Alpujarras

Eastern Andalucia

Provinces of Granada, Jaén and Almeria

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For main cities return to Andalucia part 1 - Granada, Cordoba, Seville   Further west, see  Western Andalucia

Andalucia to the east of Granada

A selection of towns and places off the main tourist trails


Village scene
Village scene in rural Andalucia
    Beyond the crowded beaches of the Costa del Sol, beyond the tourist cities of Granada, Cordoba and Seville, there is another Andalucia - an Andalucia that is generally off the tourist trail. Away from the popular resorts and destinations, eastern Andalucia, the drier half of the region, has a massively rich natural and cultural heritage, just waiting to be discovered. Almeria,  the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarras, Guadix, the Tabernas Desert and the natural park of Cabo de Gata, are just some among the many and varied sites and sights that most visitors to Andalucia never see.
   It would be trite and inexact to say that Andalucia has everything: it doesn't. But eastern Andalucia does have the highest mountain in western Europe outside the Alps, Europe's only desert, some unique preserved natural environments and so much more.
    Apart from the city of Granada and the Sierra Nevada, Eastern Andalucia is less visited than the western half of the region; but for any visitors looking for a travel experience that really is different from the rest of Europe, the eastern provinces of Andalucia, with their dry to very dry climate, are a must. The Costa Tropical, south of Granada, wedged in between the Alpujarras and the sea,  is the only place in Europe where tropical fruit such as mangoes, bananas and avocados can be grown commercially – albeit on a small scale. Further east, to the north of Almeria, unexpecting visitors can be forgiven for imagining that they have been suddenly teleported out of Europe and into the American Far West. The Desierto de Tabernas is Europe's only sub-Saharan desert. It was here back in the 1960s that epic "Spaghetti Westerns" such as Serio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, were filmed, and where now the western experience can be relived in a couple of Wild West theme parks that have sprung up on the location of former film sets.
East of Almeria, where the motorways are far inland from the coast, lies the Cabo de Gata natural park, a preserved stretch of Mediterranean coastline large parts of which have no road access. Further inland, the hills are dry to very dry and home to a growing number of large-scale solar power stations. Even the mountains of eastern Andalucia, beyond the Sierra Nevada, are dry; their lower northern slopes, in the areas of Jaén and Cazorla, are renowned for their olives and olive oil

Around Almeria

Cabo de Gata
The coast in the Cabo de Gata natural park
Andalusians think of Almeria as an industrial port and city. City it is, industrial - not so much these days. The city boasts an old Moorish Alcazar, an old quarter, and beaches; but it is not so much the city of Almeria itself that is interesting, as the area around it.

Mini Hollywood
The Wild West in the Tabernas Desert
      East of Almeria, the Cabo-de-Gata–Nijar natural park is one of the few undeveloped - or at least largely undeveloped areas on Spain's Mediterranean coast. The park contains hiking trails and an interesting interpretive centre and botanical garden, plus the small town of San Juan, once a fishing village. This is a part of Europe where it never freezes, so the vegetation here is distinctive and preserved in a number of biosphere reserves.
Just north of Almeria lies the Tabernas desert, a landscape that is guaranteed to impress even the most experienced of travellers, as it is like nowhere else in Europe. On the other hand, it does have a distinct resemblance with parts of the American Far West, which is why, back in the 1960's when transatlantic travel was costly, it was used by European film directors as a very credible substitute for the Wild West. The remains of the film set of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly now form the heart of "Mini Hollywood", one of two a small western theme parks that now welcome visitors all year round.


The Alpujarras

From the Albaycin
Rural life in the Alpujarras
Lying between the Sierra Nevada and the sea, the Alpujarras are hillsides and valleys with a deliciously mild climate, a cluster of pueblos blancos or white villages, and agriculture irrigated by the streams flowing down from the mountains behind. It was to the Alpujarras that the Moors from Granada were first sent to live, when the city returned to Spanish rule after 1492; and it was the Moors who set up the old villages, and the impressive irrigation systems that channel water from high up in the Sierras down to the lower slopes and the valleys below.
     The best-known small town in the Alpujarras is Lanjarón - a name which is synonymous with Spain's most famous brand of bottled mineral water. People have long come to this small spa town to enjoy the water from the town's famous springs, water that has permeated down through the rocks of the Sierra Nevada behind.  Other small towns such as Bérchules and Valor are popular bases for hiking up into the Sierra Nevada national park.
      Though more visited by tourists now than they were at the start of the century, the valleys of the Alpujarras are still home to a traditional rural way of life, with small-scale farms, olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats and even here and there horses and mules still doing the work they have done for centuries in this part of the world. It's a way of life that is slowly disappearing, but still survives for the time being in this once very-remote part of Andalucia.

