Vélez-Málaga is a bustling, working town and the capital of the unspoilt La Axarquía region, which stretches from the eastern side of Málaga city to the border of Granada province and northwards as far as the village of Alfarnate.
With a population of around 55,000, Vélez-Málaga is also the biggest town in this region of spectacular mountain scenery, picture postcard white villages and Mediterranean beaches, known too for its sub-tropical climate, its fertile valleys of orange and lemon groves, kiwi, custard apple and mango trees, and the sweet local wine made from sun-dried muscatel grapes.
Vélez-Málaga’s outskirts are ordinary enough, with plenty of new apartment blocks and commercial areas, but it’s worth venturing into the centre to explore further. There are some very fine buildings, a number of excellent shopping streets and several very smart cafés, tapas bars and restaurants.
And for a step back in time take a wander around the steep, winding streets of the oldest part of the town, known as Arrabal de San Sebastián, which climbs up the hill topped by Vélez-Málaga’s most important landmark – the 13th century Moorish fortification, or ‘alcazaba.’ If you don’t fancy the hike up the hill incidentally, the alcazaba can also be reached by car.
The climb or drive will be rewarded with a close up view of the restored 16-metre high tower which was constructed to guard the town.The views back down to Vélez-Málaga, of the surrounding valley and mountains, and down to the coast are superb.
There are a number of historic monuments in the old town, and indeed Velez-Malaga has quite a history. The town’s origins date back to the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, and in Roman times the town was known as Menoba and was a major centre for trade and commerce. The Moors occupied the area for around 800 years, calling it Ballix-Malaca, and again it was strategically, culturally and commercially important during this period.
One of the most important of Vélez-Málaga’s churches is the 15th century Mudejar style Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor, which was the first building to be constructed by the Christians after the defeat of the Moors. The church’s beautiful square tower was made from brick, using the minaret of the mosque which preceded it.
The 16th century Church of San Juan Bautista in the Plaza de la Constitución is another of the town’s most notable monuments, and stands in front of a restored part of the old defensive city walls. The church is open from Monday to Saturday, except Tuesdays, from 10am-1pm and 5-8pm.
There are a number of convents in Vélez-Málaga, including the Convento de San Francisco next to the municipal market - built in 1487 on what was once a mosque after the Reconquest and open from 7.30-8.30pm and 10.30am-midday on Sundays - , the Convento Nuestra Señora de Gracia (Las Claras) in Calle Félix Lomas, which is open from 7-8pm and 10.30am-midday on Sundays, and the 18th century Convento de Jesús, María and José (Las Carmelitas) in front of the town hall, open Monday to Friday 8-9am and Sundays 9-10am.
The early 17th century Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios hermitage stands in a commanding position on a hill facing the castle and is open from 9am to 1pm and from 3.30-6pm.
Other sites of interest are the city’s singular small chapels dating back to the 18th century: the Camarín de la Virgen de la Piedad in Calle Las Tiendas and the Camarín de la Virgen de los Desamparados in Puerta Real de la Villa, where the images of the saints are behind huge windows looking out onto the street.
Also worth a look is the recently restored and very fine 17th century Mudejar style Palacio de los Marqueses de Beniel in Plaza Palacio, which today houses the municipal Education, Culture and Science departments and the Fundación María Zambrano.
While only a handful of northern European expatriates have acquired properties in Vélez-Málaga itself, the town is within easy reach of many villages and rural mountain areas where foreigners have settled over the last decade or so.