Where to visit in Maro... Balcón de Maro El Ingenio Maravillas church Puente de Aguila
Stunning seaside pueblo in an area of still unspoilt beauty...
For a tiny village at the fringe of the province of Málaga, Maro has far more things to do and explore than one would expect, even for the veteran visitor to these shores.
In the village, there is the Balcón de Maro from which there are lovely views to the sea and mountains. On the plaza there is Maravillas church, and just below it the ruins of the village’s main industry for 300 years, the Ingenio de Maro. There is also much to explore just a short walk from the village. There’s the awe inspiring Caves of Nerja, one of the most visited tourist attractions on the Costa del Sol, now with the added attraction of the Detunda Botanical Garden. In the grounds of the caves is the San Isidro Hermitage, the picturesque end point of May’s pilgrimage. Slightly further away, but still in walking distance, are the impressive ruins of the San Joaquín sugar factory, the Roman road, and the photogenic Puente del Aguila aqueduct.
Maro is also a fantastic opportunity to explore an area of natural and still unspoilt beauty. The beautiful Cliffs of Maro are a protected area with a number of unspoilt natural beaches to explore. Indeed, for those that are tired of fighting for room to spread their towels on the popular beaches, then the semi-wild beaches around Maro will come as a pleasant surprise. Kayaks can be hired at Maro beach to enjoy a spot of snorkelling and diving in the crystal clear waters off the beaches, or to see the enormous Maro Waterfall. Along the headland you’ll find a number of fascinating ancient watchtowers, some ruined, some not. Also worth a visit is the Molino del Papel (paper mill), set in a cove which has a fascinating history, right up to today. But, if you’re just looking for an area to have a good hike in, then head to the huge National Park with its panoramic views of both mountains and the glistening Mediterranean sea, whose entrance is just next to the Nerja Caves.
So, because there are so many attractions for you to visit around Maro, we’ve had to dedicate two pages to them all! At the bottom of this page you will find links to the second page.
As ever, 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).
A walk around the old village to the Balcón de Maro...
Many of the streets in Maro are much wider than those in other villages in the Axarquía, which probably has as much to do with the fact it it is fairly flat (there’s no need for a zig zag up in any hills), because it was laid out after the Reconquest rather than before it, like most other old pueblos blancos. Nevertheless, Maro is certainly a pretty village, full of charming little white houses and flower filled balconies, and with lots of stunning views of the sea and surrounding mountains. One of the best ways to take it all in is a simple circular walk around the village, (the photos above are taken at various points on the walk).
Start your stroll on one of the most beautiful streets called Calle Maravillas, near the entrance to the village, which looks across the small market-garden farmland to the Mediterranean sea beyond. Follow Maravillas along and you’ll be in the main square, Plaza de las Maravillas, which has its own ‘Balcon’ – viewing point – like Nerja has, but unlike the ‘Balcon de Europa’, the ‘Balcon de Maro’ is not immediately surrounded by sea, but by verdant farmland and mountains which almost seem to tumble into the Mediterranean. Just before you join the plaza there is an impressive brick wall and a gate to a large house, known locally as the ‘Casa Grande’ or ‘Casa de la Marquesa’, (see below). They are actually part of the original outer boundary wall of 19th century Maro, the houses of which were on the plot occupied by the Marquesa’s house and gardens, not where the modern village is. (You can read more about Maro’s history here).
Maro’s pretty, palm lined plaza has been remodelled in recent years, with a new fountain and a very elegant pergola with bougainvillea growing in profusion all over it. The square is also home to Maro’s 17th century church ‘Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas‘, (more info below). If you go down a few steps you can go and have a look at the ruins of the old sugar factory, Ingenio de Maro, (also see below).
You could then return to the Balcón de Maro and sit and enjoy the incredible views outside the small bar-restaurant on the plaza, that serves delicious tapas and snacks. After you’ve had your fill, take the road that slopes up from the square, Calle Real, which leads back onto the main high street, Calle San Miguel. For those that want to see it all from the comfort of their air-conditioned car, then it is easy to drive this route, and below the plaza there is a large open car park.
