Updated: Feb 27
See my series of YouTube Vlogs on this trip here
It’s been a while since I blogged, I’d fully intended to whilst on my last trip but couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm on this occasion. So now, having arrived back in the UK Sunday and having returned to work Monday, I’m starting to assimilate what I’d experienced over the past two weeks. That sounds a little dramatic, after all I’d only been to Spain, yet for me this had been harder and more life changing than the trek to Everest Base Camp.
Apart from feeling a strong connection to the Alpujarras region of Spain, I’m not quite sure why it made me feel this way. Perhaps it’s because it reminded me of one of my many big mistakes in life.
In 2007 I’d bought a small cortijo with two hectares of land high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was intent on going to live there, off grid, away from the hustle of F1. Alas I had a big car accident up there in 2009, it was quite traumatic, and I thought I’d never return, so sold the place a year later. I so regret it now! Never will I get the opportunity to buy such a place again. To boot, I lost a lot of money on the transaction.
When I saw a Facebook post by a friend of a friend, who was looking for help with her horses in the area during August, I had to take the opportunity!
Amanda and Andy’s farm is deep in the rugged hills of the Alpujarras region. Las Alpujarras are on the Southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The Sierra Nevada’s of Spain boast the peak of Mulhacen, mainland Spain’s highest point, at nearly 3500 metres on the Eastern end of the range, along with some other similarly sized mountains. The terrain on the East-West range in South-East Spain is quite varied, from Alpine covered hills, to rugged, eroded, iron rich rocky mountains.
Geologically, I find these mountains very interesting even beguiling, the uplift caused by the African tectonic plate pushing into the Eurasian plate, starting around one million years ago. With the steep valleys and weathered and eroded gorges and peaks, it’s beautiful in a rugged and functional kind of way.
How I’d love to return in a few million more years to see the Mediterranean close right up, pushing the mountains even higher.
The rock is varied, from sedimentary to metamorphic, with considerable erosion having occurred over the years. They fascinate me, just a short walk can be mesmerising, and fills me with wonder. The uplift is so evident in the multi-coloured layers of rock. As usual, it is impossible to capture the essence of this so alive terrain in a photograph.
The first two weeks of August are very hot, with the iron rich rocks soaking up and slowly releasing the sun’s heat, it can be considerably hotter in the valleys than in some of the surrounding higher villages.
My destination, Cortijo Los Plumas, is in such a valley. Occasionally, when the clouds are gathering in the surrounding hills there can be a welcome cooling breeze but generally it is very still and hot. Sometimes humid too.
Nestled into the hills are small villages with white-washed flat roofed houses, a fascination in themselves with their narrow streets butting up to the doorsteps of the houses. It’s like going back in time. You can still find the locals using mules to ride from their village house to their out-of-town small-holding for a hard day’s work on their crops in the rocky dry, yet fertile soil.
Las Alpujarras is a historic area of Spain, evidence of ancient civilisations has been found and in more recent times it is thought to have been invaded by the Romans, around 2000 years ago. With the Berbers arriving around 1500 years ago, bringing the evident North African influence to the area.
Throughout the centuries the area has gone through several changes in the ethnic origins of its inhabitants. Around 500 years ago, when Spain was predominantly under Muslim rule, the Moors were forced to retreat to the hills after conflict with the Christians.
Currently the religion is predominantly Christian, but North Africans have started to populate the area again, travelling across the Med to work in the ugly greenhouses that populate the South Eastern foothills just inland from the coast. These greenhouses are where our fancy out-of-season fruit and vegetables are grown. So you can't complain!
It had also suffered but wasn't conquered, during the civil war and the Franco era.
These conflicts had until recently left Las Alpujarras more a back-water place to live. In recent years the Spanish youngsters have opted to move to the happening cities, leaving many buildings uninhabited and falling into disrepair.
We always want what we haven’t got, the Spanish moved out to the cities, the city dwellers of other European nations have moved into the oldy-worldy Alpujarras for a slower pace of life.
Very recently Las Alpujarras has had somewhat of a revival at the hands of the foreigners that have moved in. Attracted by village life or the hectares of land coming with the rural properties, the area has become a melting pot of British, German, Dutch, French and Spanish. Having reconstructed ruins and renovated dilapidated buildings, it has made quite a diverse community, and has brought some modernity to the area. With mains water and electricity in the villages, and off-grid living in the rural properties.
Living outside of the villages can be quite harsh, with the summer very hot and dry. Water is at a premium. There are many mountain streams and springs, these are fed into the ancient and intricate network of aquifers criss-crossing the area. Water rights are an important part of selecting a rural property, South of the Alpujarras is the Contraviesa region, which is a very arid region, more so than the Alpujarras.
The undulating rocky terrain can be isolating, you need a motor vehicle, preferably a 4x4, if you want to achieve any sort of normality of life.
My chance to be there permanently has been missed, this I regret. Having this chance was just so perfect for me. It’s rough, it’s tough, it’s rugged, but it does have a magnetism that is hard to describe!
If you get the chance, take a week or two in these mountains, you won’t regret it. You can book the hotel in Berchules, or a B&B in Mecina Bombaron, perhaps a remote AirBnB cortijo for a totally isolated chill-out. Rent a village house. There are many festivals in the villages, where you can sample the Alpujarran celebrations and Vino Verano!
The area is famous for dry-cured pork, and other Alpujarran dishes.
Hiking, Horse-Riding and Mountain Biking holidays available. Or go in winter, when there is skiing in the Sierra Nevada. The mountain roads are ideal for Road cycling and Motor cycling too. There are many options to have a chilled or active time!
The med is an hour away, and it's nearly downhill all the way on the winding mountain roads.