Lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and covering part of the provinces of Almería and Granada, the Alpujarras is a stunning region of Andalusia in southern Spain. There is a wave of support, both from inside and outside of Spain, for the whole vast area to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The verdant mountainous slopes are planted to olives, almonds, chestnuts and vines while the lower slopes, with their milder climate, are planted to oranges, lemons and a wide variety of other fruits. The rivers Guadalfeo and Trevélez flow through the fertile valleys.
Set in the River Gualdalfeo’s wide valley, dating back to the Moorish occupation and with a semi-tropical climate, summers in Orgiva are long and hot, and winters mild. Expect to be able to swim and live outside between May and October. The blend of architectural styles in town is wonderfully eclectic, and includes the sixteenth century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Expectación church and the ancient, white-washed Ermita de San Sebastian. With a population of just under 6.000, Orgiva is the administrative capital of the Alpujarras and roads from here take you to the coast and to Granada. Browse the Thursday morning market, stop for coffee or lunch at one of the outdoor bar-cafes, and absorb the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle. On the outskirts, you’ll find cortijos, country houses and exquisite gardens, while the surrounding area is dotted with citrus groves.
The main fiesta, or feria grande, takes place in late September, while another feast day, the fiesta of the Santísimo Cristo de la Expiración, is held in a storm of fireworks two weeks before Easter.
Known as the “Gateway to the Alpujarras”, Lanjarón is a quiet spa town on the region’s lower slopes. Situated on the Orgiva-Granada road, there are good links to the coast, Granada and the High Alpujarras villages.
People come here for the indulgent pampering of the spa baths and bottled water from Lanjarón's famous spring is distributed nationwide. Legend has it that the water gives long life - certainly the location enjoys one of Europe’s longest life expectancies.
Home to a ruined Moorish castle and a number of fresh water fountains along its streets, many with dedicated poems from Spain's greatest 20th Century poet and dramatist, Federico García Lorca, Lanjarón hosts an hour-long water fight, the country’s biggest, for an hour from midnight every June 23, during the annual fiesta of San Juan. Getting drenched is pretty much compulsory! With the funds received from the sale of the Lanjarón spring to a French dairy conglomerate, the streets of Lanjarón have been remodelled, a by-pass built and the whole of the centre gentrified. It is, without doubt, one of the most attractive towns in Eastern Andalusia.
THE POQUEIRA VALLEY
Perhaps the best known of the villages in the Western Alpujarras are the three beautiful villages of the deep and spectacularly beautiful Poqueira Valley: Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira, which appear not to have changed since Moorish times. Beautiful squares, narrow winding streets, some with streams running through the middle, flat roofed architecture, cafes with terraces that look across the steep and stunning gorge to terraced slopes hewn by hand more than five hundred years ago and shops selling locally made arts and handicrafts. Equally fabulous to visit or to live in.
The name comes from the Arabic for obedience, and, under Moorish rule, the whole region was made up of different districts or “tahas” – although only present-day La Taha has retained the name.
La Taha is comprised of seven separate villages or hamlets, to the east of the Rio Poqueira gorge, situated on south-facing slopes with views over the Rio Trevélez.
The villages making up La Taha are:
Pitres – This the largest settlement with shopping facilities, school, restaurants, bars etc.
Mecina Fondales – Made up of Mecina, Fondales and Mecinilla
Ferrerirola – Situated below a smaller village, Atalbéitar.
Capilerilla – Situated above the main Pitres to Pórtugos road.
The villages of La Taha are an ideal place to learn about traditional Alpujarran life, as the streets and houses are unchanged in generations. The area is a very popular place for artists and musicians to live and each June there are open air classical music concerts with orchestras and performers coming from various parts of the world.
Following the Moorish invasion of 711AD, the Berber people populated the area and created hill villages with flat-roofed homes and narrow, winding streets, while also irrigating and manually terracing the hillsides. We still see their work today more than a thousand years later.
The handing over of the keys to Granada on 2 January 1492 by the last Moorish king, Boabdil, brought to an end nearly 800 years of muslim rule in Al-Andalus.
As part of the Santa Fé Accords bringing to an end what had for long been Al-Andalus, Boabdil was granted the whole of the Alpujarras by Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Kings. Constant breaking of the terms of the Accords under the influence of the Catholic church led to revolts and, finally, to a bloody war in the Alpujarras from 1566-1568 at the end of which all existing Moors were either killed or exiled and the land repopulated by settlers from other parts of Spain. These people were largely unfamiliar with the sort of subsistence agriculture practised by the Moors on their narrow mountain terraces. Depopulation began and the evidence of this can still be seen today in unused terraces and ruined cortijos.
During Spain’s 1936-1939 Civil War opposing Nationalist and Republican forces battled for control of the region and many villages changed hands several times with retribution exacted each time. A guerrilla war in the mountains carried on for a further three years after the Civil War ended.
Vastly improved mountain roads have opened up the area in the second half of the twentieth century.
There are good bus links serving Granada and Motril, and the motorway has expanded along the coast to make the regional airports of Almeria and Malaga easily accessible.
Granada’s Costa Tropical can be reached from the Low Alpujarras within 45 minutes by road, where you can enjoy fried fish on the beach, clear water and secluded coves.
AS A PLACE TO LIVE
Today, even the highest villages have modern services and tourism has helped open up the Alpujarras, as the area and its natural beauty have become widely known. As a place to live for anyone who seeks a beautiful environment, clean air, spectacular views and a simpler way of life it cannot be beaten. That is not to say that such a life need lack modern conveniences.
All of the cortijos in the area now have access to fast broadband internet connection and where there is no electricity permitted, in order to preserve the natural beauty, solar energy systems have become so much more efficient and vastly cheaper than was the case only a few years ago.