Benahavís, often dubbed as ‘The Culinary Centre of the Costa del Sol,’ presents a captivating scene for first-time visitors. With its characteristic white buildings surrounded by majestic mountains, the village offers a classic charm while holding intriguing tales beneath its beautiful façade.
At first glance, Benahavís might evoke thoughts of typical Andalusian villages like Gaucin or Cortes de la Frontera, with a history that may seem parallel. However, there are compelling clues that challenge assumptions, such as its location in a valley surrounded by hills, clearly not an ideal defensive position. Questions arise: why was the village built here, seemingly lacking strategic advantage? When sitting in its main plaza, one may recall the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales, built by the eccentric Victorian entrepreneur Clough Williams-Ellis, later featured in the fantasy series ‘The Prisoner’ in the 1960s.
Many visitors come to Benahavís, charmed by its white village allure, to admire the mountainous vistas, sample tapas or dine in its plethora of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Yet, few grasp the village’s backstory, its history, and raison d’etre. They might be surprised to learn that most of the buildings date back no further than the 20th century, and its renown as a culinary center began around 1975.
Benahavís is more than just a pretty face or a gastronomic haven. Behind its simplicity lies a rich history and an intriguing evolution. From its origins as a settlement near the Guadalmina River to its rise as a renowned culinary destination, Benahavís has traversed a fascinating and diverse journey.
Visitors to Benahavís will encounter historical landmarks such as the grand Montemayor castle and its surviving towers, remnants of the 16th-century defensive structures against Morisco uprisings and Barbary pirate raids.
However, Benahavís’ allure isn’t solely in its architectural beauty or natural landscape. One of its main attractions is its extraordinary culinary offerings. With over thirty restaurants per square kilometer, Benahavís boasts a delightful array of local and international cuisines that tantalize the taste buds of visitors from around the world.
At the end of its main street lies the enchanting La Aldea gallery. Though it exudes an aura of an ancient village, La Aldea is one of the newer buildings in Benahavís. Crafted by sculptor David Marshall, La Aldea combines classical elements with modern nuances, creating a unique and captivating ambiance.
In conclusion, Benahavís is more than just a ‘white’ village on the Costa del Sol. Behind its charming exterior lies a story of intrigue and captivating development. From its rich history to its reputation as a renowned culinary hub, Benahavís offers a compelling experience for visitors seeking beauty, gastronomy, and profound history on the southern coast of Spain. A journey to Benahavís will not only tantalize culinary senses but also inspire cultural exploration and unforgettable historical discoveries.
The history of Benahavís traces back to the imposing castle of Montemayor, which stands about four kilometers away from the village. Constructed in the 11th century as part of the defensive structures safeguarding the Nazarine kingdom of Granada during the Moorish rebellions, the castle played a pivotal role in maintaining Moorish occupation of the area until 1485. Despite being seven kilometers from the sea, Montemayor Castle commands a sweeping view of over 100 kilometers of coastline, stretching as far south as North Africa.
Legend has it that for centuries, rumors circulated about secret passageways linking the castle to the sea. In 1960, these rumors were confirmed when a lorry traveling along the N340 (now the A7) stumbled into a hole that revealed a section of a passageway large enough to accommodate a man on horseback. This remarkable engineering feat underscores the strategic importance of Montemayor Castle in the region.
Among the early rulers of the castle was Havis, whose son was enchanted by the scenic views of the Rio Guadalmina valley near the castle. He established a small settlement, rumored to include a grand house, on a south-facing slope above the river. It is from this settlement that Benahavís derived its name, ‘Ben al Havis,’ meaning ‘Son of Havis.’
Given its vulnerable position, particularly during the 16th century amidst Morisco rebellion and marauding Barbary pirates, the construction of defensive towers, or ‘torres,’ became necessary to protect the local population. Four such towers still stand in the immediate vicinity of Benahavís, with remnants of three others located within four kilometers.
One of the most accessible towers is the Torre de Cercado, situated near the village entrance. Adjacent to it is a park, constructed in 2008 with EU funding, featuring picturesque paths, flower beds, ponds, and even a small ‘Roman theatre.’ Preserved within the park is the Torre de Cercado, resembling a small church with its crenellated tower and low building once serving as the water storage cistern for the tower’s defenders.
Entering the village, visitors are greeted by the central plaza, distinguished by the beflagged Ayuntamiento building. The plaza, meticulously maintained, exemplifies the charm of Benahavís with its cobbled and tiled surface, adorned with the flags of Andalucia and Spain. The absence of graffiti and the pristine condition of the village reflect its commitment to preservation and beauty.
Narrow streets wind through the blindingly white buildings, following the original Moorish street plan in the central part of the town. Vibrant flowers, restaurant signs, and brightly colored umbrellas dot the streets, creating a lively atmosphere. The BBC Holiday program once described Benahavís as ‘as close to Paradise as you can get,’ a testament to its allure and enchanting ambiance.
