Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The most interesting association I have with Pórtugos is the story of the Ermita de la Virgen de Las Angustias situated just outside the village above the fountain known as "Agua Agria".

One day, Ole who had to go to Portugos to buy some gas bottles, asked me to accompany him. Whenever possible, I never said no to such propositions, for Ole was an interesting and knowledgeable guide and I had an unsatiable thirst to learn about La Alpujarra that was soon to become my home.

We by-passed the turn off to the village and stopped on the roadside by the little chapel, surrounded by ancient chestnut trees. I looked inside through a tiny window carved in the wooden door. It was very simple and dark, lit up by a few burning candles. Nothing fancy about the altar or the wooden benches carved by poor and grateful people, driven by love and faith.

"In the old days", Ole said, "when La Alpujarra was inaccessible and few people left and few outsiders visited, there were no serious deseases here. The most common illness was anemia suffered mostly by women during and after childbirth. It was soon discovered that women who drank water from the fountain we shall now see regained their health. The locals believed that this water had miraculous properies and so decided to build a chapel. I am told," he continued, " that the first chapel was built in the 18c on the hill to the right and was moved to its acutal place in the 70s, possibly just before we came here".

The water was the colour of rust and tasted of rust. I couldn't even swallow the mouthful I took and just spat it back. How I wished I had a mint or a chewing gum to get rid of the after taste!

The village of Pórtugos had the same architectural interest as the other villages of the region. Maybe it wasn't as pretty as most. There was a lovely spacious village square & an impressive parish church.

A labyrinth of narrow streets with simple white houses on either side, a public wash-house or lavadero and threashing grounds here and there on the hills above are the only throwback to its Muslim past. It is claimed that until the 16c. there existed an Arab castle, but we found no remains to justify this claim.

Photos by William Read

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I have always liked the sound of the name “Atalbéitar”. It has conjured many exotic images in my mind. Yet it took a long while for me to decide to investigate it. One fine day, driving back from Trevélez, I saw the sign and instinctively veered left and there I was on my way down the track heading towards this place that had filled me with curiosity.

I expected something bigger, but small as it was, the village didn’t disappoint me: it was full of traditional architectural details. The only sign of life were just two men sitting under a “tinao” on typical old wooden chairs talking. Surely they couldn’t have been comfortable on these, though they looked relaxed! Their eyes followed me curiously as they shook their heads in greeting and continued their conversation. These were the only two people I saw during my brief visit.

The buildings were the best examples I had yet seen of the Moorish architecture of La Alpujarra. The church was tiny, neglected and old. Very few houses had been refurbished leaving the original features intact. It felt like the place where reality and dreams mingled in a well choreographed dance or a well coordinated piece of music.

I hurried back to Ole’s house to tell him about my discovery. He laughed indulgently and produced an article from a local magazine. Atalbéitar lies at an altitude of 1.150m above sea level and is situated below the mosque of Busquístar. It is the smallest village in La Alpujarra. Its inhabitants amount to eight in the winter and some forty during the summer when the immigrants who left in search of work would return home for their holidays and to celebrate the fiesta of the patron Saint, Nuestra Señora de la Gracia in August. Its name derives from Arabic “Haratelbeitar” meaning the district of the veterinary.

Photo 1, Entrance of the village
Photo 2, A typical "tinao" in Atalbeitar
Photo 3, Concert by the Alexander Music School on the Square

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Capilerilla is often confused, by those who don't know the area very well, with Capileira due to the likeness in the names, both spoken and spelled. Furthermore, both villages are situated high up in the mountains.. but this is where the similarities start and end. The latter in the Poqueira, is the one that springs to mind when talking of the region. It is the higher of the two. The former is very little known and the most isolated and highest among the villages of La Taha. It is situated at over 1300m obove sea level and is so small that officially it is considered to be a district of Pitres.

I personally like to give Capilerilla the status of hamlet in its own right because, in my opinion, it has more charm and character than most of the villages of La Alpujarra.

On a few occasions there have been attempts at opening some kind of public bar, restaurant or hotel, but rather unsuccessfully. The latest hotel inaugurated a few years ago, still exists, but it has changed hands and I believe that it is only open by appointment....if you are lucky enough to have someone pick up the phone to make it. The village Era (threshing ground), however, has been the scene of many a successful classical concert. It is found literally at the doorsteps of the house of John Ward, a friend of mine who edits an e-guide known as "Alpujarra Hoy".

