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Between the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mediterranean Sea , lies the area known as La Alpujarra. It is a place of virtually unspoilt natural beauty with panoramic views of rolling hills, intense red cliffs, and steep ravines.
In 1492, having been expelled from Granada by their Christian conquerors, the Moors took refuge in these mountains where they maintained their customs and way of life for a further century. Their legacy remains in the architecture of the village houses, the network of irrigation channels (acequias) and the local cuisine.

"In late January the terraces take on a pink and white hue as almond blossoms burst into life"

The white villages of La Alpujarra cling precariously to the mountainsides. Like sugar cubes, piled haphazardly on one another, they shine white in the bright Andalucian sun and at night twinkle like clusters of little stars. The architecture is unique in Europe but identical to that of the villages in the Atlas mountains of Morocco . Walls, a metre thick, keep the houses cool in Summer and warm in Winter. Roofs are made of heavy stone slabs covered with a thick layer of launa (a sort of clay formed from the decomposition of grey magnesium slate.) A tall round chimney protrudes from every rooftop.

Each village has its own particular charm but three of the prettiest in the region are Pampaniera, Bubion and Capileira. At an altitude of 1476m, Trevelez, the highest village in Spain , is internationally famous for its cured hams, dried in the mountain wind. The little village of Yégen was immortalised by the writer Gerald Brennan in his classic “South from Granada .” A member of the Bloomsbury group, he spent several years in Yégen in the late 1920’s where he was visited by many literary friends, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Lytton Strachey. Six kilometres south of Yégen stands the village of Válor , birthplace of Aben Humeya, leader of the last Morisco uprising against the Christians in 1569. Each year on 14th and 15th September the rebellion is re-enacted in the village square as part of the fiesta, and is a spectacle well worth seeing
Alpujarra Almond blossom

Berja Estates

Alpujarra Villages
Farming in La Alpujarra is carried out on terraces, carved high into the mountainsides. The Moors in the tenth and eleventh centuries developed an intricate system of irrigation channels, called acequias, which still carry water from the high Sierra to the terraces below. Chestnuts and cherries are grown on the upper slopes while olives, almonds, oranges, figs and vines flourish lower down. Stooped men in flat caps work the terraces with mules and the sound of jangling bells can be heard as goats graze the hillsides.

In contrast to this traditional lifestyle, towns such as Orgiva, Lanjaron and Ugíjar offer modern hotel accommodation, shops, restaurants, night-clubs and Internet cafés.

In late January the terraces take on a pink and white hue as almond blossoms burst into life. Carpets of wild flowers delight the eye in Spring. In Summer each village celebrates its own fiesta with colourful processions, fireworks and all night dancing in the village square. Wine-making in Autumn often takes place outdoors on the narrow streets and little plazas. In Winter the nights are cold but by day people sit outside cafés, sipping coffee or enjoying a beer and tapa.

Although still largely unspoilt by tourism, in recent years La Alpujarra has become increasingly popular with walkers and nature lovers. The area is famous for its variety of wildlife, including wild boar, mountain goats, foxes, dear, eagle and partridge.

The traditional craft of rug making continues to thrive as well as the age old practice of weaving baskets and panniers from Esparto grass. Hand-painted ceramic tiles and pottery are also typical of the region. In recent years many artists, artisans and writers have been attracted to La Alpujarra. Cortijos (farmhouses) which had fallen into ruin have been given a new lease of life by foreigners seeking a life of peace and tranquillity.

La Alpujarra is reputed to have the cleanest air in Europe . Its people are friendly, the food and wine excellent and the views breathtaking. One of the few unspoilt regions of Spain it is a wonderful place to visit or settle.

Words and pictures by Anna Dooley.

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