La Alpujarra is an enchanting and remarkable part of Andalucia. Treasured by the Moors as a 'paradise' location, this mountainous area lies between the summits of the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean coast of the Costa del Sol. As a holiday destination it is ideal for walking, cycling, riding, photography, painting and the appreciation of flowers and wildlife; but most of all for just unwinding and taking time out.
The southern facing slopes that ascend to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada are gentle in their incline but are cut by deep valleys and gorges, such as the Rio Poqueira, the Rio Trevelez or the Rio Grande. The hillsides are covered in ancient terraces that are still used to cultivate olives, fruit of every sort, wheat and vegetables. The legacy of the Moors is the extensive irrigation system, the 'acequias', that divert water out of the deep valleys and onto the broad terraces. This ancient system of watering has been responsible for the characteristic look of the area and for the fact that forests of broad leafed trees such as the emblematic Chestnut can survive as the water is spread and filtered across the landscape. Along with the cultivation of crops the land is still grazed by sheep and goats, many of which migrate to the pastures of the high Sierra Nevada in the summer months.
The climate is generally mild with temperatures seldom going above 30 °C during the summer in the higher mountain villages. In the winter when the skies are clear it is often warm enough for just a t-shirt during the day, but a night time the temperatures frequently fall below zero at locations above 1000 metres.
The area is divided between the eastern Alpujarra in the province of Almeria and the western Alpujarra in Granada. There is also a significant distinction between the villages of the high and low Alpujarra in terms of access and general living conditions associated with climate. The western Alpujarra — notably Orgiva, the Poqueira Gorge (Capileira, Bubión & Pampaneira) and the 7 villages of La Taha — is within easy striking distance of the historical city of Granada with its fabulous Alhambra Palace, yet is close enough to the coast to enjoy a day lounging on the beach. During the winter and spring you can even go skiing on the high slopes of the Sierra Nevada - less than two hours by car.
For a few years, Granada Airport (1 hr) made it almost too easy to holiday in the mountain world of Las Alpujarras, but Easyjet and Ryanair have stopped flights until the Andalucia government agrees again to contribute to the cost.
Malaga Airport (1 hr 45 min) always used to be the preferred choice for visitors to Las Alpujarras and so it is once more. Car hire is inexpensive from Malaga Airport. It's an easy drive along the coast as far as Motril and then inland to Orgiva (for the Low Alpujarra) and from there up the good mountain road to the Poqueira Gorge (Capileira, Bubion & Pampaneira), the Taha de Pitres and beyond.
Almeria Airport (2 hr 15 min) is the other point of entry for flights to this part of Andalucia.
You can also get to La Alpujarra by bus from Granada, although there are only 3 buses a day (every day) between Granada and the High Alpujarra.
La Alpujarra is the large, sparsely inhabited area covering the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, one of Spain's few National Parks. The peaks of over 3,000 metres make it one of the highest sierras in Europe, and Mulhacen at 3,482 metres is the highest mountain in the Iberian peninsula.
While winter skiing is available on the colder, northern side of Sierra Nevada, the southern face of the gently sloping range receives the Andalucian sunshine and is home to a variety of endemic plants, herds of ibex and eagles, as well as the human population in the little white villages dotted here and there.
It's a magnet for walkers and horse riders, offering high altitude terrain, trails through pine forest and spectacular views, while restaurants and comfortable lodging and holiday homes are available in the villages and mountain countryside locations.
A visit to La Alpujarra isn't complete without driving or walking up to Sierra Nevada National Park, best reached from Capileira and Trevelez villages.
The Alpujarras is a fabulous area for walking, whether you are interested in high altitude treks in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, many of which are over 3000 metres or casual meandering around the fascinating villages of the high Alpujarra. The GR7 path (Gran Recorrido, long distance footpath from Athens to Algeciras) passes through the area and there is an extensive network of other tracks to choose from. The paths are well sign-posted and are often old mule tracks - so the steepness is no more than a loaded mule can manage! The area is never crowded with walkers and you can often be out in the mountains all day and encounter no more than a shepherd with his flock.
If you choose your walks carefully and are prepared to make the most of the day then walking is possible here at all times of year. For example, in August, when the lower valleys are possibly too hot for vigorous activities, temperatures in the accessible high mountains may not go much above 20 °C (68 °F).
