The approach road gives little indication of the magic of what lies ahead, as it winds through a neglected neighbourhood, cut off from Malaga city by a labyrinth of motorways; but the destination is worth it – Malaga’s La Concepción Botanical Gardens.
This hidden sub tropical, fantasy world is fantastic. Rafa had invited me for my birthday, on our way to Malaga for lunch. We had a private guide, which is a great idea, as their enthusiasm is contagious.
It’s not pristinely maintained like a Botanical Garden in northern Europe, but for me that makes it all the more romantic and fascinating. Old fountains, carved benches and follies add interest; whilst at its heart is a palatial home that was once the playground of European aristocrats and wealthy business people of the 19th century. All around are amazing trees and shrubs; including palms from Africa and the Caribbean; Mediterranean pines and oaks and exotic plants.
The bamboos are stunning; vibrant greens and rich blacks, mixing with serrated leaves of palms – it all looked wonderful in the filtered sunlight.
The gardens were created in 1850s by one of the city’s most successful notable aristocrat, the Marquis de Casa Loring, together with Amalia Heredia. The gardens started in the romantic English style, and this early garden still features a huge wisteria arbour, with thick vines that look like they are part of a movie set. There is a Doric style temple which in its day was a tiny, private museum filled with exquisite Roman artifacts including a rare mosaic from Andalusian Roman ruins. Much of the artifacts are now in national museums, but there are still elements that give the flavour of what it must have been like. The classic country summer mansion had its shutters closed today, but we were told its available for events, and I can imagine it would be a magical location for a wedding – dining under the scented arbour and dancing in the mansion – like a Merchant Ivory film, but with a Mediterranean touch. All around are sub tropical species collected from around the world.
In the early 1900s the gardens were acquired by the Echevarría-Echevarrieta family when Malaga was at the forefront of Spain’s mining and smelting industries. The family added a Mediterranean forest and garden, and an impressive ‘Mirador’ offering view of Malaga’s cathedral, Arab fort and port.
The location must have been truly privileged in the last century; sadly in the last 25 years things have changed greatly. The adjacent river is now a reservoir serving the city, and in front and to the sides are motorways, the major arteries taking traffic around the city to the east and west of Andalucía and to the north towards Seville and beyond. Yet, somehow with the abundance of majestic trees, and the air cleaning plane trees that protect the entrance, the site retains peace and calm that is odds with is new found location as an island surrounded by the rush of modern daily life.
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