Tuesday, March 23, 2010


First you fall in love with Pampaneira and then you fall in love with the rest of La Alpujarra. This is because Pampaneira is the first and only one of the white villages actually situated on the Carretera de la Sierra itself and it is virtually impossible to pass it and not stop.

Inevitably, just what Michael and I did on our first visit to La Alpujarra with Karen and Krudt Jespersen. Karen and I had been very nervous during the drive on the rather narrow and winding mountain road, but no sooner had we parked the car and walked through the quaintest of tinaos to the church square, that all fear was forgotten for the sheer charm of this village. "It's like a fairy tale place...I feel like Alice in Wonderland" I kept repeating as I twirled with excitement like someone possessed, trying to take it all in.

By the church, there was a public fountain with water flowing abundantly. It is known as "La Chumpaneira" and it is dedicated to San Antonio. Above the fountain there was an inscription that none of us understood then, but that now I know says something to the effect that any faithful with the desire to wed, comes out of this church a bachelor and drinks this water, is guaranteed to find himself a bride.

As most churches of La Alpujarra, this, Iglesia Santa maría de la Cabeza, is no exception. It was built in the 16c in Múdejar style over what was a 13c mosque.

Opposite, across the square, is Calle Verónica, a narrow street with a stream running through its midst and a typical tinao to allow it and the street to pass below the house. So narrow was Calle Verónica, that neighbours living in the houses lining it on both sides could literally open their windows and shake hands.

All the houses of the village were painted white, had grey flat roofs known as terrados with chimneys reminiscent of Mexican sombreros. One got the impression that from every window, from every balcony, on every patio, there were pots after pots of brightly-coloured flowers..mostly geraniums. Hanging against the white-washed walls were strings of red peppers drying in the sun. As we climbed to the top of the village, I was sure I could tour it all by hopping from one roof to another.

The shops on the square and the side streets sold mostly handicrafts, pottery, ceramics and handloomed rugs known as "Jarapas". The Jespersens, who had a flat in Almuñecar, bought a large one for less than we would have paid for a portion of fish & chips back home in Windsor.

Amongst these shops were delightful restaurants offering on their menu typical Alpujarra dishes, at the top of the list.... what else but serrano ham?

We found, no, I stand corrected, we discovered, for it was more like a journey of discovery, the general store. To reach it one had to search for a very small wooden door, hidden between two shops and climb a steep and dark flight of stairs. To make matters more difficult, the door was covered by a faded hand-loomed curtain. No sign, no name, just word of mouth, but what a surprise! Crammed on shelves and a commercial display refrigerator, was a variety of goods you could hardly wish for in a supermarket.

For me, the most beautiful spot in Pampaneira is "Calle Silencio", always calm, always cool even in the height of Summer, always with an abundance of plants oozing from every corner, from every window, even in Winter.

Up and beyond is the "Paseo Federico García Lorca", named after the famous poet and playwrite who was assassinated during the civil war. It leads to La fuente agría, a source of ferrous water below which are to be found the Arab Lavaderos, today's equivalent of Laundrettes and so well described by Gerald Brennan in his book South from Granada. Here, some scenes of the film Yerma, based on Lorca's novel of the same name, were shot. From this point one can have the most breathtaking views of the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada and of the other two white villages cascading down Barranco de Puqueira: Bubión and Capileira.

Pampaneira lies at an altitude of 1058m and has less than 350 inhabitants, depending mostly on tourism for their livelyhood.

What better place for a taste of La Alpujarra!

Photo 1, Pampaneira Square with Bubion above
Photo 2, The Tinao leading into the village from the car park
Photo 3, The church at Pampaneira
Photo 4, Fuente La Chumpaneira
Photo 5, Alpujarra Chimney
Photo 6, Jarapas
Photo 7, Gavin Daniel and I, Calle Silencio, taken by Clare Daniel
Photo 8, Pili and July, Calle Silencio
Photo 9, Calle Verónica
Photo 10, Airi & Aulikki on a visit from Finland

Phtos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 & 9 taken by myself

Monday, March 15, 2010


Of all the villages of Western Alpujarra, Soportújar was the last I got to know and that was only because, Isabel, the daughter of my neighbours Bernd and Gertrude, decided to get married there at the parish church of Santa María La Mayor. I had no idea what to expect..perhaps I hadn't even asked myself the question. What I can say with certainty is that Soprtújar was a most wonderful surprise.

