Please don't come to Comares

Everyone knows the feeling. You find somewhere so perfect you can't bear the idea of it being spoilt by 'other people'.
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The Independent Travel

I really wouldn't bother going to Comares. There is so much to do for all the family on the Costa del Sol, such a lot to see in the nearby cities of Malaga, Granada and Cordoba, that slogging all the way up to this small mountain village really isn't, in Baedeker's famous phrase, worth the detour.

I really wouldn't bother going to Comares. There is so much to do for all the family on the Costa del Sol, such a lot to see in the nearby cities of Malaga, Granada and Cordoba, that slogging all the way up to this small mountain village really isn't, in Baedeker's famous phrase, worth the detour.

You are at least 45 minutes' drive from the coast, for a start. When you finally get to Comares, you are rewarded with riveting views of the Med. But it feels like another world away. Most holidaymakers much prefer to be down there, lying on the hot sand and splashing in the friendly warm water and enjoying the ambience of the many beachside cafés and restaurants.

There's an especially fine view from the wheelie-bin close to the Moorish fort. Look over a chest-high wall and you can see the landscape tumbling 1,000 feet straight down to the plains of the coast east of Malaga. Your eye follows the sheer rocky drop to the olive groves, down a winding road to a wide, arid river that twists past white villages to Velez-Malaga and the shiny towers of the Costa. At this time of year, it is breezy and baking by the wheelie-bin, and the distant Mediterranean is on proper holiday-brochure form, sparkling all the way to Morocco. Who wants to be stuck up here with the goats?

Well, some of us do. We get a weird thrill from keeping our distance from the fun-filled Costa. Some days, the Med disappears altogether in the haze. On winter afternoons, the water is preternaturally still. As the novelist Juan Goytisolo wrote from the other side, from exile in Tangiers: "The fog seems to shorten distances: the sea, having turned into a lake, links you to the other shore..."

But most sensible tourists wouldn't want to be here in winter. The days are usually clear and warm, but an icy breeze races through the tight, winding Moorish streets and smacks you clean in the face. OK for fresh-air fetishists, but for a few hundred quid more you could be in the Caribbean.

I am sorry to admit there is very little to do in Comares. The only historical attraction of note is the aforesaid fort, set against a white-fronted balcon, which is surrounded by pretty terracotta paving stones and benches. (The Ayuntamiento of Malaga has spent quite a bit of dosh improving and prettifying the village in the hope of attracting more visitors).

The view from the fort, admittedly, is spectacular. Your gaze travels past the great peak of La Maroma into the heart of the obscure Andalucian region called La Axarquia; a wild, grand place, where bandits thrived and anti-Franco rebels were still hiding in the early 1950s. The campo, surprisingly green even in midsummer, is well planted with farms and villas, and it bounds freely away to the higher Sierras, muted silvery-pink peaks that guard the pass into Granada province. The shadows fall and pass, the haze distorts and reveals, season by season, hour by hour, minute by minute. It needs a Monet to obsess over the shifting light of the expanse below.

The area around the village is great for walkers. On most days, I take the weathered stone path left by the Romans down the mountainside; the path which for centuries was used to bring water into the village from the aquifers far below. The road sweeps beneath the village walls. My route takes me across a lonely stream and follows the Romans' rocky, now deserted way around the mountains, through olive groves and orchards of orange trees.

Then I take a lung-bursting hike back to the village on a boulder-strewn track high above the mountain road. It isn't sociable walking – I've yet to meet a fellow hiker and there are no helpful signs or maps along the way. You don't need to turn back to the village: the still, lonely, sunlit paths stretch for days into the interior. To my mind, the organised hiker would be better advised to go on one of the many excellent guided tours that operate in the region.

I really don't know how I get through the days in Comares. There is no shopping. In the more established pueblos blancos – Mijas, Ronda, or nearby Competa and Frigiliana – you can happily fritter away whole afternoons shopping for brightly coloured pottery, fans, local paintings and sombreros. You can park, and there is a wide choice of bars and restaurants with menus printed in English and German.

In Comares, the touristic infrastructure is seriously underdeveloped. The cigarette shop in the main square of Comares has a few postcards. The supermarket in the new square further up the hill has some local ceramics among the shelves of detergent. Not much to write home about, even when you can find a postcard. The new square itself – more Ayuntamiento money – is damnably hard to find, though it offers more heart-stopping vistas back to the fort and over the chaotic alleys of the village itself. The nearest retail opportunity of any note is down the hill in Los Ventorros, where an English couple have a shop called El Duende that is half Islington wholefood outlet, half Moroccan bazaar.

There is a hotel in the square called El Molino de los Abuelos. Spain is full of small, characterful, rustic hotels and this, a converted olive mill, compares with the best. The cobbled courtyard leads one way to a balcony – I have exhausted my vista adjectives now, so won't go on about it – and the other into an airy dining room with the old pressing mechanism at its centre. Friends of mine have stayed in the rooms – one split-level suite allows you to gaze out to La Maroma from your bath – and are still blushing at the rates: top whack, 10,000 pesetas. The tourists haven't made it here, possibly because, like the rest of Comares, the Molino is Spanish-speaking and sticks firmly to a Spanish gastronomic timetable.

I recently had to arbitrate between the owner and a South African family who turned up at Sunday lunchtime looking for a light snack. Unfortunately, the concept of a light snack on this, the one day when the Spanish all go to restaurants for a huge family meal lasting until the early evening, was understood even less than the South Africans' English.

Here was yet another example of Comares utterly failing to meet the needs of the modern holidaymaker. The visitors left us to our four-course blow-out, muttering something about going back to civilisation.

So what do I do all the time? Well, I sit in my garden reading and smoking Cuban cigars (from a shop in Vélez-Malaga's main street: cost per cigar, about a third of the UK price). I walks down the Roman path. I stand by the wall looking at the sea. Then I walk to the fort and stand there, looking at the mountains. the light changes, the wind blows, time passes, and I am blissfully happy.

There are plenty of British people living in and around Comares, but they all go more or less native on the day they arrive. They do differ from the locals on the issue of alcohol consumption, mind, and their night-time sorties provide a rich source of both income and amusement for the villagers. But it's inevitable: the visitors will come, the laminated menus will be printed and the pottery shops will open. Comares will lose its innocence.

This is why. From the wheelie-bin, you can see all the way to California. Think of those pictures you've seen of Hollywood in the Twenties: hills, scrub and white houses dotted around. The dots were joined and a conurbation was born. That's what the coast east of Malaga looks like now. Nerja has already swallowed up Frigiliana. The developers roam wild and the gaps in the hills are being filled up. "There'll be 30 million northern Europeans down here in 20 years," says Ted, one of my Comares friends. "And as for Comares, there's a stack of planning permissions this high." He lays his palm flat a yard above the table.

That's why Ted, like so many of my fellow converts in the village, is so keen that this article does everything it can to suggest that, if you are planning a visit to southern Spain, then don't bother going to Comares. Especially if it's a plot of land you're after. The facilities are really much better elsewhere.

Mark Jones is editor of 'High Life'

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