Back in 2006 Steve, Colin and Ted spent a week in a cottage in the Alpujarran village of Bubión and we had always wanted to return, The Alpujarras are an area in the mountains southeast of Granada. Finally, in October 2018, Ted and I took a three-day trip with two friends, Steve and Stu, then wrote up the first version of this page. In March 2019 Ted and I paid a short visit to the southern Alpujarras. We visited again twice in 2021 – in June with Steve and Stu once more and in September with our friend Ken, and we have now updated the page.
Each visit began with the journey of less than two hours from Málaga to Granada by express coach. The Alsa coach is comfortable and includes an onboard toilet, an entertainment system and wifi. It is a familiar journey for Ted and I – along the motorway, through the mountains, over the pass to Riofrio with its trout farm, past the town of Loja, Granada Airport, which looks as quiet as ever and through Santa Fe, with its apartment blocks within feet of the main road. There are glimpses of the modernised Antequera – Granada railway line which has improved rail access to Granada – there have even been mentions of direct Málaga – Granada trains at some point in the future.
Granada bus station
Local service buses run from Granada to the towns and villages of the Alpujarras. In 2018 we took the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Capileira. Though it is also a comfortable coach, the difference from the inter-city journey was noticeable –many passengers had been into Granada for the morning shopping, medical appointments, or dealing with bureaucracy in one form or another – and people met others they knew on the bus. The first part of the journey seemed to take ages as we made our way through the Granada suburbs. A whole new district has appeared on the outskirts including the Nevada shopping centre and a hospital complex. Neighbouring towns such as Armilla and Alhendín have become suburbs which blend into one another. Finally, we escaped the city, joined the motorway to Motril and the Costa Tropical and climbed to the Puerto del Suspiro del Moro (the Pass of the Sigh of the Moor). The journey becomes much more enjoyable as the scenery improves.
The bus leaves the autovía at the turnoff for Lanjarón, the gateway to the Alpujarras, and crosses an impressive new bridge – the old bridge and winding road is well below. It passes close to some enormous wind turbines. We have mixed feelings about these examples. Renewable energy is essential and Spain aims to produce 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Turbines can look graceful from a distance, but here the network of access tracks and electricity pylons scar the dry landscape (see note 1).
The town of Lanjarón (pictured) is known for its mineral water and we pass the bottling plant on the road into town. It is also a spa town, and in 2018 a group of elderly people alight, arriving for a week to take the waters. The main road bypasses the centre of town so we don’t see much. On our 2019 trip Ted and I got off the bus there and spent a night in the town, giving us time to explore. We visited the viewpoint which looks down on the ruins of the Moorish castle below and explored the old town, which is pleasant enough, though not as striking as the High Alpujarra villages. On both 2021 visits we stopped off for a night in Lanjarón on the return journey. On all three visits we stayed at the Nuevo Palas hotel, which has reasonably priced large rooms with a small balcony to the front to watch the world go by. Needless to say we tried a few bars. Meson El Salado stood out on our first visit for quality tapas – the restaurant meals looked good too. In 2021 we discovered that Bodega Gonzáles sold draft La Pitusa craft beer brewed in Lanjarón by Cervezas Lanchar, which is a very drinkable wheat beer. Ken and I had an excellent evening meal in the Bodega on our visit.
From Lanjarón the road winds down to the valley below and Órgiva, the main market town of the western Alpujarras. The town has a large expat community and a slightly alternative feel due to the hippies and new age travellers who settled here. To explore further, in 2021 we broke our outward journey there for a few hours and of course visited a bar or two. The courtyard bar El Viejo Molino was particularly pleasant. From the bus route and church the main street leads up to the market place, Pl. de la Alpujarra, (market day is Thursday) and we visited a couple of places along the way. We passed a large sculpture of Don Quijote of La Mancha (left) – what he’s doing in Ógiva we had no idea (but see note 2). Órgiva is where our journeys diverged – in 2018 and 2021 we headed for Capileira in the high Alpujarras and in 2019 to Ugijar in the southern Alpujarras.
