Getting high while lying low in La Alpujarra

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La Alpujarra

La Alpujarra

Was it even remotely possible to find a more relaxing part of the world than this particular spot? After a few weeks’ break in a quaint part of southern Spain, I firmly believed you’d be very hard pushed to find anywhere friendlier and more laidback. I was holed up in the tiny village of Ferreirola, home to less than 30 souls, at least during the winter months, indulging in a bit of creative writing and non-too-strenuous hiking, in the region of La Alpujarra, the southernmost part of Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada.

For a winter break, this part of Spain must be one of the best and most varied. Although high up in the mountains – Spain’s highest village, Trevélez at almost 5,000 feet, is only a short drive away – you’re less than two hours from the coast if you fancy a bit of sangria and sun-bathing.  If instead you’re looking for chilling of a different kind, you can ski the peaks of Sierra Nevada, only an hour away, making La Alpujarra a perfect base between sea and ski. The area is also excellent for hiking, something that I was keen to explore during my stay.The municipality of La Taha, where I was winding down, is particularly well-known for its so-called Moorish “white villages”, sitting on south-facing slopes overlooking the Trevélez River valley. These scenic villages, named after their white-washed houses, are busier in summer, but tend to be blissfully quiet in late autumn, winter and early spring, when the weather is often sunny and pleasant in daytime, with much cooler temperatures at night.

the white painted houses - and cats - of La Alpujarra

the white painted houses – and cats – of La Alpujarra

With Ferreirola, one of the aforementioned white villages, as my base, I set out to explore the surrounding area on foot during my late autumn stay. Hiking is a great way of getting around La Alpujarra – although it’s possible to reach these villages by car, the villages themselves are mostly car-free – the windy, narrow alleys quite simply can’t accommodate anything wider than a donkey. Walking from village to village offers panoramic views all across the Trevélez River valley and, much to my surprise I found this part of Spain provided beautiful displays of autumn colours at the end of November.

There are excellent trails in this part of Spain, including the so-called Medieval Route and various other long-distance paths with overnight shelters. I wasn’t planning on being anywhere near that energetic, but luckily there are plenty of shorter routes too, for the less hardy and walks of between 30-90 minutes get you to several of the neighbouring hamlets. As tends to be the case in the mountains, some of the paths in question are a bit on the steep side, but there are ample rewards, not just in terms of views, but also in the form of local wines and tasty nibbles. The area is well-known for its air-cured hams e.g.

the remoteness of La Alpujarra

the remoteness of La Alpujarra

Leaving my pleasant abode in local B&B Casa Ana, I trundled down the alleys past assorted cats (these villages seem immensely popular with four-legged friends of the feline kind) to the end of the road, quite literally. From here a path leads down the valley towards another of La Taha’s Moorish villages, Fondales, following orchards and olive groves, with splendid vistas overlooking three villages; Fondales, Mecinilla and Mecina. From Fondales it’s all gentle uphill legwork along the road up to Mecinilla, the smallest of the three, but still managing to be home to a friendly locals’ bar, Aljibe, with tasty Alpujarran homemade grub, especially warming stews of the meaty kind.

Mecinilla to Mecina, further up the road, is only a short staggering distance away and if you do this walk in the late afternoon, you can enjoy lovely sunset views while indulging in something akin to a pub crawl, or at least a bar hop, since Mecina has two venues for post-hike chilling; the local hotel, Mecina Fondales Hotel and, the bar hotspot of the whole area, La Cueva de Mora Luna (Cave of the Moorish Moon), run by Uruguayan expat Carlos, with great zest and flair – be sure to try his pizzas and excellent wines. Also, if you’re really lucky, he’ll do a tango tune or two for you. Mecina is the main hub out of five villages close to each other (Ferreirola, Atalbeitar, Fondales, Mecinilla and Mecina), but for general shopping needs and a wider choice of eateries, as well as a weekly market on Fridays, it’s best to head to Pitres.

the surrounding hills

the surrounding hills

I confess it took me a little while to make it up to sunny Pitres. Why? The hint is of course to be found in the word “up”… From Ferreirola, a steep path winds its way uphill all the way to Pitres, a short ten-minute drive, but a good hour’s walk. It’s worth it though, and not just for the shopping, as you’re pretty much walking straight up from Ferreirola and get even better views of the river valley and surrounding smaller villages. The Friday morning market takes over the main square and there are several al fresco, or indoor, options for a post-walk hot chocolate and tapas. Best of all, the return hike is of course all downhill.

This part of La Alpujarra is well-known for its many natural springs, some of them more unusual than others. The path up to Atalbeitar passes several, including one with naturally sparkling, slightly acidic water. Although the walk from Ferreirola to Atalbeitar, one of the most scenic in La Taha, is circular, it’s also possible to extend it, continuing past Atalbeitar and further up, to the larger villages of Busquístar and Pórtugos, the latter famous for its exceedingly yummy cured hams.

and finally, a stay in Malaga - such an under rated destination

and finally, a stay in Malaga – such an under rated destination

For my last weekend, rather than strapping on the skis, although that was a tempting option, I chose to spend some time on the coast, exploring Málaga, one of Spain’s unsung heroes in terms of cities. Málaga wines, accompanied by tasty and abundant seafood (or should that be the other way around?) proved a fitting end to my otherwise energetic stay in Spain. Even the big city felt relaxing after my Alpujarran break.

For further information about Andalucia, click here

Getting there:

Plenty of airlines, including low-cost carriers, fly to Málaga or Granáda, the nearest airports to La Alpujarra. There are buses to the Alpujarran towns of Órgiva and Pitres, as well as smaller villages.

Where to stay:

Casa Ana, Calle Artesa, Ferreirola, +34 958 76 62 70, www.casa-ana.com. Beautiful b&b with courses and activity holidays, including walking holidays, writers’ retreats and creative writing holidays. Excellent food provided by Canadian and German chefs.

Los Olivillos, +34 676 239 968, organic smallholding on the outskirts of Ferreirola, peaceful location, extensive views, gorgeous garden.

Mecina Fondales Hotel, La Fuente s/n, Mecina, +34 958 766 254, www.mecinafondales.com/en. Pleasant hotel with pool in summer, good Alpujarran cuisine and hotel bar.

Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro, Camino de Gibralfaro s/n, Málaga, +34 952 22 19 02, www.parador.es. The best views in Málaga, excellent rooms overlooking the sea and the city, attentive service, good restaurant and friendly staff.

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