A secret corner of Spain

Before I read Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons I didn’t even know the Alpujarras existed. I was fascinated by Stewart’s description of the area and wanted to find out some more information about the area. I also found out there was another book written about the Alpujarras by Gerald Brenan called South from Granada. In the 1920s the Bloomsbury set, including Virginia Woolf, used to come to what was then a very isolated part of Spain to escape the rigidness of British society and be inspired by its superstitions and raw beauty. I read this book as well, and decided that I had to go visit this magical-sounding place.

Some of the locals

Some of the locals

I wasn’t disappointed when I went there in real life. In fact, the feeling that I got from being there was quite difficult to describe in words, although the books did a good job at describing the area and its quirky inhabitants and culture. The Alpujarras has got to be one of the most beautiful and little-known corners of all of Spain, with historic white villages nestled amongst the wrinkled landscape of the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This area really remains a world apart from the touristy coastal areas and larger cities, with its rare sense of timelessness and mystery.

It was once the last outpost of the Moors when they were being driven from Spain by the Catholic royalty. They went to hide further and further into the remote hills. Even today the Moors have left their legacy in the architecture. When I first arrived in the Alpujarras, it reminded me of the Berber villages I saw in Morocco, nestled on the sides of the Atlas Mountains, with their houses made of adobe and the mosques standing stoically on the hillsides. The Alpujarran villages have the same little winding lanes of flat-roofed, two-storey houses and the terraced irrigated hillsides. The churches, called Mudejar churches, were once mosques, which were converted many years ago.

So six years ago we were totally seduced by the peace, tranquility and stunning scenery, and we decided to buy a little casita in the village of Bubion, which lies within the border of the Parque Natural Sierra Nevada and UNESCO Biosphere reserve.

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To the north, the snow-covered summits of Spain’s two highest mainland peaks, Veleta and Mulhacen, rise up, while to the south, you can make out the Mediterranean Sea between the hills of the Contraviesa range. While the coasts and lower lying areas are arid and desert-like, this little corner of Spain is a lush oasis, due to the pure mountain snow melt that runs off the peaks, quenching the hills and slopes below it.

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Lizard friend

Our little casita looks out over the Poqueira valley and the rooftops of Bubion village. Whenever I go there feeling a bit stressed, all I have to do is sit down on our terrace and stare out at the hills, listening to the wind rustle through the valley, and the birds chirping, breathing the fresh, mountain air, and I can suddenly feel the tension lift. There is something about the laid-back atmosphere and slow pace of village life that forces you to unwind and leave your cares behind you. The vastness of the landscape and the power of the mountains make any problems seem very small.

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Peter and I are keen walkers, and one of the main attractions of the area is the walking. The best times are from April to mid-June and mid-September to early November, when the temperatures are just right and the landscape is at its most colourful.

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Cactus flower

A network of walking trails connects the neighbouring villages such as Pampaneira to the south, and Capileira to the north, or for the more adventurous, the trails wind upwards into the Sierra Nevada. They cover a diverse landscape from lush valleys, to placid olive orchards, pine woods and scrubby open fields. As you walk along you smell the wild thyme and honeysuckle, and depending on the season, you can gather juicy, ripe cherries, or walnuts and almonds, which carpet the paths.

Two long-distance footpaths pass through the Alpujarras. One is the GR-7, which crosses Europe from Greece to Spain. The GR-142 also runs through the area.

We try to go there as much as possible, but alas, work commitments, family commitments and, of course, the lure of other destinations means that we can’t get there as much as we would like. However, we think others should enjoy our casita and be able to experience the real Spain, off the beaten track, so we rent it out for holiday lets www.alpujarraretreat.com.

All words and picture (c) Kerry Boettcher