The high Alpujarras
Heading into the village of Soportújar
We’re now properly in the Alpujarras, so it is time for some background. The area (which is called either La Alpujarra or Las Alpujarras) is a series of valleys (see note 3). They lie between the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the north and lower, though still significant, ranges to the south which cut the area off from the coast – the Sierra de Lújar and Sierra de la Contraviesa. In 2018 and 2021 our base has been the western High Alpujarras, beneath the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The area has been settled in turn by Ibero-Celts, Romans, Visigoths and, most notably, by the Moors – Berbers from North Africa – who developed the systems of terracing and irrigation to its fullest extent. After Granada fell to the armies of the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 the Alpujarras were the final area of Spain under Moorish control, until 1568 when they were expelled. They were replaced by immigrants from Galicia and Leon, though two Moorish families had to remain in each village to show the newcomers how to work the irrigation systems. More recently, the area was fought over during the Spanish Civil War, guerrilla action continuing until 1942. Though the land is fertile the area remained remote and poor. As better roads arrived many emigrated to seek work elsewhere. In the 1980s the area had the lowest incomes and level of literacy in Spain. While agriculture remains important, the focus today is on sustainable tourism and extending the tourist season.
To reach the High Alpujarras villages and our destination Capileira from Órgiva, the road is tortuous with plenty of hairpin bends and steep drops, though it is kept in good condition. The buses are full-size coaches – not the easiest thing to drive but the drivers have done it many times before. Some journeys divert into a couple of villages, Carataunas and Soportújar. Somehow the bus manages to climb the narrow streets and reverse with millimetres to spare. In Soportújar our bus coincided with the weekly visit of a fruit and veg van-cum-shop, and the two vehicles fill the village square, with complex manoeuvres to get by. On another trip Soportújar was festooned with rainbow flags – unexpected in such an out of the way place. The village is also known for its connections with witchery and wizardry.
The bus arrives at Capileira and the fourth reversal of its journey (so far).
Capileira is the highest of a trio of villages – Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira – in the Barranco del Poqueira (the gorge of the River Poqueira), a side valley. It sits at the foot of walking routes through the Sierra Nevada, including the highest mountain in Spain, Mulhacén (3483m). The villages are within the Sierra Nevada National Park which protects them from over-development. Paths connect them offering easy country walks.
Capileira village is 1436m above sea level and we notice the thin air as soon as we get off the bus – it takes some people more time than others to adjust – our friend Steve was worst affected but got used to it. Each time we arrive, after a break for a drink, we walk to the hotel – it is at the top of the village at 1500m, Though not a long walk it is steep and it is best to take ones time, walk slowly and take breaks if needed.
We stayed in Capileira two or three nights each visit and the bus times meant that we had plenty of time to explore on the arrival and departure days. Our hotel on each visit, the Finca Los Llanos (above) is excellent. The room and beds are fine, there is a pool (no, we didn’t try it in October but we did in June), a bar (we did try it), the staff are friendly, and the breakfast is generous. We twice had a triple room which was inexpensive – the bear sneaked in for free as usual. Many rooms have balconies providing great views over the village and surrounding countryside, and we could watch the clouds roll in and out, sometimes below us.
Ted and I on the hotel balcony
More views from the balcony.
The area is now no stranger to tourism – it is popular with walking tours and we saw the occasional coach party, though the pandemic meant that it was quiet in 2021. Despite tourism, it hasn’t lost its character. The locals were friendly, didn’t automatically respond in English to a foreign accent and took the time to chat and help with our Spanish. We soon got to recognise the bus drivers and of course the bar owners and staff.
Looking down from Capileira to Bubión (left) and Pampaneira (right)
Like most villages in the Alpujarras Capileira is built on a hillside – there is virtually no flat land. Round every corner there are views over the countryside, up to the Sierra Nevada or down the Poqueira gorge to Bubión and Pampaneira. From time to time there is the sound of goat bells from the fields. The road from Pampaneira (which peters out a few kilometres beyond Capileira, so there is no through traffic) arrives at the top of the village, where most of the facilities – the shops and bars, the bus stop and the town hall – are located. The village houses tumble down the hillside in more than a dozen rows.
Alpujarran architecture is unique in Spain and is similar to villages in the mountains of North Africa. The cubic houses jumble on top of one another and most street are stepped paths with runnels for water when it rains. The distinctive Alpujarran chimneys are everywhere and the houses have flat roofs waterproofed by launa, a type of clay. Many have balconies and tinaos which link houses on different levels across the narrow paths. There are old lavaderos and fountains which provided the water supply for drinking and washing.
When we explored the barrio bajo (lower village)(above) it was clear (not least from the strain it was putting on my old knees, and how breathless we became on the way back up) that the locals must be hardy. There are plenty of elderly people living there, who face a steep climb to shops and other facilities. Though there are a number of houses for holiday rentals, they don’t seem to predominate, and most houses are occupied. Stu walked round one evening as the goats were being brought back to the village. On my walk I passed a barn where a couple of goats shared the space with dogs and hens, and watched an elderly man head off to collect honey from his hives.
