Walking In The Alpujarras

“We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places – retreated to most often when we are most remote from them – are among the most important landscapes we possess.”

– Robert Macfarlane from: The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot

*     *     *      *     *

In 1492, when Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, fell, many Moors fled to the Alpujarras. Remote and inaccessible, this mountainous area between the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and the Mediterranean coast, offered them a place to live life without prosecution, until the Morisco Rebellion in 1568, and the royal decree expelling everyone of Arab descent from Spain. Today, their white villages, which were resettled by 12 000 Christian families brought from Galicia and Asturias in the north, still cling to the southern slopes, as stark reminders of Spain’s Moorish past.

With their flat roofs, and terraces, these match box houses, built from mud, straw, and wood, are reminiscent of the houses found in the Berber villages of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Tunisia. The steep, narrow, winding paths with their rough paving stones, twisting and curling through these white-washed villages, remind one of being lost in a maze of sensory delight. Tall round chimneys jut into a cloudless sky, overhanging passageways speak of hidden lives, and sagging walls of the ravages of time. Blood-red chilies, strung in bunches, and drying off balconies, provide, together with a profusion of pink and red geraniums, colour accents that fill one’s eyes with pleasure and delight. There is often a hushed silence, as if the town is collectively holding its breath. With only the echo of footsteps combining with the ever-present trickle of water to create a soundtrack, walking here feels as unreal as walking through a cubist painting.

With names like Pórtugos, Pampaneira, Bubión, Capileira, Trevélez, Pitres, Ferreirola, Mecina, Fondales, and Atalbeitar rolling melodically off one’s tongue, it is easy to succumb to the enchantment this part of Spain weaves on the soul.

“. . . turning off and up towards Capileira, highest of the three villages of the Poqueira Gorge. It’s a pretty place, with little white box-like houses huddled around a church like chicks beneath a hen’s wing. But it’s the setting that steals your breath. From high on the terraced slopes of the gorge the horizon spreads north over the great white cirque of Veleta, a soft stole of cloud nestling below its peaks. To the south, a wide mountain pass  opens onto the Mediterranean and on a clear winter’s day you can just about make out the peaks of the Rif Mountains across the straits in Morocco.”

From:  “Driving over Lemons” by Chris Stewart

The Alpujarra is a hiker’s haven of delight, and the many pathways, some of which follow medieval mule paths, can be done either on one’s own, or with one of the many guided opportunities that exist in the area. The GR 7 path, Europe’s longest trail, also passes through the area, and with an abundance of clean mountain air, fresh water, and exquisite natural beauty, it is easy to fall in love with the pleasures of walking.

It is also here, where one finds Spain’s highest mountain. Mt Mulhacen, at 3 482 metres above sea level, is yet another reminder of Spain’s Moorish past. Not only is it named after the 15th century ruler of Granada, Abu I-Hasan Ali, or Muley Hacén, but legend has it that he is buried on the peak.

With hundreds of kilometres of water channels or acequias, and small water reservoirs or alberquas, the abundant presence of water from snow melt and gushing springs, have ensured cultivation of a bounty of produce on the terraced farmland. No matter where one goes, the sound of water trickling, gushing, bubbling, gurgling, or dripping, follows one’s ears like a shadow of sound. It is soothing in its presence, and easy to quench one’s thirst in the heat of the day, while the old threshing floors, cut from the landscape to open up to the wind, make for spectacular views and wonderful picnic spots.

It is also here, where one finds El Valero, the secluded, and beautiful farm of Chris Stewart and his wife, Ana. With his delightful sense of humour, and eye for the unusual, Chris has immortalized an array of local characters in the stories he writes about their life here. Even more delightful is the fact that a couple of times a year he leads walking holidays in the area of which a highlight, is a visit to his farm. Walking in the area breathes life into the pages of his books, and offers a rare opportunity to walk in the landscape of story.

Visited:  September 2016


Casa Ana has various retreats, workshops, and walks on offer, including the one with Chris, aptly named “Walking over Lemons”.

# If you enjoy hiking, check out what Spanish Highs has on offer in the south of Spain, and the Sierra Nevada in particular. Richard and Kiersten are lovely people, and excellent guides.

Books to Read:

  1. Driving over Lemons – Chris Stewart
  2. A Parrot in the Pepper Tree – Chris Stewart
  3. The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society – Chris Stewart
  4. The Last Days of the Bus Club – Chris Stewart
  5. South from Granada – Gerald Brenan
  6. The Face of Spain – Gerald Brenan