Acebuchal sits high in the hills of the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama between Competa and Frigiliana. It is the Pueblo el Fantasma (ghost village), a village abandoned for nearly fifty years that has quietly returned from the other side. Franco prevented the villagers from staying in their homes at night; he wanted the land clear for his private army to clear the rebels from the mountains. In 1949, Acebuchal was abandoned. In 1998, Antonio ‘el Zumbo’ returned with his wife and family to the home of his ancestors. Acebuchal breathes again.
Sunday morning and we were climbing the mountain track from Cómpeta. Fording the clear mountain stream we rose between the pine trees warming in the early May sun. The scent evoked memories of childhood holidays where Spanish playgrounds were always surrounded by pines, the carpet of dusty needles our soft landing. This is the smell of Spain I recognise.
Snuggled amongst the trees and alpine flowers the white village is no longer inhabited by ghosts; no longer abandoned. After almost 50 years of loneliness Acebuchal is being restored. With holiday lets, resident families and its compact chapel, very few of the buildings remain roofless. White-washed buildings cosy up to the winding cobbled lanes. Splashes of colour from doors, shutters and flower-pots break the monotony of white.
In the bar/restaurant, Antonio serves up local food: wild boar from the mountainside, vegetables from his plot and his own doughy bread. Inside his tienda, shop, he offers ‘dulce vino, diez años’. The wine is thick, sweet with the flavour of juicy squashed raisins.
Republican rebels no longer hide in the mountains; the Guardia Civil now police, not wage war. Franco is dead; Acebuchal lives again.