Capileira at night
When we checked, the population of Capileira was 559 in 2017. It has dropped from a high of 1680 in 1950 as modern roads made escape from subsistence agriculture to employment in the cities possible. It has been stable since the mid-1980s with the development of tourism and the arrival of modern public services. The lack of empty properties suggests that those who left for work have kept their village home and return regularly. Others will have retired to their pueblo. The village is kept in good condition – there is virtually no litter, most homes are freshly whitewashed, and the ayuntamiento (town hall) and AndalucÍan government appear to maintain the public services well.
A selection of chimneys
Tourism is essential to the local economy. Outside high summer, many visitors are here for walking in the mountains in the cooler weather. Coach parties of day trippers from Granada and the coast are regular visitors but don’t stay for long and I expect that very few of the tourists penetrate the lowest levels of the village. There are shops selling tourist tat – some are goldmines of cheap rubbish. There are also plenty of locally made crafts such as basket ware and distinctive rugs for sale, together with local food, particularly honey.
Ted as usual has a beer or two (above) and tries the costa wine (below)
Needless to say we had a beer or two in the bars. On arrival we head for the terrace of one of bar across the road from the bus stop – there is a row of bars and restaurants from Café Bar Moraima (which does breakfasts) to Cerro Negro. Their terraces are good places for watching the world go by – on one occasion we spent an hour or two watching the bloke who was watching the paint dry on the new white lines he had painted on the crossing outside the ayuntamiento – one Japanese tourist comes close to ruining his handiwork. On other occasions we watched the small dumper trucks used for building materials go up and down. All serve food and provide tapas. Across the road by the national park centre is Café-Bar Loma Púa. It has the feel of a club, is friendly and open all day (many places close between 4 and 7), and on good days the views across the Poqueira valley from the terrace are excellent. In the lane leading to the church from the main road, Calle del Dr. Castillo, is Bodega El Atroje (which strangely means ‘the atrocity’), a fine old bar with outside tables across the street, where we watch local kids play in the street. Café Bar El Tilo, in Plaza Calvario near the church, became our favourite – friendly, pleasant inside, good food and music and a sunny terrace on the square – one evening we met Cristobal Hoare, an English artist who has lived in the village since 1976, and his wife Jackie (see note 4). Nearby, by the church is a good pizzeria and in a lane down its side is the tiny Bodega la Alacena.
This being Granada province, a tapa is served with every beer or glass of wine, often a good quality local chorizo or jamón and olives. We also tried raciones of several of the local cheeses. Provided you drink enough there is really no need to have full meals, though the menus in the bars and restaurants are tempting – most focus on local specialities. Grapes are grown on the southern slopes of the Alpujarras and produce the local costa wine, a deep pink dry rosé. It comes in boxes or plastic barrels and is served in bars from unmarked decanters or plastic water bottles from the fridge. Steve, the vino rosado expert, is impressed and so is Ted. Steve (above) leaves Capileira with 1.5 litres of costa, in a Lanjarón water bottle, provided for next to nothing by Bar El Tilo.
Masked up before catching the bus to Trevelez in June 2021.
During each visit we have taken the local bus to spend an afternoon in Trevélez. The journey takes forty-five minutes to an hour through a series of small villages, depending on the driver (most are careful but one fancied himself as a rally driver, and totally forgot about the speed hump at the entrance to Bubión, where we briefly became airborne). As we passed through Portugos (population 389) and Busquistar (population 279) there are signs pointing from the main road to centro ciudad (city centre).
Trevélez is slightly higher than Capileira, at the head of the next side valley, and the weather can be totally different. It is also built on a hillside, with three districts on different levels – barrios bajo, medio y alto (lower, middle and upper). We confine ourselves to the barrio bajo as there is a 200 metre height difference between it and the barrio alto and the ascent or descent is difficult enough for the bus never mind us. Trevélez’ claim to fame is Jamón de Trevélez, which has its own denominación de origen. The quality of the ham is known throughout Spain. The fresh mountain air is perfect for curing ham and the village is full of saladeros and secaderos, where the ham is dried and cured. Each time we visit Meson Joaquin (below) for a beer, a restaurant owned by one of the jamón families. There are thousands of euros worth of hams hanging from the ceiling, and guess what the first tapa is. On our most recent visit Ken and I had lunch, gorging ourselves on the plato alpujarreño – various bits of pig (jamón, chorizo and black pudding) with patatas a lo pobre, sweet peppers and a fried egg).
