Of wines, landscapes, sales and flavour: the most unknown history of the Montes de Málaga
This natural enclave has been the source of traditions and customs, gastronomy with its name, sweet wines and unique folklore
There is a place where locals escape to disconnect from everyday life and blend into nature: the Montes de Málaga Natural Park. But this space is not only full of natural life, trails and opportunities for outdoor activities; it is also a place that has marked the history of the city itself. To this, we add a gastronomic richness to its name, such as the dish of the Montes.
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Of wines and landscape
Today the Aleppo pine is the main feature of the Montes de Málaga. But there was a time, in Roman times, when the forest in this natural space was a timber exploitation that served to provide the raw material for the Roman shipyards. The Visigoths had to arrive to protect this enclave until the arrival of the Catholic Monarchs, who favoured and encouraged the cultivation of vines.
Málaga's wines were famous all over the world, but phylloxera - a plague that affected the whole of Europe in the 19th century - reached these lands and brought wine-growing activity to a standstill. This served to reintroduce Aleppo pines and to build what is known as the Agujero reservoir, another area not to be missed on your route.
Today, the Montes de Málaga are as lively as they were in ancient times and are one of the natural spaces with the greatest wealth of fauna and flora in the province. Strolling through this enclave is to fill yourself with energy and discover a unique landscape.
Of traditions that endure over time: the “verdiales” (traditional dances)
Every 28 December (April Fools' Day), Málaga celebrates the Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales in the district of Puerto de la Torre. But do you know where this art form comes from? It is said to be one of the oldest folklore in Europe. Its name seems to derive from the name of the province's olive groves, from the “verdial” olive variety, and it is closely linked to the Montes de Málaga area. This musical genre (fandango) is typical of the province and especially of the Montes de Málaga, the Guadalhorce Valley and Axarquía.
The “verdiales” are a “cante,” a “toque” and a dance in which there are numerous stringed and percussion instruments (violin, lute, guitar, cymbals and tambourine) of Arabic influence. You can see more about this art in this video.
The costume of the panda de “verdiales” is the same as that worn by the people of the countryside, a costume that only varies with the introduction of a hat full of ornaments: mirrors, flowers, ribbons or beads, which denote the ancestral origin of the fiesta.
Situated in the Montes de Málaga, on the watershed between the River Campanillas and the River Guadalmedina, right on the border of the judicial districts of Verdiales and Roalabota, is the hermitage of Los Verdiales, whose origins date back to the 18th century. Here we find the patron saint of Verdiales lovers, the Virgen de los Dolores, whose pilgrimage is celebrated on Palm Sunday.
On the gastronomic route: dishes with a name of their own
To speak of the Montes de Málaga is to tell the story of its inns and restaurants that are scattered throughout this natural enclave, along the roadside. These places were once the houses that provided lodging and food for travellers passing through this area, which connected Málaga with Granada and other key points in the country.
The inns were supplied by the raw materials available in the surrounding area, which is why the menus still include game stews, asparagus, mushrooms or “tagarninas,” cured meats and homemade preserves from the local slaughter. This gastronomic tradition has been maintained to the present day and practically the same dishes as in the beginning are still on offer, jealously guarding old recipes that are still kept alive today.
But, what can we eat in the Los Montes inns?
- Dish of the Mountains. This is the dish par excellence of the Montes de Málaga, consisting of pork loin in lard, fried egg, chorizo, black pudding, pepper and chips. Its origins go back to the dishes served to muleteers who crossed the province by donkey in the 1930s and which had to be energetic to withstand the hardship of the journey.
- “Olla de la Era” or cabbage stew. Made with two types of cabbage and chickpeas, it also contains beef, chicken, bones, chorizo and black pudding. It can also contain pumpkin, carrots and broad beans.
- Migas Cortijeras (breadcrumbs). This recipe keeps the old way of cooking with bread, chorizo, meat and garlic. Everything is fried until golden brown and it is usually served with pork loin, peppers and egg.
- Roast leg of kid. Seasoned with bay leaf, thyme and roasted vegetables.
- Other typical dishes of these “ventas” are “arroz caldoso,” snails, leg of lamb, roast suckling pig, stuffed sirloin steak, leg of lamb or cod confit.
We must not forget to mention the sweet wine of Los Montes, which is made in this area and is characterised by its golden colour and sweet flavour. This type of wine is included in the Regulatory Council of the Málaga Designation of Origin.
As a curiosity, within the Natural Park of Los Montes de Málaga, the traditional "pisa" of the grape is still carried out in places such as the Lagar de Torrijos. Some of these inns and restaurants are nowadays Málaga's living historical heritage and a treasure trove of recipes and traditions that are kept like gold in their treasure trove.