As we drove up to the village, the views that I saw unfolding were some of the most spectacular I had set eyes upon in La Alpujarra. I wondered why I hadn't discovered this village before, so close to home I could almost walk to it.

Many of the villagers had lined up the main street and square, others looked down from windows and balconies. Everyone's face beamed at the sight of the beautiful bride, her groom and their friends with their German antics. After the wedding party entered the church, many followed, who were not invited. An event in the village was an event for all!

My next visit was as an estate agent to view a property there. Once again, Soportújar took my breath away. The owner, Ricardo, was a friendly man. He asked me if I sopke German. When I said I didn't, he explained that he had migrated to Germany in the 50s and worked in a factory till he retired and came back home.

In Andalucia at that time, poverty had been the order of the day. Children as young as seven had to go to work, the boys in the fields from sunrise to sunset and the girls as criadas, or maids. When I told him I spoke French, he said that his cousin had migrated about the same time as himself to seek work first in Barcelona and then in France. He, on the other hand, did speak French because his son and his family still lived there and he needed to communicate with his grandchildren when they came on vacation every August for the Fiesta of San Roque.

Soportújar is situated at an altitude of 940m and has an ageing population of not quite 300, of whom only about 14% are aged fifteen years and under. In the 50s and for three decades it lost 2/3 of its population.
Its name, it is beleived, derives from Latin. Soportújar has the largest number of "tenados" (Tenaos in andalúz) than any other village in La Alpjujarra. These are aslo called suportales, from which the name. They form little passages that allow the narrow streets to pass below the houses, authentic architecture of La Alpujarra, a throwback to its Islamic past. Other reminders of those propsperous times of long ago, when the region was a centre of silk production, are the lavaderos de minerales (place for washing the minerals mined in the area), the "acequia" irrigation system, the old threshing grounds and five flour mills spread around the municipality. The church was built
in Mudéjar style in 1677 over a 13c mosque.

Although within the municipality of Pampaneira, it is much nearer Soportújar that the area known as Cerro de Atalaya lies. This is where Lama Yeshé founded O Sel Ling, the first Buddhist centre in Spain.

Once, Ole had taken his daughter and a friend of hers to visit the shrine and while he waited for the two to tour the place, he saw this man in yellow and purple robes who seemed lost in thought. He approached him and struck a conversation with him. Consequently, he learnt that the soft spoken and gentle man was none but the Dalai Lama himslef, who had come to consecrate The Monastry.

Surprisingly, despite its easy access and situation in relation to the National and Natural parks of Sierra Nevada, It is the place with the least number of foreign residents.

Inge Olsen tells me that Soportújar got elelctricity in the early part of the twentieth century and that one of its three bars installed the first public phone around. It was where everyone went if they wanted to talk to their relatives abroad.

Photo 1, Soportújar Landscape
Photo 2, At the door of the church, the groom joins his friends' German antics, taken by myself.
Photo 3, One of the old Mills & threshing grounds of Soportújar by Richard Simon (present owner)
Photo 4, The Church Square in the early 80s, Courtesy Inge Olsen
Photo 5, Passing through a tinao, a bride at the arm of her father. Courtesy June Slatter
Photo 6, The Shrine at O Sel Ling
Photo 7, The bar at Soportújar with the public phone Courtesy Inge Olsen

Monday, March 8, 2010


Perched on the hillside above Bayacas at an altitude of 800m, is the village of Carataunas. It is amusing but all the same true, that this tiny village is a borough in its own right albeit the smallest in the region. Its total area is less than 5km2 and the number of its inhabitants just below 200. It seems that its name derives from the Arabic Caratamuz, meaning "the tranquil place".

