Guide to Las Alpujarras
The region of Las Alpujarras is dramatic and varied. From the snowy ski resort of Sierra Nevada (with the highest peak on mainland Spain) to its sunny Mediterranean beaches, there is so much on offer. Here you’ll find living history in its unique mountain villages, wild beauty in its National Park and cultural riches in its city of Granada – the Granada of Lorca, of gypsy flamenco, and the Alhambra – the most romantic Moorish palace in the world.
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From snowy mountains to sunny beaches
Las Alpujarras has it all: snow, sea, sand and sunshine. From wild mountain crags to gentle rolling vineyards, the region is full of variety.
From its snowy mountains to its semi-tropical beaches, this is a land of contrasts and breathtaking beauty. Dominated by the Sierra Nevada, the second highest mountain range in Europe after the Alps, it is only an hour’s drive to the ski slopes and cultural gem of Granada city and 40 minutes to beaches of Salobreña.
Las Alpujarras (or La Alpujarra) is the region which extends from the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada (one of only two National Parks in Andalucia) down to the coast. The Sierra Nevada boasts the tallest mountain on the Iberian peninsula—mighty Mulhacen, rising over 3,400 metres.
Descending from the pine forests of the National Park, you pass through deciduous woods of chestnut down to the valley of Orgiva. The land then rises up again to form the Contraviesa—this is wine country and has been since Roman times.
The ‘gateway to the Alpujarras’ is the spa town of Lanjarón. Its water is considered to have health-giving properties. Throughout Spain, Lanjarón is the brand name of a popular bottled water but that same water is available from fountains throughout the town—just bring your own bottle and fill it up. At the entrance to Lanjarón is a formidable artillery piece which is a remnant from the civil war.
Famed for arts and crafts
There's something about this region that attracts all things creative. Be it painting, literature or more traditional skills, there's always a natural energy going on.
Despite the remoteness of Las Alpujarras, such is its fame for beauty and mystique that it’s long been a magnet for artists and writers. In the 1930s it was a favourite of poet Federico García Lorca (he also took the waters at Lanjarón) and his friend, the composer Manuel de Falla. Around the same time, Gerald Brenan made his home in Yegen, inviting Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf from the Bloomsbury set for a visit. Chris Stewart’s successful Driving Over Lemons series, which recounts the lighter aspects of Andalucian life, is based here. This area’s energy appeals to the unorthodox and unconventional and attracts an eclectic mix of people.
The main road A-4132 runs from Orgiva and climbs up, eastward to the Poqueira Ravine and on to Trevélez the highest inhabited village in Spain. The three villages of the Poqueira Valley must be given special attention: Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira, designated to be of special artistic and historical importance.
Built in Moorish times to a Berber pattern of flat roofs and distinctive mushroom-style chimneys, the stone-built houses have balconies bright with flowers. The villages have narrow, cobbled streets which lead down to cottage gardens with stunning views of the mountains all around. Handicrafts include jarapa rugs (very good value and can be shipped home), leather goods, cheeses, sausages and artesanal chocolate made locally (labels are Abuela Ili from Pampaneira and Sierra Nevada from Pitres). Capileira is the highest village that motor transport can reach, although you can park further out of the village to start one of the many hiking trails.
This region specialises in hiking and the tourist office can advise on guides who know about the area’s traditions as well as local flora and fauna. The high sierras are home to mountain goats and many birds of prey. The forests are a habitat for wild boar, you may see one at dusk although they are very shy.
Breathe in the clearest, cleanest air
The crisp mountain air is sharp and pure, the perfect conditions for dry-curing jamon serrano.
This region is fantastic for hiking, there are so many trails. The GR-7 footpath (which runs from Tarifa near Gibraltar to Greece) passes through Bubión on its southern leg. Walking here is fabulous especially in the spring and autumn. Spring temperatures are mild, wild flowers are out and all is lush and green.
In autumn, the air is crystal clear and blue skies contrast with bright yellow and orange leaves. Summer walking can be lovely too as there are shady trails, but care should be taken in winter on higher ground—these are serious mountains and have to be treated with respect.
Rock climbing, paragliding and mountain biking are all available. Horseback riding is especially recommended as a way of exploring this landscape in a natural way and guided treks for a day, or longer, can easily be arranged.
Continuing on the road from Pampaneira there are so many tiny villages to see, Busquistar, Cástaras, Ferreirola, Mecina Fondales, Portugos (with its rusty-flavoured mineral water—supposedly good for you) the list goes on and the further you continue into the mountains, the further you get away from the modern world. For a serious break from the cares of life, O Sel Ling is a Buddhist retreat centre, where even if you don’t stay there, it’s a nice place to think in peace. You are high above the rest of the world, looking out to sea. The air is so clear on some autumn days that from high villages such as Cañar, you can see the Moroccan Rif across the Mediterranean.
The high village of Trevélez is famous for its ham, jamon serrano, cured in the cold, dry mountain air. There are hundreds of thousands of hams here, all hanging up in stone drying houses called ‘secaderos’. In summer it’s refreshing to swim in the lake below Trevélez, before taking your pick from the many restaurants serving mountain trout and of course sweet, wafer thin jamon. So what if it’s a little on the touristy side, when your jamon is so famous and so good, what’s a village to do?
Once experienced, never forgotten
Wine and merry-making with Mediterranean colour and life.
Orgiva is considered to be the capital of the western Alpujarras and services the needs of about 6,000 people. While it is not the most beautiful of towns, there is always plenty going on: religious festivals, fiestas, local painting exhibitions, flamenco shows and open air music events in the summer. Its easy-going nature attracts a new-agey crowd from all over Europe, seeking an alternative way of life, they generally rub along with the tolerant Spanish population.
There is a Thursday market where you can buy vegetables, spices and clothes, as well as jewellery, crystals and get a reading of your I-Ching. Locals may ride into town on horseback, a shaman could be thumbing a lift and a shepherd could stop the traffic with his flock of goats. It’s all been seen in Orgiva!
Take the A-348 south out of Orgiva and head east, towards Torviscón, you’ll find yourself in the gentler landscape of the Contraviesa. This is wine growing country and for miles and miles are rolling hills of low-growing vines and black-barked almond trees. The land slopes down to a twinkling sea and the beach towns of La Mamola and La Rabita. The vineyard Cuatro Vientos has an interesting museum exhibition about wine-making through the centuries, tours including tastings are available. The climate here is more typically Mediterranean, hotter and drier with olive groves and fig trees in abundance.
This mountain region really is the land that time forgot. It’s inspiring and impressive, with unique villages, the like of which you’ll not see anywhere else in Spain. It’s a face of Andalucia that not many people have seen, but once experienced you’ll never forget.
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie.