PAMPANEIRA, Bubion and Capileira are among the highest villages in Spain. They cling to the terraced slopes of the Sierra Nevada like pale limpets to a rock. Streets are narrow and winding; shade is cool; food is local. They are wonderful places to visit . . .
The history of the three villages is buried deep in their Moorish past. Local tradition maintains that when the kingdom of Granada – the last Islamic outpost in the Iberian Peninsula – surrendered to the Catholic monarchs in 1492, the residents of the city fled into the mountains where they continued to scrape a living from the soil.
The Moorish influence is still in evidence in place names, architecture, village life, the cuisine, and in farming and irrigation methods. The Alpujarra, the area of fertile hills and valleys on the south side of the Sierra Nevada, remains a place trapped between two cultures. At least one local church was originally built as a mosque. Stand on a hill on a clear evening and you can see the Rif mountains in Morocco.
The highest of the three villages, Capileira, stands at an altitude of 1,436 metres – slightly higher than the summit of Ben Nevis. Up here the air is clear and fresh, and at this time of year has a satisfying autumnal fragrance.
I like the idea of wandering along the fault line between two cultures. There is no grinding of tectonic plates. It’s more an ebb and flow of soil and sands, each bearing its distinct seeds and coloured stones. Christian era; Muslim era; Christian era – an evolvement of strata, fossils and plant life.
I have climbed Mulhacen, Spain’s highest mountain, from Capileira, and its craggy neighbour, Veleta. Most visits, though, are made simply to savour the atmosphere in this narrow corner of Andalucia – to explore the alleys, eat the migas (a traditional dish, originally Moorish, made from breadcrumbs or couscous), or gaze across the shady depths of the Poqueira gorge to sunlit terraces of almond and sweet chestnut.
White villages. Black coffee. Pale wine. Dark honey. Warm wind. It’s all in the mixture; and in the underlying strata. That’s why we keep coming back.