Population: 1628 inhabitants
Altitude: 542 m above sea level
Distances: 17 km from Ronda
Benaoján consists of two parts: the village and the station (Estación de Benaoján) which are 2 km apart. Benaoján village is quite an ordinary place where people seem to get on with their busy lives without making many concessions to tourism. The modern part of Benaoján along the MA 555 road is very different from old town which is worth a detour to look for interesting corners. On the way you may want to pop into the undeniably rough and ready Bar El Tajillo for excellent tapas. Benaoján used to boast several family-owned ham and sausage factories and it was a common site to see ham legs drying in open windows. Nowadays, there are only a few factories left, however they are still locally famous and the products are of excellent quality. Personal favourite is the modern Icarben located past the local petrol station.
Many footpaths start at the Estación de Benaoján at the Guadiaro river. The Benaoján Station is small and modest but it makes up for it with character, natural surroundings and places to eat and stay. As you arrive, on your right is the very busy Bar Stop, more of an institution than just a bar. It has been run by Anita and Pepe for decades and some of the customers seem to live in the bar permanently, playing dominoes while sipping their anis and coffee. If you are looking for quiet and understated dining, Bar Stop is not for you. Sunday lunch is a big family event with the outdoors terrace filling up very quickly and lots of happy noise around. Food is honest and fresh country cooking, service fast and efficient. Possibly the best Andalucían breakfast in the area (toasted flat mollete and Serrano ham) with strong super-hot coffee served traditionally in small thick glasses.
La Cantina is a tiny local snack and drink place, it used to have tables straight on the platform before someone noticed the possible conflict of interest with close passing trains. Excellent for beer and tapas. Past the station building there is the meat-eater´s paradise, El Muelle, which opens from Thursday to Sunday lunchtime and is housed in an old building at the former loading platform. Conductor´s hats hanging on the wall remind you of the building´s past. Fish, game and Iberian pork are excellent.
Hotel El Molino del Santo is another institution which has been run by experienced hoteliers Andy Chappel and Pauline Elkin for over 25 years, together with probably one of the best hotel and restaurant teams in the area. The staff is all local, including the receptionists Inma, Paqui and Paco, head chef Reme and chefs Andrés and Manoli who have been born and bred in Benaoján. The one exception is the Scottish chef Gordon who is behind the new original dishes and who speaks fluent Andaluz, according to popular vote much better understood than his native accent. Molino is an oasis of peace with a beautiful terrace and gardens and an excellent base from where you can explore Ronda, the Natural Parks and the surrounding Pueblos Blancos. The restaurant is extremely popular with locals and foreigners. Food is modern Andalucian cuisine with original taste combinations and unique dishes. Deserts would tempt a saint on a fasting vow. It is best to book your table in advance as the place can be heaving, especially at week-ends. The “merienda”, afternoon tea and cake, can get very busy with locals. The cakes are home made to Molino´s recipies. The hotel has won many awards.
Verbena del Tren, end of July/beginning of August. Has been celebrated at the Estación de Benaoján for over 27 years. Involves eating large amounts of local sausage delivered by lorries, drinking sangria straight out of jugs till entering a state of sticky messy happiness and being helpfully hosed down by fake firemen or anyone with a garden hose, as a gran finale. This is an extremely noisy and messy event. Do not wear expensive clothing and pull a plastic bag over your camera and mobile phone.
San Marcos. 25 April. Patron saint of Benaoján is honoured by fireworks (apparently they help carry the prayers to him just in case he is hard on hearing) and a procession topped by a graceful “dance” when the bearers of the float with San Marco on it prove their skill and strength, often to the sound of the cheerful Paquito Chocolatero song. Mayordomos are chosen amongst unmarried men in the village and they are responsible for organizing the fiesta.
Virgen de Rosario, 7 October. Less exuberant than San Marcos, a lovely fiesta with a procession dedicated to another patron saint of Benaoján, the Virgin of the Rosary. Mayordomas are chosen out of unmarried women in the village this time.