Nerja and the Alpujarras, Andalucia
Advice for walkersDetailed walking maps do not
Alpujarras village scene
View over the Alpujarras landscape
in and vegetation make this even more necessary. The dry limestone hills are cut into by gorges with precipitous sides. Dried up stream beds may lead to dried up waterfalls! And the hillsides may appear quite open for walking from a distance, but many slopes are cloaked with a tangle of vicious thorny scrub and tough (but aromatic) rosemary and other scented bushes. These can be unforgiving for those wearing shorts!
Perhaps it is because there are relatively few hillpaths, that maps are hard to come by. What seem to be good well-trodden routes can simply disappear into the scrub, only to reappear later if you are fortunate. Markings of red paint are used to indicate the path.
In mid-summer particularly, it is important to try to set out early, around dawn, to gain height before the sun heats the air. It is vital to take plenty of liquid as well as sufficient food, and to leave word of the destination and expected time of return. The dryness of the conditions also make it vital to avoid risk of fire, which can have devastating consequences in areas such as this.
This advice should not put off the keen walker, because there are some magnificent views to be enjoyed - not least from the hill immediately behind El Capistrano village, which can be reached by anyone of reasonable fitness. It is intended to encourage caution and respect for the mountains.
Highlights of Nerja
A delightful path runs along the foot of the cliffs between the Playa Burriana (the closest beach to El Capistrano) and the Balcon d'Europa, linking a number of small sheltered beaches. It is an easy 20 minutes' walk. The Tourist Information Centre is at the top of the path beside the Balcon d'Europa.
The Balcon d'Europa is the place where everyone in the town seems to gather in the evenings, with entertainments (check for details at the information centre), portrait painters, ice cream stalls, and more. The views along the coast and inland to the mountains overlooking Nerja are glorious. Just past the Church, into the Calle Diputacion, is the local street market.
These famous caves are actually at Maro, a couple of miles east of Nerja, and should not be missed. The Caves are made up of a series of caverns, one of enormous proportions, providing a mind-numbing display of natural artistic forms above and below. If you've spent a bit too long on the beach the previous day, this is one way to cool off. Sometimes the caves are used as a natural theatre for concerts - it's worth checking to see.
The caves can be reached by bus, or by an easy walk from El Capistrano which takes in the spectacular Puento de Aguila aqueduct. This and several other easy walks around Nerja are described in "Twelve Walks Around Nerja" by Elma and Denis Thomson, available from W H Smiffs.
Walk to Nerja Caves (allow an hour from El Capistrano)
Follow the Via Romana (just below the main swimming pool) eastwards towards the Fuente del Baden holiday village, then continue along the track to the right, beside the boundary wall, which becomes a sunken pathway. At a T-junction turn right up the old remnant of a Roman road, then left alongside the ruined wall of an old sugar mill, heading straight ahead past a white hut to the edge of the gorge, or barranco. A track bends down to the bed of the gorge, and up the other side. To the right is the slender outline of the aqueduct, which seems an enormous construction to carry a relatively narrow channel of water to irrigate the crops. The gorge is dry, and the terrain made up of angular limestone pavement. Beyond the gorge, the track crosses a pipeline before joining the road, which bends round towards the gate leading to the cave complex.
Touring further afield
This beautiful village is only 15 minutes' drive away, and can easily be reached from Nerja by bus. If going by car, you'll find parking on a terrace just below (to the left of) the main road in the centre of the town. There are views from here across the fertile valley to the south. The town is built on a ridge between two valleys, and the magnificent old town centre rises up above the road with its maze of narrow streets between white-painted houses enlivened with flower baskets. It's well worth the walk up to the viewpoint amongst the houses, looking over the red-tiled roofs to the countryside beyond. A series of wall tiles tell the story of the struggle between the Moorish inhabitants and the Christian government in the sixteenth century. The characteristic architectural style has been recreated in the buildings of Capistrano village.
The valley extending into the hills to the north-east is the Higueron, reached by a steep concreted roadway which zig-zags down from the west side of the village. You may, like us, see the goatherd coming to milk the goats, atop a mule. The greenery, flowing water, and shade of the valley are a welcome relief on a hot day. The huertos, or small market gardens, found in gorges such as this, and on the west side of Nerja, are typical of the more arid parts of Spain, predating the larger irrigated areas visible on the coastal plains.
If returning to Nerja by the same route, the one-way system involves driving up a narrow road with a sudden steep incline - take care. Alternatively the road through the town continues to wind north-west along the hillsides, with ever changing views, before descending to Torrox and then the main coast road about 5 miles west of Nerja.