I first came upon Capilerilla on yet onother one of my reconnaissance tours of La Alpujarra with my friend Ole Frederiksen. It was a sunny and warm Winter's day, as many Winter's days in La Alpujarra can be, and we were just about to pass the turnoff when he suddenly veered the car sharply up the hill saying: "I will show you THE place where to find the best chestnuts in the region. I discovered it last year on a picnic trip with my sister, Kiss, who loved it so much that I had to promise to bring her again on her next visit".

He wasn't the slowest of drivers and the road, though surfaced, was very steep and narrow: just what gives my stomach a churn. Was it politeness or fear that caused me to say nothing, I shall never know, but we got to the top without meeting another car, nor even another person. We stopped in a cool area shaded by enormous Chesnut trees. Ole started to pick the chestnuts off the ground, many still in their spiky outer skin, reminding me of sea urchins. The only sound we could hear was that of our footsteps on the fallen dry leaves and the singing of a few chirpy birds. Suddenly he pointed at a bit of ground that had been dug as if by a plough: "wild boars", he said, "they love chestnuts". I felt a chill run down my spine. I had never came across a wild boar, but having seen their tusks was enough to warn me we shouldn't be where we were.

"Don't you think we should get back?" I asked...but without replying he walked on, and I had no choice but to follow. Ole was like that. We got to a clearing where two large and rather grand villas were being built beside a more traditional "cortijo". The views were incredible. There was noone there and Ole saw no problem with us entering the premises and looking around without the permission of the owners. The few months I have spent in Spain had, by the by, tought me that La Alpujarra is unique and functions differently from any other place I have known....and, I have lived in some strange places!

My next visit was in snow one February a couple of years later, this time to the "urban centre" itself (I don't mind if you added a smiley at this expression). It was at the invitation of John, whose house
at the entrance of the village used to be the schoolmaster's. There is no school now in Capilerrilla and barely any children.

From the porch I noticed across the street a line of rubbish bins. It remains a puzzle why such a small village should produce so much garbage.

In the late Spring, John invited me again to show off his culinary skills. I had noticed that many foreign men who lived in this region were self-sufficient to the point of putting us women to shame. After a superb lunch that proved to be quite a culinary achievement where everything
down to the buns was home made, we went for a walk through the narrowest of streets, oozing the charm of a fairy tale. Had Lewis Caroll not written "Alice in Wonderland", Capilerilla would have inspired me to write something like it.

Capilerrilla is a very traditional rural village, where the houses not only house people, but also their animals, where the land is used to produce feed not only for people, but also for their animals.

Towards the end of the village, I noticed a garden with the most wonderful array of flowers. Inevitably, we stopped to admire it. It wasn't very often one saw decorative gardens instead of orchards, specially in such a small rural place. Suddenly a lady appeared and she and John embraced and exchanged greetings before I was introduced to Mercedes, who, after being widowed, had returned from Belgium to settle back in the place of her birth.

Mercedes was a cut over the rest in this tiny hamlet, at least she seemed that way: elegant, with her hair perfectly dressed, her lovely garden an explosion of colour (she didn't keep or feed animals except a cat and a dog), and her spotless home that she invited us to inspect as we sipped a glass of local wine.

She had inherited the main house from her father and bought the one nextdoor to make one spacious home for when the children and grandchildren who still lived in Belgium came to visit.

She showed us how they all slept in the old days before the exodus to either the more industrial and prosperous North of Spain or to Northern Europe
: her parents in one room with the smallest offspring and the rest of the children, huddled together in one bed in the other. There had been no privacy she explained, as we walked back to John's house for a tapa and yet another glass of wine. She laughed mischieviously as she added that she had often wondered, since learning about the birds and the bees, how her parents managed to have so many children.

Could it have been the wine that made her ask me to accompany her to Sevilla in two days' time? She was appearing on a programme, very popular here in Andalucia, where Juan y Medio finds partners to mostly mature singles. I didn't go, but I watched her on that particular episode, and what a star she was. I am sure she has not been short of a suitor or two since!

