SIERRA NEVADA: Hiking the Alpujarras GR7 Route, Spain

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The minute I read about the Alpujarras, I knew that we just had to go and walk through some of the Moorish white washed villages of the Sierra Nevada, Spain. We were in luck………we soon discovered there is a pilgrimage, the GR7, which passes through this section and read that it is highly likely you will not see anyone but the local farmers on the route. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? After a few weeks researching the track and best villages to see, I purchased the only guide book ever written about the GR7…….easy, no choices. Little did we know….

The only way to begin was by bus (Alsa) from Granada to Valor. Purchasing the correct ticket was challenging enough, hopping on the right bus nearly proved impossible, managing to wave down the driver just as he was reversing out of the terminal. We must have been speaking Latvian as none of the other drivers seemed to have even heard of Valor. Laughing, we climbed aboard the only bus service to that village until tomorrow. Still not convinced we were heading for Valor, we finally managed to relax when the enormous mountains of the Sierra Nevada rose up in the distance. Enjoying the shapes and colours of the rugged landscape as we wound around the narrow roads in a giant bus, the three hour trip seemed like minutes. The best bus journey I have ever taken anywhere. Arriving just before dark, we explored the roads we had to find to start our walk in the morning.

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Gr7 route through olive and almond groves

It doesn’t matter how much you plan in life, it is rare that your plans do not change or they are changed for you. Because temperatures were expected to be warm for the next few days, we set off early. We followed the detailed descriptions in our guide book and painted markings when we found them, but at the important junctions of the numerous paths through the Sierra Nevada, there were no markers/arrows or instructions in the book. After spending the first hour climbing up and down very steep slopes and already retracing our steps three times, stress levels rising we resorted to Google maps. Knowing we had 25 km to walk today with the hot sun already overhead, we navigated straight up towards the road. We were shocked to discover we had walked the equivalent of 200 m down the road from Valor, you’re kidding! To hell with the GR7 ‘marked’ trail and guidebook, we were following the road all the way now. Big smiles again, we relaxed and enjoyed the view along a beautifully smooth road with only the occasional car.

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Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada, spectacular vistas

Due to the road already being at a fairly high altitude, we could enjoy expansive views of the mountain ranges. I have hiked in New Zealand and the Camino de Santiago which also have spectacular scenery, but never have I seen such extensive vistas as the Sierra Nevada. Along the road we passed an empty tourist office, where I ceremoniously dumped the GR7 guidebook……….seems quite fitting don’t you think?

tourist information centre alpujarras sierra nevada Spain
A very useful tourist information centre

After a challenging start, about four hours later our destination village for the day came into view. The village of Berchules, a stunning cascade of white densely built houses down a steep mountain.

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Berchules came into view

Unfortunately, that village was just a teaser. As the road led us around the next corner we saw Berchules rising high above us. Ouch, another hour later we stumbled slowly up the steep windy layered village to our hotel. We must have looked a sight because the owner upgraded us to a 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the mountains. The Spanish just know how to be generous at the most needed moments. A few minutes later we were downing a couple of ice cold cervezas followed by tempura vegetables. We had read before we came that the Alpujarras are the home of Jamon and that if you are a vegetarian you will starve. Well, in life you can be continuously surprised. We had the best vegetarian meals throughout the Alpujarras, than we had for the last 5 months in Spain.

TREVELEZ

Knowing we had further to walk today, we decided to postpone our morning yoga routine to the afternoon so that we could leave at dawn. The good part about the villages being perched up high on the slopes is that when you leave you are walking  down hill, for awhile at least. As we passed through our first village for the day, we were able to admire the sunrise over the ranges, warming the fresh morning air.

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Sunrise, worth the early start
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Sierra Nevada, how could you not love this
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Beautiful light and shadows during early morning
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My favourite view while still enjoying the early morning shade

Around the villages we loved watching the elderly local villagers enjoying their morning stroll, all carrying a stick to help them navigate the tricky steep paths. On our way out of the first village today, a man about 80 years of age spoke a little English, combined with our little Spanish we managed a conversation. He walked with us for a few kilometers along the road then suddenly said ‘Adios’ and disappeared up a steep dirt road, appearing to be going nowhere.

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Beautiful dry grass looking soft in the early light

A few minutes later we saw the most incredible sight…..the elderly man with the stick was running up the dirt road with no stick and his shirt off. Inspired by this, our pace suddenly quickened. We were also beginning to feel very hungry as we approached the next village of Juviles, our breakfast stop. After a satisfying tostada and hot chocolate we set off down the road again, the sun giving some nice warmth now. Many more pretty vistas along the way, with no more villages until Trevelez.

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Looking back at Juviles bathing in the warm sunlight
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Ancient olive groves of the Alpujarras
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Walking the road from Juviles to Trevelez

After a few more hours walking, the village of Trevelez popped into view. Sometimes places can look very close and you begin to think about what you may order for lunch, only to be dismayed when you wind around the next corner of the mountain and see that the gorge takes you another 5 kilometers before you can cross the bridge to the village.

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Trevelez comes into sight
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We can almost reach out and touch the village of Trevelez

With a storm brewing above we give it all we’ve got to try and beat it, there is absolutely no shelter along the road. It was a good excuse to walk into the first restaurant, once across the bridge. After some delicious trout and cold beer we are very relaxed until we see the incline we have to climb up to our hotel………the very top of the village. The pain was worth it when we eventually found it, a view to die for.¬† We were looking back at Mulhacen’s peak, being the highest in Spain at nearly 3500 m.

