Spain; the image of its Costas, tavernas and golf courses, enticing holiday makers to indulge in the heat of the summer and the warmth of winter. So many flock to her southern shores and soak up the Spanish rays and revel in the delights of her sandy beaches and rocky coves.

Although we are learning with our latest visit to this beautiful country, how diverse her land is beyond the Costas.  For sure the gently lapping waves of the Mediterranean that play their melodious tune – even as I write this blog – it is appealing. I love being by the sea and have this eternal swing of affections between mountains and the coast. Although there is so much more on offer as we stepped back from the romance of the sparkling blue waters.

We have had the last week in the mountains just north of Malaga – an area completely new to us and what a joy it has been. My love affair with these geological genius was nourished wholesomely this week and what a Christmas Tree of gifts it wrapped up for us.

Below we have created one of our interactive maps that reveals our sojourns and offers you a glimpse into what lays behind one of the most popular holiday destinations in western Europe. Click on the map to explore what stands behind the veil of mountain majesty.

Mijas – Pueblo Blanco

A stone’s throw from Torremolinos and Fuengirola the authentic air of Spanish customs fills your lungs. Not more than 30 minutes from the coast, this white village (although really more of a town these days) clings to the mountain-side.

Centuries of history fill the quaint cobbled streets, that in the sunlight blind you with their whitewashed walls and blue decorations, so typical to this region of Spain.  In fact evidence of prehistoric fortifications can be seen in the town’s walls. Ocre tiled roofs frame the vista as you look out to the sea beyond and step inside the defences built to protect them from rebels back in 800AD.

The Mirador view-points that are positioned around the outside of the town give you a coastal fix, if being away from the beaches feels like torture. It offers a reminder of how close you are to the golden sands, yet still in the heart of authentic Spanish culture. Perhaps your visit could coincide with the roars from the semi-circular Bull-Ring that is pretty unique or you simply wish to watch the mosaic fountains rise and fall to the sound of the wind.

Simply walking around the maze of alleyways that the town offers you, will have you reaching for your camera to encapsulate the image of this historical civilisation away from the high-rise. The main square is filled with cafe-culture bars with their obligatory sunshades and Sangria or perhaps just a cafe-con-leche will suffice. Either way, walking around this charming village is a delight and one of those must visit places.

Mountain Route – Circular tour

From Mijas you can then take the route directly into the mountains with your focus on the tranquility that these off-the-beaten-tracks offer the curious explorer. Heading up towards Álora, this white town and dominant fortress resembles a camel with its humps. With the fortress on one side and a church on the other, the town has settled in between the protective space of the valleys. We didn’t stop although it seems like an interesting place to look at depending on your timescales. For us, the call of Mother Nature was in the air and so we motored on through the Valle Abdalajis towards Antequera. This is a beautiful drive on twisty, turning roads through gently rolling hills full of olive groves.  Whilst Antequera itself was not a destination, it did give us the gas we needed, so it was a necessary diversion and offered some historical interest with its castle.

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra – Wetland Paradise

Our ultimate destination was Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, the largest lagoon in Andalucia, where it is said that this natural inland lake crystallises because it is fed by underground springs that pass through mineral deposits. And so, because the lake is saline it has become a haven for birds – the Greater Flamingo especially where they use the wetland to breed.

Now we’ve seen some sanctuaries for these magnificent birds through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Romania, although there was something adorable about this place. Our stop for the night was in a parking area for a Mirador, which offered staggering views of the entire lake over to the town of Fuente de Piedra although we couldn’t really get up close and personal to the birds. That required a Guided Tour from the Visitor Centre.

Although what it did offer, which is something unique to all the places we’ve visited, was the sunrise and sunset ritual of the flamingoes. As the sun begins its daytime journey the flamingoes have an inbuilt trigger that sets them off south – to where, we never did learn – although the cacophony of the flock as they set to the skies was incredible. And then the same at twilight, their return followed the same path – almost as if returning to the roost after a day of play – somewhere, who knows where.

Andalucia’s Lake District

After tearing ourselves away from this wetland haven, we ventured south west through Campillos and into the Guadalhorce Natural Park. Think England’s Lake District and you have an image of what this region looks like. Three massive man-made reservoirs that are nestled in the bosom of the mountains with their azure complexion is a sight to behold.

Winding your way through the mountain passes with water on either side of you just begging you to stop for a while and take a picture or two – with bridges across the dams and restaurants imploring you to visit for a cerveza, this is a lovely place to drive.  From the direction of Campillos, you can access the famous Gorge walk of Caminito del Rey and take the route downhill to El Chorro. Alternatively you can start at El Chorro and do the path the opposite way.  You need to book a visit here and you can walk with a group from one entrance to another, with a shuttle bus taking you to your starting point. If you want to camp, then there is a wild camp option at El Chorro (36.906272 04.760189). It’s a short, up-hill walk to the entrance and we saw plenty of campers here when we visited January 2018.

Bobastro Fortified Village

Although we took a little diversion before reaching El Chorro. Off the main road, there is a sharp turning right towards Bobastro Village ruins. This road is a dead-end drive although it is absolutely worth the deviation and we found an amazing wild spot up by Tajo Encantada. You wind your way up through the mountains, reaching the entry point to the ancient 8th Century fortress remains of Bobastro.

This has amazing history, which for €3pp in season (it was free for us), you can climb up to the pinnacle and see the remains of the village.  In truth until you get to the church there’s not much evidence of buildings per se, although the church is particularly interesting and amazingly its arches are still in tact. Information boards in Spanish and English tell you about the rebel stronghold and how they lived on and in the rocks.

Moving on up the road you continue to follow a snaking path until you discover a reservoir hidden deep in the mountains and it is here you will find a couple of wild camping opportunities. The first is as you arrive at the reservoir and the second is further up the hill on the right-hand side. The views over the valley are stunning, as are the sunrises. Don’t be surprised to find a wild goat or two nibbling around your van as this is their home too. Out of season this was a very quiet road and the restaurant at the far end, where there is a viewing point, was shut. We suspect that in the high season that there is more traffic and passing places, the further up the road you go, are few and far between.

El Chorro and Caminito del Rey

After a windy although otherwise peaceful night, we continued on our journey through the mountains, passed the Hermitage and then on towards El Chorro. Whether you decide to do the Caminito Del Rey walk or not, looking at the gorge bridge from the safety of the road side, is still a sight to behold. One day we will do it – in fact more like – one day I will do it – Myles’ vertigo would have something to say about his attempt at this epic walk.

The drive from El Chorro back around to Álora is delightful, if not a little narrow at times and coaches are inevitable on this main road into the mountains. So do drive with caution. Still the landscape of the valley floor with its mountain backdrop is gorgeous and lemon groves and olives trees litter the countryside with the neatness of a patchwork quilt.

This circuitous route up through the mountains has been a delight and we would highly recommend it as a detour from the high-rise seaside resorts of Costa del Sol. Sunny it might be and beaches galore, although nothing as authentic as history, wildlife and raw nature at its best.

If you love to get off the beaten track and go where few others go, then this is a route extraordinaire.