Easter week– Semana Santa–has finally arrived, meaning days of interminable processions and religious celebrations, particularly in Andalucía.
Unfortunately this also means surging crowds and normally quite a bit of rain. If Semana Santa isn’t your thing, then there is no better time to explore the rest of Spain. A combination of warm weather, fantastic food and hundreds of timeworn traditions make Spain the ideal place for a holiday, and Spring time– from mid March to early mid May– is the perfect time to take advantage.
Here you have 10 wonderful destinations to celebrate Spring and Easter. From rainy Galicia to bone-dry Castilla and Mozarab Andalusia, Spain is calling!
One: Cuenca, Castilla for architecture
Cuenca is one of those places in Spain where you will feel as if you are wandering around a medieval film setting. It was built by the Moors as a defensive position and today anyone who visits this fortress town will easily be able to see why its architecture adapts to the natural landscape. Cuenca has been named a Historic Walled Town by the UNESCO.
Top Tip: No matter how long you stay in town, you can´t miss a visit to the famous casas colgantes (hanging houses), which are literally suspended over the Júcar river.
Two: La Rioja for food & wine
If you’re a wine lover, you will fall in love with Rioja. In the North East of Spain, very close to the Basque Country, La Rioja offers vineyards, friendly people and of course, mouthwatering gastronomy. Don’t hesitate to try patatas con chorizo, paella riojana or the local codrero (lamb). Remember, here it is all but mandatory to have a glass of red wine with your tapa!
Top tip: This area has over 500 wineries so wine tasting is a must. In addition, a one-day trip to Logroño, the capital of the region, will be well worth it.
Three: Ribeira Sacra for mountain views
La Ribeira Sacra is found in Southern Galicia, where the river passes through a vast mountain range. It is a natural paradise coupled with stunning architecture– there are 18 monasteries along this route!
Top tip: Take a ride on the Catamaran and follow the river. After that, don’t forget to taste the local wine, Ribeiro, while enjoying the views from the Madrid balconies (views of the canyons from above). For more information about the tours have a look at this site.
Four: Sierra Nevada for skiing and sunshine
It’s not just sun, sea and sand in southern Spain. Not too far from Granada in Andalusia, the Sierra Nevada contains the highest point of continental Spain, Mulhacén at 3,478 metres. Semana Santa is the perfect time for combining sun-drenched skiing and trips to beautiful cities like Granada and Córdoba, where you will be able to step back in time into southern Spain’s Moorish past…
Top tip: At this time of the year the ski station gets very busy, so it is recommended to go during the week. To find out more about weather, accommodation and equipment have a look at the official Sierra Nevada site.
Five: Matalascañas, for quiet beaches
April in Spain is known for its favourable temperatures, and Andalucía’s beaches are perhaps the best example. Matalascañas (Huelva) is one of those beaches where you can easily combine the beach days with little trips to natural paradises like Doñana National Park, a natural reserve that covers 543 km² of which 135 km² are a protected area.
Top tip: Don’t forget to visit the Aldea del Rocío, a little village only 15 minutes from Matalascañas and a perfect destination for camping.
Six: Lagos de Covadonga for breathtaking natural beauty
Back to the North, the Lagos de Covadonga (Lakes of Covadonga) is a feast for the eyes. These Asturian lakes, called Enol and Ercina, date back to the ice-age and are both located in the Picos de Europa.
Top tip: Don’t miss a visit to Oviedo city and a tour across the coastline of Costa Verde– you’ll never forget the views!
Seven: El Vale del Jerte for cherry trees
The Jerte Valley is one of the best places to visit during Spring. Here the cherry trees cover the landscapes with white blossom for a ten-day period; it’s undoubtedly one of the best vistas in Spain.
Top tip: Rent a car and follow the route across the sierra to the north of the valley from Cabezuela del Valle to Hervás.
Eight: Santiago de Compostela for The Way of St James
Here is where the famous St James pilgrim route ends. Every year, hundreds of peregrines cross different countries to get to the Jubileo in Santiago de Compostela, which has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great. Today the city is student-friendly and a very lively destination for tourists. Its cathedral is one of Spain’s most famous.
Top tip: If you decide to spend a few nights in town, make sure you stay in the historic area of Santiago. And, don’t forget an umbrella– it’s very likely that it will rain!
Nine: Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes for the Pyrenees
If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway, there is a place near Lleida (Catalonia) where you can almost hear a pin drop. Here there are crystal clear waters that come from striking waterfalls and an abundance of plants and wildlife.
Ten: Madrid for city culture, nightlife and buzzing tapas bars
Yes, Madrid, the capital of the country, is always a good destination no matter what time of year, though it’s better to avoid in August when the temperatures are very high. If you are looking for cultural events, nightlife and amazing tapas, Madrid won’t disappoint you. Don’t miss an evening in lively La Latina and a picnic at El Retiro, the biggest and greenest area of the city.
