More attractions in Nerja...
Beaches, mountains and caves!
Some may say we’ve saved the best to last!
There are still some great places left to visit in Nerja; some are in town – like the many great beaches, the fascinating sculptures, the old towers, and the park with its children’s play area – and others are further afield like the awe inspiring Caves of Nerja and the huge National Park where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of mountains and the glistening Mediterranean sea.
At the bottom of this page you’ll find links to the first page of visits around Nerja.
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).
Nerja has a good variety of sandy beaches within a gentle stroll from the centre. Within the town there are several beaches, most with easy access and nearby facilities, as well as shops, bars and restaurants. The beaches are well maintained throughout the year.
All 10 beaches are within easy walk of Nerja’s centre, but as it is essentially a cliff top town so some amount of climbing up and down steps may be involved. As a rule of thumb, to the right of the Balcon de Europa there are steps going to the beaches, while to the left there are just a few, and by the time you get to the Salon and Torrecilla beaches there’s no climbing at all.
Although Nerja has proudly achieved the world-wide Blue Flag award in the past for some of its beaches, it lost the awards for Burriana and Torrecilla beaches in 2014. This was because of the ongoing problem that the town lacks its own sewage treatment plant. Now, due to a recent EU ruling, these coveted flags for cleanliness and facilities cannot be awarded to towns that do not have one.
To be fair, Nerja’s beaches have not changed in their standards or maintenance during this time and the town hall seems to be gearing up to building its water treatment plant at last. Every year plenty of bathers go swimming in the sea off Nerja’s beaches. However, there has always been a long running issue over the cleanliness of the sea around the Nerja area. There is no clear advice, as the cleanliness of the water can depend on the day and local wind conditions.
However, despite losing their Blue Flags, the beaches of La Torrecilla, Burriana and El Chucho in Nerja have received the Spanish ‘Q for Quality’ award. In fact, Nerja and Marbella are second only to Málaga city in terms of the amount of ‘Q’ awards in the province. The ‘Q for Quality’ badge is awarded by the Institute for Spanish Tourism Quality (ICTE), and recognizes the improvement of services provided on beaches, and therefore the value it adds to the tourism on offer in Spain.
Nerja Beach Guide
Because Nerja’s beaches are usually an integral part of most people’s holidays here, we’ve got a special Nerja Beach Guide listing the main beaches which surround this pretty coastal resort.
By clicking on the map’s beach icons below you can also link to particular beaches in our Nerja Beach Guide.
The Caves of Nerja
Just four kilometres outside the town is the Caves of Nerja, a spectacular cave complex consisting of a series of spectacular caverns and the most 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.
You will find most references to it in English as ‘The Caves of Nerja’, however in Spanish, it is known in the singular as ‘La Cueva de Nerja’. Either way, it is monumental in size, and there are actually a number of caverns inside.
The caves were discovered fairly recently, in 1959, when a group of five boys from Maro village (near Nerja), 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 – see photo right.
Then a year later, 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.
FOR DETAILS OF THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL SEE OUR CAVES OF NERJA GUIDE .
Archaeologists have 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 (photo right) showing utensils used by early inhabitants, and the skeleton of a young woman who lived in the caves some 18,000 years ago.
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. 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.
The Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountain park
This enormous mountain parkland behind Nerja is called the ‘Parque Natural de las Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama,’ being named after the three sierras (mountain ranges) it encompasses.
It offers visitors a chance to experience a completely natural and unspoilt area of Spain. It covers 40,600 hectares and stretches 40 kilometres east to west, and 20 kilometres north to south. The entrance to the parkland is just a short drive from Nerja town, just before the Caves of Nerja.
The mountain range forms a natural barrier between the Málaga and Granada provinces, and the park spans five municipalities. It is these mountains that protect Nerja from the cold north east winds, giving it its micro-climate of warm summers and temperate winters.
The parkland is a mixture of rugged limestone mountain peaks, pine filled slopes, and deep gullies where pretty pink and white Oleander trees grow. The highest peak, Pico el Cielo at 1508 metres, is often snow capped during the colder winter months.
Exploring the park
The park is a haven for wild-life. There is a abundance of birds, reptiles, insects and mammals. If you are lucky you may spot an eagle flying above, or perhaps catch a glimpse of the famous but timid Spanish Ibex (a mountain goat the size of a deer).
