School Trip to Las Alpujarras

Sierra Travel Blog

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Sampling the produce - Jamon, Chorizo, Broad Beans and Wine.

Finally I had the chance for some adventure after the first week and I went to Las Alpujarras. 

The school arranges trips every weekend and you can choose which ones you want to go to the price includes the ride, the guide, and entry fees to places. 

Granada is a very beautiful place and has the mountain range the Sierra Nevadas at its doorstep.  They are the highest peaks in Europe but not in Spain.  The highest mountain in Spain is in the Canary Islands.  From Granada it is a 20-30 minute drive to the ski fields.  They are on the north side of the city.  At this time of year (May) which is the last month of spring they still have a good coating of snow and last night on the news there was a story about a big fall overnight.

The rugged country of Las Alpujarras with Wind Turbines - just like NZ
  To the south of the mountains are the Alpujarras.  Our guide said that the mountains are the Sierra Nevadas and the villages mostly to the south side are the Alpujarras.  The south side was a better place to live. 

Our guide is Juan.  He is a former history student is his 40´s I would say who became a guide.  A great sense of humour and very experienced at giving a talk in Spanish for foreigners learning the language.  Just the right pace with plenty of interaction and a helping hand to understand what he is saying.  He will say the same thing about a plcae 2 or 3 times in different ways so that you get a chance to understand it.  Our group had some good speakers of Spanish plus a few others, like me, who were starting out.

Rugged country side and stone fences are characteristic of the area
 

There were only about 14 of us were in the minibus including a couple from another school.  It does not take long to drive to the other side of the mountain range and begin our ascent.  The bus winds up narrow roads.  You go up one side of a valley and then 5 minutes later you look across and down about 150 meters and see the road you came up on the other side of the valley.  I am surprised at this height to see cactus growing on the side of the road cuttings.  There is a small wind farm to remind me of Palmerston North.  The wind mills are about the same size as the big ones above Palmerston but not the same type.

The landscape has some similarities to the gorges in Central Otago New Zealand but not quite the same.

Our tour group wanders through the streets of Lanjaron
  Because the climate is cooler many of the trees and birds look the same as in New Zealand - conifers, sparrows etc but the colour of the soil the rockiness and the absence of much grass make it different.  The slopes of the valley are very very steep.  The border of the road and the slope is normally a solid stone wall - a sort of khaki colour.

Our first stop is the village of Lanjarón.  There is a popular bottled water in the shops from there.  This was a taste of 4 villages we went to in the day each one very different but with similar themes.  This is the village where it seems there are the hotels for the tourists but you can wander the back streets down cobbled roads seeing wonderful old stone and plaster houses. 

However we had classic John Cleese moment.

The very narrow streets of Pampaneira
  Dirk the 2.0m plus guy in our group had a big umbrella in his back pack.  Now covering most windows are metal grates.  Unknown to him his umbrella handle got caught in the grate.  He turned when it was about three quarters of the way out.  Then a successions of requests from everyone flooded Dirk.  Not recognising our calls in Spanish and having no one who spoke German, Dirk swing round to each person who spoke to him as he did this behind him the umbrella swung around about head height as Dirk is so very tall.  Locals, the guide and us students all ducking and diving as he swung this way and that in the very narrow street.  Sorry but I wept laughing it could not have been scripted better.

We went into a church that had been surrounded in the civil war very dark and you can see the bullet marks in places.

The streets of Pampaneira are also steep

 
From there we moved much higher up the mountains to a valley that has village names which the guide said are like Portugese.  Apparently this is because of people from Galicia moving down, not sure when.  In this valley we can now clearly see the snow of the mountains and the air is cooler.  The highest peak Mulhacén is 3479m.  In this valley you can see other villages below and another above.  As the sides of the valleys are very steep the design of the streets and houses becomes very different.  The streets are very steep and narrow in Pampaneira.  Down some you can almost stretch your arms out and touch both houses.  There is a footpath but down the middle is a drain with water constantly running down it.
In Pampaneira you pop out 2 levels above where you started.
  So the 1-2 metre wide alley way is made up of a narrow path on each side by the houses and the drain down the middle. Each path is normally 1 person wide except where there is a corner and there are a lot of these.  The path are made of stone blocks and in this village were mostly even.  But following the streets was very hard and we were lucky to have a guide to take us through what is still a small village.  You enter a alley go around five corners under some arches and finally end up two layers of houses above where you started.  The houses are plaster cast and whitewashed with metal grates on most windows.  Often there are flowerpots stuck to the walls. 

