Thousands of tourists visit Marbella and the Costa del Sol each year but few venture into the hills. Unfortunately they are missing one of the most beautiful, traditional villages of Spain: Ojén
Ojén is just 5 miles north of Marbella and in my opinion one of the most beautiful of the original white villages of Andalucía. It sits within the Sierra de las Nieves Nature Park and is a rustic Mediterranean paradise for those who want a break in the south of Spain yet away from the crowds (and Ferraris) of the Costa del Sol.
The town still has the feel of the old Andalucía with its whitewashed walls and fantastic views of the mountains and valleys that lead down to the sea from its altitude of 650ft, with an approximate population of 2000 Ojén has managed to remain unspoiled in spite of it being so close to the Costa del Sol.
The village's name came from an Arabic word, hoxán, which they say means "rough" or "bitter". The Moors established a settlement here and, despite their apparent dislike, they stayed in the area. Maybe this was due to the surrounding mountain ranges having been known as sources of iron, lead and nickel. Apparently the wealth of these minerals put the area to the forefront of the Spanish industrial revolution of the 19th Century.
Ojén is accessed by the road leading from Marbella to Monda and Coín. On one side of the road is the newer part of the village and homes the now almost invisible remains of the Moorish castle, the few stones that are left are not really worth the climb to see.
Certainly of more interest to the visitor is the old part of the town which cascades down the mountainside. Here are narrow cobbled streets filled with beautiful bougainvillea draping down from the terraces and drinking water fountains all surrounded with lemon trees dotting the streets and lining the walls of the church in the plaza.
Ojén, used to be famous for the production of the anise liqueur ‘aguardiente’ and the Museum; El Molino (which is set in an old mill that once produced Olive Oil) is on one of the last sites of the production of this liqueur.
There also used to be a wonderful wine museum here, but sadly the recent economy problems, has forced its closure.
From the road you can climb up towards the Cuevas de las Columnas y Campanas (Columns and bells caves); here you not only get the fascinating caves but also great views. It has narrow steps which are a tough climb but the views are definitely worth it. Ojén has quite a number of caves where you can also walk down from the main road and be stunned at the houses built above them. Exhibitions and films are sometimes shown in one of the larger caves.
For a panoramic view of the village and its surroundings, you can go to the mirador (view point) on the main Marbella-Monda road near the tiled plaque. I would definitely suggest hiring a car here as you will probably want to discover the surrounding area also.
A short drive back down into Marbella you will find the shopping centre ‘La Cañada’ which provides anything you might need, you can also take a drive down the Golden Mile to Puerto Banus; the hotspot for Celebrity Hunting, marvelling at the enormous Offshore Yachts and some world-class shopping in the likes of Gucci, D&G and Dior.
Must Visit and Place to Stay:
Refugio de Juanar Hotel: Just a 10 minute short drive from Ojén into the Sierra de las Nieves. You can wander up to the Mirador (viewing point) winding through the olive groves and look down to Marbella and the coast or for those who want a longer walk then try hiking up to La Cruz De Juanar or La Concha, (Routes are available as a pdf document map from http://www.juanar.com/paginas_eng/Turismo_rural_entorno.html ) The views of the coast down to Gibraltar from the mountain top are breathtaking.
The hotel restaurant is open for Lunch & Dinner to day visitors with an Andalucían menu usually including game. Juanar is a fabulous spot and one of my favourite places. The wine cellar here has more than 70000 bottles naturally including Rioja and a less well known but pricier and better; Ribera del Duero. The hotel itself is fantastic to stay in and has everything you would need. The forest surrounding the Refugio has well marked paths and is a paradise for lovers of rural Mediterranean landscapes and nature.
There is a less well known mirador found by taking one of the first dirt tracks off on the left of the main path, here are stunning views over Ojén and down to the coast. You could be lucky and see many wild animals especially the Spanish ibex.
Prices to stay in the hotel vary depending on the time of year. In July I paid approximately £30 a night for a double room but this can raise to around £50. Also available are Deluxe rooms, Suites and Apartments with the price per room per night raising to around £150 (dependant on time of year)
HOTEL REFUGIO DE JUANAR.
Sierra Blanca, s/n. 29610.
Places to eat:
Ojén has a number of good places to eat mostly serving the traditional Tapas. I’ve eaten mainly in El Caldero which serves meals, tapas and of course paella and is just on the entrance to the square almost opposite the back of the church, among many great dishes the Swordfish is one of my favourites here. El Caldero is situated on Calle Carrera No 18. (Tel; 952 881581)
Prices are very cheap for the quality and at lunch time you can usually have the Menu of the Day for €10
Some others you can try are:
• Los Leones: is friendly and cosy located on Calle Carettera (the main road through Ojén).
• Casa Antonia: Open early in the morning for coffee and late into the night as a bar, also on Calle Carettera.
• El Fogón de Flore: serves good traditional Andalucían cuisine. This great restaurant can be found in one of the narrow streets that leads off the Plaza.
• La Posada Del Angel: Small and beautiful family run hotel in the heart of the village.
• Restaurant Meson Lorente: Very popular family run restaurant on the main road through Ojén. Excellent Andalucían cuisine using local fresh products, this is possibly one of the more expensive places to eat in Ojén but still reasonable.
• Bar Diego: good food and tapas in the Plaza opposite the church
• La Bodega: a traditional Spanish tapas bar serving fine and local wines.
There are many tours available at the Ojén Town Hall on Calle Carrera No 5, Tel. 952 881 003, from cultural to hiking or horse riding.
Or check out: http://www.monteaventura.com/ingles/inicioingles.htm for a fun 4x4 adventure in these unforgettable hills.