Granada and The Sierra Nevada
Europe is like a giant puzzle made of seemingly random pieces from 50 different puzzles. In the last four years I've collected a sizeable amount of those puzzle pieces in my passport, yet there was a giant bull themed piece missing from pages: Spain. A puzzle within itself, Spain is made of 19 Autonomous communities further divided into 50 provinces of various dialects, food and geography. As a traveller, how do you start putting together such a complicated puzzle?
With the biggest piece, Andalusia. The home of Flamenco, Tapas, Bull Fighting and the highest mountain in continental Spain, Andalucia was the easy choice for where my wife and I would start adding Spanish pieces to our puzzle.
Granada sits on the eastern portion of Andlausia and is the perfect place to start a Spanish adventure. It is quintessentially Spanish with bars flowing onto the streets at dusk with Rioja and free tapas, cobbled streets lined by white washed houses, musicians playing on street corners and the Alhambra palace. Created over 1,100 years ago, the Alhambra Palace is a Nasrid "Palace City" created over 1,100 years ago and still stands as the jewel of the Andalucian crown.
Along the lower western flanks of the Alhambra runs a small stream, the Darro. and it's accompanying road, the Carrera del Darro, feels like the quietest place in Granada. The birds chirp and the flowers blossom as the river quietly rambles below. A poet sits on one of the bridges plying his art on an old typewriter nearly every day. The click clack of the keys seemlessly blend into the neighbouring sounds while below him, cats nurse their kittens on the drier parts of the river bank, hoping for a few flakes of fallen ice cream cone.
Granada is also a great place to throw away the map and wander. The old town is relatively small, and the least well known sites are still spectacular. Small squares abound, fountains are everywhere and some of the best Tapas bars cannot be found in guide books or tourist brochures. Just be sure to leave a trail of bread crumbs so you can find your way home after a few too many Tinto de Verano (red wine mixed with Lemon Fanta).
The Alpujarras and The Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevadas, the Snowy Range, lie just a 2 hour bus ride east of Granada. Criss crossed by many hiking trails, most notably the GR7 (Senderos de Gran Recorrido / Sentiers de Grandes Randonées / Great Hiking Trails), the southern part of the range is home to some of the more well known hillside white towns such as Capileira and Trevélez. These hillside towns, Alta Alpujarra, were orignally founded by the Berbers who brought with them the typicaly shaped houses and town layouts of their native North Africa.
The Sierra Nevadas are also home to Mulhacén. At 3,478m, Mulhacén is the highest mountain on continental Spain, and there was no way I was going to get this close and not attempt to reach the summit. Rather than heading directly up to the peak I decided it would be far more enjoyable to spend three days exploring the Alpujarras. They also provide a great way to stay stocked up on supplies and avoid having to carry three days worth of food on my back. Every small town has at least a small corner store, if not a supermarket. There are also communal water fountains providing fresh water so there is no need to ever carry more than one litre of water at a time.
I chose to spend the first day walking between the three villages of the Poquiera Valley: Pampaneira, Bubion, and Capileira. The three towns are easily connected by direct trail but I chose to hike along the opposite side of the valley in order to take in the views a little better, crossing over the the valley to get up close and personal with the towns. After reaching Capileira, the highest of the three towns, the trail took me from the Poquiera valley into the Trevélez valley. Passing by fields of Broom, Rockrose and French Lavender
After Trevélez, home of some of the best Jamón in Spain, the trail turned uphill through holm oak forests and old farming houses, passing by rock horse corrals and myriad streams trickling down hill providing further chances for fresh water. The last stop of interest at 2,900m are the Siete Lagunas. Nestled in a col surrounded by the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, it provides a great contrast to the stark grey rock of the surrounding peaks. I waited out sunset over Granada on the peak and was there for a lonely sunrise the next morning.
Come back soon for further adventures from Andalusia including Ronda, Jeréz, Seville and more!