Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Snowshoeing Holidays and Day Hikes in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Snowshoeing Holidays and Day Hikes in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Although this is Southern Spain and close to the Mediterranean and Africa, The Sierra Nevada boasts Europe’s most southerly ski resort and mainland Spain’s highest mountain, Mulhacen 3482m above sea level. As an indication, the ski season usually starts here at the end of November and finishes in May with a celebration of skiing in the morning and swimming in the sea in the afternoon! However there are sometimes during the season when the snow starts to get a bit thin though we can usually find somewhere to snowshoe.

In the forest above Capileira

The joy of exploring the Sierra Nevada on snowshoes is that the area is mainly undeveloped, so unlike alpine ski resorts you can get a real feel of wilderness away from crowds, ski lifts and prepared snow slopes. Our snowshoeing days start from one of the pretty high villages (usually with coffee) before heading up dirt track roads as high as possible into the snow. Occasionally we have to walk a bit before putting on snowshoes but often we can snowshoe from the car.

Our routes usually start up through the forests before gaining the open slopes above the tree line. On the majority of days we enjoy blue skies and sunshine which is a distinct advantage over the traditional alpine resorts, though if the weather is poor we can always walk the spectacular paths in the Alpujarra (the lower southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada).

On our snowshoeing holidays we like to spend a night up at the Poqueira Refuge (2500m) which although bunk accommodation has a good dining room, bar and made all the better by the log fire.

Views of Mulhacen on the way to The Poqueira Refuge

Perfect snow and blue sky!

Snowshoeing is a little more strenuous than normal walking, but we are often walking over terrain where it would be impossible to walk without either snow shoes or touring skis. That said the normal snowshoeing day is around 10am until 4pm though shorter if conditions dictate.

In short, snowshoeing is good fun; sociable and takes you to places not normally visited in the winter months. The owners of Mountain House Holidays, Mike and Jane are all International Mountain Leaders, the qualification recognized in Spain (and internationally) for being a snowshoeing Guide.

In addition to their guided snowshoeing holiday, Mountain House Holidays are offering guided snowshoe hikes in the Sierra Nevada from 
50 Euro’s per person including the hire of snowshoes.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Bird Watching in The Alpujarra

Bird Watching in The Alpujarra

This years grape harvest was poor in The Alpujarra with many bunches of grapes shriveling up or bunches with only 5 or 6 grapes. As a consequence, many of the “frugal” bunches were left unpicked awaiting our annual pruning session in mid December.  This coupled with a long, hotter than normal Autumn meant that not only did we have the normal birds hanging around, but that we even had a surprise visitor that we have not seen in the 11 years we have been here. A Sardinian Warbler which spent a lot of time feeding on the unpicked grapes. Even when we did finally prune the vines, we left the grapes dangling and were rewarded visitations from Robins and Blue Tits in addition to the Sardinian Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler feeding on grapes at Finca Montaña

Our House, Finca Montaña is 1300m above sea level and it can get quite cool up here in the late autumn and winter. Snow doesn’t usually last more than 3 days as it’s always warm when the sun is out. However the night time temperature does often get down to around -8 degrees centigrade. That said our winter resident birds include: Golden Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Kestrels, Larks (crested and Sky), Black Eared Wheatears, Black Caps, Stone Chats, Robins, Blue Tits, Jays, Magpies and Ravens. A little above us (in the Juniper) we have Ring Ouzels (from around 2100m). But never before a Sardinian Warbler.

We are now planning to leave bunches of grapes every year in the hope of attracting more birds.

Black-eared Wheatear at Finca Montaña

In Summer the list of birds to be seen expands dramatically to include Egyptian Vulture's, Hoopoe's, Bee Eaters and various swifts and Swallows to name a few. 

Higher up on the mountain tops we are rewarded with Alpine Accentors which are remarkably tame on the summit of Mulhacen 3482 (mainland Spain’s highest mountain) where they have got used to being amongst people and feeding off the crumbs and remnants of sandwiches.

Alpine Accentor on Mulhacen
Spring is a good time to visit with both the migratory birds passing through and the summer visitors arriving. Finca Montaña is ideally placed for bird watching, situated very remote, in its own 5 acres of grounds but surrounded by mostly undeveloped natural mountain side and a few small holdings still mainly farmed in a traditional way.

Mike and Jane who own Finca Montaña provide a full board package from £30 per night.  As qualified International Mountain Leaders they also offer guided walks and treks in The Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada.