By Jay Stone
MIJAS, Spain — It’s easy to fall in love with this picturesque town high on a mountain above Spain’s Costa del Sol: its beautiful whitewashed buildings perched on the hillside that makes it look like some dream of a Greek island; the broad, tiled town squares lined with fine restaurants and cafes; the gift shops that feature, rather than the usual tourist crap, a brand of handmade tourist crap — finely wrought vases, rich leather goods, brightly designed T-shirts — that better reflect one’s elevated tastes, if not one’s modest budget.
The charm is evident from the time your bus from Torremolinos comes chugging past the final switchback on the mountain road and you hear the clip clop of a horse-drawn carriage or, better still, a small cart pulled by a burro, one of the signature sights of Mijas. They call them the donkey taxis, a service begun in the 1960s when workers coming home on donkey-back found that they could make more money from tourists who wanted a ride than they earned from their actual jobs.
For me, though, the defining moment — the thunderbolt — came in the town tourist office, when I picked up a copy of Mijas Weekly, the bilingual local newspaper, and read this headline on the main story on page one: “Mijas intensifies the periodicity of cleaning work in the urbanizations.” It was love at first sight, really. I’ve been collecting mangled newspaper headlines all my life, and I have an impressive collection from my own years in journalism, ranging from things that were written on top of movie reviews (“Flick has vampires, but good”) to attempts to entice readers into stories on the food pages (“Lentils are excellently nutritious,” written, I was told when I asked, because “Lentils are nutritious” was too short for the space.)
Anyway, the Mijas Weekly story turned out to be about how they’re cleaning the streets and parks more frequently, and frankly. It shows. Mijas is just spick and span, and you can wander down its little alleyways and past its breathtaking lookouts over the valley, or into the impressive Chapel of the Virgin of the Rock — excavated out of rock by a Carmelite monk in the 17th Century — without seeing as much as a tile out of place.
But there’s room for surprises too. Wandering around town, I found this sign on a back alley near a picturesque vista:
“Forbidden: To stick advices in all the Alcazaba complex. Responsibility for the company.”
It sounds harsh, I know, but this is a town that keeps its advices to itself. You can spend a productive afternoon in Mijas — it’s a 45-minute ride on the local bus, and costs about $2.50 one way from Torremolinos — and still not see it all: the flour mill, the fortress, the caves of the old forge, the uniquely oval bull ring. The casual visitor gets glimpses of some of the wonders; there is, for instance, a museum of miniatures founded in 1972 by a famous hypnotist named Juan Ellison Millan. He loved that arcane and beautifully useless art of the tiny: things engraved on grains of rice or the heads of pins. This museum has, among other things, the seven wonders of the world painted on a toothpick, a replica of a Dali drawing on a push pin, and a rendering of a bullfight on a lentil. It’s like something out of Blake.
You want to see it all and still have time to enjoy a terrific coffee and croissant at an outdoor cafe, but of course you can’t. Not if you plan to meander over to the bus terminal where an impressive line-up of senior citizens — what is it with these people? Don’t they have homes? — are waiting anxiously for the 3 p.m. local back to the coastal hotels where, if you time things right, happy hour is just about to start. And so we bid a fond farewell to Mijas with a silent promise to come back; or, as they say here in the shadow of the Alcazaba complex, to intensify the periodicity of our attendance.