Top tip: Stay in the Lavapies barrio to get a feel for Madrid’s quirkier side. Here you will be close to some of the most popular monuments like Museo Reina Sofía (for Contemporary Art) and if you need to take a train to continue your Easter holiday elsewhere in Spain, Atocha Station isn’t too far.
Where are you spending Easter week this year?
Marta López is a journalist & writer based in North West London. After living in Paris she decided to move to London where she fell in love with the multicultural capital. She loves quality food, Spanish wine and travelling. Marta is currently working on her first novel based on the City of Light.
At this stage of my Granadino expathood (2 years, 3 months), I really ought to have visited Las Alpujarras more than twice. Any discerning expat in Spain will attest to that. The first time was when I attended and (rather tamely) participated in the mother of all water fights in Lanjarón, to help celebrate el día de San Juan – the longest day of the year. The second outing came recently, perhaps at the best time of year to go considering the late autumn we had last year.
La Alpujarra’s unspoiled and natural beauty is as unparalleled as its unique microclimate, provoked by the constantly melting snow from above. In sharp contrast, the landscape below is much more arid and sparse.
A few facts and a little history…
The etymology of ‘alpujarra’ is unclear, though the most credible suggestion is that it derived from the Arabic word al-bugsharra, meaning ‘sierra of pastures’.
The average altitude is 4,000ft above sea level.
Many inhabitants of La Alpujarra descend from Galicians, after thousands were relocated from Galicia following the reconquest of Granada in 1568.
Mulhacen, the highest peak in Spain at 3,482m, is contained within the mountain range.
It contains Trevelez, the highest village in Spain, at 4,843ft above sea level.
The Alpujarras covers roughly 2,500km.
The Mediterranean, seen easily on a clear day, is just 40km away.
The enchanting, sky-scraping region spans two Spanish provinces – Granada and Almería – and comprises around forty small mountain villages. Its history is fascinating. The Moors were the first to settle there in the late 15th century, after being driven away by Spanish Christians who had recaptured Granada. This was where they remained until a hundred or so years later, when the Christians expelled anyone of Arab descent from the Kingdom of Granada. Following that, the Christians – many of them from Galicia in the north-west of Spain – resettled in the area, though much of the traditional Moorish architecture was preserved, and still is today.
It is, of course, impossible to explore each area of Las Alpujarras – unless you intend to stay for a longer period – so most day-trippers tend to stick with the main three tourist attractions: Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira. They are all formed on elrio poqueira – a deep, yawning valley that drops towards the neighbouring villages of Órgiva and Lanjarón. Each village is characterised by its narrow, winding streets, old-fashioned crafts shops, flat clay roofs and tall, rounded chimney pots.
We began our day with a tour of Capileira – the second highest village in Las Alpujarras – and a coffee at local bar and restaurant Casa Pilar y Paco Lopez, where we were treated to spectacular views. The village brims with colourful, wooden-beam arts & crafts stores, all filled with local goods from handwoven rugs to homemade jams.
(click for slideshow)
Hand-made rugs in Capileira
Toys, crafts and clothes in Capileira
Casa de Pilar y Paco Lopez (the other Casa Lopez…)
Casa de Pilar y Paco Lopez, Garden
View of las Alpujarras from Casa Pilar y Paco Lopez
Hand-made rugs of Capileira, Las Alpujarras
A local goods store, Capileira, Las Alpujarras
View of Las Alpujarras from Bubión
The next village heading downward is Bubión, where there are yet more arts & crafts stores, art galleries and several cafés and restaurants to cater for hungry hikers. There is also a small folk museum called Casa Alpujarreña, which was free to enter when we passed by, though the real draw – as with the neighbouring villages – is the frankly ridiculous view of the Alpujarra all around you.
If you plan on completing the circuit I’d recommend you take the steep, tumbling backstreets that lead into the woods before arriving in Pampaneira. During autumn the trees’ colours turn glorious shades of yellow, red, orange and green. And if you’re wearing orange-tinted sunglasses like I was you’ll wish you could take pictures simply by blinking your eyes.
There is supposedly an abundance of wildlife in the alpujarra – mountain goats, birds of prey and even the rare lynx are sighted often – but we were not to see any other living creature except the odd, fellow rambler and a penned herd of fat, soon-to-be-slaughtered pigs. Can’t complain though, with views like this:
(click for slideshow)
Old-school signpost in Bubión
The tumbling backstreets of Bubión
Houses in Bubión, Las Alpujarras
Somehow a tree has managed to burst through a wall in Bubión. Impressive.
