Before her visit to Spain, Kelly Landry's favourite modes of transport were motorbikes, helicopters and fast cars. When she saw the beauty of the Sierra Nevada she quickly added walking to her list. Mountains with white villages beside streams, farmlands, ancient vineyards, orchards, woodlands and rivers add up to breathtaking scenery.
UTracks has walking tours with experienced guides who know Europe inside out, but the tour Kelly joined is an almost unknown treat.
The Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain range in Europe after the Swiss Alps. There are more than 20 peaks taller than 3000m. At the confluence of the Beiro, Darro and Genil Rivers, it stretches 90km, and on a clear day can be seen from Africa. It's known to locals as Las Alpujarras.
The region in the foothills was the Moorish Kingdom of Granada for 250 years from the 13th century. Encompassing the provinces of Granada, Malaga, and Almería its thriving Islamic culture can be seen in many architectural legacies. The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, is representative of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian influences which affected the Kingdom of Granada throughout the centuries.
The 50 or so villages were the last stronghold of Spanish Muslims or Moors. Soon after the Castilians took Granada in 1942, Moors were forced to convert to Christianity. Those who refused literally took to the hills and settled in the remote, inaccessible area.
Villages of the Alpujarra were resettled by 12,000 Christian families. They have retained traditional Berber architecture of terraced clusters of grey-white box-shaped houses with flat clay roofs. The style is prevalent in Morocco's Rif and Atlas mountain ranges.
Taha di Pitres
Kelly's tour took in Taha di Pitres, a collection of seven Moorish villages. It's as though time has stood still. There's Pitres with the smaller settlement of Capilerilla above it. Mecina Fondales is made up of Mecina, Medinilla and Fondales. Ferreirola and Atalbéitar make up the seven. Each hamlet had a specific trade. Capilerilla's was stock raising and Kelly met its one remaining cow.
It takes just over four hours to walk between the villages and of course there are pit stops. There are plenty of mineral springs to enjoy, including one which produces fizzy water.
The town of Gaudix has 2500 cave houses and you can see a preserved example at the Cave Museum. In Moorish times people lived in the caves to escape the intense heat. There are stables which were used to house mules and donkeys, so important in bringing in water.
Almost half of its residents still live in caves, these days with all mod cons fitted kitchens, marble floors and internet connections. The orange tinged terrain and dazzling whitewashed cave chimneys and doors contrast dramatically with the Sierra Nevada's snow-covered peaks. The cave district is signposted as "Barrio Troglodyte".
The best way to see it all is to stroll through. "Troglodytes" are really friendly and very proud of their caves. If you show genuine interest they are likely to invite you in. If not, there's always the museum.
You can rent a cave to spend the night in many villages in the region and in Purullena, there's one with a disco!
Pampaneira, a pretty whitewashed village like its neighbours Bubion and Capileira clings to the slopes of a lush river gorge in the Poqueira Valley. Its pretty square is dominated by a 16th century Baroque church, handicraft shops, restaurants and bars.
Moorish culture is preserved with narrow, twisting streets, traditional houses decorated with flowers and fountains. Small weaving workshops are run by descendents of weavers from Islamic times. There's also some great leatherwear to buy.
It's a great place to settle for a while and take rewarding day walks in all directions.
Hostal Pampaneira, run by a friendly local, offers excellent value. It has just 15 charming rooms with shutters opening to beautiful views of the village. Rustic timber furniture, local weaving, renovated bathrooms and shared balcony make for a comfortable stay. The restaurant serves cuisine of the Alpujarras and local wine.
Casa Diego restaurant is a favourite haunt of hikers. It specialises in trout and hams, cured in nearby Trevelez for longer than 16 months. A good protein boost before a big day in the open air, try their sopa alpujarreña, yellow broth with fried bread, hard-boiled eggs and pork.
They also serve delicious tapas and Senor Diego will happily pour some excellent wine for you to enjoy.
Villagers from near and far head to town each week to the food markets. They're fun to stroll around and you can buy some attractive locally made baskets.
Malaga, an hour from Spain's Mediterranean coast.
UTracks has eight-day Moorish Kingdom of Granada tours from Malaga. They include accommodation, most meals, entertainment, guide and internal transfers. They start at $1790 per person twin share. There are various departures until November, 2010.
Emirates has flights to Madrid from:
- Perth $1691
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1693
- Sydney $1713
- Brisbane $1715
Prices are available only online to the first 100 people to book.
Connections to Malaga are available.
Prices correct at July 8, 2010.
For further information
Avenida de la Alpujarra 2
Ph: +34 958 763 002
Ph: 1300 303 368
Visas: Australians travelling to Spain do not require a visa.
Electricity: 230V at 50Hz using European plugs.
Time zone: GMT +2.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +34.