La Alpujarra, Andalucía
Located in the south of Spain, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the city of Granada and the sea, La Alpujarra is not actually one place but the name given to the collective group of small white towns and villages that you will find there. These towns have been around for hundreds of years and are small because they are nestled into the mountain side together with terraced farming from the time of the Moors in southern Spain. Given the geographical location and natural resources available, it is hard to expand both housing and industry in this region, making the towns a quaint place to visit.
You will find just over 24,000 people (2017 census) in almost 40 small towns. The largest towns will have a couple thousand people but the smallest struggle to have 150 year-round residents. In the summer or the winter people come from larger cities around Spain to their country-side houses or cortijos in the Alpujarras and many of the towns rely on tourism to survive.
We highly recommend visiting at least some of these small cities (you can see our recommendations below) to get an idea of what life looks like in the Spanish mountainside. Be warned that there is not a lot to do but you will enjoy massive plates of food and homely restaurants, artisan crafts, and traditional Spanish people! We also recommend checking out some of the hiking in the area as it ranges from very light to more intense but is a good way to spend a weekend.
Fun Fact: When the Moors were kicked out of cities like Granada, they moved into the mountains to escape from the ‘Catholic Kings.’ When they were kicked out of the mountains as well, two Moorish families stayed in each city to make sure the new inhabitants understood how to take care of the land. If you have the opportunity to visit La Alpujarra you will see why this is so important as the steep terrain needs special terracing to make it farmable. The processes that are still used today can often be traced back to traditional methods shared hundreds of years ago by the Moors.
Transport options to arrive: Bus or Car
You can arrive by bus from Granada, Málaga, Almería, and Motril. However, we would recommend going by car if you can because you can control your visit so much more. In addition, if you have any sort of motion sickness, traveling by car means that you can take frequent breaks on the windy roads. Whether you go by bus or by car, it is important to keep in mind that you will be traveling through mountains, so plan accordingly.
Recommended time of year to visit: At different times of the year, La Alpujarra has different encanto or charm to offer. We highly recommend going any time of the year because the towns are worth visiting and give a nice break from the city life. If you are in the province of Granada for a longer period of time, heading up into the mountains during the summer can provide a nice break from the heat you will find in the cities! During the winter, the mountains will most likely be snow capped and you can enjoy winter feeling that you probably won’t find in the city centers.
Recommended length of visit: Depending on where you leave from, you can easily go to visit the Alpujarra for the afternoon. Still, we would recommend aiming to spend a whole weekend as a really nice mini-getaway with decent weather and great views year-round. You can easily book an AirBnb in some of the larger towns and many places are within walking distance of each other, making for easy exploring.
Top Three Must-sees:
1. Los molinos: While you will see the wind farms winding up the mountain as you go up to La Alpujarras, if you have the chance to go by car and get out, we would recommend stopping by the windmills. If you have never seen modern windmills up close and personal, you will be surprised and intrigued by these massive structures. And you get really close to take a picture or even touch them from the main road.
2. Pampaneira, Bubión, and Capileira: These small towns are actually some of the largest in all of the Alpujarras and what we love about them is that they are close enough to easily walk from one. The trails connecting them have raspberries and other mountain fruits in the fall but are generally beautiful all year round. As the largest towns, they are also some of the most touristy, but are still super fun, and have all sorts of Alpujarra goods such as handmade rugs, jewelry, and food to try.
3. Soportújar: Slightly off the beaten path and less touristy, this cute little village has access to some great hiking routes (such as one that leads to a Buddhist temple). This location caters to the small town itself and hikers passing through but you can also find small restaurants that cater to the locals for a hot cup of coffee or tortilla de patatas. Also, one thing we love is that it has some fun witches that overlook the valley while they brew up potions.
One Thing to Eat:
The Plato Alpujarreño is a classic dish that will definitely fill you up. Made with potatoes and eggs, this dish will often be accompanied by jamón, chorizo, and morcilla (the Spanish version of blood sausage). Trust us when we say that you might not want to eat this on a hot day but during winter the Plato Alpujarreño will stick to your ribs in all the right ways.
If you are looking for something sweet, however, we have to tell you about the homemade chocolate at Abuela ili or a chocolate factory in Pampaneira that has delicious chocolates and other goodies. Some of our favorites include chocolate-covered oranges and almond-stuffed, chocolate-covered figs as gifts for your loved ones (or your snack home).