The jum­bled vil­lages in Spain’s Sierra Ne­vada re­gion re­main al­most as the Moor­ish in­vaders left them, writes Colin Moore

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IFEEL as if I am in a Clint East­wood spaghetti west­ern. The only sound is the clip-clop of my walk­ing pole on the rough vil­lage flag­stones and my breath­ing, still heavy from the steep climb to 1432m from the val­ley be­low. The win­dows of the white­washed homes of Capileira, in the Las Alpu­jar­ras re­gion of Spain’s prov­ince of An­dalu­cia, are firmly shut­tered at noon, the doors closed. Yet I am cer­tain I am be­ing watched as I walk through nar­row al­ley­ways where wa­ter runs along an open drain in the mid­dle of the path.

I push back my hat and squint, East­wood-style, at an up­per win­dow. I wish I had a che­root to chew on but a non­cha­lant swig from my wa­ter bot­tle must suf­fice.

Siesta in Spain is all-em­brac­ing, di­vid­ing the day not into three equal shifts of work, play and sleep, but into six shifts. And nowhere is the cus­tom more ev­i­dent, more com­pletely fol­lowed, than in the rural vil­lages of Las Alpu­jar­ras in south­ern Spain.

In an hour or so the vil­lage will be bustling, fig­ures sud­denly mov­ing as though some­one has re­set a pause but­ton. They will have lunched heartily in midafter­noon and will be busy at work un­til well into the evening. And do not even think about an evening meal un­til 9pm.

It’s to bed late and up early, but there is an­other sleep ses­sion to come in the 24-hour cy­cle. At about 6.30am the work­ers drop into a cof­fee bar thick with cig­a­rette smoke for a slice of bread la­dled with olive oil, a short and strong black cof­fee and a large glass of co­gnac. Then it’s off to work un­til a sec­ond break­fast of cheese, cold meats and toma­toes is con­sumed mid-morn­ing. There is plenty of fresh food de­spite the steep and seem­ingly arid hill­sides of Las Alpu­jar­ras in the foothills of the Sierra Ne­vada, an im­pos­ing line of snow-topped moun­tains vis­i­ble from the Al­ham­bra in far­away Granada.

On the south side of the Sierra Ne­vada lies one of the odd­est, most pic­turesque cran­nies of An­dalu­cia, this 70km-long, east-west jum­ble of val­leys called Las Alpu­jar­ras, or La Alpu­jarra. Here, arid hill­sides split by deep ravines al­ter­nate with oa­sis-like vil­lages set by rapid streams and sur­rounded by veg­etable gar­dens, or­chards and wood­lands.

When the in­dige­nous Span­ish got around to send­ing the Moors back to North Africa af­ter their 800-year oc­cu­pa­tion of the Ibe­rian Penin­sula, the re­treat­ing Arabs paused in the dry moun­tains near Granada and no one wor­ried too much be­cause they thought the land was use­less.

But the Moors drew on their Moroc­can her­itage, built houses of stone and clay that were cool in the sear­ing Mediter­ranean sun and eas­ily warmed in the bit­ter cold of a Sierra Ne­vada win­ter.

And they built kilo­me­tre af­ter kilo­me­tre of ir­ri­ga­tion canals to carry wa­ter from high moun­tain streams to small fields ter­raced into the hill­sides that grew boun­ti­ful crops of grain, fruit and veg­eta­bles.

And there they pros­pered, per­haps a tad too much, so in the 16th cen­tury when the re­gion crowned its own king in de­fi­ance of the rulers of Granada, the tamers of Las Alpu­jar­ras hill­sides were on short no­tice.

Leg­end has it that when the Moors were booted out of the king­dom of Granada and Las Alpu­jar­ras, they buried all their trea­sures in the land, ready for their re­turn. And it’s true be­cause al­though those who in­vaded their vil­lages did not have the skills to main­tain the aque­ducts and grow crops, turn­ing in­stead to live­stock farm­ing, they did know a well-built house when they saw one and kept the vil­lages of Las Alpu­jar­ras pretty much as the Moors had left them.

The flat-roofed cu­bic build­ings are con­structed of packed earth and im­per­me­able shale, cov­ered by slate and crowned by a chim­ney pot with four open­ings. The usurpers added a legacy of their own, lime wash, and all the ter­raced vil­lages of Las Alpu­jar­ras are a uni­form and bril­liant white, sit­ting spec­tac­u­larly in the foothills of the Sierra Ne­vada.

Hills can be tamed for agri­cul­ture but they are made for walk­ing. In Las Alpu­jar­ras they are rid­dled with walk­ing trails, con­nect­ing farm­ers to their fields, one vil­lage to an­other and mark­ing trade routes to the coast.

Not sur­pris­ingly, some of the trans-Euro­pean trails, such as the GR7, pass through Las Alpu­jar­ras. In my ho­tel in Bu­bion there are mid­dle-aged walk­ers from The Nether­lands, Ger­many and Bri­tain. They come for a week or so and leave the ho­tel each morn­ing on day walks.

One Bri­tish com­pany keeps a res­i­dent guide at Bu­bion who tells me he spent a sea­son as a sea-kayak guide in New Zealand’s Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park. There is no short­age of walks or ready in­for­ma­tion. I choose to ex­plore the Po­queira Val­ley on a 7km cir­cu­lar route that takes in the three vil­lages of Pa­maneira, Bu­bion and Capileira, each with its square-sided church built by the Arabs as a mosque and watch­tower. I leave the vil­lages to fol­low a trail around the ter­raced hill­sides. It’s steep up and down and 7km soon feels like 27km. The old-time vil­lagers must have been mighty fit . The foot­paths are an­cient and some of the benched tracks are sup­ported by stone walls.

In some places there is a con­ve­nient fuente, a com­mu­nal drink­ing trough. There are other troughs with wa­ter for an­i­mals and some with min­eral wa­ter. One fuente I en­counter has six out­lets, each bring­ing wa­ter from a dif­fer­ent spring and each with a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent min­eral taste.

Next day I catch a shut­tle from Capileira into the 862sq km Sierra Ne­vada Na­tional Park. The shut­tles, the only ve­hi­cles al­lowed in the park, go as far as Alto del Chor­rillo at 2722m.

Above me is Mul­ha­cen, at 3482m the high­est peak on the Ibe­rian Penin­sula. It is stony and bar­ren on the slopes but the Span­ish ibex thrives. A shrine has been carved into the rock on the sum­mit. Re­turn­ing by a dif­fer­ent route I meet a party of Aus­trian cy­cle tourists car­ry­ing their moun­tain bikes to the top. They will find that the path down has been de­lib­er­ately strewn with large boul­ders to en­sure they travel slowly and do not dam­age the frag­ile alpine ter­rain with heavy brak­ing and skid­ding.

In the val­ley more than 1100m be­low, the shut­tle stop is at Trev­elez, the high­est vil­lage and some say the most beau­ti­ful. Each year a full-course 42.2km marathon is run from Trev­elez to the sum­mit of Mul­ha­cen and back.

Je­sus is a born and bred Trev­elez guide with a com­pact stature that sug­gests he could run to the top of Mt Ever­est and back with­out break­ing a sweat. We ride his moun­tain bikes from Capileira around hill­side trails and down to his vil­lage for lunch at his fam­ily’s ho­tel.

Las Alpu­jar­ras is fa­mous for its smoked and dried hams and those dried in the moun­tain air of Trev­elez have the best rep­u­ta­tion of all. Ham, cheese, toma­toes, cold beer: this is civilised moun­tain bik­ing and trekking. If there is any fault it is only in the lack of in­cen­tive to move on. Time for a siesta, per­haps. Colin Moore is the travel ed­i­tor of the New Zealand out­door re­cre­ation mag­a­zine Wilder­ness .


A walk in Las Alpu­jar­ras could be­gin in the Bar­ranco de Po­queira, a deep gash in the Sierra Ne­vada, and tra­verse the pic­turesque Ber­ber-style vil­lages of Pam­paneira, Bu­bion and Capileira. There are also eight colour-coded walk­ing routes of 4km to 23km marked out in the Bar­ranco de Po­queira. Sev­eral stretches of the route fol­low the GR7, a long-dis­tance foot­path run­ning from An­dorra to Al­ge­ci­ras, as well as part of the Euro­pean E4 path from Greece to An­dalu­cia. With rarely more than two hours be­tween vil­lages, there is plenty of food and wa­ter along the route. Sev­eral of the larger vil­lages have small su­per­mar­kets and banks with ATMs. Las Alpu­jar­ras is also a jump­ing-off point for many Sierra Ne­vada routes.


Pic­tures: Colin Moore

Peak prac­tice: Clock­wise from main pic­ture, an old stone bridge in the Sierra Ne­vada; a typ­i­cal lime-washed vil­lage; a view to Mt Veleta; moun­tain ibex

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.