The ‘Casa Grande’ or ‘Casa de la Marquesa’
This house next to Maro’s plaza was originally the home to the Marquesa de Larios (María del Pilar Príes Gross, wife of José Antonio Larios y Franco, the fourth Marqué de Larios). The Larios family have since the 19th century been major landowners in this area. [Right photo taken of the house in 1963, (from the UMA photo archive].
The property was left to the second wife of the Marquis of Larios in his will in 2004, but was contested by the son of his first wife, and for over 10 years a battle-royal raged over it, along with an entire estate worth some 600 million euros, (literally royal, as King Juan Carlos tried to mediate at one point).
It is a story of passion, betrayal and greed, worthy of any soap opera, and although in 2017 the holding group containing all the family businesses was ordered by the courts to be dissolved, dividing up the wealth (possibly including the Casa Grande), has yet to be finalised…
Señora de las Maravillas church
Maro’s beautiful plaza is also home to its attractive 19th century church, Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas.
Maro’s original church, (which was more like a converted barn though it possessed a small tower with a bell) was contained within the boundaries of the original hamlet, which was roughly where the gardens of the Marquesa’s house are now. At that time, the priest that conducted the services was actually the chaplain at Nerja’s Castillo Bajo (the so-called lower castle where the Balcón de Europa is now); in addition, he was also required to bless the sugar mill (see below), before work began at the beginning of March, each year.
However, in 1807 there was a fire that destroyed the old village and church. So, it was probably after this date (and more likely after the Spanish War of Independence had finished in 1814), when the new church was built.
Tragically, the church again fell to flames in the 1870’s, and in 1888 what was effectively Maro’s third church was built partly on the ruins of the previous one, but also where a series of houses that were previously attached to it were demolished, in order to enlarge the building. The work was done at the behest and financing of Fernando Pérez del Pulgar, Marqués de Salar, then Lord of Maro and his family. It was finally blessed in 1893, with the Bishopric of Malaga approving that it be the centre of Maro’s own parish.
The church has had several reforms since, including where the entrance door is. Originally it opened onto the plaza, because where the door is now was originally houses including that of the priest. To the outside, the short tower and belfry appear to be massive and composed of several stepped bodies, although in reality it consists of only two floors, whose internal structures are hollow and with vertical walls, the lower one being included in the church as a small cubic room.
The interior consists of a single nave with a restored coffered ceiling, and a beautiful devotional altarpiece with the image of La Virgen Ntra. Sra. de las Maravillas (photo right, by Francisco Capilla Luque). The most important festival day of the year in the church’s calendar is September 8th, the day of its patron. The naming of the church after the Virgen de las Maravillas and the declaration of the Virgen as patron saint of Maro, probably dates from the founding of the second church in Maro.
Ingenio de Maro
Just down the steps from the Plaza Balcón de Maro, next to the car park, are the ruins of an abandoned sugar mill, El Ingenio de Maro (or Armengol), parts of which date back to the 16th century. Its romantic looking ruins are a central feature of the old village, and was actually the centre around which the post-Reconquest hamlet of Maro was born and spread out from, on whose existence its people depended on for centuries.
The earliest records of obtaining of sugar from cane in Andalucia date from the 10th century, when the Arabs introduced it on the coastline of Granada province. After that it spread to Málaga, and in fact the Costa del Sol was known for centuries as the Costa del Azúcar because of the amount of sugar cane plantations, and eventually mills and factories, sited along the coastal fringes. Although in Nerja and Maro it’s not yet known definitively if this crop was grown during the earliest period of Moorish domination, it is mentioned in a document from the beginning of the 16th century, so it had to have been grown in Maro for at least some of the previous century when the Moors still dominated the area.
