Guide to El Valle de Lecrin
This region is halfway between Granada city and Las Alpujarras—a superb location for Granada sightseeing, skiing and the beach combined with a pleasant semi-tropical climate. The Lecrín Valley played an important part in the Moorish kingdom of Granada and this region is rich with historical references to it. Most of the villages of the Lecrín Valley are on the banks of the Béznar Lake and there are many clearly marked hiking trails incorporating these little towns en route.
Clear, cool water - the essence of life!
The Lecrin Valley is fed by the melting snow of the Sierra Nevada. Water is abundant and crystal pure.
The Lecrín Valley is a superb location for both skiing and the beach. It has a pleasant climate and many places of historical interest—particularly of Moorish times when this region was an important part of the Kingdom of Granada.
The Lecrín Valley is situated halfway between Granada city and Las Alpujarras. Most of its small villages are scattered around the banks of the Béznar Lake, a pine-fringed reservoir three kilometres long.
This region begins when you cross the Tablate Bridge on the road from Lanjarón to Granada. The road sign says ‘Gracias por su visita – Thank you for your visit’ as you leave Las Alpujarras and head into the Lecrín Valley. It’s a spectacular sight to see the Lake of Béznar stretching out before you as you make your way to the Valley. Although there are many villages in this region, Lecrín town could be considered the ‘capital’ of the area, it’s a large town with all facilities, two petrol stations, restaurants, bank and bars.
Two large towns, Padul and Durcal are considered to be part of the Lecrín Valley district though they are not close to the lake and lie on the other side of the motorway A-44 going to Granada. Although more functional than picturesque, both have their own attractions.
Embrujo de Granada (Enchantment of Granada) is a single malt whiskey, whose distillery is based in Padul. Whiskey production relies on the quality of the water, and as the water here is from the melting Sierra Nevada snow, it is very pure indeed. The result is a fine malt whiskey (tried and tested and recommended!) Although Liber is a small distillery and produces only 25,000 bottles of whiskey a year, it holds its own against Scottish malts. Another alcoholic beverage produced in Padul and taking advantage of the pure water, is the artisan beer ‘Mammooth’ (but we have yet to test this one). There are plenty of references to mammoths here because of an historic find a few years ago.
Lush and green and full of fruit
The valley has its own sub tropical micro-climate. Growing conditions are perfect for citrus fruit, vegetables and colourful flowers.
Between Durcal and Padul is a lagoon which was drained for farming some years ago. On emptying the lagoon, the remains of at least four adult mammoths were found. This is the most southerly evidence of this prehistoric giant. Today the lagoon has been allowed to fill again and is a wetland nature reserve, attracting a large variety of birds who nest and feed in and around the water. A boardwalk has been built around the lake’s edge leading to a hide from which to observe the birds.
Another village on this side is Nigüelas. It holds an annual music festival for two weeks between the end of July and beginning of August.The FIAMPSE (International Forum of Superior Musical Perfection of Southern Europe) event is made up of international standard concerts, taking place in cultural locations in the town.
Classical music is the main genre offered but jazz and flamenco are also performed throughout the fortnight.
The climate in the valley is almost sub-tropical and everywhere you look there are oranges, mandarins, lemons, almonds and olives. If you visit in January, the citrus trees are full of bright fruit, the olives are black and ready to be picked, the almond blossom is fluffy like snow. Avocados and pomegranates are also cultivated here. In fact the word for pomegranate in Spanish is ‘granada’.
The Lecrín region and the city of Granada are so closely linked, you’ll find the pomegranate motif everywhere in the city (even iron road bollards are designed to resemble the fruit).
Rich with Moorish heritage
In medieval times this area was an important region of the Kingdom of Granada.
It may come as a surprise to know that the Sierra Nevada mountains are second highest in Europe after the Alps. So for those who like active sports, skiing and snowboarding are available in the Sierra Nevada ski resort from the beginning of December until the end of April. By car it only takes an hour to get to the ski resort from the town of Lecrín. The resort hosted the World Alpine Ski Championships in 1997 and many other international competitions since then. It has 103 pistes (16 green, 35 blue, 43 red, 9 black – making up 106 kms in total) and 30 lifts. Granada’s ski resort is the sunniest in Europe too!
The highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada range, Mulhacén, is also the highest in mainland Spain. The mountain is linked to the village of Mondújar whose impressive church can be seen from the motorway to Granada. There is a ruined castle here and it is said that it is the burial place of a queen, the lover of the penultimate Moorish King of Granada, Muley Hasan.
She was a Christian noblewoman called Isabel de Solis who was captured by Islamic forces and held as a prisoner in the Alhambra. The king and Isabel fell in love and Isabel changed her religion and her name to Zoraya. Their court would spend summers in Mondújar and it was where Muley Hasan died. To prevent his body being taken by his enemies, Zoraya secretly buried him at the top of the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada which is today called Mulhacén.
To get to the town of Pinos del Valle from the main road, you have to drive across the wall of Béznar dam—park up and look over both edges. If you drop a piece of bread into the water, the fish will go for it in a frenzy. The double-curved vault dam is an impressive structure, with a wall 134m high. The waters of the dam covered the village of Béznar. The GR3204 road climbs up alongside the lake, and with good views of the water and the villages around, it’s a perfect place for a picnic amongst the trees.
Villages to discover
The villages and hamlets in this region each have something different to show you. A church tower here, a sunny plaza there ... a day's meander will always offer something to delight.
In Pinos del Valle the ‘lavadero’ (communal wash house) has been recently restored. Water plays an important part in the culture of these communities and each village will have its own spring from which it is usually safe to drink from (unless it says ‘no potable’). It’s a good idea always to carry a bottle and fill up on pure mountain water, clear and cold even on a hot summer’s day. At the entrance to the village, is a statue of its flag bearer and an esplanade with benches to sit and look across the lake and the sierras beyond. The village has a working olive mill and a church with a cupola, a rather grand building for a town of this modest size.
The road goes out of town to the next village, Restabál—although not a ‘white village’ it’s functional and no less Spanish. Facilities here include a bank, bars and a big artesan bread bakery (Horno de Antaño). The village is on the Ruta de Azahar (‘orange blossom route’) which is a hiking trail. Detailed hiking information is on government notice boards in many villages. Each trail is depicted on a map, along with distance, elevation, degree of difficulty, percentage of trail through forest, time for completion etc.
Each May there is a pilgrimage from Restabál to the hermitage of Santo Cristo del Zapato, it’s a high climb, 1000 m above sea level. There are many hermitages all around this region, by the side of roads as well as on the top of hills.
Melegís is also on the Ruta de Azahar hiking trail. Its 16th century church is the Iglesia de San Juan Evangelista, unusual in that it has Moorish tiles ‘azulejos’ on its church tower. After the fall of Granada in 1492, many mosques were pulled down and churches put in their place. It is believed that the builders of this church were moriscos (Muslims who had been forcibly converted). Perhaps they used azulejos on the new church as a statement of defiance.
This region is ideal if you plan to spend some days at the beach. The Mediterranean coastal town of Salobreña is only half an hour’s drive from Lecrín.
Some say Lecrín comes from ‘al-iqlim’—arabic for ‘the district’ or ‘the gateway’. Others say it is derived from the arabic for ‘happiness’ and, because of its fresh water and fertility, this is the valley of happiness. Who knows? Perhaps it’s a bit of both!
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Nieves Abalos, Spencer Means, Gustavo Perez, Julen Iturbe Ormaetxe, Pedro Marin and Gregorio Puga.