Alpujarra: “the land known only unto its sons”

All Ways Spain – locals Pampaneira Alpujarra

Lying between the high peaks of the Sier­ra Neva­da range and the shores of the Mediter­ranean is a moun­tain­ous region called “La Alpu­jar­ra”, which until rel­a­tive­ly recent times was ignored by tourists and whose inhab­i­tants lived in an iso­la­tion per­haps best summed up as “a land known only unto its sons” by 19th cen­tu­ry trav­el writer Pedro Anto­nio de Alar­cón. Even in much of the 20th cen­tu­ry the area was still at least two days’ hard jour­ney by mule from the Grana­da as chron­i­cled in “South From Grana­da” by British author Ger­ald Bre­nan, who estab­lished him­self in the tiny vil­lage of Yegen in the 1920’s. It is only with the advent of the car that the Alpujarra’s charms have been unlocked, charms that were then more recent­ly broad­cast to a wider audi­ence by the writ­ings of a cur­rent-day suc­ces­sor to Alar­cón and Bre­nan, Chris Stew­art. His Alpu­jar­ran tril­o­gy, begin­ning with the best-sell­ing “Dri­ving Over Lemons”, firm­ly estab­lished the region as a must-see des­ti­na­tion for the dis­cern­ing trav­el­er.

The town of Pam­paneira greets vis­i­tors with a plaque which proud­ly says “Trav­el­er, wel­come, come stay with us”. Many for­eign­ers, arriv­ing in the wake of Chris Stew­art, have tak­en this invi­ta­tion lit­er­al­ly and opened up busi­ness­es and put down roots all over the Alpu­jar­ra. In the main, the influx of out­siders has been well absorbed by the region and its reserved yet gen­er­ous peo­ple, although there are those who com­plain that the quin­tes­sen­tial char­ac­ter of the Alpu­jar­ra has been dilut­ed. Most of the changes vis­it­ed upon the area in the last thir­ty years are part and par­cel of mod­ern life – not even a remote cor­ner like this is immune from those – but most would say that the changes have gen­er­al­ly been pos­i­tive.

Once bur­dened by pover­ty and emi­gra­tion, the vil­lages of the Alpu­jar­ra now have a bet­ter chance of pro­vid­ing jobs for their youth thanks to the oppor­tu­ni­ties afford­ed by tourism, and improved trans­port links enable prod­ucts like wines and food­stuffs to be sold on a wider mar­ket. True enough, the local crafts – most­ly tex­tiles and ceram­ics — cling on pre­car­i­ous­ly in the face of stiff com­pe­ti­tion from cheap, mass-made sou­venirs, and there are envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns about the impact of con­struc­tion on pre­cious local resources, but the new life that tourism has breathed into the area has large­ly been moti­vat­ed by a respect for the essence of the Alpu­jar­ra. The uplift­ing land­scapes and almost spir­i­tu­al qual­i­ty that per­me­ates many cor­ners of the region, such as the Bud­dhist cen­tre Osel Ling, which com­mands almost Tibetan heights over the Poqueira Ravine, is reflect­ed in the num­ber of “new age” con­cerns offer­ing yoga, aro­mather­a­py, per­son­al devel­op­ment cours­es and the like.

These are pur­suits that encour­age one to unwind, enjoy the soli­tude that the moun­tains offer – in short, take your time. But, if your time is already tak­en, and your expe­ri­ence of the Alpu­jar­ra is like­ly to be lim­it­ed to just a few days, sev­er­al of our Sam­ple Itin­er­aries vis­it the region and offer guid­ed and self-guid­ed hikes that take you into its most attrac­tive cor­ners.