In the heart of Andalucía’s most spectacular scenery east of Malaga in Axarquia, lies Lake Viñuela. A man-made reservoir, Lake Vinuela serves the useful purpose of providing thousands of homes with water and, in an aesthetic sense, has become a determinate part of the local landscape. Before the area was flooded to create the reservoir, many sites were excavated providing finds dating back to the Neolithic as well as Roman eras. Today the area has become a favourite spot to get away from it all, the peace and tranquillity only disturbed by the twittering of little birds dashing around above you and perched high up in the pine trees surrounding the water.
Creation of the Lake
Although work didn’t commence until 1981, discussions to build the picturesque reservoir, supplied by the waters of the Rio Guaro, were first muted in 1890. The lake is the principal source of water for the eastern part of the Costa del Sol and is fed by the Guaro and its tributaries, the Sabar, the Benamargosa, the Salia, the Bermuza, the Almachar and the Rubite. Lake Vinuela was built on the bed of the River Guaro at La Vinuela, which was left on its right bank, with the Barriada de los Romanes on the left. Covering 700 hectares of the municipality, it holds 170 million cubic metres of water and, apart from providing fresh water for the Axarquia, it allows the irrigation of more than 2,700 hectares of land.
Thankfully, as the lake is a reservoir, no motorised craft are allowed, just simple sailing boats and canoes sometimes disturb the usual flat calm of the surface. Scattered around the southern end of the lake are picnic areas, each table complimented by a barbeque and all with fantastic views of the lake and mountains behind.
The lake took its name from the nearby village of La Viñuela, which nestles in a valley supporting olive groves and lower down, cereal crops. The village was named after small vines found in the area when the village was merely a refreshment stop on the route from the coast to Granada. The inn which fed and watered weary travellers in the 18th Century is still there on the narrow main street and these days it serves as a meeting place and refuge for the old men of the village who meet for a game of dominoes and the local farmhands escaping the midday sun. Also of interest in the small town is the 16th Century church of San José containing a fine sculpture of the Pieta. Two tributaries of the River Velez, the Guaro and the Seco, run through the municipality of which the Guaro was dammed to create the reservoir that can hold 170 million cubic metres of water.
The gastronomy of the whole region relies heavily on olive oil and most dishes are prepared using liberal doses. Most of the villages serve up varieties of gazpacho, a chilled soup with a tomato base and ajoblanco, a cold garlic soup as well as hearty country stews in one form or another. Some villages have their own speciality however, around Viñuela, for example, game dishes are popular as a lot of hunting takes place in the area. Periana is known for its stews of kid and tripe and its delicate sponge and oil cakes whereas Benarmargosa’s cuisine is based on blended avocado and hot or cold tomato soup. As well as specialising in gazpacho, Riogordo is also famous for its snails served up in a spicy sauce. To wash it all down the area’s wines, mostly sweet Muscatels are a must and in Periana’s Ambique Inn, you can taste the delicious aguardiente liquor which is made following traditional methods in an old distillery in the town.
Handicrafts around the area are well worth looking out for, if you’re lucky you may even see them being created. Saddlery, an inheritance from when the region was an obligatory passageway between the coast and interior has survived time and is still practised in many villages across the Axarquía as well as the weaving of esparto grass into baskets and matting. In Comares, clothes are made for the Verdiales groups whose song and dance adhere to ancient folklore. Riogordo has a tradition of skin and leatherwork as well as forging and saddlery and in Alcaucín, there remains still, a cane workshop where furniture is produced. The obvious purchases are of course the region’s wines and its olive oil, available in most shops and particularly at the co-operative mills.
If all that travel has worn you out, then you know where to head – back to the lakeside. Rarely does the hand of man compliment Mother Nature so well. The calm surface of the lake reflects the mesmerising countryside and the pine trees shelter your table upon which sits a chilled bottle of Muscatel awaiting to quench the thirst of its owners.
Jaqueline Roberts, Words