As part of a one-week Erasmus+ exchange program focusing on the revitalisation of rural areas through entrepreneurship, we had the opportunity to visit Mollina, a charming town in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Mollina, known for its excellent wine and olives, offered us the ideal environment to develop our skills and competencies in working in the countryside while at the same time discovering the rich cultural heritage of the Spanish countryside. We listened to exciting stories about rich cultural heritage that is often overlooked by tourists when they limit their visits to the coastal resorts of the Costa del Sol.
The "Rural Boosters" training was organised for 22 youth workers from 10 European countries - Spain, Norway, Greece, Ukraine, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Slovenia. The exchange was organised by the Spanish association Asociación Juvenil Almenaras in the "village" of Molllina near Malaga. Mollina, which by Slovenian standards is a small town with 5,000 inhabitants, is completely comparable to Idrija. Intertwining narrow streets lined with low white houses decorated with beautiful yellow accents, at first glance, really don’t give the impression of Mollina being a big town. It is surrounded by vineyards, olive and orange groves, typical for most of Andalusia.
Hidden stories of the Spanish countryside
Over the course of the week, we ventured several times from the Ceulaj campus to the nearby settlement of Mollina. We slowly discovered that the town contained much more than it initially appeared. Cooperatives offer local products from rural areas, including olive oil from one of the three refineries in the town. On the edge of Mollina stands the incredible Museo de Belenes, a museum of nativity scenes, which found its place here, thanks to a wealthy resident of Mollina who wanted to create a place where the tradition and art of making nativity scenes could be exhibited and preserved. Quite by chance, we also met the museum’s owner and he shared his incredible success story with us. But this was only the first of many stories told by the inhabitants of Mollina. The rural character of the town, combined with the generally relaxed atmosphere of Andalucía, created many opportunities to interact with the locals. Despite our lack of knowledge of Spanish, we still managed to communicate using gestures and smiling our way through the conversations. It was a great learning experience to communicate with people from different cultures, even when we didn't speak the same language.
To a large extent, we connected the workshops in Ceulaj with concrete examples; we looked for ideas for the revitalization of Mollina, and designed tourist offers and products that would contribute to the recognition of settlements throughout Andalucía. Cipriano Ramos, one of the mentors for the activities, presented his work within the Oletrips agency and the product he is developing for the Arenas settlement and the local provider Antonio who wants to upgrade the tradition of baking bread into a real tourist offer. The workshops aimed to provide young people with various tools and develop competencies for promoting entrepreneurship in rural areas. We worked with the concepts of social entrepreneurship, treated cultural heritage as a development opportunity and perfected our knowledge of tourist products.
Love experiences imprinted on the landscape
We also had the opportunity to visit the nearby Antequera, which almost became the capital of Andalucía due to its central location. A city with 33 churches – more per capita than anywhere else in Spain! it also boasts with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- Antequera Dolmens – three megalithic monuments from the Neolithic and Bronze Age
- El Torcal de Antequera – karst mountain formation with many unusual shapes and
- La Peña de los Enamorados (Rock of the Lovers), whose shape resembles the profile of a human face and is famous for the late medieval story of forbidden love between a Christian woman and a Muslim, who met their end together on top of this mountain. The tragic deaths in the area are said to help Muslims and Christians find peace after so many past battles.
Moorish architecture, typical of Andalusia, can still be seen in the city today. On the hill above Antequera stands the Moorish fortress Alcazaba, reminiscent of the famous Alhambra in Granada. It was placed over the Roman ruins in 14th century to prevent the Christian advance from the north. We also headed towards the beautiful hills surrounding Mollina and visited the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra nature reserve, famous for its flamingo birds. The reserve is also home to many other species of birds, and on the day of our visit, we were treated to a flight of cranes. These birds fly from Northern Europe to the Iberian Peninsula and back every year, so on special occasions, they can also be seen in Slovenia!
This project was funded by the Erasmus plus program and organised by Asociación Juvenil Almenaras (Spain). Other participating organisations: MediaTerraΝea (Greece), Kalistratia ODV (Italy), Creatorium (Norway), The Change is in You Association (Bulgaria), Constellation Korostiv (Ukraine), Akdeniz Naturel Yasam Dernegi (Turkey), Udruga Alfa Albona (Croatia), Associação Inspira! Intervenção juvenil e ambiental (Portugal) and Institute ID20 (Slovenia).