View of Las Alpujarras, Spain
Orange, orange, orange
The colourful walkway to Pampaneira, Las Alpujarras
Views along the trail to Pampaneira
Our hilly walk finished in Pampaneira, where things are a bit livlier. Each bar buzzed with the sound of chatter and glasses being clinked by families and groups of friends, laughing and joking. The sun was up, the scenes were classic Spain and the beers were – at least for their brief life span – blissful. There was even a chocolate factory. Yes, that’s right – a genuine chocolate factory – which, save for an edible theme park and a few oompa-loompas, was everything I’d expect a chocolate factory to be. Namely, there was lots of free chocolate. It’s curious how at first you act all coy and indifferent in the interest of being polite, but the minute hands start swooping in for the flavour you’ve got your hawk eyes on all such nonchalance suddenly melts away. ‘There’s only one chunk of caramel biscuit left and you can think again if you think you’re getting to it first girl of eight‘. Seriously, I actually took candy from a baby. Tasted great too.
Next came the food (chocolate didn’t count). A steakhouse by the name of El Castaño had been strongly recommended by a friend and since none of us had EVER enjoyed a good steak in Spain before we simply had to indulge. It was perhaps the best meal I’ve had in Spain yet, and if it weren’t for the impending and inevitable traipse back up to the car in Capileira, I might never have moved again.
I’ll be back to Las Alpujarras soon, especially now since there is snow on the mountains. It’s a walkers paradise and absolutely unmissable if you are planning on visiting the Granada province of Spain.
Given the distance between Granada and La Alpujarra (70km) I’d recommend taking a car. There are only three buses that leave from Granada per day and the first is at 10am, meaning you’ll have missed the entire morning by the time you get there. The cost, however, is probably cheaper in comparison at €11 return, though if there are four or five of you it may work out only marginally more expensive to hire a car from either Granada city centre or Granada Airport. The bus timetable is as follows:
Granada – Capileira
10.00 12.00 16.30
Capileira – Granada
07.00 16.45 18.15
All services stop at Pampaneira and Bubión too, 5-10 minutes before and after respectively. The journey takes roughly two and a half hours. Go to alsa.es to book tickets.
Las Alpujarras, Spain
Me in Las Alpujarras
Autumn orange sunset over las alpujarras
Have you been to Las Alpujarras? Which other villages would you recommend? Was this article useful?
I’ll be honest: ‘skiing’ and ‘Spain’ were two words I had never used in the same sentence prior to my coming here. One pertained to package holidays in the French Alps, the other to fancy football and summer breaks on the beach. Then, several weeks into my expat journey a friend said ‘Sierra Nevada’ and that all changed.
‘What? A ski resort in southern Spain? You are joking?’ I scoffed.
‘Nope’ replied friend. ‘Not joking. Why don’t you go and see for yourself?’
So I did. Three weeks later I was peering down the front face of the Sierra Nevada from its 3400m summit, strapped into my snowboard, ready to tear my way down to the bottom. Amazing, considering just a week before I had been sunbathing in 20°+ temperatures.
Enjoyable as it was, that particular occasion had been rather a last minute and hastily organised excursion; had I not let blind excitement get in the way of better judgment I might have saved a few pennies. Truth is, a day in the Sierra is a costly one, whether you have your own equipment or not, and if you’re in Spain for a quick getaway, a whole year or indefinitely, chances are you’ll be here on a budget.
So after two years’ experience as a Sierra Nevada regular, I’ve finally cobbled together a breakdown of general info, prices, tips and recommendations, so that you can find all the information you need in one frank and friendly place.
Let’s get started.
A few facts
The Sierra Nevada ski resort is constructed on the north side of Veleta, the third highest peak in Spain.
It is the most southerly ski resort in Europe and the highest in Spain.
The resort hosted the 1996 Alpine World Ski Championships and continues to host top-level races at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.
A season typically lasts from late November until early May.
The lowest point of the resort is 2100m and the highest 3,398m above sea level.
The resort is run by a private-public enterprise called Cetursa Sierra Nevada, S.A.
The resort spans 100km of alpine skiing runs.
There are 115 runs in total: 50 red; 40 blue; 16 green and 9 black.
There are 2 cable cars, both of which link Pradollano to the mid-station Borreguiles, 17 chairlifts, 2 T-bar lifts and 2 magic carpets.
There is one superpark and a halfpipe.