Photo 1, A typical Capilerilla narrow street taken by myslef
Photo 2, One use of the threshing ground taken by John Ward
Photo 3, Another us of the threshing fround taken by John Ward
Photo 4, Chestnut tree in Autumn by J0hn Ward
Photo 5, From John's house on my first Winter visit taken by myself
Photo 6, Typical scene in Capilerilla taken by John Ward
Photo 7, Mercedes & John taken by myself
Photo 8, Traffic past John's house taken by John Ward

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mecina , Mecinilla and Fondales

These three villages are often referred to as Mecina Fondales. They are so small and so close together that they seem to be just the one village.

The first time I went there, was on yet another exploratory tour with Ole. We were invited to visit his Danish friends who I had met on some Monday or Thursday morning in Bar Santiago in Orgiva.

We drove past Mecina's church, past Bar Aljibe in Mecinilla (Mecinilla? What Mecinilla)...
locally known as Marisa's Bar and down to the small square by the little church where we parked the car. We had to walk down very narrow, deserted and rather steep streets to get to Fondales and to the house.

What a delight that was too! Surprisingly large once you got inside, it was fit to be featured in House & Garden or the like. All the traditional architectural features of old were left exposed.

The house had been a shop and the village's wine press and what an Aladin's cave it was indeed in terms of its architectural treasures and the original implements, ceramics, "tinajas" (large earthen jars in which oil was stored), wine barrels, the old press room, even down to the smell of maturing wine. There was a huge fireplace in one of the bedrooms, a tiny window in another where you needed to go on your knees to look out of and the two animal sheds that had been transformed into a workshop and a storage room with a window from which the neighbours' mule peeped curiously at us.

Above I put a question mark and asked what Mecinilla…This is because driving past the bar you see nothing else of the village except the signpost pointing at a very narrow lane where a car could pass, but just barely. Going down it, you find a little hamlet with just a few houses. But it is there where many walks start.

Leaving Mecina, the crossroad to Fereirola & Fondales, one felt a sense of calm and quietness seldom experienced in Spanish villages. All the time we were there, this silence was not broken even once by a motor bike speeding through the village with its silencer removed, so common otherwise.

No shops, no supermarkets in any of these small villages of La Taha. For supplies, one had to look beyond. Maybe this is why the Pitres street market (mercadillo) is so popular.

Mecina is the liveliest of the three villages, It has a substantial hotel with a swimming pool where many friends of mine go to spend weekends to relax and Bar Cueva de la Mora Luna. Small as it is, it's often the scene of some piano or guitar concert or even a dance show…their pizzas, Argentinian style, are to die for!

Photo 1, Mecina Landscape
Photo 2, Bar Aljibe, painting by Takashi Ishii
Photo 3, Early exterior photo of Hotel de Mecina

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The first time I heard of Pitres was when I went there with Ole to "Aragón", the builders’ merchant, to choose doors for La Panorámica. I must have passed the village several times before on my way to Trevélez missing even its signpost.

Pitres, as I now know, is the capital of La Taha (Arabic equivalent of county). I say capital for lack of a better word to use. Within its municipality fall the villages of Ferreirola, Atalbeitar, Mecina, Fondales, Mecinilla and Capilería. It is situated at an altitude of 1295m and has a population of about 700 inhabitants.

After finishing at "Aragón" which is at the entrance of the village, Ole suggested we went to the village itself which, he said, has one of the most beautiful squares in La Alpujarra. Indeed it was! Rather spacious for a village square, with a fountain in its midst. A mini Trafalgar Square that used to be known as “Plaza de armas” (armament square) during the Moorish rebellion of the 16c.

We sat in the sun on the terrace of Bar Taha and, over a cool "Tinto de Verano" (a long drink made of red wine and lemonade, to which you added some vermouth if you wanted to be naughty) we admired the church steeple that characterises Pitres.

Ole explained that this bell tower had the same design as the old minaret of the mosque on whose foundation the church was built. The church is now dedicated to San Roque, the patron saint of the village.

