Las Alpujarras is a mountain region that consists of over 50 villages situated on the Southern flanks of Sierra Nevada, just an hour drive from Granada and two from the ski resort slopes. Attracting a lot less tourism than the coastal area of the region, Alpujarras is a “road less travelled by”, and a spectacular one at that.
Article by Anastasia Sukhanov
History of Las Alpujarras
The villages of Alpujarras might seem like one of the most peaceful places in Andalucía now, but it wasn’t always like that. Back in the 15th century, soon after the Castillians took Granada, the area became the last stronghold of the moors. Those who refused to be converted took to the hills, settling in this remote, inaccessible area. The fight didn’t last long and following a bloody rebellion, the villages of the Alpujarra were resettled with some 12,000 Christian families brought by the new Christian King from northern Spain. What still remains is the architectural heritage – the villages are built as traditional Berber hamlets with terraced clusters of white box-shaped houses with flat clay roofs – which is still common in the Rif and Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Much later, in the early 20th century, the region started attracting foreigners, pioneered by the British author Gerald Brenan, who settled there in the 1920s. His retrospective autobiography “South from Granada” gained an international readership with tales of mysterious traditions and sublime natural beauty. It was even made into a movie starring Matthew Goode in 2003. Since then dozens of writers, painters and creatives of all kinds have spent periods of their lives in the Alpujarra, each leaving their mark on the landscape of local traditions. Thus, every year, the villages take turns hosting a performing arts festival, a poetry festival and other events that are either entirely focussed on English speakers or are bilingual.
The must-see villages of Las Alpujarras
Lanjarón serves as a sort of gateway into the Alpujarra, being the first town off the highway to offer a spectacular winding road to the rest of the villages. It is a village of “eternal youth” since the water named after it posesses health-boosting properties. “It is said that 300 years ago, a person who was sick drank the water from a Lanjarón spring and was cured”. At present, you can follow in the footsteps of Federico García Lorca and Virginia Wolf in search of health while staying at the renovated spring which functions as a spa, Hotel Balneario de Lanjarón.
Órgiva is home to Beneficio, one of the oldest hippie communes in Europe. The earliest hippies travelled from Ibiza to the Alpujarras in the late 70s – since then, their lifestyle has remained intact. Despite the attempts of the local government to evict the inhabitants, there is prosperous local trade that is worth a visit: a bakery, a shop selling local produce and an improvised art gallery.
The town is also the setting of an international literary bestseller “Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucía” by farmer-turned-writer Chris Stewart. Chris and his wife moved from the UK over two decades ago, not only taking in their stride all the challenges of Spanish village life but singing an ode to their dream life in a book that’s been selling out for the last 25 years.
For more literary treats set in Andalucía, read this BRIGHT article.
Papmaneira, Capileira and Bubión
Forming a triangle, the villages of Pampaneira, Capileira and Bubión all belong to the Sierra Nevada National Park and can be easily visited in one day but make no mistake – each has its own character.
In Pampaneira, make sure you check out the crafts shop which sell locally woven rugs and don’t miss out on the magic of Fuente de San Antonio, located near the church of the town – if you are looking for love, you should drink from its waters and wait for him or her to appear from around the corner!
Capileira, with the name deriving from the Arabic word meaning “on top”, is exactly that – the village that presides over the other two and has the most spectacular views. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, you can also tend to your pizza cravings at La Pizzeria, a restaurant just off the town’s main square, which offers delicious oven-baked pizza and a wide range of local dishes. Perfect for chilly mountain evenings and post-hike hunger!
Unlike its two neighbors, Bubión didn’t make it to the “Most Beautiful Villages of Spain” list, although it should have! It shares all the same characteristics as it’s two larger neighbors to the north and south: small winding streets and houses perfectly adapted to the steepness of the terrain. Its homes are built in the typical Berber style with their flat slate roofs, arched doorways, and smoking chimney pots.
O Se Ling Buddhist Monastery
If you’re in the mood for something entirely different, make sure to turn off the road to Pampaneira and take an hour-long detour to reach the O Se Ling Buddhist Monastery. A dirt track ride will be rewarded with stunning views of the whole Alpujarra valley and a chance to catch an otherworldly feeling of zen. The monastery is open to public for a meditative stroll that will teleport you right to Tibet. Richard Gere is rumoured to be its regular so with some luck you could even get an autograph!
Ascent to the Mulhacén and other hikes
Las Alpujarras are also the home of Mulhacén, the highest mountain of mainland Spain. The hike to the summit of 3,482 metres starts in Capileira and lasts for about four hours, making it attainable in the summer and fall seasons. On a clear day, one can see the Atlas Mountains in Morocco from this peak.
If you’re looking for a less dramatic hike, however, the area of Las Alpujarras is full of well-signposted routes. A classic one that would perfectly sum up Las Alpujarras is the Poqueira Gorge loop trail of about 10 km and four hours. You can ask for detailed written instructions on this, and other hikes, at the Tourist information centre in Capileira, which can be found right next to the main town parking overlooking the gorge.
While most tourists might visit Las Alpujarras on their way to Sierra Nevada’s slopes, it should be noted that this area possesses its own hidden magic and charm, visible perhaps to only those who are patient enough to give it the benefit of an overnight stay.