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Magnificent view of the highest peak of Mulhacen in Spain

PITRES

We were to climb higher than Trevelez to reach Pitres today, but after such a wonderful day yesterday, we eagerly attacked the gradual slope of the road out of Trevelez. The early morning fresh air and stillness before others awake, is when we felt most energised.

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First sunlight emerging over mountains around Trevelez

Not long after the village was out of sight, we spotted a black mulberry tree with very ripe berries which we had to ignore due to the slippery climb down to reach them. Not far along the road there was another tree, which just happened to be hanging down within easy reach. After the first taste sensation there was no stopping us. They were the most delicious berries we had ever tasted. Soon there was so much juice running down our hands and arms one would think there had been a mass murder in the Alpujarras.

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Roman bridge before Busquitar
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Walking towards village of Busquitar for breakfast
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Favourite view for the day as we approach Busquitar

We were walking at an altitude between 1500 and 1800 m today with no great slopes to contend with, crossing the occasional Roman bridge, now thinking strongly about breakfast in the village of Busquitar. When we arrived the only cafe/bar in sight was closed…….disappointment was setting in as it is a tiny village.

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Looking over the village of Busquitar

After asking an old lady where we could eat, she promptly led us down a steep windy road to the bottom of the village and finally pointed to a house with a closed front door with a tiny sign ‘bar’. As we walked in, we were amazed at the size of the bar, full with locals and a pretty outdoor deck overlooking the mountains. Well, the tostadas were the best we tried anywhere in Spain. Too huge baguettes dripping with butter and home made strawberry jam. So good we ordered another two with our hot chocolate……..total bill 5 euro, ridiculously cheap. We were on the road again, stomachs full with only 12 km to reach Pitres, a very easy day. Here are some photos of the stunning scenery during our walk today.

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Village of Busquitar behind us now
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A rare flat paddock on the Sierra Nevada
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Very muscly horse, strength essential for this terrain
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Spectacular weather just one lonely cloud

We soon were approaching the next village of Portugos, which was one of the prettiest in the Alpujarras. Most of the villages only have between 300 and 500 people, with a mostly aging population.

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Typical white washed buildings of the Moorish villages, Alpujarras
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Farming vehicles have right of way
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My hiking buddy posing for a pic in Portugos

Another spectacular walk through the Alpujarras today, mostly under the shade of many oak and chestnut trees. We were early arriving at Pitres, so decided to relax in a restaurant and absorb the surrounding mountainscape over a jug of Sangria.

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Views as we walk into our destination village of Pitres
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Contrasting colours of the Sierra Nevada

After enough beer and sangria to blur our vision, we crept along to our Faulty Towers hotel, where guests were a complete inconvenience to the owners. ‘Basil’ handed us our room key without a word, while his son ‘Manuel’ looked at us with disgust when we dared to ask for the WIFI code. We had many laughs about that one. Aside from their overstated welcome, it was a lovely hotel in a very cute village.

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View over the roof tops of the village of Pitres

CAPILEIRA

Our final day of walking through the Alpujarras, we decided to be adventurous and follow Google Maps ‘off-road’. We were almost regretting that decision after the first hour of steep climbing, creeping around the outside of houses looking for the next bit of track. Luckily, the fabulous views made the effort worthwhile.

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Climbing quickly above Pitres
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Favourite tree of the day climbing the Alpujarras

After an hour of steep climbing from 1500 to 2000 m altitude, we were nearly at the top and thankful to take it a bit easier. We stopped to admire some more of the views, secretly we were wanting to catch our breath but neither of us wanted to admit that……pathetic really.

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Nearly at the top
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At the top of our climb, the Sierra Nevada at its finest

After enjoying such magnificent views, it was time to follow Google maps into the forest to cross the mountain into the pass towards the village of Capileira, in the Alpujarras. We walked along some scrubby tracks and happened to glance sideways into the bush and saw some kind of marker. After a closer inspection we couldn’t stop laughing, we had found one of the elusive GR7 signs, quite elaborate, even including an arrow for direction. This was very useful, especially being almost totally concealed in the bushes, placed well off the track.

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GR7 marker hiding from all those dangerous hikers

No ambiguity about which direction to take, we proceeded to walk through some lovely pine forests where the shade was welcoming. We were surprised some of the trees had a stunning crimson coloured bark, also the occasional flowering chestnut tree………check out the hairy balls on this one!

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Flowering chestnut tree
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Crimson bark on the pine trees
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The downhill trail to Capileira
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Pine tree plantations in the Alpujarras, Sierra Nevada, Spain

We finally walked over the pass between the towering rocky outcrops to see the villages ahead. In this final region we were visiting, there are three Moorish villages close together; Capileira at the highest settlement point, Bubion 2 km below and Pampaneira at the bottom. Even though the walk over the last four days had been spectacular, we were happy to see the familiar splash of white dwellings all hugged in together. My pack horse ahead of me was starting to slow as much as I was, it was time to put our feet up for awhile.

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My pack horse
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View over the village of Bubion
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View through the valleys from the pass from Pitres to Capileira