Guide to El Poniente Granadino
This region west of Granada city is a hidden corner of Andalucía which has cultivated olives for centuries. Its easygoing way of life rubs off with sunny charm on any visitor. Here you’ll find churches perched on hilltops, winding cobbled streets, quaint plazas and cafés as far away from the busy modern world as can be. El Poniente Granadino is a good choice for visiting the cities of Granada, Antequera and Archidona while relaxing in authentic Spanish surroundings.
Real Andalucian friendliness and warmth
This region has been largely undisturbed by tourists, and its landscape remains unspoilt and undiscovered.
With its hilltop churches, pretty plazas and cafés, towns far away from hustle and bustle, this is the land west of Granada city. Such is its rural calm and kindness it’s impossible to believe that 700 years ago it was a warring frontier. The Moorish Kingdom of Granada and Christian forces struggled against each other for centuries. But now times have changed, peace has triumphed and it’s the olive tree which is king of the land.
El Poniente Granadino is a hidden corner of Andalucia. Here you’ll find traditional old towns dedicated to olive cultivation and other arable crops. Perhaps because it is situated on the way to more well known tourist places, it has been overlooked by people wanting to ‘get somewhere else’. Of course this is good news for those who like their Andalucia undiscovered.
Don’t think you have to miss out on seeing the iconic sights of Spain if you choose to stay here though. The motorway A-92 which runs from Granada all the way west to Sevilla, taking in the historical towns of Archidona and Antequera along the way, cuts through the region. If you are planning to visit these cities while on holiday, then this area is a good choice. Some of the main towns of interest lie close to but hidden from this very convenient transport link. El Poniente Granadino is also a good choice if you want to relax in rural surroundings, taking advantage of some real Andalucian hospitality.
Fresh produce of the region is put to good use in simple, unfussy dishes.
Riofrío is one such town which has been well known for its trout since the 17th century. It benefits from the purity of the clear, cold waters of the Sierra de Loja, ecologically farming trout and beluga sturgeon. Riofrío was the first place in the world to produce organically reared caviar and sells a whopping 500,000 kilos of trout a year! As you’d expect, there are many restaurants in Riofrío with trout featuring heavily and served in many different ways. Riofrio Caviar run tours to show how their sturgeon are farmed and how the caviar is produced—caviar tasting is included.
Loja is 6 kms from Riofrío and is 60kms west of Granada. With the great limestone outcrop of Sierra de Loja rearing behind it, Loja itself is in a fertile valley, irrigated by the Genil River which flows through the town.
Loja is a large town with some interesting old churches and remains of an alcazaba (a Moorish fortress) to visit. The 16th century church of San Gabriel was built over the town’s old mosque and the impressive church of Santa María de la Encarnación, built in the gothic-mudejar style, has a stately bell tower.
Just outside of Loja are a series of waterfalls called Los Infiernos de Loja, formed by the waters of the Genil. It’s a lovely stretch of river for a walk. Moving east, towards Granada is Huétor Tájar famous for its green asparagus variety which has PGI (protected geographical identification) certification. Harvest season is from the end of March to June when the crop is picked at dawn by hand. The stems are thin with no tough fibres—gastronomy events are held early April—try them in ‘revueltos’ (scrambled eggs), in tortillas and just plainly sautéed with local olive oil, delicious.
Global fame for a local town
Montefrio has been given a National Geographic award for its view - so don't forget your camera!
For dramatic hilltop churches and sweeping landscapes, the small town of Montefrío is a must see. National Geographic has proclaimed that this little out of the way village, has one of the best views in the world. There is a NatGeo viewpoint (mirador) just outside the town where you cannot fail to take the most amazing images of the hilltop church of Iglesia de la Villa and the town below. In the centre of town is the Iglesia de la Encarnación, unusual for being round and modelled on the pantheon of Agrippa in Rome. Montefrío has lots of restaurants and bars and with every drink you get a tapa.
If you don’t fancy a full blown meal, why not rest in a sunny plaza and have a few cold drinks? After a couple of tapas you’ll feel like you’ve had lunch already. (Insider tip here: tapas are usually served with an alcoholic drink, but if want a non-alcoholic drink and not miss out on a tapa, ask for a ‘mosto’ grape juice or beer ‘cerveza sin alcohol’.)
Montefrío is well known for its tasty local sausages—chorizo and salchichón and its black pudding sausage, morcilla.
The town has a little tourist train and a big outdoor swimming pool with a restaurant attached, a promise for children to have an ice cream and swim once you’ve all seen the sights.
Close to Montefrío (5 kms) are Las Peñas de los Gitanos, an archaeological site of prehistoric tombs, and megalithic stuctures over 5, 000 years old. The site is in idyllic countryside of fields and woods, and is looked after by archaeology students. Access to the site is pre-bookable on a tour which takes two and a half hours with an expert guide.
Pure, sparkling water
This sunny, fertile region has been blessed with an abundance of springs, rivers and Lake Bermejales.
To the south of the region is the picturesque spa town of Alhama de Granada perched on the edge of a gorge following the course of the River Alham. Taking its name from ‘al hamam’, arabic for baths, the town has been famous for its thermally heated springs since Roman times. You can experience the waters for yourself for a small fee as there is a natural hot pool which is open to the public. The Hotel Balneario also gives (paid) access to an indoor thermal pool. The gorge walk trail from the town is a pleasant walk, suitable for families and taking about two hours. Alhama de Granada is an hour’s drive from Granada city.
Close by Alhama de Granada (12 kms) is the reservoir of Lake Bermejales, quiet and calm with a sandy ‘beach’ at one end, it is a lovely spot to spend a day by the water. The lake is full of fish and is bordered by pine trees. You can sail here, hire kayaks and pedalos with slides, or cycle round its 28 km shore.
Other little towns and villages to note in this region are Algarinejo and Íllora. Íllora has ruins of a 10th century castle, but its claim to fame is that it hosts the annual Parapanda Folk. This five-day festival of folk music has been going for more than 20 years and is held every July. Algarinejo (15kms north of Loja) is a small, rural municipality consisting of the town itself and the hamlets of La Viña and Fuentes de Cesna. It is surrounded by the mountains of the Cerro del Calvario with the river Pesquera flowing through. Algarinejo is well known hereabouts for its cave system (it gets its name from the arabic, Al Garin, meaning the caves) and its handicrafts—esparto grass weaving, wickerwork and lace.
El Poniente Granadino is a region for amazing views, peaks and rivers with icy cold waterfalls, history and sightseeing. All around are hills striped with the dark green of olive plantations and the quiet sounds of nature.
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Spencer Means, Daniel S.Cueto, Miguel Angel Garcia, Alper Cugun, Keith Roper, Epanto, Katie Beuerlin, Simon B., Gregorio Puga, Nicolas Vigier, Manuel MV, Marco Verch, Charlie Marchant, David Spencer, Gaby Altenberger, Jose Saez, Max LesZed, Micheo, Twin Loc and Sebastian Baryli.