Mulhacen, in the Sierra Nevada, is the highest peak on mainland Spain. Whilst in the winter it is difficult to access this peak and only the most experienced of walkers should attempt it, in the summer there is a service that runs from the Alpujarran village of Capileira taking walkers by bus up into the National Park area of the Sierra Nevada in order to start an ascent on this summit.
This is a great area to go on a retreat. Near Orgiva there is a dedicated yoga and wellbeing centre called Kaliyoga, ☏ +34 958 784 496. It offers weekly retreats throughout the year with friendly staff and a home-away-from-home approach, offering an experience of peace and inner wisdom that can have a positive impact on your daily life. It has been featured in magazines and many health & lifestyle publications.
La Alpujarra offers cuisine indicative of its history as a very poor region of Spain: heavy on substance but don't expect subtlety. You won't go hungry and it won't cost you much, but don't expect the gastronomic marvels of northern Spain or Mediterranean delicacies. If you enjoy meat be sure to try the mountain-cured serrano ham, available everywhere. Also morcilla, a type of black pudding, is a speciality along with the heavily meat-laden Plato Alpujarreño, a cholesterol feast not unlike an English breakfast.
Vegetarians should be aware that the pig is the mainstay of Alpujarra dishes. Spanish omelette or more the exciting 'Revueltas' are good choices for vegetarians. 'Revueltos' are scrambled egg mixed with other ingredients, so specify 'no meat' ('sin carne'). A common ingredient to mix with the eggs to make this dish is 'Acelgas' or chard. Mixed salads tend to be large enough to feed two people, but often include tuna and sometimes ham.
For a local wine ask for 'Vino Costa'. This is a pinky brown wine with a strong taste and stronger kick. The pinker it is the younger it is - it should be drunk reasonably young. If you order this in a bar the chances are it will have been made by the family who run the bar from their own grapes.
Coffee is almost always excellent and strong.
For a non-alcoholic beverage ask for Mosto, unfermented grape juice.
Many places will still give you free 'tapas' (small plate of food to nibble) if you have a wine or a beer. This is a great Spanish tradition that has disappeared from many other areas.
Accommodation is generally reasonably priced. Hotels tend to be functional, with a few notable exceptions, such as the delightfully rustic if somewhat remote Alquería de Morayma at Cádiar in the low Alpujarra. A more interesting experience may be had by staying in self catering cottages and village houses, which often offer good value and are likely to exhibit elements of the curious Berber-style architecture inherited from the Moors.
- Cortijo Opazo, Pórtugos, ☏ +34 958064018. Self-catering accommodation in delightfully restored Alpujarran farmhouse. Situated in the countryside a short walk from the high Alpujarran villages of Pitres and Pórtugos. Ideal base for walking, free guides and maps supplied. Full walking holiday option available.
- El Gato Negro, Capileira. A pretty, traditional village house offering holiday self-catering for 2 people. Comfortable, fully equipped and in the village. Spectacular location in the Poqueira Gorge with walking trails up to the National Park and down to the river. Visit Granada and the Alhambra or the Costa Tropical on day trips.
- Viña y Rosales, Nevada. An Andalusian guest house with remarkable architecture, agreeable atmosphere and the richness of history. With a garden having her own spring, Viña y Rosales offers a wonderful, comfortable and exclusive B&B.
- Hotel Alcadima Alpujarra, C/ Francisco Tarrega, 3 18420 Lanjarón, ☏ +34958770809. Nice 3 star hotel in Lanjarón, with swimming pool and spa services.
- La Cuadra Vieja (850), Válor, Granada, ☏ +34 630 231 642. Charming converted old stables of a labourers cottage in a quiet corner of the village of Válor. It is suitable for up to four people who wish to self cater. Pretty terrace with amazing southerly views of La Sierra de La Contraviesa. €30 per night.
It's hard to imagine anyone having any concerns regarding safety in this region, except from the weather. Sensible precaution should be taken from the sun and heat in the summer. Winter in the higher villages is similar to Northern Europe and not what you expect from a region so near to the Mediterranean. Even in summer bad weather on the peaks which rise to 3500 metres, could be life threatening.
The nearest city to the Alpujarra is Granada.
In the high Alpujarras consider: