After our initiation in the eastern flanks of La Alpujarra, the tourist route, we were keen to see what laid on the opposite side of Trevélez – the side that the caterpillar coaches can’t reach beyond in a day’s tour. What secrets would we find, hidden along the Road Less Travelled? We loved Bibón, Pampaneira and Capileira – their existence reliant on their mountain hosts, who offer them refuge so they can make their living from the land. Yet we were curious about what was the ‘other side’.
Coming out of Trevélez on the western edge of the valley was great, as feelings about a place can often change when we can see it from another angle. One view is never a true perspective – only a first impression. And the view from the western bank of the mountain was great. To see all three layers of the town and the snow covered Sierras towering over it was lovely. Not a ghost town tucked up high in the mountains; a thriving industrial area that paradoxically maintains a balance between its Jamón production and creating a homely, authentic community.
Given that the Road Less Travelled out of Trevélez is not a tourist route, the road’s quality surprised us. Until we remembered that the Jamón delivery vans would make the journey this way to reach eastern Spain distribution routes. A big investment in their infrastructure.
Alpujarrian – friendly chap
Following the A-4130, Scoobie twisted, turned, rose and fell like a rollercoaster ride, although we were too enthralled by the ever-changing landscape to feel any sense of travel-sickness. Each mountain crevice offered a different vista to our greedy eyes. Locals going about their business, mostly oblivious to the excitable passengers passing by. Well, except this friendly chap. Would love to have stopped to chat and find out his story. Alas my imagination had to make one up!
Every turn another village; some smaller settlements, others slightly larger affairs. Each one of the main villages though, we were amused to notice, had four common features.
- Obviously for pueblo blancos – every building was white!
- They all had a church with different style steeples
- A disco! Yes you read right! A disco. Well the young people need something to do on a Friday night!
- They all had a helicopter pad.
Now you may be forgiven for thinking that the mountain descendants of the Moors and Christian battles of the 15 Century had suddenly come into financial abundance, although no! The helicopter pads were purely medicinal. So remote are these villages and so windy are the roads, that if anyone falls seriously ill, they would not make the nearest Hospital in time, which I guess would be Motril or Ugíjar – both of which are miles away. So these helipads are for the Air Ambulance.
We made a little stop at Bérchules, which offered tremendous views over the valley; terraced, green and lush with spring signs dominant for as far as the eye could see. These regions are gifted with their solitude by clean mountain air, fresh, relatively unpolluted rainfall and concentrated sunshine. We really got the feel here that the land is treated in a sacred way; they love it and it loves them in return. Sad that more communities around the world cannot respect that same value. Still that is the way of the world, always a yin and a yang.
One of the many Miradors
Along the route there are plenty of Miradors to soak up the stunning views and feel the air against your face – or was the draft from Dave the Drone on one of his practise flights? I have to say that my camera could in NO way capture the scene that my eyes were absorbing. It’s a bit like the Grand Canyon in US, if you have ever been. Just one of those occasions where adjectives and camera images, even with the latest technology simply do not do it justice. You’ll just have to take my word for it – it was beautiful. I often struggle with trying to capture the perfect shot that conveys what I’m experiencing so I can share it. Sometimes though, you just need to feel it and put the camera down.
The final stop, for a well-deserved bit of lunch, was Válor, which was a lovely, warm town. Below you could see the more populated Ugíjar, which seemed like a pretty large community with schools, hospitals and more commerce than we’d seen in the last two days. And this was where we left the La Alpujarra route or so we thought! So much more fun was to be had in Almocita and Padules on the furthest reaches of the Sierra’s, although that’s for another time.
Over lunch we reflected on what we’d experience this day compared to our explorations the previous day. It was only 43km and took us no more than 90 minutes, although what struck us about this part of the La Alpujarra was that there was little or no tourist trade – just the odd café bar and may be a restaurant, a post office and a very noisy van, tooting for 30 mins as he called to the inhabitants to buy up the contents of his carriage. The artisans that we saw on the western side were non-existant on this Road Less Travelled. Except what you get in return for your petrol consumption is scenery to blow your mind. And actually, I really liked this side of the valley, offering a far more authentic way of life and pretty much no traffic. For me, there was no preference – just ‘different’ and I’m really glad we followed the whole route. This is a stunning road very suitable for motorhomes and great for motorbikes too. Feed your soul, your imagination and feast your eyes on the region that is La Alpujarra – you’ll not be disappointed. Karen.
I have this constant battle over my preference for sea versus mountains. After a prolonged period at either one, my love affair with its opposing cousin soon rekindles and I feel a deep yearning to return. I’ve learnt to appreciate each in equal message as they both appeal to my soul in different ways; the sea with its mischievous and unpredictable energy that brings out my inner child and the mountains that make me feel safe, loved and nurtured.
So after a good few weeks being beside the sea on Spain’s southern coast and having experienced some incredible wild camping spots, we decided it was time to be nurtured; especially given our challenges with unwelcome ‘visitors’ intent on stealing our bikes in Cabo de Gata. Our mountain retreat, on this occasion was to be La Alpujarra region on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia. I researched this area last year and wanted to visit because of their arts and crafts, so I was excited to finally get into the heart of this authentic Spanish community.
Known for its collection of Moorish influenced, white-washed mountain villages, this area transports you back in time. A time of cultural clashes and religious battles for supremacy between the Moors and the Christians back in 15th Century. Today it’s more famous for its unique micro-climate of green and lush terraces, nourished by the mountain snow and clean air and its collection of genuine Spanish artisans. Textiles, potteries, wools and the famous Jamón Serrano producing capital, Trevélez can be enjoyed in this hidden mountain sanctuary. Forget your high-rise seaside resorts and your claustrophobic cities – instead head to the mountains for culture, history and tranquility.
Entrance to La Alpujarra
When you arrive via Motril, after the acres of greenhouses, you are stunned by the contrasting backdrop of the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. It’s easy to see why the defiant Moors took refuge here against Christian dominance back in the day. Inaccessible mountains protecting those who settled in their shadows, impenetrable gorges and deep river valleys carving a meandering passage to the sea.
Perched on the sides of these regal rocks are fifty villages that have made their homes amidst the Nevada landscape. Each one has marked out their territory with assertion, whilst their church steeples tower above the red-tiled roofs to survey their kingdom.
Tourists have both sadly and thankfully uncovered these hidden gems and today you will find a highly accessible route to six of the main villages on the west side of the Nevada. I say sadly as I can imagine in the depths of summer, the tourist coaches must look like a line of caterpillars, inching their way up the mountain roads. Although the flip-side is that it gives these beautiful villages an income and a way to sustain their almost hermit-like existence. When we visited in March 2017, there were only a couple of said caterpillars, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
We started at Orgiva, which is on the valley floor in comparison to her lofty siblings. An unremarkable town, although the double-steepled church spires are pretty impressive. This has a commercial feel to it, although after travelling from Cabo de Gata it was a good stopping point. We found a great little campsite about 3 miles south of the town (Camping Orgiva, co-ordinates 36.88731N -3.416941E) In summer definitely worth booking as there are only about 30 spots and only half a dozen of these are any good for Motorhomes longer than 7.5m. Orgiva is best known for its Boho feel, attracting those looking for an alternative life-style.
Pampaneira, La Alpujarra
From here, you trek north towards Pampaneira, the first of the trio of villages huddled in the crook of the Poqueira Valley. There are other smaller villages en route, although with our motorhome we thought it unwise to venture too far off the beaten track. Yet with a car or motorbike, these would undoubtedly be worth exploring. It takes only about 30 minutes to reach Pampaneira and for me, this was my favourite. Artisan shops selling their colourful wares entreat you to buy their incredibly good value textiles. Sadly the Chocolate shop was shut! Disaster. If you wander up some of the side streets, you may be treated to some of the locals looming or weaving – this is real life, not a museum.
Plato de Alpujarra – traditional fare
Up the road you will find Bubión and Capileira. We chose to by-pass the former and head into Capileira as lunch was beckoning. This feels like a much less touristy village – which, with its plentiful chimneys donning the landscape, framed by the snowy mountain peaks gives you an opportunity to stop for some refreshment. Although it is seriously worth walking around the back streets and looking up at the wooden framed roofs and grape-vine sun visors. It’s incredibly atmospheric and you could sense the banished Moors making home here amongst the wildness of the mountains. Lunch is worth experiencing somewhere along the line; do try the local dish – Plato del Alpujarra with chorizo sausage, black pudding, poor man’s potatoes (cooked with red peppers and onions) and a fried egg. Yes you’ve got it – a good old English fry-up. Whilst it wasn’t perhaps my cup of tea as there wasn’t a lettuce leaf in sight, it was good to eat something typical for the region.
Beers supped and with full bellies we headed for our final stop of the day, 25 km away in the next valley – Trevélez, which is famed not only for the best Jamón in Spain, it is the highest village on the Iberian peninsular at 1476m above sea level. I was intrigued to know why it was such an important area for the ham. And apparently from a very fast speaking Spanish Tourist Information chap, it is the unique mountain climate, lush green vegetation and clean mountain air that makes it very special for raising pigs and enabling a pure curing process.
Trevélez – highest village in Spain, 1476m
Thanks to a recommendation from https://followourmotorhome.co.uk, we parked up for the night at a coach park at the top end of the village and whilst there are no services, you can get fresh mountain water from the spring at the entrance. (Co-ords 37.002179 -3.268541). There is also Camping Trevélez on the west side of town, if wilding doesn’t suit you. (Co-ords 36.991839N -3.270604E).
Now it must be said that this is a summary of the La Alpujarra Tourist Trail and there is so much more to see, which I cordially invite you to check out in Part 2 of our adventures – Alpujarra – The Road Less Travelled. Until then, seriously consider checking this area out as it appeals to historians, nature lovers, walkers, photographers and shoppers. A one-stop shop for a real Spanish cultural experience.
Here’s a gallery of some of our pictures.