The park is also home to some important and rare plant species, and during the spring you can enjoy the lovely wild flowers, which in turn attract many butterflies. The area is home to many wild herbs and sometimes you can smell the fragrance of wild rosemary, thyme, lavender and of course the many pine trees on the breeze.
As illustrated in our photos above, for much of your trip in the parkland you will enjoy panoramic views of mountains in front and the glistening Mediterranean sea behind you.
El Pinarillo is a picnic and barbecue area in the heart of the Parque Natural de las Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama, and a popular base for ramblers and walkers. It is situated about 5 kilometres inland from the Nerja Caves and to get there, just follow the track which starts to the left of the main entrance to the Nerja Caves.
Although the route up to El Pinarillo is an unmade road and a little rough in places, a 4 × 4 is not essential. Eventually you will see a small rock with an statue of an Ibex on top, you have arrived at El Pinarillo. The car park is in front, along with the picnic area. There are purpose-built barbecue areas and play areas for the kids.
From El Pinarillo, the world is your oyster as far as walking and exploring the countryside is concerned. Long walks, short walks, whatever you want, and the views are fabulous. Or just spend a leisurely day around with your picnic or barbecue under the shade of the trees.
Opening times for the national park
Although the park is open most days please note that vehicular access to the National Park, including up to El Pinarillo, is restricted between June and October and barbecues are not permitted during this period. This is due to strict fire regulations now in place to prevent forest fires during a time when the countryside can be tinder dry. You can still enter on foot, bicycle or horseback though.
The Macaca and Torrecilla towers
On much of the Málaga coastline are the remains of the old defensive towers, that acted as beacons, some originally constructed by the Moors, others built after the Christian re-conquest. All were built by the coastal population in an attempt to warn them of any impending attack from invaders or pirates. Some are in very poor condition, like the Torre de Torrecilla in Nerja, others like the Torre de Macaca just outside Nerja, have been renovated in recent years.
Torre de Macaca
TheMacaca tower is located on a small hill next to the Punta Lara urbanisation above the old N-340 coast road. It is hardly visited because it is located inside a private property, but access can be gained behind an old adjoining building.
The tower was constructed in 1497 as part of the defensive system against the Berbers, who were seeking to disembark and pillage the coastal communities.
The tower’s truncated cone-shape structure, measuring 23 metres in circumference and 12 metres in height, is made of rubble and brick masonry, and fixed with lime mortar.
Access to the interior is on the north side, about six metres off the ground, and would have been by a wooden ladder. Through an internal staircase the terrace was reached, on top of which was a roofed structure. There is a continuous parapet, and remains of a machicolation on the upper part. There is also a chimney and a hole for the outlet of smoke up there.
The original plaster surface is still preserved in places on the outside, with some engraved decorations.
In the first half of the 18th century the tower was modified to allow the installation of artillery in order to repel the English and Dutch that were attacking these coasts.
Torre de Torrecilla
What remains of the Torrecilla tower are located on a rocky point on the Paseo Marítimo de Nerja, next to Torrecilla beach. A pretty circular walkway has been constructed around the crumbling structure to facilitate viewing what’s left of it, although it can also be seen from the beach.
The tower is considered to be a relic of the Nazrid coastal surveillance system, existing from the 13th century until the reconquest in the 15th.
The structure of the tower remained largely intact until the 18th century, when it was enlarged, perhaps in a horseshoe shape, given the size of the visible remains. It’s not currently possible to determine what size it would have been, although probably not much different to the tower at La Cala del Moral, near Mijas (see old photo on right).
Like the original castle on the Balcón de Europa, it was destroyed during the Peninsular War against Napoleon (1808 – 1814), known in Spain as the War of Independence, possibly bombarded by a British ship in 1812, (see Nerja history).
The story of Málaga’s watchtowers…
The Spanish coast was well known as a lucrative hunting ground for pirate ships. Villages along it lived in continuous fear of attack from ships that might suddenly appear and attack them. In the end, a series of about 100 different watchtowers and other defences were established by the Moors then the Christians, to warn people along the Málaga coastline of impending danger from the sea. They were constructed on the most prominent headlands or cliff tops, and you can differentiate their ages by the shape of their bases – the towers with square bases being of Moorish origin, and those with round ones being built after the Reconquest. [Stunning photo above of the 16th Maro watchtower by Lucia Muñoz Arrabal of Nerja].