In December 1582, Felipe de Armengol, lawyer of the Real Audiencia de Granada, bought Maro thereby making himself ‘Lord of the Manor’. He decided to follow what had already become a big business along the Málaga and Granada coastlines, and mechanise the cultivation of sugar cane and its manufacture into sugar on his new lands. In 1585 then, he built Maro’s mechanical sugar mill, and in the Autumn of 1586 it was ready for the first milling to be carried out. Crucially, Felipe also opened up a trade route to Granada, through the Almijara mountains, in order to take his produce to a mass market.
Maro’s mill was a pre-industrial establishment in which practically all of the local population worked. The peasants in the surrounding lands had to provide a constant supply of cane, which was then ground in the factory on millstones turned not by animals, but by hydraulic energy. This was achieved by diverting the stream that runs through Maro into the factory, which then powered a vertical hydraulic wheel.
It was no small operation, and given that during some months of the year the factory did not stop production at any time – neither day nor night – it required a massive investment in personnel, firewood and equipment. But the mill was a building complex where not only sugar was made; other activities necessary for its maintenance were also carried out in premises such as an ironworks and ceramic and carpentry workshops. In addition, it had a bread oven for the workers, and stables for the donkeys that were worked there.
The Maro mill remained in operation until the 1870′s when it was damaged by fire, an industry that had been one of the area’s principle employers for almost three centuries. Although the mill is now in ruins with only part of the north wall of the complex and some interior supporting arches remaining, and without any of its machinery, it still stands as a powerful monument to the importance of the sugarcane industry to Maro over the centuries.
But sugar production in the area wasn’t all over though, in fact it had nearly another century to run. In 1879 the owner of the Maro factory, Joaquín Pérez del Pulgar, decided to build a more modern factory equipped with steam machinery, called ‘San Joaquín’, read more below.
La Cueva de Nerja
The Nerja Caves
Just a short walk from Maro (despite its name) is the Caves of Nerja, a spectacular cave complex with some enormous stalagmites, including one of the largest columns in the world. For decades it has been one of the most visited tourist sites in Andalucía, with about 500,000 visitors annually, and must be a definite tick on any itinerary to the area.
To get there, you no longer have to take the longer route, up through the urbanisations, because in the middle of the village a magnificent footbridge (right) has been built over the motorway that had for a long time separated Maro from the caves.
The caves were discovered in 1959, when a group of five boys from Maro were exploring the area and found a small opening on the side of the hill. The boys are celebrated in a large statue outside the ticket office. Archaeologists have since discovered evidence of human presence in the caves dating back to some 40,000 years ago. In fact the Nerja caves also house one of the most important collections of Paleolithic cave paintings in southern Spain.
Indeed, thanks to the Caves of Nerja being one of the most visited monuments in the country, the money received from entrance ticket sales has been used in part by the Nerja Cave Foundation to sponsor, support, fund and publish many of the archaeological studies that have taken place in the caves over the years.
Unfortunately, the caverns with the cave paintings are not open to the public for good conservation reasons. However, there are some special exhibits in the Nerja museum showing utensils used by early inhabitants, and the skeleton of a young woman who lived in the caves some 18,000 years ago.
On exiting the caves you can explore the pretty grounds (photo left), which include a cafe, souvenir shop, museum, picnic area, children’s play area, and gardens. Also within the gardens there is La Ermita de San Isidro (see details below).
Nerja Caves festival
On June 12th, 1960, a Festival of Music and Dance was put on in the caves. Since then, the ‘Festival Internacional de Música y Danza Cueva de Nerja’, has become one of the cultural highlights of the year in the Málaga region. Indeed, it has become famous across the country, in fact the Queen of Spain once attended. Notable performers have been Montserrat Cabelle, Kiri de Kanawa and José Carreras.
Not only is it now held in one of the vast chambers of the Nerja caves, but also in the gardens outside and in the Plaza España in Nerja. Prices vary widely for the festival, which is usually held in July. In the interior of the cave you can expect to pay €55.00 (starting price) this year, whereas the concerts in the gardens are €20.00, and the one in the Plaza de España is free.
