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Spain: Las Alpujarras

In late August 2019, I visited the western Alpujarras, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, where I traveled from the city of Granada to the small town of Lanjarón, about 50km southwest of Granada. Lanjarón is famous throughout Spain for the local spring that is historically purported to have healing properties and which provides the basis for many local spas, health resorts and provides the bottled water sold throughout Andalusia. Lanjarón and many of the towns along the steep hillsides of the Alpujarra are nestled against the towering slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range above. You can read about my visit to nearby city of Granada here. Las Alpujarras are distinguished for the steeply wooded hillsides and narrow gorges, with naturally-occurring mountain springs providing water for orchards and farmsteads, and where the larger valleys provide shelter for the small villages that are dotted along the hillsides. The white-washed houses, half-hidden among the steep cliffs and accessible only by narrow, twisting roads are typical of the region and part of the reason for its settlement.

In 1492, the Castilian army of Queen Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon finally took the city of Granada, the last stronghold of Moorish rule in Andalusia and the end of the Nasrid emirs and their dynasty. To the largely Islamic population who remained in Granada the occupation of the city by Castillian forces meant the enforcement of Christianity as the only religion. Those among the Moorish population of Granada who refused to convert to Christianity fled into the nearby hillsides and harsh terrain of the Alpujurras. Once within those steep gorges, the remaining Moorish groups refused to convert to Catholicism and through harnessing the mountain springs and building irrigation networks as they had done with Granada, the rebellious Moorish communities became self-sufficient amid the harsh hillsides, aided by largely inaccessible slopes and the network of trade routes that crossed the Alpujarras and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Eventually, much like the remainder Andalusia, Las Alpujarras fell under the dominion of the Catholic Spanish kingdom but the Moorish past is imprinted on the landscape and irrigation systems are still used by local farmers today.

I had the great opportunity and pleasure to revive my long-neglected horse riding skills again. I organised a trek for several hours, riding one of the local Andalusian horse breeds through the Alpujarra above the town of Lanjarón.

Following my guide across the steep hillsides, I had a wonderful view of the expanse of this section of the western Alpujarra and the daunting height of the rocky slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range continuing above me.

The trek followed the twisting and half-obscured Moorish mule tracks, the trade routes once used to connect the inland city of Granada to the Mediterranean coastline and for many hundreds of years later, still served as passage between inland Andalusia and the coast. These mule tracks are still be used today and traverse the hillsides of Las Alpujarras before climbing into the higher reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are some horse riding treks and hiking treks that still follow these age-old routes to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down to the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.