The Alpujarra is a corner of Andalucia which it often seems time forgot! It skirts the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the highest in mainland Spain, boasts stunning scenery, hot sunny weather and is a wonderful area for walking. During the spring and autumn months the surroundings are particularly beautiful; in spring the land is carpeted with a vast array of wild flowers and blossom adorns the fruit trees which are dotted around the slopes. In autumn leaves turn golden brown, the fruit ripens and trees are laden with the years harvest.
The area is characterised by steep valleys scoured by rivers and streams hurtling down the mountainside from the snow covered slopes above, many of which rise to over 3000 metres. Traditional farming has left a legacy of terraced valley sides dotted with small buildings or cortijos which were the summer residence of village farmers.
The Alpujarra was one of the last outposts of the Moors when they ruled Spain many years ago. They left a legacy of attractive villages, built in a style unique to this part of Spain, together with many miles of acequias, a complicated system of irrigation which remains to this day. One of our favourite walks is a circuit of the Taha gorge.
The Taha is a particularly special region of the central Alpujarra, characterised by stunning scenery, largely unspoilt villages, and typically Spanish farmland. Walking can be enjoyed at all times of the year, particularly when the weather in high mountains is less appealing. The Rio Trevelez has scoured it’s way en route to the sea, to form a rocky gorge. The result is majestic scenery; steep-sided rock faces, over which goats can often be seen or heard seeking out a meal, and in the past the water from the river has been used as a source of power; the remains of two water mills are seen in the valley.
Walking a circuit of the gorge, we are are given glimpses of the mountains surrounding Trevelez, Spain’s highest village. Although the Taha is comparatively low lying, the rocky environment is in many ways similar to that of the mountains, giving the impression of remoteness and grandure. The scenery on the southern side gradually changes to become more Mediterranean as the limestone replaces the volcanics of the valley. Here we can enjoy almond and olive groves, hear the insects buzzing and laze in the balmy shade of pine trees. There is evidence of mining along the road above the gorge; mercury was mined in the area, although usually on a small scale. If you have a torch you can poke your head onto one of these however, be very careful, they are likely to be dangerous!! The woods provide a pleasant respite from the heat of the sun in summer and can be a good picnic spot.
Paths zig-zag steeply towards the valley floor, at times quite vertiginous and giving brilliant views of the gorge and villages, they demonstrate an amazing feat of Roman engineering. At the right time of year you can either enjoy a ‘snack’ from the occasional fig tree, whose aroma will great you along the way, or marvel at the water spilling over the valley sides to the torrent below. After around an hour of downhill walking you come to a bridge, again almost certainly Roman in origin, alongside which are the remains of a mill, powered by the water of the Rio Trevelez, which has scoured out some striking rock formations in the rocky gorge.
Beyond the river, the path turns left and begins to climb steeply to the first of the Taha villages. The vegetation on this side of the valley is very different. Small plots of farmland interspersed with chestnuts, a variety of fruit trees, give a lush, green appearance to the landscape. Many of the fields are beautifully tended and give a flavour of what farming might have been like in much of Spain until recent years. As well as crops some plots have sheep, goats or horses, often guarded by a dog or two. On one occasion we stopped to watch a dog who had taken time off from ‘guarding’ to jaw fight with one of the goats just as our two dogs back home do – they had obviously become his pack!
As you enter one village you pass a pretty water fountain and a newly renovated house with lovely wooden door. Many of the houses in the Taha villages have been recently renovated and the local council has been awarded an internationally recognised certificate for its environmental management. It is worth taking time to explore the maze of alleyways, noting the variety of tiled plaques used to name streets and look at water fountains or wash houses and some of the picturesque flower and plant arrangements which adorn balconies and porches. One village has an interesting ‘fuente’, decorated with poems describing lovers as they loiter while collecting water.
Many villages in the Alpujarra have a bar or two where at the end of a walk you can enjoy sitting outside for a refreshing beer and tapas (or if you choose to linger even longer, a meal) particularly if there are good views across the valley from the outside tables where you can share the experiences of the day and enjoy the setting sun.