There are two ways of getting to the Sierra Nevada: by car or by bus. Let’s start with the latter. Buses leave from Granada bus station for the Sierra Nevada every day. The journey takes around 50 minutes and the current timetable is as follows:
Granada – Sierra Nevada
Mon – Fri: 08.00 10.00 —— 17.00
Sat – Sun: 08.00 10.00 15.00 17.00
Sierra Nevada – Granada
Mon – Fri: 09.00 —– 16.00 18.30
Sat – Sun: 09.00 13.00 16.00 18.30
The price of a single ticket is €5, and a return €9. Tickets can either be booked in advance on alsa.es or paid for on the day, providing you arrive with plenty of time to spare. Often the queue for tickets is enormous in the half hour leading up to the scheduled departure time, particularly for the 8am bus. The last thing you want is to be slithering along at a snail’s pace while the minutes on the clock tick past. Believe me, it is an awful feeling, especially when you miss it.
If, on the other hand, you or a member of your gang owns a car, then this is a much better option. Find your way out of Granada by heading towards Calle Neptuno or, if this is too hard to find, ask a local to point you in the direction of Mae West, a nightclub whose whereabouts is known to virtually everybody. Once here, take the third exit on the roundabout so that you join the A-395 motorway, where you should keep right to ensure you are heading in the right direction (the left lane will bring you back into Granada). Eventually, you’ll begin the steep climb up to the resort, where – at least towards the top – you’ll doubtless encounter a fair bit of traffic. Carry on until you reach Pradollano, where you will be guided to the car park.
Alternatively, if you neither own a car nor want to take the bus, it might be worth considering sites like blablacar.es or amovens.es, where rides are sometimes posted by drivers looking to make a saving on petrol, the total cost of which (for a return journey) tends to be around €15. Personally, I think that hiring a car would only be worthwhile if staying the night; picking it up in the morning before leaving is a hassle and it is easily the most expensive means of transport.
The cost of parking your vehicle depends on what ‘season’ the resort is in. During low season, the fee is €16 for anything between 10 and 24 hours, €18 for the same during mid season and €20 during high season. If you plan to spend less than 10 hours at the resort, click here for a list of prices by the hour.
Occasionally, during the week, there are free parking spaces further up the mountain (instead of following the signs into the car park, turn left and carry on climbing), though the chance of finding one is never guaranteed.
As with the parking fees, the cost of a lift ticket or – as it is translated to in Spanish – un forfait, varies according to the season. All public holidays and weekends except the opening weekend (promotion prices) and during April (low season/spring prices) are categorised as high season. All weekdays except during mid December and mid January (promotion prices) are categorised as low season. The standard cost of one forfait is €45 during high season and €43 during low season, which seems a bit pointless but there you go. Click here for more details regarding prices of forfaits.
Needless to say then, the cost of a lift ticket is ludicrously expensive. If you are a student, however, you’re in luck. Just sign up to Sierra Nevada’s official web page, create a profile and attach your matrícula, which you should have received when you first enrolled at Granada University. Doing this will qualify you for a subidon, which gets you five full days for only €145 – a deal not to be missed!
And still the snowmakers whir away…
Unsurprisingly, there is an abundance of ski hire shops in the Sierra Nevada and deciding which to choose is an unwanted headache (see below for my recommendation). The cost of hiring is pretty similar across the board: for skis (with poles)/a snowboard and boots, expect to pay anywhere between €15 and €40, depending on the level of quality you opt for. Waterproof trousers can also be hired from certain places, usually for around €10-15. I’ve never come across jackets for hire, but if you don’t have a proper skiing jacket then a decent anorak with plenty of layers underneath ought to do the trick.
If you’d rather do business before arriving, there’s always the option of hiring online before you go. In theory, this should mean that you’ll beat the queues and have your equipment ready and waiting to be used.
There are a variety of ski schools in the Sierra Nevada, all of which offer a variety of options to choose from. Each school caters for all learners, from beginners right through to advanced. In the morning classes generally cost €40-45, as this is peak time, though during the afternoon some schools drop their prices to €25-30. These rates are for one-on-one classes – group rates are much lower.
Some schools even offer a class + ski-hire saver deal, which is ideal if you’ve never skied or snowboarded before. Click here for more details (unfortunately there is no English translation of this page).
All shops in ski resorts routinely charge an unfathomable amount for just about anything they have on sale, and the Sierra Nevada, sadly, is no exception. Don’t be surprised to find Mars bars priced at €2 or multipacks of brioche for €3.50 in supermarkets. Ready made sandwiches/baguettes are cheaper than eating at a restaurant but are still expensive at about €4-5.
Although it is dear everywhere, I’d generally advise against buying ski/snowboarding equipment in Pradollano, as there will most likely be something just as good for a better price online or in Granada, such as the good people at Afterbang.
Tips & Recommendations
Best runs for beginners, intermediate and experts
For obvious reasons, complete beginners are best sticking to the three beginner slopes directly in front of the Borreguiles mid-station. However these particular slopes quickly become clogged with zig-zagging ski schools and reckless I’ll-just-teach-myself types so I’d advise more advanced skiers/boarders to steer clear. Once you’ve got the hang of linking your turns, I’d recommend that you move on to a gentle blue run; el Cecilio off to the right, starting at the top of the Monachil chair would be ideal. It isn’t too long and brings you back to the mid-station, though be careful that you don’t accidentally take the Manazanilla red that runs parallel to it!
Generally speaking, the Sierra Nevada is perfect for intermediates. The mountain isn’t technical, and the wide-open nature of almost all of its runs allows for a lot of freedom, so most intermediates should be comfortable on any red and one or two of the blacks. The steeper reds are off to the left, coming own the Veleta ridge and a good black to get you started would be either la visera or el trampoline, both short, quick and accessed via the Emilio Reyes chair.
For the more advanced skier/boarder, there are several pistes worth checking out. My personal favourite is the long, winding agila (meaning ‘eel’) further down the left side of the mountain. This run necessitates the ability to make sharp turns at speed and chucks up a surprise every now and then. Moreover, it’s often very quiet since you have to traverse along the diagonal cauchiles (accessed via the Stadium chair) to get there. We snowboarders do not like doing this, but believe me, in this case it is worth it.
Elsewhere, a clutch of steep, rapid blacks can be found on the right side of the mountain, all of which come to a head at the lower Pradollano station. On a fresh powder day, there isn’t anywhere better to dig out massive carves, especially in the bowl beneath the blue villén. The far right side of Laguna also has some wide, often untracked pistes that are perfect for powder days, cartujo and monaguillo for example.
Hiking the ? ridge
Buying from the street vendors
As soon as you arrive, you will surely notice the profusion of street vendors poking about the place. If you come by bus there will be one waiting when you step off it. Others lurk within the village centre. Generally, these guys do not try to rip you off; they know that you know (and if you don’t know then now you do) that their range of products are of a generally lower quality, so you will pay a fair price (which of course can be negotiated) for what you buy. I’ve friends who’ve bought gloves and sunglasses from these guys and they’ve served their purpose just fine, but they don’t expect them to last forever!
Eating and drinking
If you want to save money, don’t eat in restaurants. It’s as simple as that really. The cost of a burger and fries, for example, is usually in the region of €6 or €7. Taking your own sandwiches is a far more sensible idea and – if you want to get your money’s worth for the day – this also cuts down on lunchtime, as service at restaurants is often slow due to how busy it gets. I often take a bag and use one of the lockers found at the left hand side of the Borreguiles mid-station to store it in. That way, you can just ski down, grab your lunch, eat outside in the sun and rush off again. And it only costs €1 to use.
If you do want to push the boat out though, menus del día are perhaps the best way to go. Expect to pay around €9 or €10 for this at most restaurants, but this does include a starter, mains and either coffee or dessert.
At the end of the day, it’s always nice to kick back with a few beers and tapas somewhere. To keep costs down, I’d recommend 100 Montaditos, found on Plaza de Pradollano. The famously cut-rate franchise actually sticks to its normal prices, so big jarras of Cruz Campo set you back just €1.60 and any of their mouthwatering montaditos just as much if not less. Actually, on a Sunday everything – including the beer – sells for €1. Ordinarily I don’t go for Cruz Campo but at that price you can’t argue.
Ski-hire and Ski Schools
Personally, I’ve never had to hire equipment but friends of mine often use Intersport Riosport (a large, European based company) that offers fair prices for quality equipment. You can find it on Plaza Andalucía.
If you’re looking for native English-speaking instructors to teach you or your family/friends, I’d absolutely recommend The British Ski Centre, set up and co-run by two fully-qualified Brits who have more than fifteen years’ experience instructing in the Sierra Nevada. Click here to find out more about them.
Unless you’ve booked accommodation for the weekend, you are unlikely to properly experience Sierra Nevada’s après ski culture. There are of course various, lively bars to go to straight after the skiing is done for the day, El Golpe or Jaleo for example. But the real nightlife gets going later on at places like Mango and Sticky Fingers, where chupítos are aplenty, or Chimenea and Chicle, where you can use up whatever remaining energy you have left by dancing until 4 or 5 in the morning.
As for now, the winter has most definitely arrived here in Granada, meaning that – with a bit of luck – some snow won’t be too far behind either. There is already a base level and those ever-reliable snowmakers are working hard to keep the pistes fresh, but ultimately there is a massive dearth of snow at the moment. Skis crossed that changes soon!
Have you been to the Sierra Nevada recently? Do you have any more tips and recommendations? Please leave a comment
Roughly halfway between the monumental city of Granada and the (still!) snowy crests of the Estación de Esquí de Pradallno is a bar/café which, according to its website, offers ‘something different’.
