Las Alpajurras
Las Alpajurras
From the terraces of the Alhambra in Granada you look towards the snow capped peaks of Mulhacen (3479m) and Veleta (3395m) and the other lofty summits of the Sierra Nevada. Just south of these peaks is the region known as Las Alpujarras or La Alpujarra. This is an area of ridges and valleys, criss-crossed with a network of mule paths, irrigation channels, hiking routes and, once again, brilliant white villages.
Developed first by the Romans, in Moorish times the region was densely populated and abundant with vines and orchards.
It was the final refuge of the Moors after their expulsion from Granada in 1492. For nearly 150 years, as
Moriscos (converts to Christianity), they were allowed, to an extent, to maintain their own distinct culture in this isolated mountain area. But there was always unrest between the Moriscos and the Catholic monarchs until finally, in 1568, a rebellion was ruthlessly crushed and all people of Arab descent were evicted from the region and dispersed.
The villages were resettled with some 12,000 Christian families brought by King Philip II from Galicia and Asturias in north-western Spain. These settlers found the harsh environment very difficult and the economy of the Alpujarras was seriously damaged for years to come.
Fortunately the villages retained their traditional Berber architecture - terraced clusters of white box-shaped houses with flat clay roofs, a style which is still common in the Rif and Atlas mountains of Morocco. Perhaps the most picturesque villages are Pampaniera, Bubión and Capiliera which snuggle, one above the other, into the hillside of the Poquiera valley.
We were immediately attracted to a traditional village house in Bubión in our search for a base in Las Alpujarras. It looked gorgeous and suited our needs so well that we shrugged off the comment that it was "at the base of the village". On our arrival we discovered that the house was indeed at the lowest point of the village, reached on foot by a series of ridiculously steep narrow streets that could not be negotiated by vehicles. As any walk in this area involves considerable uphill climbing, this proved to be very good training. With our car left at the top of the village we had to take care not to forget anything when we went shopping or out for the day so as to avoid unnecessary ascents to the village.
Bubión is the middle of the three Poquiera villages. It sits at 1350 m, and has a permanent population of about 350, swelling to considerably more when all the houses available for rent are filled. It has exceptional views, to the snow capped mountains and, so they say, the Mediterranean. Unfortunately it was never clear enough during our stay for the sea to be visible.
Its Moorish origins are clearly seen in the classic architecture, houses built on top of each other and spilling down the steep mountainside. Nearly every house has a colourful display of pot plants and often little vegetable gardens watered from the ancient irrigation channels.
There was a very good restaurant called El Teide with a lovely garden where we enjoyed drinks and tapas sitting in the deep shade of cherry trees. Given that there was only a small sparsely stocked supermarket in the village, we indulged in a few meals there as well. There were several other bars and cafes and some shops selling rustic rag rugs and a variety of mountain products like jam, honey and quite drinkable wine that was sold in bulk.
The architecture
The picturesque buildings of the Alpujarras are one of the most typical features of the landscape. The whitewashed cubic houses are built against the slopes, one above the other, with flat roofs and cone shaped chimneys.

The houses usually have two floors. The lower level was originally for livestock and farm tools and now accommodates the kitchen and dining area. Upstairs are the bedrooms and living rooms and often a terrace.

Traditionally the roofing is made of a magnesium clay that is impermeable to rain and above that is a layer of stone. On the inside, an exposed layer of flat stones forms the ceiling, kept in place by beams of timber. Sitting on top of the flat roof are the cute little chimneys, all different, and seeming to dance around the rooftops, talking to each other.

Sometimes a sort of bridge, known as a tinao spans the narrow village street between the houses on either side and enclosing the street into a narrow passageway.

The irrigation system (Acequias)
Acequias, from the Arabic as-saqiyya (saqaa is to quench one's thirst), are the canals that slope along the sides of the mountains carrying the reliable supply of water from snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada to the villages and smallholdings in the valleys. Originally cut by the Romans but massively extended by the Moors, they are what turned this valley from a wild, semi-barren string of crags into fertile terraced hillsides.

