Escape the Crowds
There are few places in Europe where it is still possible to escape the crowds, especially for hikes in the mountains. The Las Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada have been a popular destination for Spaniards to get away from the heat of the summertime, especially for locals from nearby cities like Granada. Outside of these summer months, however the mountainscape dotted with egg-white villages becomes a paradise for hikers. Perfect for those seeking quiet tracks that still provide stunning views and an exhilarating experience, no matter how experienced. The picturesque village of Bubion was the perfect base for us to discover the spectacular hills and mountains surrounding us.
Hiking up the Poqueira Gorge
After our stroll up the valley the night before, as something of a warm up, we had planned a more serious hike. Our aim was to walk up the Poqueira Gorge then take in a wide circular route higher on the mountains. The way started in Capileira and promised great views of the Las Alpujarras. It first would follow the river gorge and then loop back to the village higher up following some of the many ancient traditional irrigation channels that criss-cross the mountains. With 7-8 hours of continuous estimated walking time it was surely not a Sunday stroll, neither is it a hike that should be attempted with younger or less experienced children, although we did meet one couple with a toddler in a backpack en route. However the first parts down to the river valley would make a good walk for less energetic families.
The Circular Route
Our circular route started in the last village of the valley, Capileira, which we had walked to already the evening before. We parked the car on one of the car parks in the village and bought breakfast, some additional bread and drink that would last us the entire hike, as out in the wilds there would be no option buying food or drink en route.
Leaving the Village
Ready with our backpacks full we left the village following the signposts for “Sendero” and the PR-A 23 trail. Shortly after leaving the village we reached a signpost describing the hiking route, including a map of the area. From there on we were on a fairly narrow path that led us quite steeply uphill. Jerome was not yet awake and had been rather moody since getting up, he really did not want to climb a mountain at that point – I guess his hunger did not help! This would soon change. We found a lovely spot in the early morning sun, already surprisingly warm, with stunning views of the pretty village and the valley below, for a quick breakfast picnic on the go. Once Jerome had eaten a croissant he was feeling better and he could to wait to move on, ready for a long hike ahead.
Ancient Irrigation Chanels
The path zigzagged higher passing one of the ancient irrigation channels that date back to the Moors and have been providing the villages with drinking water for centuries. There are fountains that can be seen throughout the streets and squares in Bubion and Capileira. The cool mountain water runs through these man made waterways, at first over ground and then often underneath it for kilometres. On the north side of the Sierra Nevada, the water runs all the way into Granada.
The Abandoned Village of La Cebadilla
The hiking path levelled out before joining a gravel road that led us slightly downhill to the abandoned village of La Cebadilla. This tiny village consisted of only a few houses and was once home to the workers of the close by hydroelectric power station. At one point about 50 years it housed over 200 inhabitants and even had a small school for the children and a chapel. La Cebadilla’s remoteness meant that daily life was difficult for the families without easy access to even basic necessities, including bread, milk… The abandoned houses we peeked into were forlorn and empty, paint peeling off the walls and the floors filled with rubble and garbage. However the church had been turned into a playground for local artists and kids and it was easy to imagine the odd party happening there on weekends. Jerome was amazed when he discovered the mural of a giant baby in designer nappies where the altar once stood!
The Hydrolectric Station
Not far beyond the abandoned houses stands the hydroelectric power station, named La Cebadilla like the abandoned village. The power station is a rather impressive building to be found in the Poqueira valley and it is one three electric stations of its kind in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A signpost next to the building explained the basic of how the hydroelectric station functions, easily understandable, even for younger kids. We could see the water pipes running down the mountainside and into the power station. Inside the turbines then produce electricity that feeds the entire village of Capileira and any excess runs into the main electricity lines.
Hiking Along the Mountain Path
From there on the path gets narrow and steep again and our legs needed to get back into sync of hiking uphill. Eventually it turned into a gentler path and we were greeted by the sound of bells chiming from a group of cows feeding on the grassy fields. The colours of autumn were clearly visible on the trees and plants on the slopes and the views of the mountaintops were changing constantly. We stopped for a break at a bridge that crossed a mountain stream and provided us with the perfect spot to enjoy our beautiful surroundings. Jerome and I took off our sweaty hiking boots and dipped our feet into the freezing water, no surprise really considering there was already snow on the top of the mountains.