We stopped at a little bar to try some of the local produce.

The streets are rough on the feet and all the houses are white.
  It had beautiful drying hams, mountain cheese and sausages, wow. How about the mountain wine though? It can be a bit rough in some places, but then it needs to be strong stuff to match the food. I can imagine the mountain sommelier saying "yes sir, to match the 13 year old air dried goats cheese we have this 3 month old raisin based wine ...".

We tried 2 wines one dry and the other sweet like a maderia.  And yes it was a bit rough on the palate.  The shop had hams hanging from the ceiling and many products for the tourist to buy.  We also tried a local chorizo which had a nice flavour and was much redder than the chorizo type products in NZ shops.  The ham or jamon was sliced very fine and was very soft and gentle in taste.

The mule in the small tourists plaza of Pampaneira
  The flesh of the ham is a deeper red than in NZ and has a more natural feel in the mouth.  There were broad bean pods which you crack open and eat.  They were light green, nice and sweet and tender not at all like the tougher chewier ones in NZ.  But the cheeses were magnificent.  One had an outside of cumin seeds and a whiteish creamy centre firm but the taste explosion was intense.
 
We had short stop in the square which had a church and places to eat, a mule and vendors grabbing the tourist trade as best they can.  
 
Next we drive on to another valley and stopped at the highest village in Europe (Juan suggested) and maybe in the world (at 2,500m) - Trevelez.  A bit colder now and the jerseys come out for everyone.
The hams that hung over our head at the restaurant in Trevelez
  This is where they make the hams and every place seems to be a secadoria (or drying place for hams).  They have them hanging from the ceilings by the hundreds of thousands (literally). 

We have lunch in a large restaurant with hundreds of hams hanging above us.  There is a little plastic cup to catch the drips from the hams.  My first meal out in Spain -- hmmm I choose the migas and hope that it is not too much.  Migas is fried breadcrumbs that becomes something very like couscous.  Well there is a pile of the migas with a bit of vege, one chorizo, one morcilla (like black pudding) and one whole fried trout on the plate.  Every thing is delicious, the trout soft tender, the morcilla softer than our black pudding and less spicy but very nice, but the portion size was immense.

Learning about the process of making a ham or jamon
  No way I could eat it all.
 
We then have a tour of a secadoria.   We  found about the whole process of making the hams and the difference between serrano and iberico the latter is very expensive about NZ$80 per kilo. The pig dines on acorns and the fat is marbled through the meat rather than surrounding it fully on the outside. This factory had so many hams in various stages of production.  At this height they do not use as much salt as at lower altitudes due to the nature of the air - cold and dry.

We went to another village in the other valley (Capilera) which was high up and cold with very steep windy alleys.  The guide pointed out the place where Chris Stewart lives - the author of a famous Spanish travel book "Driving over lemons" about starting a new life in rural spain.

It was a great day.

 

 

Koralifix says:
Nice blog entry :)
Posted on: Mar 02, 2009
azsalsa says:
Wow, your descriptions of the ham, cheese, etc....had my mouth watering....just think, no preservatives in any of the food! Loved the John Cleese moment.
Posted on: Sep 24, 2008
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Sampling the produce - Jamon, Chor…
Sampling the produce - Jamon, Cho…
The rugged country of Las Alpujarr…
The rugged country of Las Alpujar…
Rugged country side and stone fenc…
Rugged country side and stone fen…
Our tour group wanders through the…
Our tour group wanders through th…
The very narrow streets of Pampane…
The very narrow streets of Pampan…
The streets of Pampaneira are also…
The streets of Pampaneira are als…
In Pampaneira you pop out 2 levels…
In Pampaneira you pop out 2 level…
The streets are rough on the feet …
The streets are rough on the feet…
The mule in the small tourists pla…
The mule in the small tourists pl…
The hams that hung over our head a…
The hams that hung over our head …
Learning about the process of maki…
Learning about the process of mak…
The view down the valley from the …
The view down the valley from the…
Dirk and I enjoying a bocadillo in…
Dirk and I enjoying a bocadillo i…
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photo by: mkrh