When the Moors were expelled the Spanish crown ordered that two Moorish families were to remain in each village in order to demonstrate to the new inhabitants the workings of the systems on which the district's agriculture depends

It is an intricate and highly organised system. According to a preset timetable, water is diverted from the channels through a system of sluice gates, sometimes crudely blocked with stones and rags, onto the cultivated terraces or village gardens. Chris Stewart, in his book Driving over Lemons, gives an amusing account of the communal effort required to maintain the channels and the way in which timeslots for the flow of water are allocated. As the newcomer to the area he was allocated a time in the early hours of the morning to climb up the hills, divert the water onto his farm for the allowed period and then block the outlets to let the water continue on its course.
Our house in Bubión was very typical of the traditional style. Gleaming white, it was on two levels, built into the hillside and abutting the next door house. On the top level were the bedrooms, a huge comfortable living room and a lovely terrace that looked out across the terraced hills and down to Pampaniera, the next village. It was very well equipped, beautifully decorated and furnished with antique furniture. We were delighted that the owner trusted paying guests sufficiently to leave many tasteful bits and pieces to add to the character of the house.
There are a number of traditional threshing floors (eras) in the Alpajurras. These are now abandoned due to depopulation of the area and to changes to agriculture. They serve as reminders of the hard life endured by the farmers of the Alpajurras before modernisation.

This particular one is near Capillera and is sometimes used as a stage for concerts in summer.
There were gardens on several levels and alongside the house was a concrete channel that we were to discover was part of the village system of acequias. On our arrival there was just a trickle of water seeming to have seeped out of the hillside, but several nights later we were woken by the thundering roar of gushing water cascading down the hill. It continued for several hours and then stopped, presumably having been diverted into the gardens of the village and then continuing down to the farmland below. It was to be intermittently turned on and off during our entire stay.
The opportunities for walking in this area are bountiful though all involve some steep uphill exertion. The ubiquitous GR 7 ran right through the village and there were many local routes and pathways, way marked in their different styles and colours. It has to be said that at times this was quite confusing, as the signage and the available printed guides often gave different and conflicting information. You got to the same place but maybe not in the way you expected.

Part of the attraction of Bubión was the opportunity to start with short walks to the villages of Pampaniera and Capiliera. Pampaniera is reached by dropping nearly 300m, good on the way down, hard on the way back but there are better shops there and a small fresh fruit and vegetable stand in the main village square. Capiliera, the highest of the villages is higher by about 100 m according to the map but the pathway goes right down to the river, only to climb up again to the village. Happily there are very good restaurants there to make the climb worthwhile.

From Capiliera there is more serious walking. Roads and tracks descend to the Poqueira River, a clear little stream which rushes downhill through a deep gorge. Rustic bridges cross the river from time to time and, judging from the warning signs along the track, are occasionally swept away. Alongside the tracks are terraced hillsides and abandoned farmhouses and sometimes curious circular threshing pads, dating from the times when this was an intensively farmed valley.

Some of the trails follow the acequias and you get a real appreciation of the clever engineering that distributes the water through channels, into pipes and through sluice gates into downhill flows. Another amusing feature along these routes is the use of old bed frames as fences and gates - a very sensible use of an otherwise disposable item.
Climbing up from the river, Mulhacen, Andalucia's highest peak, towers on the skyline. On its lower slopes, the Refugio del Poqueira is a popular target for walkers. Up in the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada there are many short and long distance options including the popular Sierra Nevada Traverse a strenuous, but rewarding, experience. This route starts further east in Trevelez and, after three days walking, takes you down to Lanjaron.

Crossing Las Alpajurras from west to east is our old friend the GR7. There are lots of options to pick it up for a day and either retrace your steps, find another track back or catch a bus back to base. On one of our walking days we picked it up it Bubión, climbed to the high point of our valley and carried on to Capilerilla and Pitres. After lunch in Pitres we retraced our steps to Bubión, finding an alternative way back down to the village and the very welcome terrace of El Teide.
We really only scratched the surface of the walking opportunities in the area. There is another group of villages called la Tahá near the town of Pitres. More white villages, more heroic climbs and more beautiful mountain scenery. But this pocket, like so much else in Andalucia, will have to wait for another trip.
The remarkable chimneys of Bubión
View of Bubión, Capillera and
the Sierras
Street with tinao in Bubión
Street in Bubión
Water channel acequia, Capillera
Up the Poquiera Valley
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