“¿Tienes ganas de algo diferente? ¿Necesitas nuevos ambientes en la cuidad? En House Café hemos unido nuestra profesionalidad y calidad para ofrecerla a todos nuestros clients y hacer de sus días en House Café, un día un poquito más diferente”
I am yet to tire of Granada’s bar and tapas scene but somewhere with ‘something different’ seemed a pleasantly refreshing idea when we elected to go to House Café last Saturday.
House Café is luxurious campsite Fuente del lobo’s adjoining bar & restaurant, furnished with a swimming pool, rounded, squidgy sofas and a resonant, surround-sound speaker system. The only way of reaching the place is by car; no bus services stop on their way up to the ski resort and taxis will charge around €30-40 euros one way from Granada.
Fortunately for some of us, three friends volunteered to drive and forego alcohol for the afternoon. And for that we are eternally grateful.
When we arrived, the outside area was surprisingly bare so we were treated to poolside pews and speedy service. We were suitably impressed by what we got.
However, drinks don’t come cheap when you’re that far flung, unless you opt for substandard tubos or tinto de veranos. Instead we chose to push the boat out, seeing as though we’d come so far. Disappointingly, the ensuing rounds of €6 priced ron y colas were heavily watered down, though we didn’t let that get in the way of having our fun in the sun to the soundtrack of relaxing, Ibiza-style house music.
House Café is suitable for families and groups of friends alike, and a terrific alternative if you live in or are visting the Granada area, beaches aren’t your thing and you don’t have any wealthy friends with swimming pool fitted villas.
A couple of months back I posted a long, rambling piece expounding my ongoing frustration at not being able to decide where I would call home next year. My options, as far as I could see, were fairly straightforward:
Give up my life here in Granada, go home and begin looking for a job – any job – that would pay substantially better wages than those of an English teacher in Spain.
Move elsewhere within Spain and continue teaching English while attempting to pursue other, hopefully profitable avenues of interest.
Stay put here in Granada, where I had begun to feel quite attached, and continue teaching English while attempting to pursue other, hopefully profitable avenues of interest.
Option 3 always had its nose in front; it was by far the easiest way to go. Yet ‘easiest’ – at least for a while – amounted to ‘laziest’ and ‘most irrational’ in my mind. I kept convincing myself it was the wrong choice to make – that I’d be effectively relegating myself to a career in teaching English if I stayed, which, needless to say, is not what I intend to do with my life.
Many of you left comments and offered me sound and heartfelt advice, which was received with enormous gratitude. Thank you. I even received a longwinded, matter-of-fact email from some guy who’d stumbled across the blog via my couchsurfing profile. I never got back to him, but if he’s reading this, then thank you too.
But even after all that, I was still unable to make a decision. And that’s how it stayed, until the penny finally dropped on one gloriously sunny afternoon on Cantarriján beach, as I sat back with a mojito in hand. Moments before, I had been sunbathing in 27° heat, and 3 hours prior to that I’d been strapped to a snowboard hurling myself down the hoary peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
How, in the name of jamón Serrano and tinto de verano, could I turn my back on that sort of lifestyle?
Well, ‘lifestyle’ may be putting it somewhat optimistically, but the point is that there was virtually nowhere else in the world I could’ve pulled off a feat quite as awesome as that. All of a sudden, any lingering uncertainty in my mind had vanished, and all I could think about were the plentiful reasons why I was undoubtedly going to stay. Here are five of them:
One: The People
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some truly excellent people since my arrival in September 2011. Initially, forming friendships with non-English speaking Spaniards proved tough, as my own level of Spanish was low and I hadn’t quite begun to feel settled. Moreover, I was determined not to slip into the confines of the ‘guiri bubble’, so duly tried my best to keep away from the typical hangouts. And by ‘hangouts’ I obviously mean ‘Irish pubs’.
These days, I’m as big a guiri as you’ll ever come across. I can often be found watching football and glugging back pints of tapa-less lager in Irish pubs. Well, one Irish pub to be exact. But I’ve absolutely no shame in admitting that; it’s here where I have met people who I now regard as best and closest friends.
Of course that’s not to say I haven’t neglected my Spanish-speaking social life – I am the undisputed intercambio king of Granada don’t you know. And the hippie vibe in Granada is very special, as can be seen in this shot below, of a huge, spontaneous party that took place in La Huerta de Carlos in el albaicin not long ago.
Two: The City
Chances are if you’ve read this blog before you’ll probably have gathered that I am rather fond of my enchanting abode by now. And if you haven’t, or even if you have, allow me to explain why/refresh your memory…
Granada, as a city, is totally unique; its matchless combination of Spanish, Moorish and modern European cultures is worth staying for alone.