I saw Carataunas even before setting eyes on La Panoramica, for it was our first stop on the way to see The Hill. Indeed it is at Carataunas that Ole had bought his first Alpujarran property, rebuilt the existing ruin and called it "Cortijo Las Monjas" after the crystal clear spring then flowing at all times at the entrance of the property. It had the most enchanting orange & olive grove and each time he took us there, it was the exotic and fresh smell of orange and lemon blossoms that welcomed us. The views from the swimming pool at the back of the cortijo were to die for.

Ole, who everyone called affectionately don Federico, was invited by the Ayuntamiento to become one of its councillors, a sign that he had truly been accepted as part of the community. Cortijo Las Monjas became the scene of festivities where, after every fiesta, the whole village gathered for more wine and Frikadeller (traditional Danish meatballs) prepared by doña Britta, the lady of the house. These parties often went on till sunrise. Once, the alcalde of the time got so drunk, he had to be carried up the steep dirt track to his house in the village on a wheelbarrow.

Maybe the mayors of Carataunas are deemed to be entertaining. In the last local elections none of the two contestants got the majority vote required. Instead of holding another election, the new alcalde was chosen by the flip of a 20c coin.

Social life in Carataunas revolves around its only bar/restaurant, Venta el Venao, at the entrance of the village. It gets its name from the Spanish word "venado" (Venao in Andalú) or "deer". It is run by a brother and sister, María and José López. José's hobby is breeding deer and who best to cook it but the charming María? On a warm Summer's evening there is no better place to eat than their terrace, overlooking the Orgiva Valley with views extending all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

In the Winter, they have a huge open fireplace in the bar/diner and that's where I first met their mother and would sit with her while I had my meal to chat about Barcelona where the rest of the family was and of La Alpujarra of her youth. María doted on her mother. Each time she would bring me one of the dishes I had ordered, she would give her, not a peck, but a real solid kiss on the cheek. There is always fresh flowers on the bar and on the tables because, María, apart from being a very good cook she also has green fingers. The only place I saw hot chillies grown was on the terrace of Venta el Venao. Mrs López died some 4 years ago, and Maria still wears black, the sign of mourning.

Two residential estates are being built in Carataunas, changing the aspect and the atmosphere of the village. Maybe at some future "pleno", they should consider changing its name.

Photo 1, Carataunas Landscape taken by myself
Photo 2, Cortijo Las Monjas taken by myself
Photo 3, Venta El Venao taken by myself
Photo 4, On the outskirts of Carataunas By Dr Friedrich Hach

Friday, March 5, 2010


As you head out of Orgiva towards the higher villages of La Alpujarra, the second exit is that which leads down to and ends in Bayacas, one of the smallest villages of the area. Officially it is considered a district of Orgiva. It is unspoilt and stunningly beautiful, surrounded by mountains with the river "Rio Chico" flowing through its midst, dividing it in two. It is the Paris of La Alpujarra, we say jokingly, with its Rive Gauche and Rive Droite!.

Unlike Paris, Bayacas has no shops, no bars and no restaurants. Its only claim to fame is one of the oldest churches in La Alpujarra, not exactly Notre Dame, but
a wonderful example of the Mudéjar style of architecture. First built in 1550, it is dedicated to San Sebastian.

On the outskirts of the village, in the part known as Poyo de Dios, is located the studio and shop of one of the best ceramists of the region, Angel Vera, where I bought my first serious piece of Spanish pottery.

For me, however, Bayacas is the Hidalgo family, at its head Paco, otherwise known as "Paco Teka". Almost everyone in La Alpujarra, has what is called an "apodo", a sort of nickname that becomes so widely used that most people forget the real name of the person. The Hidalgo family had moved to Granada because of Paco's work, but until his retirement, hardly a weekend passed without them visiting the village. Paco's passion is horses and you often come across him riding along the river. His other passion is El Rocio, the second most important pilgrimage in Spain after Santiago de Compostela and undoubtedly the most romantic and exotic of all. La Virgen del Rocio is affectionately called La Blanca Paloma.
The Hidalgos have their own carriola (La Bayaquera), which is one of the group of caravans that form the convoy of the hermandad of Granada. They also have their own horse-drawn carriage for the evening pomenades.