Meson Joaquin and the plato alpujarreña
On our first visit a coach tour arrived across the road to visit the secadero before heading to a neighbouring restaurant for lunch – my guess is that the standard day trip to the area involves a morning visit to Capileira followed by a visit to Trevélez. Most recently a large group of motorcyclists driving from coast to coast had stopped for lunch between tackling the mountain roads. Otherwise the village is quiet – we’ve heard what sounded like Swiss cow-bells but it was only a herd of goats by the stream. We’ve also visited the bars around the square to try their beer and costa wine before its time for the same bus and driver to pick us up and take us back to Capileira.
There is no escaping pigs in Trevelez
Alpujarran rugs for sale in Pampaneira
On our visits we’ve collected our fare share of souvenir tat. Steve gets his costa wine from Bar El Tilo, with much comment about it being special Lanjarón water, Stu and Ken bought Capileira t-shirts. Ted and I bought our cheap souvenirs for the tat shelf at home – an Alpujarran chimney, and a Capileira coaster and fridge magnet. We have two Alpujarran rugs from our 2006 visit which we use as wall hangings. We have our final drinks and tapas in La Atroje, close to the bus stop, or in Loma Púa, from where you can see the bus climb up the mountain road from Pampaneira towards us.
The southern Alpujarras
In 2019 Ted and I took a quick look at the southern Alpujarras by spending a day on buses travelling from Lanjarón to Almería. The first bus took us to Ugíjar and after Órgiva we were in new territory. The initial stretch, with three of us (plus Ted) on the bus (most people would have been heading inward to Órgiva or Granada at that time) took us to the market town of Cádiar, across the River Guadalfeo then following the valley through Los Tablones and Torvizcón. There were views over to Pampaneira, Capileira and the Sierra Nevada, with snow on top of many of the peaks.
After Cádiar we returned to the northern slopes for a while climbing up a narrow switchback road to the villages of Mecina Bombaron Yegen and Valor. The driver stopped to top up his water bottle from the fountain at Yegen and at Valor a very loud woman boarded who didn’t stop talking to the driver. We returned to the valley down another switchback road while she distracted his attention, to the terminus in the church square at Ugíjar. I kept expecting to see pigs and vines for the costa wine but didn’t – there were plenty of olive groves and almonds.
Ugíjar (pictured) is an attractive working town making an effort to attract tourists with walking routes through the old parts of town. We had time for a good look round and it is worth a few hours to do so. We had beer and tapas at Cafe Bar La Peña just off the square, with excellent tapas, including an extra plate of boquerones on the house.
The next bus took us to the town of Berja. After the village of Cherín we crossed into the province of Almería and called at the village of Alcolea, where the road heads into the eastern Alpujarras. We turned south and headed through a pass out of the Alpujarras into the coastal plain and Berja. As we approached Berja we began to see increasing signs of plasticultura (growing fruit and vegetables under plastic). This has created a hideous landscape of plastic (below) which covers many square miles along the stretch of coast to Almería – a huge contrast to the scenery of the Alpujarras.
(1) ‘Spain plans switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050’, www.guardian.com, 13 November 2018. By 2019 the town hall and many buildings in Lanjarón sported banners ‘Di No a las Torres de Alta Tension en La Alpujarra‘ (say no to the pylons) in response to plans for new lines of pylons through the area. This was covered just before our 2019 visit in ‘Pylon row: Andalucían residents oppose electrical highway’, http://www.guardian.com 10 March 2019. On 26 November 2020 the Olive Press reported that the plans had been scuppered by the Junta de Andalucía refusing permission for one of the substations which would feed the pylons, much to the joy of the campaigners.
(2) It turns out that the local librarian was a Cervantes enthusiast and the library holds a large collection of Don Quijote editions. (info from http://www.conjamonspain.com). The sculpture is by local author Jose Vera.
(3) In the western Alpujarras the streams join the Rio Guadalféo which flows into the Mediterranean at Salobreña. In the central Alpujarras streams join the Rio Grande through a gap between the southern mountain ranges to reach the sea at Adra. To the east is the valley of the Rio Andarax, which flows into the sea at Almería.
(4) Since our meeting Cristobal passed away in January 2021. However, information about the artist and his work can still be found at www.alpujarra-granada.com/the-quiet-magician and www.cristobalhoare.com .
Getting there – From Málaga there are regular express coach services to Granada taking 1.5 to 2 hours, operated by Alsa. Plenty of time should be allowed at Granada to change buses, in case of delays. The fare (October 2021) is €11.83 (offers sometimes available) and tickets can be booked online at www.alsa.com , or via the Alsa app – You can choose your seats online. They can also be bought prior to departure at the Alsa ticket windows or machines at Málaga and Granada bus stations, but the route is busy, last-minute bookers may not get on the first departure and the machines take a little getting used to. You will need your NIE or passport number when booking.
Alsa also operate the services from Granada to the Alpujarras. These are local buses and, while the other options are available, there was no problem getting a ticket at Granada half an hour before departure. Apart from Granada bus station, at all other stops pay the driver. Please also note that there is no guarantee of an on-board toilet on these buses.
There are eight daily buses (six at weekends) from Granada to Lanjarón and Órgiva. The journey time varies considerably depending on village calls en route The departures from Granada at 1000, 1200 and 1630 daily continue to Capileira and high Alpujarra villages (the destination is Berchules, Alcutar or Trevélez). The departure at 0830 daily calls Lanjarón at 1000 and reaches Ugíjar at 1200. Later departures from Granada to Ugíjar are at 1445 (Mon-Fri) and 1700 (daily). The fare from Granada to Lanjarón is €4.43, Órgiva €5.30 and Capileira €6.34. The fare from Lanjarón to Ugíjar is €6.89.
Return buses depart Capileira for Granada at 0715, 1655 and 1835 daily. Journey time is upwards of two hours. For a visit to Trevélez buses leave Capileira at 1215 and 1430 and return from Trevélez at 1600 and 1735. The journey time is 45 minutes and the single fare is €1.92. From Capileira the fare to Órgiva is €1.20 and to Lanjarón is €1.92.
The onward bus from Ugíjar to Almería departs at 1430 (Saturday and Sunday only – this used to be daily and this may be a temporary Covid measure, but the other services have returned to their normal frequency. Please check), changing at Berja and the through fare is €7.15. There is also a departure from Ugíjar at 0830 Mon-Fri.
We didn’t have the opportunity, but the National Park Interpretation Centre run a minibus into the mountains above Capileira several times daily during the summer months, providing access to mountain paths. Enquire at their office which is next to the bus stop in Capileira
The swimming pool at Finca los Llanos
We stayed in Hotel Finca los Lllanos, which is the largest hotel in the village and popular with walking groups. We were impressed, as noted in the main text. The other hotel is Hotel Real de Poqueira by the church in the centre of the village. In both cases try to get a room with a balcony and view as the scenery is worth it. There are a range of other hostals and apartments in Capileira. In Lanjarón we stayed at the Hotel Nuevo Palas which is reasonably priced, central and comfortable. We booked through booking.com.
You will be given a free tapa with each drink. If you don’t want one, tell the staff when you order a drink. Be aware that, given the local specialities, a high proportion of tapas will involve bits of pig, and cheese is also fairly common.
Weather and mountain walking
Be aware that the altitude means that weather in the villages can be colder than nearer the coast, particularly in the evenings. Low cloud is common as is snow in winter. Come prepared. Anyone intending to walk in the mountains should wear suitable clothing and footwear.
Sources and further information.
The sources for the factual information are Wikipedia in English, www.en.wikipedia.org , Wikipedia in Spanish, www.es.wikipedia.org (any mistakes in translation from Spanish are my own) and The Rough Guide to Andalucía, Geoff Harvey and Mark Ellingham, 9th edition, Rough Guides, 2018.
Anyone interested in the area should read South from Granada by Gerald Brennan (1957), an account of his life in the Alpujarran village of Yegen in the 1920s. Much is recognisable today. Chris Stewart has written a series of books describing his life since his family settled near Órgiva, beginning with Driving Over Lemons (1999). Last Days of the Bus Club (left), Sort Of Books (2014) is the most recent and fourth in the series.
Maps: The map (below) is from the Michelin Touring Atlas of Spain & Portugal, 2018 edn. 1:400,000 scale. A paper map at the same scale is available, No.578 España Sur. Michelin map 124 Costa del Sol, 1:200,000 scale includes the area. In all three maps the area is split by the atlas pages or the main horizontal fold in the map. Walking maps of the area, including the Spanish equivalent of Ordnance Survey are available locally.
Photos: All photos are by Steve Gillon except for the following: Granada Bus Station is credited to Teléfono Atención Cliente; Lanjarón to Caballo Blanco Trekking Centre; Bubión to andalucia rustica; and Alpujarran rugs to Trip Advisor. These were sourced via Google Images. The photographs of Capileira at night are by Stuart Hannaford. The final two photos of Trevelez are by Ken Donald.
Copyright © Steve Gillon 2018, 2019, 2021