Each day on my way to work, I walk past Plaza Nueva, where I can see the lower reaches of the Alhambra Palace looming over the tourist trafficked square, on to Calle Elvira, where the brightly adorned Moroccan-style clothes stalls and cramped, smoky tetarías line the cobbled cuestas leading up into El Albaicin. Later in the evening, I walk home back along Elvira to the accompanying soundtrack of various Spanish bands or Flamenco artists ringing out from the tapas bars either side of me, and eventually arrive in my own barrio, El Realejo, which used to be the old Jewish quarter, to a scene of lively guiri bars and various wallworks by the eminent El Niño de las Pinturas.
I’m still discovering new and amazing things about it every day.
One of El Niño’s best pieces in El Realejo, Granada
Three: The Sierra Nevada
The locality of one of Europe’s prime ski resorts (despite its comparatively uninteresting terrain) was the initial reason for my coming here. I’d never heard of it before someone mentioned it during a chat regarding my future whereabouts when I was living in El Puerto de Santa María. It just so happened that the February Puente was right around the corner and I still hadn’t made plans. One week later I was standing on top of the SN’s summit telling my friend that I absolutely had to move here. Seven months later my goal had been fulfilled.
If truth be told, I have not visited anywhere near as often as I would have liked to since the cost for one single daytrip is so despicably high, but when I do visit, I am always reminded of how extremely lucky I am, no matter what the conditions. I love snowboarding, and I’m not about to give up my local ski resort just yet.
Four: The Music
My first year in Spain amounted to the dullest ever in terms of decent, live music on offer. Before leaving the UK, music had been a huge part of my lifestyle. I didn’t play any instruments, but I could often be found flailing around dimly lit, subterranean nightclubs to the sound of thrashing guitars or earsplitting drum and bass, and I also wrote about it when publications were interested.
Here in Granada I have been lucky enough to rediscover the music led lifestyle I left behind in the UK, thanks to clubs like the reggae reverent Booga and the bass buff haven Sala El Tren. I’ve also seen a good amount of cover bands since moving to Granada, the most recent and outright best being a Nirvana tribute band at Plantabaja. They rocked it!
The one thing Granada does lack in this category is a major music festival, but it really isn’t that much of a big deal; Sevilla and Murcia are only a couple of hours’ drive away after all…
Five: The Weather
This year has been distinctively wetter and colder than the last, but I believe much of Spain has suffered the same miserable fortune. At one point I began to wonder whether there really was that much of a difference between here and back home. Then it got sunny, and I felt like an idiot.
December through February is tough – especially if you live somewhere where your housemates don’t allow you to use the central heating – but after (what is normally) a brief spell of rain and dreary skies in March, we are swiftly rewarded with months of bold, blue skies and increasingly hot temperatures until around the middle of October. July and August are especially sizzling times of year, and I do not stick around, but May and June are perfect for beach weather, hence my impending trip to Las Negras in Cabo de Gata this coming weekend
Special mentions: tapas and the girls
No list of reasons why I’m staying in Granada would be complete without paying justified homage to the city’s unrivalled culinary scene – sorry – free culinary scene. Well, perhaps not everything is free (certainly not in restaurants), but any tapa served in Granada comes gratis with your drink 99% of the time.
Then there are las señoritas. Meeting girls – Spanish girls – as a young(ish), single, foreign and dare I say dashing fellow has been a subject I have never visited on this here blog of mine. Let’s just say that being king of the intercambios seems to yield various benefits, and I’m not quite ready to give that up either…
If you’re planning a trip to Granada, head over to It Rains In Spain where you’ll find oodles of handy tips…
‘Hiking’ is not one of my hobbies. To be honest, I have rarely hiked anywhere if the upshot of it hasn’t involved me being able to turn around, strap myself to a snowboard and hurl myself back down from whence I came. I’ve been up Machu Picchu and – wait for it – Ben Nevis before, and both climbs were thoroughly enjoyable and memorable to say the least, but neither experience left any irrevocable longing to partake in the practice on a regular basis.
I’m not so sure of that anymore.
Last Saturday, I was invited by a group of friends to join them for a day’s hiking in the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range. The chosen trail was the long, gravelly and rugged route up to the peak of Monte Trevenque – known to locals as ‘El rey’ (ooh er), followed by a walk through the cascading terrains of Las Cahorros in Monachil if time permitted it. Other than passing through on my way to the ski resort, I’d never been to Monachil nor any of its surrounding areas before. It was a no-brainer.
Next morning, we left Granada aboard the 181 bus and arrived in Monachil at around 11am. We were supposed to meet several others and our guide for the day but in typical Spanish Sunday style, things had gotten off to a slow start. A quick snooze, one revitalising glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and about an hour and a half later, and we were finally piling into the back of a Citroen hatchback so that we could be taken to the starting point of the 10km round hike.
