If I’m going to fly more than 4,000 miles across the world and then travel another 500+ miles by train to Granada, I am always going to make the most of it. This includes checking out as much of the beautiful area of Andalucia, as I can. So, we used this quest to learn more Spanish, as an excuse to visit the famous white villages (Pueblos blancos) of the Alpujarra.
The Alpujarra (or Alpujarras both are correct) is both a geographic region and a historical region of the Southern side in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. It is on the other side of the tip of the mountain range from Granada and close to the coast. It is also a must-see when visiting Granada.
I mean, yes, there is plenty to see in Granada – seriously, we could probably just spend all of our time exploring this magical city – but we want to take in as, much as we can, of this area while studying Spanish.
Alpujarra is a county in the province of Granada in the Andalusia region of Spain. It consists of about 80 towns and villages of various sizes.
We started the day at 9:00 AM with a tour group arranged through our Spanish language school. Juan was our guide and as soon as he herded us all (12 students total) into two vehicles (a van and a car), we were on our way.
After a 40 minute drive we arrived in the first of the four towns in Alpujarra we were going to visit – Lanjaron.
Here we stopped just outside of town for a brief history lesson from Juan, while we gazed at the beautiful mountain vistas and the magnificent looking town of Lanjaron.
I will not bore you with accounting the entire history – for that you’ll have to come visit it yourself. Suffice it to say Alpujarra history is amazing and mesmerizing. Once you realize that some of these little pueblos have been here for more than 1,000 years, you gain a whole new prospective on the place.
Walking down the ancient streets is simply magical.
Lanjaron is considered to be the gateway to the Alpujarra region. It is located at a relatively low elevation of just over 2,100 feet.
It is famous for its water. Both, spa waters which are said to contain curative properties (celebrated for many centenaries), and for its mineral water which are bottled here and consumed all around Spain.
We happened to be visiting on the day of the Fiesta De San Juan. Although, we arrived before all the festivities started, it was clear that the town was getting ready for a big party. Lanjaron is known throughout Spain for having the biggest water fight that starts at midnight and goes until 1 AM during the Fiesta De San Juan.
We visited during the day, so we didn’t see any of the madness but that turned out to be a good thing because later that same afternoon, a man entered a bar, poured gasoline over everything, and started himself and others on fire. Two people died. Another group of students from our school that went to Lanjaron for the fiesta (without a guide) was actually stuck in town overnight because of the incident and the fiesta, since all bus services were re-routed that day.
Overlooking the town is a ruined Moorish castle. Beautiful!
Next stop on our trip was the town of Panpaneira. Here we walked the streets, saw a pretty ingenious, ancient water/run off system, and enjoyed tasting some of the local (home-made) wines.
We also did a ham and sausage tasting and got some free time to shop around. The shops had great locally-made stuff and we even found a chocolate factory. A real chocolate factory. There we shamelessly, tried many chocolate samples, from white chocolate to dark chocolate with black pepper. Wow!
Of course we bought both home-made Chorizo and chocolate but we resisted the wine 🙂
After we got nice and tipsy, we headed for the highest (by official elevation) town in Spain – Trevelez. This was where we got some free time to eat a great local lunch. Tim and I both opted for the teacher-recommended Plato Alpujarreño. OMG! It was awesome. Of course, we also had to have more wine.
After lunch, Juan – the guide – took us through a ham drying facility, where we learned the process of curing and drying the famous Spanish hams.
We also got a nice lesson on what to look for when buying ham and what the differences are. The place itself was a bit spooky, though. Once we got to the 3rd floor, it was almost like being in a horror movie – dead body parts everywhere! Some of our group, actually couldn’t take it and ended up going outside while the rest of us finished the tour.
YUM – HAM!
After the ham-drying facility tour, we all loaded back in the car and drove to our last destination. The ancient town of Capileira. It is a tiny town of less than 800 inhabitants but, in my opinion, it was the most beautiful.
It was completely surreal to walk down the same streets that were walked by ancient people more than a millennia ago. The steep stone streets, stairs everywhere, and the beautiful houses that are still in use after all this time, were amazing to see. And of course the gorgeous mountain views were everywhere.
The construction and architecture here are amazing. The ancients built their dwellings into the mountains, in such a way that the houses stay around 60 deg F all year round and the streets are protected from the strong winds in the winter. Genius!
The streets and homes are the same as they were many centuries ago. The only big difference that you notice today is that there are power lines running between them to provide electricity to the locals.
Alpujarra is an incredible place to visit. I highly recommend that you don’t miss it on your trip to Andalusia Spain.
Alpujarra: Practical Tips
Now for some practical tips. I recommend the following:
- Take a guided tour. Yes, you can learn stuff on your own and drive up there but I guarantee you will not learn nearly as much as you will with a local guide.
- Take a bus or a tour. Driving on your own here is down-right scary. The curves, more curves, and even more curves, through the mountains make for a hair-raising experience.
- Take a pill. If you get car sick (and maybe even if you don’t), getting to these tiny villages through the mountains is a bit like riding a roller coaster. Take a pill and enjoy your experience. Tim gets car sick and so, he took Bonine and was very glad he did because two women in our group didn’t and got sick.
- Bring lots of water or a water bottle to fill. In the summer months it is hot, hot, hot. For us this was an all-day trip, and so we walked during the hottest part of the day, and it was HOT!
- Wear comfortable shoes. I can’t stress this enough. Walking these streets is much like hiking – uphill and uneven terrain. I saw a woman in high heels and for the life of me I can’t understand how she didn’t break an ankle.
- Wear light clothing. This goes for both color and fabric thickness. There is a reason why these towns are all white – they reflect the hot sun. Wear black and you will be very, very warm.
- Enjoy yourself!