However, if you can manage to afford the ticket to one of the cave concerts it is an unmissable experience – certainly unlike any other venue where you might go for such a concert! For details of this year’s festival, see our Caves of Nerja guide page.
Caves of Nerja Guide
There is no doubt that the importance and attraction of the Nerja Caves has helped to elevate the town from a small fishing village to a world famous tourist resort. That’s why we’ve have created a special Caves of Nerja Guide detailing what’s there, its location, entry prices, and a fuller history of its discovery. You will also find details of the Nerja Caves festival. Clicking on the bouncing Nerja Caves icon on the map below will bring up a box in which you’ll be able to search directions.
Detunda-Nerja Caves Botanical Garden
The Jardín Botánico Detunda-Cueva de Nerja, is to be found just below the Caves of Nerja.
Although work actually started on Nerja Cave’s botanical garden in 2011, and was completed in July 2014, due to political problems it didn’t actually open to the public until June 29th 2017, three years after its completion. Nevertheless, given that it cost 3 million euros it’s good that its now finally open; and it will be worth the wait, as once the plants have grown fully it will be quite a spectacle.
So, the Detunda Botanical Gardens, which form part of twelve botanical sites in Andalucía, are home to a large collection of native and endangered flora from the local Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountain range plus the Sierra Nevada and the Montes de Málaga regions, as well as plants found along the Málaga to Motril coastline.
The garden is divided into four parts: traditional crops (such as the almond, olive tree, grapevines and sugarcane, as well as more modern crops like chirimoyos, avocados and mangoes), vegetation linked to climate (including those present in the local region), vegetation linked to special soils, and collections of plants (including 42 rare and threatened species). The Botanical Garden site incorporates more than 200 species, and crucially, from a scientific point of view, it includes a classroom and a laboratory, necessary for the development of such a conservation program.
At the start of the visit, the modern architecture of the building and observation platform is quite striking, especially if you’ve just spent the rest of the day wandering around an ancient pueblo! However, from there, a mile long path winds its way through the massive garden set on an plot of 3.5 hectares, and past a small pond. Along it, there are several seating areas, most of which are shaded, where you can stop and enjoy the flora and fauna on display as well as the magnificent views towards Maro and the bright sweep of the sea beyond.
It should be borne in mind that the Botanical Garden has only recently opened, so it will take time to mature, so don’t expect the hanging gardens of Babylon just yet! Nevertheless, important conservation work is being carried out here, especially given the massive forest fires that sometimes break out in this area, causing devastation to the local flora and fauna.
The Detunda Botanical Garden is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9.00 am until 3.00 pm.
Entry is free, so is a pleasant little bonus to your visit to the Nerja Caves. None of the paths, which follow the contour of the land, are so steep that people with reduced mobility shouldn’t be able to negotiate. There are toilets there too.
La Ermita de San Isidro
What has El Puente del Águila (see below) got in common with La Ermita de San Isidro? And why perhaps would La Ermita be a more fitting destination for the Maroween rather than San Isidro festival? The answer is that La Ermita was designed by the architect of the aqueduct, Francisco Cantarero Martín, but not for something as life affirming as the carrying of water, but as a site for the deceased, a cemetery!
Nevertheless, the Ermita de San Isidro is now a peaceful, pretty little structure, set in ornamental gardens, in what is now the grounds of the Nerja Caves. It houses the statue of San Isidro and therefore acts as the focus for the thousands that make the May 15th procession from Nerja every year in honour of the patron saint of farmers.
This square structure, with plastered masonry walls some 21 metres wide and 2.4 metres high, was built at the end of the 19th century. The main facade faces south with an arched door, flanked by Doric pilasters, and these ornamental columns are also to be found at the ends of the facade. On the north side there were two small rooms of about 3 by 4 metres; the one to the west was used as an ossuary, and the other one may have been used as a warehouse. All the burials that took place in there were graves dug into the ground, not as niches into the walls.
