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

Friday, April 2, 2010


Unlike Pampaneira, unless you specifically head for Bubión, you probably wouldn't even notice that you have passed it. This is the charm of this village. It is off the tourist bus route and therefore the quietest and the most authentic of the the three spectacular white villages cascading in clusters down the Barranco de Poqueira. It is also the smallest. Together, this group of three villages has been designated an "area of historic and artistic interest" (Conjunto Histórico Artístico).

Bubión's situation between the two other villages at an altitude of 1.300m, gives it the better and most dramatic views: if you look up, you see Capileira crowned by the highest 2 peaks of Sierra Nevada, El Mulhacén and El Veleta. If you look down, you see Pampaneira as a foreground to the Poqueira Valley and on clear days to the Mediterranean Sea as far as the coast of Africa. Some would add that this privileged position also gives it the better climate of the three: Pampaneira is siturated behind a hill and benefits from less sunshine hours a day and Capileira being the highest suffers a harsher Winter.

That said, it is certainly the most popular for tourists to stay when visiting La Alpujarra, for it is a haven of quiet and peace after a long day sightseeing, trekking, mountain biking, paragliding etc. This may be the major factor that prompted me to buy, in 2002, "Almanzar (the view) of Bubión" as a rental investment. It is a purpose built block of three independent flats set at the lower end of the village, with 5.000m2 of land at the front, planted mostly with walnut trees. It also has some olive, cherry and fig trees. The vines produce the sweetest and juiciest grapes ever. I think, possibly with a little bias, that Almanzar de Bubión has better views than any other house in the village.

Buying this property is a good example of my impulsiveness. It was brought to my notice when Dominic, one of my business partners, was in the process of selling it to our first client soon after we set up the estate agency. The buyer was an English builder, long experienced in the holiday rentals business. Both my partners who already knew the property, sang its praises. For reasons too long-drawn to list here, our client decided to pull out of the deal, demanding his 10% deposit be returned to him. On impulse and without first inspecting the property, I decided to take on the mortgage the client had previously obtained on it, give him back his deposit and buy it myself. This is just what I did! I saw the property for the first time after coming out of the notary's office having signed the deeds. Dominic took my friend Christine Collier and myself to show us where it was. Christine was as excited and as curious as I was to see what I had gotten myself into. What a relief when I found it all I had hoped for and more.

Before building the Carretera de la Sierra, in the days when cars were few and far between in La Alpujarra, I am told that the ramblers' route which passes by the property, was the route that many a young man took to visit their fiancées in the next village.

As practically every other village of La Alpujarra, Bubión, with some 370 inhabitants, was first built and prospered during the Arab rule, evidence of which is its parish church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, built over an old medieval mosque and the turret of an ancient fortress. One of the old Moorish houses, La Moraleda, has been restored and is now an ethnic museum.

This is not all about Bubión, as if its many fountains, Its Mexican sombrero-type chimneys, considered to be the most beautiful in La Alpujarra, its famous cherries and chestnuts were not enough, it also boasts being the birthplace of the first European to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama. Osel, as he was named by his parents, Paco and María Torres, was discovered to be the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe at the early age of 14 months and was soon after to be recognized as such by no less than the Dalai Lama himself.

Bubión is also self-Sufficient and it has all the necessary shops, pharmacy, post-office and some of the best bar/restaurants and hotels in La Alpujarra. it also has the only tea-room in the area called Nómadas, where at times you could have your tea at the sounds of live guitar music. A public swimming pool is now under construction.

Photo 1, Bubión in the early 80s, with Capileira above. Courtesy Inge Olsen
Photo 2, Recent photo of my friend Janet taken in a Bubión street
Photo 3, Almanzar de Bubión Photo by Jack Clark
Photo 4, A Bubión chimney
Photo 5, Osel lama