Later, once I had settled in my new home, I sometimes went on Fridays to the street market held on this same square
with Sven Borrit, a Danish friend who has a house in Capileira. Instead of sitting in Bar Taha, Sven preferred to have a drink at Bar Sierra Nevada among the most incredible mix of people, only otherwise seen in Orgiva: hippies, gypsies, locals, foreigners, old, young, they all crowded there and they all had one thing in common: they all enjoyed a good chat over a good “tapa”.

They came not only from La Taha but also from the villages of the Poqueira. Sven, as many others, came
specially for bread that was elaborated by a certain Gerónimo high up somewhere in the surrounding hills. It seems that the mountain water he used mixed with the aroma from the wood oven, gave the bread a very special flavour.

Sven spent six months of Autumn and Winter in Capileira and six of Spring and Summer in Copenhagen and was the legendary Viking. Nearing ninety years of age then, he walked tall and straight and extremely handsome. He drove himself all the way from and back to Denmark, stopping occasionally for a shower and a short nap in some conveniently situated service station.

In his garden he
had a kind of sunken water tank about five foot deep where he would dip
each morning braving all weather. For me it became a tourist attraction where I took my incredulous visitors. One such cold day, I saw hanging on a branch next to the tank what I thought was a hand or tea towel. I asked Sven if he wanted me to bring it in and to our amazement he replied: "do you expect me to walk indoors wet without drying myslef first?"

Photo 1, Pitres Church taken by myself
Photo 2, The Square at Pitres taken by myself
Photo 3, Sven at his house in Capileira taken by myself

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Instead of starting with Pitres, the administrative centre of the seven villages of La Taha and the largest of them, I am going to start with Ferreirola, which was the first that Michael and I visited and the only one of them that he actually saw.

During our sabbatical in Almuñecar we had befriended a Czech lady called Olga Cannon. She was commonly addressed as Lady Olga , a title acquired indirectly through her late husband, Sir Leslie Cannon, an English union leader who had been bestowed a knighthood. Lady Olga was rather glamorous and talkative. She let us know she was a published writer, having written a biography of her husband and was in the process of writing her own. She had two sons, one of them living in La Alpujarra. It seems that he made a mighty Couscous, the recipe of which he had learnt during a long stay in Morocco.

One bright, warm and sunny Winter's day, Olga sprung on us the news that her son had invited us for lunch. We set off at around midday, she in her car, us following her in ours. Keeping up with Olga was an adventure in itself and reaching Ferreirola, the village where Oleg lived, a sheer miracle.

Once we had parked the cars at the entrance of the village and recovered from the hair-raising drive, we found ourselves walking back in time, past the church and down to Oleg’s house.

Michael and I hadn't previously ventured beyond the villages of the Barranco de Poqueira, leave alone going into a village house. As we stepped over the wooden threshold into the darkened hall, I could feel the palpable presence of the Moors who would have, in times past, occupied this dwelling. Their memory so lingers about that it felt quite natural that Olga’s cries of “Oleg, we’re here” should echo and reverberate back at her and at us standing right behind her. Oleg was nowhere to be seen, but I waited breathless for a Moor to suddenly appear in a haze of smoke. With the corner of my eyes, I searched for an Alladin's lamp.

“He must have gone out for a bit”, she puzzled, “come, let me show you the rest of the house!” and so, in the huge kitchen we went. There was a noticeable absence of the aroma of brewing food.

Before long, however, a very angry man barged in and a rather heated argument between mother and son ensued. Michael and I looked at each other nervously. No words were necessary. We stealthily got out of the house and down a short narrow street that led us to the edge of the village from where we took in the loveliest view of the mountains. I will never forget how fresh the air felt.

Despite being very hungry, we happily walked around the fascinating narrow streets. It was so quiet that whatever we said to each other was in whispers. There was something different about the architecture of this village: we noted that most of the houses had no sharp corners, their walls being voluptuously rounded, very reminiscent of Shu Ichimura’s work.

Half an hour later, Olga appeared round a street corner to explain that she had made a mistake and that it was the day before that Oleg had expected us. Without further ado, she turned away and headed for the house, leaving us wondering what to do next... Well, for lack of any other choice, we drove back to Almuñecar and I prepared an early supper.