Interestingly, there are a series of engravings made on the outside of all the walls, bar the west one, of canes and crosses and a couple of sailboats, executed when the plaster must still have been fresh, (photo, right). Authorship of these engravings has been attributed to shepherds and locals.
It is possible these days that neither visitors to the cave, nor perhaps many residents know the real purpose behind the building’s construction, especially given its new function as the hermitage of San Isidro. However, much of the cemetery is still visible. Though the tombs are no longer there, they have been replaced by a garden that looks very much like the ones you’ll see in many cemeteries, and on its north face you can still see the yellow ochre paint that initially covered the walls just as at Nerja’s cemetery.
Maro’s ‘final resting places’ – a 1000 year story
San Joaquín sugar factory
The majestic ruins of the Fabrica de Azúcar de San Joaquín, or San Joaquin sugar factory, dominate the landscape on the old coast road between Nerja and Maro. While many visitors to the east of Málaga will be familiar with the various sugar mills which now stand in ruin, many are probably unaware that these abandoned buildings were once the cornerstone of the local economy.
In the mid-19th century, a Granada lawyer, Joaquín Pérez del Pulgar y Ruiz de Molina, inherited lands around Maro. He then purchased more until he owned around 2 million square metres of land in the area. After the Maro Ingenio burned down, he set about building the modern steam powered San Joaquin factory to take its place on some of his newly acquired land.
A Royal Order of October 4th 1879, issued by the finance minister D. Manuel de Orovio, declared that Burriana beach would be made available for the unloading from ships of wood, lime, plaster, cement, and iron destined for the construction of the sugar factory, as well as the machines necessary for sugar manufacture; and that the beach would also afterwards be available for the shipment of the products of the same factory.
Apart from building the sugar factory, Joaquin ordered the construction of 24 homes for its workers, a house for the Director, and an improved water supply to his mill including an aqueduct. This aqueduct was called El Puente del Águila (see below), and has been recently restored to its former glory. As the years went by, in order to diversify as cane honey became less popular, various alcohols were also distilled at the San Joaquin factory.
Though the factory of San Joaquin occupies an enormous area itself of some 37,000 square metres, that is nothing compared to the amount of surrounding farmland that was needed – nearly 1.5 million square metres – in an area called the Tablazo de Maro. At its peak, 96 per cent of Maro’s cultivable land was given over to growing sugar cane.
However, Joaquín Pérez had had to take out a very large loan to achieve all this, and in 1883 after he passed away, his four children could not afford the upkeep of the mill, so in 1893 the bank sold it to Rafael de Chaves, Marquis de Tous, Joaquín’s son-in-law. More misfortune for the factory fell though, when the falling price of sugar caused a series of confrontations between its workers and the employers, and the place was closed in 1911.
In 1918 another attempt was made to resuscitate the factory when Joaquín Chaves, a grandson of the Marquis, instituted another ‘society’ to run the factory. However, in the 1920’s, again with economic problems, the factory was returned again to the Bank of Spain, which sold it on to the Larios family in 1930, who kept it active until its final closure in the 1960’s. It can be no coincidence that this decade also marked a shift in Spain’s economic policy for its Mediterranean coastline – it had discovered a new industry which was much cleaner and with enormous revenues potential, tourism.
Fortunately for the visitor, much is left of the structure of the factory. At the front – looking out to sea – the large oval pond is still visible (photo left), and although it is now empty the ditch that fed it still carries water. From here the water that was so necessary for the irrigation of the sugar cane was distributed; this was because it is a sub-tropical plant whose period of growth coincides in our latitudes with summer, unlike its place of origin. At the back, the ‘plaza de cañas’ is still visible, where the carts would have discharged the newly harvested sugarcane. However, of particular note is the chimney with its double helix band of dark brick.