Cazorla and la Iruela

Iruela, near Cazorla
Iruela 
Few towns are built on a hillside as steep as the one on which Cazorla stands: or if they do, the main streets just run along the contours. Cazorla surprises many a passing visitor with those of its streets that run straight up the hillside – like San Francisco, only steeper. Lying in the northeast quarter of Andalucia, due east of Jaen and north of Almeria, Cazorla is situated at the edge of the Sierra de Cazorla, and of the Sierras de Cazorla y Segura Biosphere Reserve, which are the largest protected natural area in Spain. The mountains, with their rocky hillsides and pine-forested valleys, are very popular with ramblers, ornithologists and nature lovers.
    The small town itself is worth visiting for its unusual location, clinging to the mountainside and overlooked by a fine ruined Moorish fortress; but even more interesting is its small neighbour, La Iruela, an old town of whitewashed houses, dominated by a rocky outcrop on which stand the ruins of another impressive  castle - again of Moorish origin. Next to the castle is an open air theatre looking like a Roman amphitheatre, and the ruins of a mediaeval church.
    Cazorla is also famous for its olive oil; Cazorla olive oil has its own "Denominación de Origen" and is reputed to be among the best in Spain. The Cazorla olive oil coooperative, located just ourtside the town on the road to Ubeda, sells directly to the public.

Guadix

Andalucian pottery from Guadix
Guadix pottery    
Guadix is a fascinating small town, lying at the junction of the motorways between Granada and Almeria, and Granada and Valencia. Its narrow streets, its collonaded Plaza Mayor and its stone buildings give it very much the feeling of a classic Spanish town: but though attractive it is not so much the town centre itself that is interesting, as the surroundings. Guadix has to be the troglodyte capital of Spain. The soft local rock lends itself to tunneling, and in bygone centuries, all round Guadix, people built themselves houses not only on the ground, but in the ground. Today, there are still people living in troglodyte houses - marvellously cool in summer, warm in winter; but also shops, workshops and even restaurants where diners can eat in rooms hewn from the naked rock. The village of Purullena, just west of the town, is famous for its pottery sellers, offering a huge range of brightly coloured traditional Andalucian pottery - bowls, dishes, mugs, plates and plenty more, for sale at considerably less than in the souvenir shops in Granada. The area round Guadix is also popular as a base for pony trekking into the Sierra Nevada. Just south of the town, the imposing Castle of Calahorra is reputed to be the finest Italian renaissance castle outside Italy. Against a backdrop of the lofty peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind it, the four-domed castle stands as a sentinel over the route from Guadix to the sea. The area round Guadix has been used as a location for many films, including historic epics such as El Cid and Doctor Zhivago.

The Sierra Nevada

Standing between Granada and Almeria, the Sierra Nevada, or in English the Snowy Mountains, are the highest range of mountains in Spain, rising to an altitude of 3479 metres at the peak Mulhacén. The area is a National Park, and very popular with skiers in winter and early Spring, and with hikers during the rest of the year.  Gone are the days when one could drive up to an altitude of over 3300 metres on what was once reputed to be Europe's highest road. But the high parts of the range can be reached by shuttle buses operated by the National Park authorities during the hiking season.

Velez Blanco

Velez Blanco castle
The castle at Velez Blanco
In the far east of Andalucia, Velez Blanco is a small town that merits a short detour from the Valencia to Granada motorway. The most easterly of Andalucia's white towns, and far less touristy the nearby coastal white town of Mojacar, it stands at an altitude of 1000 metres on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Maria los Velez natural park, at Andalucia's eastern limit. The white town, on a spur of the mountain, is dominated by a magnificent renaissance castle, built on the base of the the earlier Arab alcazaba. Very impressive from the outside, the castle has very little left inside, as its fine inner courtyard now stands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; there are currently plans afoot to rebuild a precise replica, using local stone for the purpose.  The hills behind Velez Blanco are popular with ramblers, and have a good number of marked hiking trails. The hills also contain two caves with prehistoric paintings;  these are not generally open to the public, but visits can be arranged or access authorised by the local tourist office in nearby Velez Rubio.
Photo top of page - village in the Alpujarras

Andalucian desert
Dry landscape in eastern Andalucia
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Guadix

Guadix, with its strange cave dwellings


Photo of Iruela by  A.C.Hernandez



    

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