This system of relaying messages and warnings through the use of towers had been used along the African coast by the Moors since the 8th century. So successful was it, it is claimed, that a message could have been transmitted from Alexandria to Ceuta in a single night. However, this system hadn’t actually started with them, it was first used by the Romans, but was then greatly improved by the Moors.
Even after the reconquest, the Mediterranean coast was a dangerous place to live after Turkey established itself in Algiers in 1516. Then, aided by North African Berber pirates, the Turks started an offensive against the growing Spanish empire. The names of Redbeard and Dragut inspired fear along the coast as they attacked, destroyed and looted what they could.
Initially, the barbary pirates concentrated on shipping, but later on they started raiding on land, including the capture of Christian slaves for the Turkish Ottoman slave trade, as well as the general Arabic market in North Africa and the Middle East. [Picture, left: pirates playing at dice for Spanish prisoners, (from an engraving by Frederick Richard Pickersgill)].
Once the revolt of 1500 to 1501 by the Moors that had stayed after the Reconquest (the Mudéjars) had been put down, a complete re-adaptation of the coastal defensive system became necessary. The danger was two-fold; one, stopping the economically disastrous depopulation of southern Spain by keeping the disgruntled Mudéjars from fleeing to the Kingdom of Fez in Morocco; and secondly, to provide a defence from the constant threat of piracy or invasion. Thus, special attention was paid to the placement of watchtowers in areas such as the mouths of rivers, from which enemy galleys could disembark for an invasion, but could also be an escape point for Mudéjar defectors.
These ‘revamped’ towers were often manned by a single watchman, called a ‘Guarda de la Mar’ (‘Guardian of the Sea’), who communicated with other towers by smoke signals during the day and firelight at night. Sometimes sea shells were blown simultaneously so as to give the local population an audible warning. In later years, cannons were used to transmit the message whenever possible and especially during bad weather. Details that would be transmitted included the number on board the ships, their direction and whether they had landed or not. This method of communication was very effective, but there was also a ‘Jinetes tajadores’ (horse rider), who would also travel from one watchtower to another during the day.
Málaga’s watchtowers were given a solid base to offer some protection against cannon fire. They had one room above, an observation platform and a store room below. The doorway (a hole really) was high up the tower, and accessible only via a temporary wooden or rope ladder that the watchman could pull up if he sighted the enemy, and therefore hopefully remain safe.
After the War of the Alpujarras (1568-1571), which again involved a revolt by the Mudéjars, the towers and fortresses became severely damaged. Afterwards, many were repaired, especially as the threat from the Turks continued. Gradually though, the watchtowers fell into disuse until the mid-18th century, when Spain was periodically at war with the British (who had taken Gibraltar in 1704), so some were again strengthened in 1764.
Then, in the 19th century, some of the towers became first lookout towers against the French in the War of Independence, then bases for the Carabineros. The Carabineros were set up by King Ferdinando VII (1784 – 1833), to patrol the coasts and borders of the country, operating against fraud and smuggling. Later still, some were then taken over by the Guardia Civil. For one such tower that changed in use over the years this way, see our description of Almayate’s Castillo del Marques.
[Photo above: Del Jaral tower in Valle Niza near Almayate, the only square one left in the whole region, was originally built by the Moors around the 13th to 14th centuries, though thought to have been modified and re-used as a lookout tower in later centuries].
The sugar factories that created Nerja
The sugar industry started in the Nerja area in the late 16th century, though in reality it was just a continuation of the Moorish tradition of making honey from sugar cane. In fact the entire 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.
For almost 400 years, right up until 1965, sugarcane was one of Nerja’s main livelihoods, and therefore shaped the modern town. You can still see the evidence of this industry throughout Nerja, see below.
San Antonio Abad
Nerja’s first sugar mill was built in 1591 by a man called Juan de Briones from Málaga, who chose to site it on the right bank of the Chillar River. However, it had been a few years in the making. Work had actually begun on the building in 1588, but when news of its construction was heard by the Málaga authorities, it was ordered to be stopped, because they felt it might increase the risk of attacks by the Barbary pirates. Following public protest however, the mill was given a licence, and in 1591 work began on the creation of new farmlands to produce sugar cane, and it became operational during the harvest of 1593.