The route starts near Fuente del Hervidero, a traditional country fare restaurant situated on the edge of the Sierra Nevada national park, though most walkers generally begin at the car park a km or so further up the road. This, sensibly, is what we did, though not before stopping to fill several plastic 2L bottles at the restaurant’s fresh mountain water reserve – an importance that cannot be underestimated given the entirely exposed locale of the mountainous domain.
We set off in zipped up sweaters under a cloudy sky, though only a matter of minutes had passed before the sun broke through and the layers were being stuffed back into rucksacks. For at least an hour, the terrain maintained a very steady incline, which zigzagged its way around the sandy wastelands, offering splendid views of the lower-lying Las Arenales along the way.
Our guide, Wayne – an outgoing, brawny and Manchester bred fella (ey up!) – was already a friend of ours, and had offered to take us out for a very agreeable fee. He was a living and breathing brochure for the Sierra Nevada – full of facts and answers to any questions we posed to him. I only wish he had told me about the callous and spiky-natured plant life along the trail before I accidentally grabbed a handful of one in order to stop myself from falling. I’m still plucking splinters out of my fingers from that almost a week later.
Further along we stopped beneath a cluster of jagged rock-forms perched on top of a sandy mound. We raced to the tip of the highest one where we mucked about pretending to be apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey for a bit, and then stopped being silly and carried on.
Eventually, the route began to steepen, and before we knew it, the gravel was slipping away from beneath our boots (or in my case a pair of hole-ridden converse). The peak loomed in front of us, yet still seemed miles away. Some climbers on their way back down bid us a cheerful ‘hola’, while others warned of the ridge’s sharp increase in steepness towards the top. Honesty is good.
“Take small steps and tread with the soles of your feet!” yelled Wayne from behind me.
Small steps, soles of feet, small steps, soles of feet. Keeeep it steady…
Miraculously, each of us made it to the summit without slipping. Dare I say we were beginning to feel like seasoned pros.
There we stood at 2079m overlooking the entire Sierra Nevada national park. It was magnificent. Below us the rolling rises and arid plateaus stretched out to the shimmering haze of Granada on the horizon, and up in the distance between various other mountain ranges, we could even see the ski resort’s La Laguna chairlift where some of us had been exactly a week before.
We were in no hurry to begin the descent, so we took our time snacking, gazing, exploring and even napping in some cases. Wayne pointed out a couple of tiny manger displays at the highest point, which had been assembled by a visiting Catholic group on a recent trip. A pair of Ibex that showed up minutes later proved far more interesting to watch. Surprisingly, neither seemed particularly bothered that we were just a few feet away from them, though they did get a bit iffy when my friend attempted to close in for a closer look.
Eventually, we got moving again, treading even more carefully than before. The descent is a lot more dangerous, and takes its toll on your legs. If you’re very surefooted and half mad then like Wayne and aforementioned friend you might prefer to jump and skid your way down (the gravelly section). Personally, I was content to continue with the ‘small steps, soles of feet’ approach. I prefer not to tempt fate.
Just as the gradient eased off we moved into La Rambla, a dusty, dried up river valley with very little vegetation. Sooner or later, this developed into a small pass that led us back to the route where we had originally started. Before long, we were chomping on giant olives and sipping ice-cold tubos back at the restaurant. Annoyingly, the kitchen had already closed – even though there appeared to be various other groups returning from lengthy walks, all equally as famished. Why I ask? Why!?
It was late by the time we arrived at Los Cahorros, a sprawling, waterfall abounding area just twenty or so minutes from the town of Monachil. Our group size had reduced to four, including Wayne, and rather predictably there was nobody else around at 7pm. We had the whole place to ourselves.
It was lots of fun; from scrambling under or around protruding rocks that blocked our path to scampering beneath gushing waterfalls and along wobbly rope bridges, our tired legs – unbelievably – still had some energy left in them. At one point we passed a bikini top that had been nailed to a rock hanging over the stream. According to Wayne, its previous owner had climbed from underneath the overhang and up the front side, simply to prove that she had managed such a feat by flaunting the colourful garment for all to see. We were suitably impressed, though apparently not enough for me to remember to take a photo of it. Doh!
The day finished with yet more beer and generous portions of carne en salsa at one of Wayne’s favourite local bars. We all agreed that it was undoubtedly the best carne and salsa any of us had ever had, ever.
Whether you’re into hiking or not, The Cuerda del Trevenque and Los Cahorros are two gems well worth investigating, though the former is considered to be one of the more difficult routes throughout the park, so maybe start smaller if you’re not match fit so to speak. The best time to visit is in late spring, after all the snow has disappeared and before the heat becomes insufferable.
I found this blog that has a lot of useful information for anybody keen to learn more. I know I’ll be using it a fair bit from now on anyway…
Have you been hiking in the Sierra Nevada? Where else is worth going to? Any suggestions most welcome!