Until around a decade ago the Axarquía region of Andalucía was little known. Then, northern European expatriates discovered the pretty hilltop village of Cómpeta, started buying up some of the run-down 'fincas' and farmhouses in the area and putting it on the map.

Today, rural tourism comprises a large part of the local economy. However, the area is still breathtakingly beautiful and has not been spoilt by the interest and influx of foreigners. The main attractions are the area's dramatic hill and mountain scenery, its unspoilt, white washed villages and the strong sweet wine that is made from sun dried grapes. Because of the region's sub-tropical climate, this is also a region where some of the more tropical fruits, such as mango and kiwi are grown.

The Axarquía is excellent for hiking and several companies now run walking holidays from the UK, centred around Competa. Horse trekking is similarly very popular here. The landscape is riven by deep valleys lined with terraces and irrigation channels that date back to Muslim times.

Nearly all the villages that dot the olive, almond and vine planted hillsides are of Muslim origin with narrow, windy streets. La Axarquía joined the 1569 Morisco rebellion and afterwards its inhabitants were replaced with Christians from farther north.

Signposted routes with names like Ruta del Vino link groups of villages in one-day drives along the snaking mountain roads. The so called capital of the area is Vélez Málaga, 4 kms north of Torre del Mar which is fairly unremarkable, although the hill-top Muslim castle is worth using up some camera film. The highest mountains in the area stretch east from the Boquete de Zafarraya. The abovementioned Cómpeta makes a good base for a stay. There is a "Museo de Vino" here where you can taste the locally made wine and which also sells locally made ceramics and has a good restaurant serving traditional local dishes. A few kilometres down the valley from Cómpeta there is an exquisite Almohad-style minaret next to the church. A scenic road winds west through the villages of Salares, Sedella and Canillas de Aceituna eventually linking up with the A 335 north of Velez Malaga which links up with the new highway to Malaga and beyond.

The village of Comares in one of the highest in Andalucía it can be spied for miles around, rising high above the surrounding countryside. Frigiliana is said by many to be one of the prettiest in Andalucia. Nearby Torrox is the lesser visited of the two.

The drive inland from Malaga city, in the Antequera/Granada direction, takes you on a journey to the real Andalucia. Colmenar is one of the most important villages in this area, being the Capital of the Malaga Mountain villages. It is just 35 kilometers inland from Malaga, on the "Carretera de Colmenar", a road that cuts and winds up through the Malaga Mountains, until you reach the village at 696 meters above sea level.