This mill began to be known as Ingenio Viejo (the ‘old mill’) from 1806, to distinguish it from the Ingenio Nuevo (see below), that was being built at that time in the town, but by the 1830’s it was called ‘San Antonio Abad’, a name by which it is currently known.
Together with the sugar mill in Maro that was constructed at the same time, it was one of the first to produce cane sugar in the province of Málaga. Mechanisation was provided by the water piped in from the Rio Chillar which turned a large vertical wheel.
Like the Ingenio de Maro, the Nerja mill became the economic motor of the locality, attracting new settlers who contributed the manpower necessary both for its operation, and for the agricultural exploitation of the surrounding lands. These people, many of whom initially settled in the caves bordering the river Chillar, formed the basis of a Nerja that expanded into the town we see today.
The mill was expanded in the 17th century, while also introducing improvements to its facilities, so that by the beginning of the 18th century San Antonio Abad was a huge complex. It had pottery, carpentry and blacksmith workshops with ovens, foundry and forges; a bakery, warehouses and stables, plus housing for the owner and for the administrator. It even had its own orchard and pine forest!
San Antonio Abad remained in operation until 1869. Unfortunately, only some of its perimeter walls and part of its supply channel now remain. It is located outside Nerja near to the Frigiliana road. It can be seen on the right as you travel out of Nerja on the N-340 crossing the old bridge, just before the roundabout with the turning to Frigiliana.
The remains of the Ingenio Nuevo, or Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, is often confused with the more recent San Miguel fabrica, which disappeared from view by being turned into a private home, rather than crumbling away like the Ingenio Nuevo has. Both were of a pre-industrial type, though the San Miguel one (which was built in the 1860’s on the right bank of the river Chillar), barely lasted a decade before being turned into a flour mill.
The Ingenio Nuevo (new mill), which can still be visited, was founded sixty years before in 1805 by a society of ten Nerja farmers who felt they were effectively shackled to the only mill in the village, San Antonio Abad. Like the San Miguel mill, it was built on the left bank of the river Chillar, on which the mill slopes down to, but closer to Nerja. It had a short life, as it ended up being closed around 1830, after being acquired by the competition.
Nowadays there are only a few ruins of the Ingenio Nuevo left near the Puente Viejo (the old bridge at the entrance to the town – see below). There is a masonry wall with a semicircular arch and another wall, also made of masonry, with several semicircular brick arches. While there is no documentation left that describes the building, but it’s clear it was a large rectangular building of two floors, where the manufacture of sugar was carried out in it.
Fabrica San Jose
This mill is situated on Calle Antonio Ferrandis ‘Chanquete’. Unlike the sugar factories mentioned above, San Jose was of a post industrial type like the San Joaquin one, between Nerja and Maro.
It was built in the 19th century and owned by the Larios family who were the most powerful and wealthy families in the area. The mill was fully operational until 1968.
Today it has been restored and turned into a secondary school, called IES El Chaparil, although the factory’s tower is still there. [Photo left, by Paco Haro Ramirez].
The function rooms at the school are often used for live events and is now named the Sala La Fabrica. It the venue for the Fabrica Rock festival among other things.
If you’ve taken the children on holiday and are looking for some quick things to see and do around Nerja, then why not take them on a walk around a few of the local landmarks? From bridges and unusual sculptures to a riverside walk and a park, here are a few of the most interesting for your stroll around town.
- Map to places to visit -
On the map below you will find some of the places to visit on this page, as well as all the others on the ‘Where to visit in Nerja‘ page. Click on the map icons, or on the boxes underneath to get driving directions.
More visits in Nerja
There are many more must-see places to visit in Nerja. There’s the famous Balcón de Europa, where many an hour can be whiled away relaxing on one of the benches that line it, looking out at the magnificent coastline, just as King Alfonso VII did when he first nicknamed it ‘the balcony of Europe’.
Then there’s the El Salvador and the Ermita Angustias churches, the fascinating Nerja museum, the charming old town centre, and the several pretty fountain and flower filled plazas with their great selection of bars, cafes and restaurants.
So, because there are so many for you to visit, we’ve a dedicated page for them all. Clicking on any of the ‘view’ links below will take you there.
Nerja pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Nerja, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.