Friday, 6 December 2013

The Alpujarra and its 'white villages'

The Alpujarra is the Southern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalucia. It’s famed for being very picturesque as it’s mostly green, full of olive trees and gorgeous, authentic and charming little white villages that seem to snuggle up to the side of the mountains.

The architecture in these villages is very unique. The houses are built from materials that can be found in the area such as stone, mud, slate and chestnut trees.  They are all orientated so they can take advantage of the sunshine. The houses are built on top of each other following the side of the hill so the streets are all narrow, chaotic and zig-zaggy.

In the old days the houses were camouflaged so it was hard to spot them but nowadays all the houses are white. It happened for two reasons, one is the sun. During the summer months it gets really hot here and the white paint reflects the sun’s heat back keeping the inside nice and cool. The other is that they use lime on the walls that disinfects them and keeps the insects away. They painted all the houses white and when the sun reaches a village and it lights up, all shiny and white, it’s a sight to behold.

There’s another important thing I have to mention here, the canals. These canals are very old, some says the Moors came up with the idea, some attribute them to the Romans. According to the most popular belief the Romans made them first and the Moors perfected them. They capture the water and lead them through in the side of the mountains providing water for plants, animals and men alike. To build these was an amazing engineering feat and even after hundreds of years people still enjoy their benefits.

The most picturesque of these white villages are Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. These three villages lie on the side of the hill one after another, Capileira being the highest of them. This is where we started our journey up to Mulhacen so we had a chance to look around.

I would also mention the town of Trevelez, which we only saw from above. Apparently this is the highest village in Spain. They say that between its lowest and highest point there’s a 200m difference! We didn’t have the opportunity to visit but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Finally, a book recommendation. A few weeks ago I read a book about life in the Alpujarra from the perspective of a British expat, Chris Stewart. He writes about his adventures about this region in his book called ‘Drive over lemons’. He gives a charming account of his struggles in this new environment introducing the area and its people. A lovely read for everybody.

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