Benahavís boasts an impressive culinary scene, with an abundance of restaurants that surpasses even the most thriving villages in Andalucia and possibly throughout Spain. With at least thirty restaurants per square kilometer, it stands as a beacon for gastronomic exploration and delight. Nestled off the central plaza lies the grand entrance to Hotel Amanhavis, a modern establishment that exudes a tasteful blend of kitsch and elegance.
As one steps through the imposing solid wood door, adorned with bronze studs and nestled within a Moorish arch, they are greeted by a narrow entrance that hints at the opulence within. The entrance hall, with its wood-paneled walls, ornate decorations, and soft mood lighting, sets the stage for a luxurious experience. Beneath a section of glass floor lies an artistic display of granite and marble amphorae, imitation Arabic swords, and other modern reproduction antiques, adding to the allure and charm of the hotel.
The rooms within Hotel Amanhavis are named with evocative titles such as the Sultan Boabdil Chamber and Christopher Columbus Berth, evoking a sense of history and adventure. Each room is a testament to the hotel’s commitment to providing guests with a unique and memorable experience, reflecting the eclectic charm of Benahavís itself.
Outside the confines of the old town, Benahavís experienced a period of relative stagnation for four hundred years. The construction of the town’s church in 1920 serves as a testament to this quiet period, reflecting the modest size of the congregation at the time. However, Benahavís underwent a remarkable transformation in the 1970s with the influx of wealthy foreigners, often referred to as the ‘jet set.’
Seeking peace and tranquility while remaining within easy reach of the socialite scene in nearby Banus, these expatriates discovered the allure of Benahavís almost overnight. Local families seized the opportunity, opening restaurants to cater to this new clientele. Despite initially serving traditional Spanish home cooking—complete with soggy vegetables and thin pork steaks and chips—the restaurants of Benahavís quickly gained favor among the glitterati.
In a seemingly insignificant turn of events, Benahavís coined its own strapline: ‘The culinary center of the Costa del Sol.’ Since those early days, the culinary landscape of Benahavís has evolved significantly. Today, the village boasts culinary skills that rival the finest establishments in Spain. Whether one seeks traditional Spanish fare cooked to perfection or a designer international dish, Benahavís has become the destination of choice.
The village’s culinary prowess is further underscored by the establishment of the Benahavís Culinary Arts and Hotel School, as well as the opening of ‘Sabor a Malaga,’ a restaurant affiliated with the Culinary Arts School of Benahavís, in 2014. These developments solidify Benahavís’ reputation as a culinary destination, attracting food enthusiasts from far and wide to savor its delectable offerings and experience its unique charm firsthand.
At the end of Benahavís’ main street stands the enchanting gallery known as La Aldea. Despite its appearance as the oldest part of the town, La Aldea is one of the more recent additions, serving as a testament to the artistic vision of sculptor David Marshall. Inspired by the likes of Clough Williams-Ellis, Marshall embarked on a project to recreate a Moorish Andalusian village, and he succeeded in spectacular style.
Visitors to La Aldea can immerse themselves in an atmosphere reminiscent of centuries past. At the Bodega, one can sit at a rough-hewn table and sip a cold tubo of beer while taking in the ambiance of an ancient square. The furniture, predating the building itself, adds an authentic touch to the experience, enhancing the sense of verisimilitude. With its tiled fountain, narrow walled stairs, wrought iron gated entrances, and porticoed shopfronts, La Aldea creates an illusion so convincing that one might expect El Cid to ride through at any moment.
Marshall’s inspired creation, coupled with the foresight of Mayor Antonio Mena, has contributed to Benahavís’ development in a conservative manner. The absence of high-rise buildings, particularly within sight of the village, preserves its traditional charm and natural beauty. Today, Benahavís’ town hall stands as one of the wealthiest per inhabitant in all of Spain, a testament to the village’s prosperity and careful stewardship.
What makes Benahavís truly special, however, is its ability to captivate visitors of all ages. There is an ineffable quality about the village that appeals to both children and adults alike. Perhaps it is the sense of innocence and simplicity that pervades the air, encouraging visitors to recapture the joys of youth. Benahavís exudes a pretentiousness without falseness, a liveliness without overbearing boisterousness, and a lack of sophistication or worldliness that only adds to its charm. It is, in essence, a romantic vision of a Spanish village—a place where time seems to stand still, and the beauty of tradition and simplicity reign supreme.
In conclusion, Benahavís stands as a testament to the timeless allure of Spanish culture and heritage. From its meticulously preserved architecture to its vibrant artistic endeavors, the village embodies the essence of Andalusia’s rich history and tradition. A visit to Benahavís is not simply a journey through space but a journey through time—an opportunity to experience the magic of a bygone era and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.