2. The Alhambra, Granada
The Alhambra should be a "must" for anyone visiting this part of Spain. The magnificence of this Moorish palace is quite indescribable, made up of a series of superbly ornate chambers and courtyards, with a magical intermingling of carved stone, water and light. It is advisable to read up about it before visiting, if possible. Once there, you will find it difficult to tear your eyes from the beauty of the place to check the background in the guidebook. You should also have a bite to eat and a drink before entering the palace, as the tour takes some time. The ticket (650 ptas for adults, children 8 and under are free) specifies the time to enter the main palace buildings, allowing time to explore the fortress and gardens.
The easiest route - around 70 miles (2 hours) from Nerja - is by the coast road to Salobrena, then north on the N323 which follows the Rio Guadalfeo through a dramatic chasm cut through the coastal mountains, with cliffs rising 2000 feet on either side. Further on, the river is to be held back by a massive dam. The Alhambra lies to the east of the city, and is well signposted. There is ample parking at the gates, where the ticket office is situated. The Alhambra can be combined with a visit to the city of Granada itself, or a drive up the highest road in Europe - there won't be time for both.
We chose the high road to the Sierra Nevada, which is clearly signed from the new access road to the Alhambra. It seems to wind on and on forever, but is seldom unnerving. Eventually the skiing facilities can be seen ahead, and the road continues around and above these, across a barren rocky moonscape, right up to the 11,000 foot Pico Veleta. It is only slightly below Spain's highest mountain, Mulhacen, which can be seen just to the east. Only a few feet of walking are required to reach the precipitous summit ridge - but it's quite safe if you stop before the edge. The views are stupendous, but often hazy in mid-summer. Remember to take something warm to wear, even when it's hot down below. Apparently the road continues from the junction just below the peak, along the ridge then down to Pampaneira in the Alpujarras (see below). We had been advised that it deteriorates into a steep dirt track, and decided to return the way we had come - which made for a lengthy day out.
(For an alternative perspective on Mulhacen, read the story "Pilgrimage to Mulhacen")
An alternative route back turns off the N323 about 10 miles south of Granada, climbing over Sierra del Chaparral at a height of almost 4000 feet and descending to Almunecar, with fine views towards the coast. It would make a good alternative for those who choose to spend part of the day in the city, but after climbing the Sierra Nevada and back we decided on the main road back.
The Alpujarras is the name of the long valley lying between the Sierra Nevada to the north, and the Sierra de la Contraviesa which separates it from the coast east of Nerja. It is one of the most distinctive areas of Andalusia, having provided sanctuary for the Moorish inhabitants in the 16th century before they were driven out. The architecture of the villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira, high on the southern slopes of the Pico Veleta, is even more remarkable than that of Frigliana. Even though these are within comfortable driving distance of the coast, and have a number of restaurants, hotels and gift shops, the character of the settlements has been retained, and it is possible to wander to and fro along the narrow alleyways, beneath stone-and-timber archways, to viewpoints overlooking the valley and discover a real sense of timelessness.
Other villages lie further to the east - including Trevelez, the highest in Spain at around 5000 feet - but we were content to drive to these three neighbouring settlements, around 60 miles (2 hours) from Nerja. We followed the road to Granada again, turning right for Lanjaron - source of one of Spain's best known mineral waters. The hillsides further on are shaped into terraces for olive and almond trees. The next town of Orgiva offered a choice of shops to buy bread, cheese, ham, and pastries, for a picnic by the roadside a few miles higher up. Although winding for mile after mile, the route presented no difficulties. On the return we turned south at Orgiva, then along the south side of the valley, before rejoining the main road near the new dam construction area at Velez de Benaudalia.
Beaches along the coast to the east of Nerja offer the chance to cool off after a day's driving inland, or destinations in themselves. There are several signposted from the main road, some easier to reach than others, but generally with good sand. We enjoyed the small beach at Maro, just a couple of miles away near the Nerja caves, and another near Almunecar.
(To order the stories by name, date, country or type click on the appropriate heading)
|Pilgrimage to Mulhacen, Andalucia, Spain||Spain||High hills and mountain hikes||09/11/2010|
|Tragalamocha, El Capistrano, Nerja, Spain||Spain||Countryside and easy hill walks||27/10/2006|
|Cielo (1508m), Sierra de Almijara, near Nerja, Spain||Spain||High hills and mountain hikes||18/09/2006|