Many years later, on one of the informative trips of the region with Ole, he told me that the name Ferreirola was derived from Arabic for “blacksmith", that it had some 90 inhabitants and that it was situated at about 1008m of altitude. It had no shops, no supermarkets and, as all the villages of La Taha, it was a haven of peace and tranquillity.

Quiet and tranquil as it is, or possibly because of that, Ferreirola houses many artisans and artiststs such as the Japanese painter Takashi Ishii, the celloist Cat Jary and the guitar maker, Andrés Marvi. There is also a manufacturer and exporter of flamenco dresses and flamenco and ballet shoes.

Little did I know when I first set foot in Ferreirola, that as an estate agent, I will, some years on, be selling Oleg’s house to accommodate the Alexander Music School.

When Olga instructed me to sell the house, she dramatically ordered me to mention that it had been used in the filming of the movie "South From Granada", based on Gerald Brennan’s book of the same name.

Photo 1 Ferreirola Landscape taken by John Ward
Photo 2 Oleg's house, now the Alexander Music School
Photo 3, Typical house with voluptously rounded walls
Photo 4, The fountain & wash house on the Square
Photo 5 Typical Ferreirola street
Photo 6 Concert on the Ferreirola thresing ground organised by Cat Jary. taken by Steve Forrest
Photo 7 Ferreirola, Painting by Takashi Ishii

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


You cannot possibly miss Capileira, because it is the next stop for most tourist buses after Pampaneira and before they proceed to Trevélez. Not that you would want to miss it either!

Most of this municipality makes part of the National Park and Nature Reserve of Sierra Nevada and it is crowned by its highest peaks: El Mulhacén (3.483m of altitude) and El Veleta (3.398m of altitude). El Mulhacén is named after Mulay Hasan, the one but last of the Moorish Kings of Granada, who, it is said, is buried there.

Maybe it is worth mentioning now, that La Alpujarra was the last resort of the Moors after Boabdil surrendered Granada to Queen Isabela in 1492.

There is a lot of confusion about the origin of the names of the some of the villages of La Alpujarra, but it is commonly thought that the name Capileira comes from the Latin word "capitellum" meaning summits.

The village lies at an altitude of 1.436m and has some 560 inhabitants. It is a typical Alpujarra white village cascading down the hill, with houses lining the narrow streets that often pass below the traditional tenao. Normally, apart from official buildings such as the church or the school, the village houses have flat roofs or tejaos insulated with " launa" or crushed slate, which gives them their grey colour. They all have traditional Mexican sombrero style chimneys and are reminiscent of their Arab architecture.

Michael and I first came to Capileira in 1991 with a group of Danish friends from Almuñecar. We had lunch in the large dining room of "Mesón Poqueira", an unforgettable and very special place which was not just a restaurant, but rather an art gallery exhibiting the work of Shu Ichimura, a Japanese artist who lived in Capileira and who just captured our imagination. My regret is not having bought one of his painting then, when it was affordable.

In response to our genuine admiration, Francisco, one of the twin brothers who owned the restaurant, took us across the road to a garagen now long gone, and showed us more work. Some was Dali-ish with a Japanese twist, but by far my favourites were those where the artist captured the spirit of La Alpujarra and gave it a Japanese soul! Ichimura died of cancer a few years ago, but there is still a permanent exhibition of his work at Mesón Poqueira.

Another place we visited that day was the parish church of "La Virgen de la Cabeza", built in the 18th century over a church from 1502 which, in turn, had replaced the old medieval mosque. It has a magnificent baroque 17c altarpiece . The statue of the Virgin was donated by the Catholic Kings in the 15th century.

However it is not for its history nor for its art that visitors come to Capileira, but for its unsurpassed natural beauty. Most tourists come to walk the dozens of routes in the National Park with its two thousand species of Iberian flora. Of these, 60 species are unique to Sierra Nevada. Mountain biking is another tourist attraction.

Photo 1, Capileira landscape taken by Lars Ake Nilsson
Photo 2, Bubión & Capileira in the 70s, courtesy Inge Olsen
Photo 3, Typical Alpujarra Chimney taken by myself
Photo 4, Painting by Shu Ichimura
Photo 5, On a walk in the Park above Capilera: Margaret, myself & Daria
Photo 6, Etienne Campe at Alto del Churillo