White villages

white villages 1PAMPANEIRA, 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.

The white walls of Pampaneira, with Bubion in the top right and Capileira in the distance
The white walls of Pampaneira, with Bubion in the top right and Capileira in the distance

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The village of Capileira, the uppermost of the three, with the summit of Veleta – Spain's third-highest mountain – in the background
The village of Capileira, the uppermost of the three, with the summit of Veleta – Spain’s third-highest mountain – in the background

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.

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23 thoughts on “White villages

  1. Now that the shopping precinct on my housing estate is nearly finished there’s a touch of the Mediterranean in its whiteness and brightness. Or so I thought this morning, but having seen these photos the shopping precinct continues to look like the ugly bit of Kaliningrad.

    Please stop torturing us with your photos of paradise.

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      1. Wheel bearing is great now, thanks. Had the front break pads done last week and when the mechanic took them off it was amazing the car had been able to stop at all.

        And a post about headlight conversion would be a treat on these dark October days. Pity you’re not in France because that would have involved recolouring them too.

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  2. That is a fabulous valley, more like Tibet than Spain. I remember the houses ‘growing’ out of the hillside, and all those lovely chimneys. You are lucky to be so close. On reflection it’s not luck as you have planned it that way – good on you.

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    1. Hi John. We love it up there. It can get a bit touristy in the high season, but at this time of year it is like visiting a different world. Now you’ve got me thinking about visiting Tibet.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Hi Alen. Do you think the expression ‘scrape a living from the soil’ comes from a chicken farmer?
    I think it’s nice that you are able to register the autumnal fragrance – I love the shift of the seasons.
    At last I might add that your description of ‘the mixture’ and your fondness for plants shines through the entire post, with or without Maurer’s influence on culture.
    All the best and happy walks trough the narrow streets 🙂
    Hanna

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    1. I hope to become a chicken farmer soon, Hanna. Or, more precisely, a man who has six or seven chickens in his garden. I will help them to scrape, so long as they don’t dig up my vegetables.
      Chickens cost six or seven euros over here, by the way, which is less than half the price they are in England.
      Alen

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      1. I just tried to save my misspelling: Trough, remembering the nativity scene on Trevenque.
        If there is an empty place this year you could make a contribution yourself 🙂 🙂
        Have you ever seen chickens in a nativity play?

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    1. Hi Carol. I was driving along the coast the other night, just as the sun was setting, and the Rif mountains were clear on the horizon. For an instant I thought it was the Isle of Man, then I realised where I was.
      Cheers, Alen

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