Uphill into the Sierra Nevada
The next two hours we spent walking up the hill, deeper and higher into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada towards the Refugio de Poqueira. At first the track wound along the stream, through trees and shrubs dressed in their Autumn colours and the out into the bare grassland of the slopes, above the tree line. We kept on thinking that we should have reached the junction with the main path up to the refuge, but it seemed to take much longer than described in the route online. There was barely anyone around, we only met about five other hikers during the entire day.
The Last Part of Our Climb
The path twisted through the valley, crossing muddy patches where streams tumbled across into the valley, and climbing up several small rises before descending again. Finally after a longer climb we eventually we arrived at a stone hut, behind it we noticed the turn off to the refugio and other paths heading east and west. A local man sat outside the stone house, cowboy hat to protect him from the bright sun with his horse tied onto a post close by.
Walking to the Refuge
Originally we had talked about walking the whole way to the refuge hut for the views, but according to the information it would take another hour at least, straight steep uphill with the same on decent after. Therefore we decided to skip the climb and head straight back to Capileira, as we were daylight would run out all too quickly with the shortening days.
Taking the Circular Route
Taking the suggested circular route we walked along the path on the right side of the valley, following the loop back to the village. At first there was a signpost and we crossed another mountain stream. Shortly after we had to rely on the stone way-marking cairns people had created to find the path, or look ahead to see it winding through the low grass. The vistas of the mountains were incredible, the snow covered tops visible in the distance, glowing white against the bright blue sky. The web of irrigation channels was also easily recognisable, with lines crossing through the landscape. We could see one contouring above us while another was below.
Keep an Eye out for Stone Cairns
Finding the main trail amongst all the sheep trails was more difficult than finding the path on our hike up. By watching out for the stone pile cairns, we were able to the keep to the designated route without too much trouble. The way was crossed by tumbling mountain streams, and weaved between tussocks of grass, a few lonely shrubs and small trees punctuated the landscape. After climbing to a viewpoint the track descended down and just before the lower irrigation canal we were overtaken by the cowboy on his horse, who we had seen earlier.
Descending to Capileira
Crossing a few more of the smaller water channels that branch off from the main one, we rapidly descended towards Capileira. Before reaching a small pine forest we stumbled onto a group of sheep and goats guarded by a shepherd with his dogs. Jerome was over joyed to see small lambs and goats among the herd and we watched them scramble across the rocky slopes for a while. Eventually we re-joined part of the path we had walked up that morning, not far from the village. The white washed houses with their distinguishing chimneys came into view glowing in the low afternoon sun. To our surprise we bumped into someone we had chatted to in a café in Granada at the viewpoint just above Capileira, he and his wife were staying there for a few days. What a small world it is! Even though we had enjoyed the long hike we were pleased to return to civilisation. We craved a cup of coffee and Jerome was keen to have a hot chocolate with a sweet bun.
Dinner at Estacion 4
That evening our legs were too tired to venture too far and so we had dinner at the Restaurant Estacion 4 in Bubion, which had a small selection of local dishes. The food had a slight Moroccan Moorish influence, and the lamb dishes were absolute perfection so can be highly recommended. They seemed happy to prepare dishes for kids on request and Jerome ate their lasagne, which he really enjoyed.
Our next hike
After the long hike up the Poqueira gorge we discussed over dinner to make a shorter round the next day, taking a circular route from Capileira to Bubion, read all about that day in our next blog post.
Tips and Hints About Hiking the Poqueira Gorge
Please note that this hike is not one that should be considered with younger children, especially those not used to long walks. Even for us as experienced hikers with an older one it was a strenuous hike and it took longer than anticipated or suggested from the route online. The round route is over 20 km and includes at least 1200m of ascent. It leads high on the mountain with little shelter and so requires respect and suitable preparation. However, you have the option to walk from Capileira, past the abandoned hamlet to the hydroelectric station, picnic in the valley beyond, and then return to the village. This can be easily done and makes a pleasant walk for all, including little ones. If you do venture on the longer hike up the Poqueira valley then make sure you are well prepared, have plenty of water and food with you and tell someone where you are going. Sturdy hiking boots are essential and do not go hiking if the weather forecast predicts unstable conditions, the way would be very difficult to find in cloud or mist. Find a detailed map and description to the hike here.
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