For those wanting a real feel of rural Andalucia, here is a special world all on its own. Between Granada and the Mediterranean coast, the sunny world of Las Alpujarras remains a genuine and affordable holiday refuge among Spain’s highest mountains.
If we at Rustical Travel enjoy returning to each and every one of the rural areas you see on this site, there’s one which has had the longest appeal. It’s an older Spain, away from it all, a place where we always feel at home.
In the far south of the country, the Sierra Nevada mountains rise up just before the sea. Even at this warm latitude, they are so high that winter snow falls to paint the peaks a pretty white.
The sunny side of the mountains looking south to the sea is where a network of little villages has grown up over the centuries, creating the inhabited region known as Las Alpujarras.
Granada may be less than an hour away, but it feels like another world. Villages are often noiseless, time passes more slowly, the vistas reach far and wide, people stop and talk to each other—you learn to wait patiently when two cars block the road and the drivers chat briefly—and you start to grasp the appeal of rural life. It’s nothing glamorous or sophisticated, just peaceful simplicity.
It’s a remarkably broad region, connected by few roads and little traffic. The larger villages have no more than 500 inhabitants, hamlets at the end of country lanes have pathways leading out along valleys and up gorges, past old chestnut trees and isolated cottages. You see mules ploughing hillside watered by ancient irrigation channels, in a hospitable climate that provides relief from the summer’s heat.
Las Alpujarras divides neatly to offer two quite different holiday experiences. Naturally, you can combine the two during a week’s stay: simply drive half an hour up or down the winding but good mountain road that joins the Low and High Alpujarras.
The Low Alpujarra spreads down a semi-tropical river valley centring on the main market town of Orgiva. The climate is very warm and conducive to lazing by pools at secluded garden villas. Orgiva (population 6,000) seems busy by comparison with everywhere else, but it has the virtue of having the best shopping, including a lively Thursday morning market, and café terraces that serve good breakfasts and tapas.
The Low Alpujarra is well connected with the coast and Granada. In 40 minutes you can be at the Costa Tropical for a swim and barbecued sardines on the beach, or the magnificent Alhambra palaces overlooking the old quarters of one of Andalucia’s finest cities.
Low Alpujarras Holiday Guide >
The High Alpujarra, just 30 minutes away up that sinuous road, is another story. Rugged mountainside is the setting for cottages, old villages and walking or horseriding amidst spectacular scenery. The views and rambling are irresistible.
Traditional architecture and modern comfort combine at self-catering houses in the highest villages in Spain. Bubion and Capileira, built way up the dramatic Poqueira Gorge, have the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. The nearby Taha district has gentler terrain and some exquisite hamlets. It’s the High Alpujarra that provides all the best sights, trails and photography.
High Alpujarras Holiday Guide >
While the rest of Spain was undergoing rapid modernization in the 1980s and ’90s, a remote mountain world, so far south that it almost touches the sea, was quietly going about its unhurried, pastoral business.
In Las Alpujarras, people were herding sheep and goats, fixing the curious flat roofs of their whitewashed houses, maintaining the irrigation channels cut into the hillside by the Moors centuries earlier, roasting pork ribs on embers in the street at fiestas, treading solemnly to Mass, taking time to chew things over with a neighbour, sitting in the musty shadow of a stable over a glass of strong local wine.
What’s so special about Las Alpujarras is that–another twenty years down the road–all these things still go on. Still today, when the children have all the latest apps and even old ladies in mourning black have a mobile tucked away, the hearts and minds of the people and their bind to tradition are largely unchanged. The handful of foreigners that live among the hardworking villagers may have grown to form a community of individuals from all over the world, but the Alpujarra has absorbed them, makes allowances for them, finds them curious... and gets on with its old ways.
It’s against the background of this old world, rooted deeply in family life, that any experience of Las Alpujarras takes place. When you are gazing at the mountains, you may also see, way below you, a man tilling the earth for his onions and peppers, growing vegetables for his family table.
The almond blossom you ramble past in January will be nuts picked late in the year and made into thick winter soup. The water that gushes past you in high summer, as you saunter down a slope through chestnut trees is being carefully channelled to tomatoes and melons, strawberries and lettuce.
After a day or two in La Alpujarra, don’t be surprised if the rush goes out of you and you find yourself adopting calmer, more natural rhythms. It’s a place to take in, along with the healthy mountain air and the fresh spring water that bursts out at fountains.
The altitude ensures four distinct seasons. In the quiet of winter, when sunny days make for exhilarating high altitude walks, the smoke of log fires eddies from the toadstool chimneys. But tourism is low key, and even in summer you can hike trails and hardly see another soul apart from a shepherd with his sheep and goats. You’re more likely to encounter bird and other wildlife, including eagles, vultures, ibex and foxes.
There’s history here, too. The last Moors in Spain held out in Las Alpujarras a hundred years after the rest of the country had fallen to the Christian reconquest. The design of the flat-roofed dwellings goes back to those times and the Moorish architecture of the Rif Mountains in Morocco, which you can just make out on clear days from the high Alpujarra.
The local gastronomy reflects the down-to-earth nature of the people. Expect generous platefuls of substantial fare, with the accent on pork.
Malaga Airport is the common choice for visitors coming from abroad, with Granada Airport making a welcome come-back from July 2013 thanks to BA flights from London City Airport. Almeria Airport is the other possibility. Public transport is strictly limited and car hire is the practical way of getting here and exploring the Alpujarras, as well as making trips to Granada or the coast.
See our : Villas in Alpujarras