against the sky on a high ridge called the Cerro del Peñón above Almayate: a classic symbol which most people would associate with Spain. Indeed, some locals have even renamed the crag in honour of the bull – Peñón del Toro.
In Phoenician times, nearly 3000 years ago, the slopes of the Cerro del Peñón were part of the famous settlement we now call Toscanos (see below). There is also evidence there for Moorish occupation as well.
The ridge is also known locally as ‘Las Canteras de Almayate’ (the Almayate Quarry), and the Phoenicians were the first people to extract rock from there (visible in the photo, right).
For them, the cut stones would have been easy to transport away given that the ridge was actually a promontory that would have been washed by the sea. Now, because of sediment being gradually deposited from River Vélez over millennia, the shoreline is now about 800 metres away.
Given the quality of the sandstone, quarrying was continued at the Cerro del Peñón by the Romans, then the Moors. In the 18th century it may also have been used (along with the other major local quarry at Valle Niza, Las Canteras de San Pitar) to supply stone for the Málaga cathedral tower. Evidence of all the quarrying carried out down the centuries is still very evident.
History of the Osborne Bull
These black metal signs were actually created in 1956 by Andalucían Artist, Manolo Prieto for the Osborne Sherry company as an advertising campaign for their Brandy de Jerez. The black bulls (with the brand ‘Veterano’ in red on it) were made as advertising boardings, located on sites near to major roads throughout Spain.
However, in 1994 a law was introduced by the national Traffic Department that such advertising boardings were considered as distractions to drivers, and should therefore be removed. However, by this time the bull was nationally renowned and loved, so a campaign was launched to keep them.
The Andalucian regional government promptly declared it part of the area’s Heritage, and later the Spanish courts also recognised the sign as a genuine cultural symbol. The authorities relented, and instead it was agreed that the images should be completely blacked out to remove all reference to the original advertisers. However, even this ruling lapsed and some of the signs, along with the Osborne lettering, remained in place.
Today there are only two remaining signs in Spain with the word ‘Osborne’ still written on them, the rest are like the one in Almayate are completely black.
This image of the black bull is now used in in a number of images, including tourist products. In sport events, where a Spanish team or individual take part, the bull has been developed into a coat of arms within the flag of Spain. However today, the image has also become one of controversy as many Spaniards have questioned the moral issues surrounding bullfighting. In 2006 Madrid based artist SpY protested at bullfighting by splattering one of the bulls with a huge splash of red paint. Yet despite this controversy the bull remains for many an iconic image of Spanish culture.
The Vélez River delta
The wetland at the mouth of the river Vélez, (‘humedal de la desembocadura del río Vélez’), which is surrounded by cultivated fields and crowned by the Peñon de Almayate, is a remarkable scenic spot, unique throughout the region. It is the only significant estuary that exists on the entire eastern Costa del Sol from Guadalhorce to Maro. As with all coastal wetlands, having the characteristics of both river and coastal areas, it doesn’t fail to surprise throughout the year; not only because of the different species of aquatic, marine and migratory birds, but also because of the changing colours of the fresh and marine waters, which alternate and mix with the sediments of the delta.
The Velez River has a short course, it is born in the sierras of Alfarnate and Periana, but since the construction of Lake Viñuela which it feeds and passes through, its flow is limited most of the year. This creates the formation of a sand barrier at the mouth of the river, that often separates it from the sea, broken only by occasional floods due to heavy rains in the cooler months.
The location of the Vélez River delta in the southern tip of the European continent, make it a place of great value for bird watching. There are more than 270 species of vertebrates that can be seen at various times throughout the year, of which more than 225 are birds that use the banks of the river as a place of nesting, migration, rest, or wintering.
Indeed, it is a vital location for the migration of many species of birds, including waders (birds with long beaks and legs that feed in wet areas with mud and shallow in depth), with up to 500 individuals being seen here at one time. The waders are especially attracted by the muds and silts that remain after the occasional floods.
Also, it houses several types of herons, common flamingos and several species of ducks, among them – of high conservationist interest – the Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris). It is also an area of importance for the large Audouin’s Gull, an endangered species restricted to the Mediterranean, that uses this wetland as a resting area during migrations.
It is the only place in the province where the Baillon’s Crake nests. It has a population of the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), a species that is cataloged in Andalucia as in danger of extinction, that nest in the uncultivated areas near the delta. Also seen here are the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and the large Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus).
Although the birds are the most conspicuous species, they are not the only inhabitants of the mouth, since various species of fish, amphibians and reptiles – among them the threatened common Chameleon – live together in this valuable natural space.
There are also plenty of mammals such as badgers, weasels, foxes, hedgehogs, shrews, rabbits and hares, as well as rodents like the water rat and field mouse, plus several species of bats that come to feed on the great variety of insects on the river.
At the mouth of the River Vélez lies the highest concentration of Phoenician deposits known on the Iberian peninsula, in and around the village of Toscanos; known in Spanish as the Yacimiento fenicio de Toscanos. Indeed, the collection of remains are considered as an international benchmark in the study of Phoenician colonization, the most important and best preserved Phoenician remains around the Western Mediterranean.
[For more information on the Phoenicians, who they were, and their presence in Spain, see our special section in the Almayate history page here.]
Apart from the remains of the settlement of Toscanos, which stretch towards the Cerro del Peñón and Cerro Alarcón hills, several necropolises (burial chambers) have also been found. The oldest necropolis is on the eastern slope of the Cerro del Peñón, where a bronze burner (see below), and a fragment of an alabaster urn was found.
Another has been found on the western slope of the Cerro del Mar, (on the other side of the river near present day Torre del Mar), corresponding to the date of the settlement’s greatest development; and finally, the Necrópolis de Jardín, about 300 metres north of the village which would have been the last burial area.
We can see the evidence of massive Phoenician quarrying, lying on both sides of the Cerro del Peñón underneath the Osborne Bull (see photo above). The Phoenicians cut out sandstone blocks from the hill, which they used for themselves but also sold all over the Mediterranean for construction purposes.
In spite of their importance, the visible remains of the settlement have deteriorated over the years since the first investigations were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s. At one point a grand archaeological park was planned, but never materialised, however, fortunately, much of the Phoenician archaeology remains safe, buried underground. The Necrópolis de Jardín can actually be visited though, as can Toscanos (though at present it is surrounded a wire fence).
Toscanos and the Necrópolis de Jardín
Toscanos is the name given to a Phoenician settlement situated on a small hill not far from the river Vélez. It is one of the largest, in terms of its spread over one area, excavated in Spain.
Originally it was at the entrance of a bay, so would have been a busy port of embarkation for both people and goods. Today, however, the sea is quite distant. The settlement flourished from the second half of the 8th century B.C. until the end of the 6th century BC, with five phases of occupation so far distinguished. The village’s economy was based on agriculture and metallurgy, but also, crucially, on the exchange of goods imported from the eastern Mediterranean. To facilitate this, a wharf was created by the excavation and lowering of the sandstone headland, creating a platform paved with stones and ceramic fragments.
It was founded around 740 to 730 BC, primarily as an industrial area for the metallurgy of copper and iron, but of course a surrounding village grew as the population increased. The period of greatest urban and industrial development was around 700 BC, when several houses and a large rectangular building, considered to be a goods warehouse, have been identified.
The Phoenician houses had a rectangular shape, with several rooms, some even with basements and stairs, (plan of part of the settlement, right). The lower part of the walls were always built with stones to avoid moisture while the rest was made of adobe or stone. The houses are oriented to a street, that is to say, there would be houses on both sides of the streets.
In the second half of the seventh century BC the urban core spread from the Toscanos hill towards the slopes of Cerro del Peñón and Cerro Alarcón. There were perhaps more than 1000 inhabitants at this time. During this period a walled enclosure was built (photo above left, remains of wall on Cerro Alarcón), that would have encompassed the urban and industrial centre, of which important remains remain in Cerro Alarcón.
In the mid-sixth century BC, for reasons as yet to be determined, the settlement was abandoned.
The remains of Toscanos – that were left above ground – are on private land, but can be visited and seen through a fence, (photo, right).
The Phoenician and Carthaginian Necropolis of El Jardín
This burial complex was discovered in 1967 in a place known as El Jardín, about 300 metres north of Toscanos, but unfortunately terracing work has destroyed much of what is visible. So far 101 burials have been studied – although that number could be more than double – constituting one of the major western Phoenician cemeteries.
It was in use between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C., and in fact we can say that the most recent burials are not actually Phoenician, but actually belong to the inhabitants of the Carthaginian city of Cerro del Mar.
The rite of burial was either by incineration or burial. There are hollows surrounded by stones where they kept the ashes of the dead; simple rectangular pits excavated in the rock surrounded by large stones, which are the most numerous; to more complex ones with access corridors containing sarcophagi hewn from a single piece of stone, similar to those found at Trayamar.
Some of the grave goods found can be seen in the Museum of Málaga, such as the incense burner pictured above found at the Cerro de Peñon (click here for more details). As well as pots and jugs, in some tombs silver and bronze rings were found as well as silver and gold jewelry, and the typical ostrich eggs both decorated and undecorated.
Iglesia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús
Being a post-war, modern style building, Almayate’s parish church is in quite stark contrast to most religious buildings in the Axarquia, some of which date back more than half a millennium.
The original church was erected in 1505, and called La Santa Maria. In 1945, it was completely rebuilt and changed to its present name, the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (the Sacred Heart of Jesus).
Starting from this church comes the various processions celebrated in Almayate during the year – Easter, the Virgen del Carmen in July, the Pilgrimage of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in May, and the Living Nativity in December.
La Torre Manganeta, or Torre de Manganeto, is situated near the mouth of the River Vélez and the N-340 in the middle of a vegetable field. It is also called Toscanos after the small Phoenician settlement nearby of that name.
The tower dates back to the 16th century, and is unfortunately somewhat deteriorated, now with just traces of its original Moresco stucco coating. Access is on the south side to the stairs up to the roof terrace.
Originally it was 8 metres high, however part of its base is now underground. Indeed, at the time it was built, the sea would have come almost to its foundations, but the silting up and movement over time of the Río Vélez has caused the coastline to recede.
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Other attractions - Valle Niza and Almayate Alto
On the western side of Almayate lies Valle Niza, a small village which has grown significantly in the past few years. Apart from to its very nice beach, there are certainly other places to visit here.
There is to the newly opened archeological complex of the San Pitar; a fascinating quarry, once used by Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors and others, which was also a home to masons and even, long ago, to monks! If that’s not enough, then there’s also a fort, a medieval tower and an imposing 18th century bridge!
Above Valle Niza is Almayate Alto, which was the main settlement in the area before the Reconquest. It is only a hamlet now, but its church acts as a religious focus for Valle Niza, especially in some of its celebrations. It is well worth the short drive up from Valle Niza to Almayate Alto, even if just for the verdant fields and avocado and mango groves that you’ll pass through.
So, because there are so many attractions to Valle Niza, we’ve a dedicated page for them all. Clicking on any of the ‘view’ links below will take you there.
Almayate pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Almayate, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.