The factory’s proximity to the motorway, yet relative tranquility thanks to the fields surrounding it, plus the incredible views of the mountains and especially the sea, have meant that in the last twenty years many plans have been put forward to develop the site. However, while you can, join the many hundreds of locals and visitors who regularly visit this fascinating site, an important symbol of the area’s history, and take in the marvellous views it affords.
While you’re visiting the San Joaquín factory, don’t forget to go around the back to the Barranco de la Coladilla and see one of the few remnants of authentic Roman roads that still remains in the province of Málaga.
Carlos Gozalbes Cravioto in his book ‘Las Vías Romanas de Málaga’ classifies it as Via II of the Castulo to Malaca road, between Caviclum (Torrox-Costa) and Sexi (Almuñécar). Note that Castulo is about 50 kilometres north of Jaén, and Malaca was present day Málaga. This important road, which was detailed in the ‘Antonine Itinerary’ document of the 3rd century, was used for the carrying of mining products, as well as a general coastal route for travellers, merchants and armies.
Today, a stretch of about 50 metres with a width of just over 5 metres is left, though originally it was larger to allow the passage of carriages. The lower area has lost almost all its stonework, while above it’s in a better state of preservation with a row of stones arranged vertically on end, the purpose of which was to stop the carts from rolling back down the hill. There’s also a good deal of the original cobblestones still there, some of which are relatively large (more than 25 cubic centimetres). They would have been collected from the surrounding countryside, and arranged in the rough, without being worked, although with a flatter face on the exterior. The smaller stone fillers that we can also see must correspond to subsequent repairs to the road.
The quality of the layout of this Roman road allowed it to continue to be used as Camino Real (a Royal road) right through up to the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately, despite there being an official information plaque marking the spot, the road currently suffers from a complete abandonment by the authorities, and is in a precarious state of conservation. So, unlike them, please treat this important archeological site with due care!
El Puente del Águila
Probably because of the presence of the nearby Roman road (see above), it is often said that the impressive El Puente or Acueducto del Águila (Aqueduct of the Eagle), is also of Roman construction. However, this aqueduct situated between Maro and Nerja was built in the 19th century to transport water to the nearby sugar factory, San Joaquin.
This large structure with its 37 arches spread across four storeys of brick, spans the Maro ravine. It was was constructed in 1879-80 by Nerja master builder, Francisco Cantarero Rodríguez, who subsequently became Nerja’s mayor.
The aqueduct was accidently damaged during the Spanish Civil War in 1935, when it was shelled from the sea by Franco’s ships that were actually trying to blow up the old bridge across the ravine in front of it. It was part of a tragedy now known as ‘La masacre de la carretera Málaga-Almería’ or ‘la Desbanda’ when possibly up to 6000 men, women and children who were fleeing from Málaga along the old coast road to get to the safety of Almeria, were killed by bombs from Nationalist boats and planes. (For more details about this incident go here).
The aqueduct was restored in 2011, and with the backdrop behind of the Sierra Almijara has certainly become one of the most photographed images in the Maro / Nerja area. Though its original purpose has gone, it still fulfils an important role as an irrigation channel – if a somewhat grand one – for local farmers.
Further attractions nearby Maro
Going just beyond Maro is a fantastic opportunity to explore an area of natural and still unspoilt beauty. The beautiful Cliffs of Maro are a protected area with a number of unspoilt natural beaches to explore. Indeed, for those that are tired of fighting for room to spread their towels on the popular beaches, then the semi-wild beaches around Maro will come as a pleasant surprise. Kayaks can be hired at Maro beach to enjoy a spot of snorkelling and diving in the crystal clear waters off the beaches, or to see the enormous Maro Waterfall.
Along the headland you’ll find a number of fascinating ancient watchtowers, some ruined, some not. Also worth a visit is the Molino del Papel (paper mill), set in a cove which has a fascinating history, right up to today. But, if you’re just looking for an area to have a good hike in, then head to the huge National Park with its panoramic views of both mountains and the glistening Mediterranean sea, whose entrance is just next to the Nerja Caves.
Maro pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Maro, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.