One year, with typical Andalusian hospitality, they invited me to join them for the pilgrimage. I had been to the Rocío twice before, but experiencing it with a family Rociera rather than a group of "Guiris" (foreigners), gave it a whole new dimension: I did the all the Camino. I walked over 19km in sand dunes behind the Sinpecao. I was baptised by the Hermano mayor in the river that I crossed on foot gypsy dress, boots and all. I was given a Rociera name: "La Amapola del Rocio". What a proud day for me! I felt part of my adoptive country and with the help of the Hidalgo's beautiful eldest daughter, Inma, I made a fool of myself and joined full-heartedly in dancing and even singing Sevillanas. A right Andalú...

Photo 1, Bayacas, Rive Gauche
Photo 2, Hiam & Paco Teka, The Rocieros!
Photo 3, Hiam & Florence with the Hermandad del Rocío de Granada by Bob Man

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


The first turn-off as you drive up the Carretera de la Sierra, is that of the village of Cañar, to me the remotest village in the area. Until a few years ago the winding road (about 23 hairpin bends) leading up to it was not asphalted and a trip to Cañar was, to say the least, a mini adventure.

I first came upon this village in 1993 after a visit Ole had organized for Michael and I to the Buddhist monastry, O sel ling, followed by a barbecue in the picnic area of Puente Palo. Puente Palo is situated in the National Park of Sierra Nevada at an altitude of over 1700m. It is there, with the sound of flowing water, the rustling of chestnut leaves and the aroma of pine needles, that you feel you truly are breathing the purest, cleanest and healthiest air in Europe.

The drive we took down to the village seemed so hazardous that it was easy for us to take Ole's comment about its inhabitants having forgotten that the Moors had long departed, as God's truth.

Cañar still keeps a lot of its Arabic heritage, essentially its physiognomy of narrow streets and white-washed, flat-roofed houses as well as its farming methods and acequias irrigation system. Muslim remains have been found in the mill known as Molino de Ramblero. Its parish church (Santa Ana), that to date has not been reformed, was built over what was a Nazari mosque in around 1775.

La Alpujarra had been so poor, that in the 1950s most of the young migrated North in search of jobs and those that stayed behind farmed the land and bartered. Very little money ever changed hands. Cañar was no exception.

The first time Ole and his pretty wife visited Cañar in the early seventies, they arrived around lunchtime on a cool Autumn's day. They headed, as one does, to the bar for a meal. As they entered, everyone stopped talking to stare at this slight, northern lady. They were all men.

Service was courteous and they had the best "Potaje de Castañas" ever. In time, they learnt that in Cañar women didn't go into the bar. However urgently a woman needed to call her husband, she wouldn't send her daughter for him, she would only send her son and if she didn't have one, she would borrow her neighbour's!

That Sunday, some twenty years later, no-one seemed shocked nor even surprised to see me enter that same bar. We did notice, however, the absence of women. They were attending the Sunday service. Men in Cañar didn't and don't often go to church, instead they wait for their mujeres either outside in the square or in the bar, just opposite.

The story goes that once, the vicar of the time refused to permit the burial of a certain "Cañarete" in the Catholic graveyard since he had never attended church. The desperate vicar was unceremoniously carried to the edge of the village and almost thrown off the cliff. Needless to say, he was speedily replaced.

There are now a few foreign families living in Cañar, but it remains essentially a very Spanish, very Andaluz village. Its fiestas, are very traditional and well attended by those who had migrated North all those years ago and their descendants. Very few sell their houses in the village. My friends who live there tell me it is like one big family...and that language is never an issue.

Cañar is an ideal place to start walks and is a haven for lovers of wildlife, botanists or just those seeking fresh clean air and magical views that extend to the Mediterranean and beyond it to the Rif mountains of Morocco.

Photo 1, Cañar by June Slatter
Phtot 2, Cañar landscape by Etienne Campe
Photo 3, Cañar in snow by Robin Smith
Photo 4, The Goat herd by Mike Slatter
Photo 5, Language is no barrier courtesy of Mike & June Slatter
Photo 6, Water colour of Fiesta del Carnaval by Mike Slatter
Photo 7, Beli After the Meal courtesy of Mike & June Slatter