Thursday, 8 November 2012

Walking in Spain's Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada

Walking in Spain’s Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra

For the past ten years since we bought our mountain ”cortio” in Spain’s Sierra NevadaMountains and Alpujarra, we have enjoyed exploring the hills and mountains just south of Granada.  Since 2004 we have been organising walking holidays here as Mountain House Holidays though we also operate a guiding service as Sierra Nevada Guides and are the only qualified British International Mountain Leaders operating in the Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Sierra Nevada boasts mainland Spain’s highest mountain, Mulhacen at 3482m.  The southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada are known as the Alpujarra an area great for hill walking, especially in the winter months when the high mountains are covered in snow.

Walking is possible in the Alpujarra all year round though from mid June until the end of August it is too hot for most people. However when the sun is out even in mid winter we have been stripped down to T shirts. 

Alpujarra Street
This part of Spain was ruled for centuries by Muslim kings and was colonised by Berbers from the Atlas mountains of Morocco.  The architecture of the villages is identical to those of the Atlas mountains.  However the tradition here is to paint the houses white and the villages look stunning adorning the hillsides, prettiest of all being Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira.

The Sierra Nevada has been described as like Cairngorm with altitude! Unless you enjoy winter mountaineering or snowshoeing, the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada are best avoided in the winter months and spring. The high mountains start to become accessible again from mid June and remain so most years into November.

Gentians and "The Star of The Snows"
The area is a national park and is famous for it’s wildlife. There are many endemic species in addition to those shared with other areas. This is because of the huge variation in altitude with climatic zones from Mediterranean to Alpine. Here it is almost certain that if you know where to go you will see eagles and vultures circling above you.

The walking can be varied too, encountering terraces of almond blossom, chestnut woodland and oak forests. There is even an extensive forest of Scots Pine!  In the high mountains as the snow retreats in summer the ground becomes carpeted with Gentians and a local version of the Edelweiss known as the Star of the Snows.

The pretty white villages all have water fountains to replenish drinking bottles and there are many wayside “fuente” too, some famous for their mineral waters and even fizzy.

Enjoying the December Sunshine
February, March, April and May are nice times to visit the Alpujarra as the land is green with new plant growth.  Easter in this area brings traditional processions of statues from the local churches through the narrow streets thronged with crowds.

Summer though hot in the valley, is a great time to walk the higher peaks of The Sierra Nevada. Sun is almost guaranteed in the summer and we have never had to wear a waterproof jacket though occasionally a windproof.  Up high the temperature will be between 15 and 20 degrees during the summer though can drop considerably in high winds.

"Cabra de Monte" Iberian Ibex
Autumn is a good time for both the Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada.  The tourists disappear, everywhere becomes quieter though the warm weather stays. The weather does become changeable but not to the extent that it rules out walking.

Footpaths are not well marked though the maps available are adequate and there are several guidebooks detailing the walking that can be bought in the U.K.

Our walking holidays take advantage of our local knowledge of the best walks ensuring that no day is wasted. For those organising their own holidays, there are a selection of our favourite walks available to download from our Sierra Nevada Guides website.