At the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada, where deep ravines split arid hillsides, is what was for centuries one of Spain's most remote and isolated corners. A journey here is like a journey back into time. Muslim shepherds and farmers lived here until being replaced by Christian settlers in the 1500s.
In the wake of the Reconquista in Seville in 1248 and Granada in 1492, Moors fled to the area to stake out a new life. Ill-fated Boabdil, last emir of Granada, fled here with his mother when Isabella and Ferdinand defeated his armies.
Isolated for centuries from the rest of the world, most of the Alpujarreños still cling to their old rural way of life. You'll see, for example, communal laundry troughs where women gather to wash the family clothing. Writers like Richard Ford and Washington Irving were attracted by the rural idyll of this district.
Las Alpujarras is like a piece of the Orient in the western extreme of Europe. Whitewashed cubic houses, terrace farming, towns hugging the contours of mountains, and incredible scenery await you at every turn. The scenery is dotted with the remains of fortresses and towers, most erected during the period of Islamic domination.
The donkey is still used as a beast of burden and a means of transport. In the high range live the mountain goat and other species such as the fox, badger, and genet. Wildcats still call Las Alpujarras home, as does the jeweled lizard.
By the mid-20th century, struggling artists, writers, poets, and hippies settled in the area, along with many expats. Islamic influences have remained strong in the area, particularly in the Berber-style villages and the terraced and irrigated landscape.
Some of the architecture of Las Alpujarras still shows a marked Moorish influence, especially in the clay roofs with chimneys. In little villages, narrow streets wind between the houses built one above the other. Most houses are constructed of local materials such as stone, mud, slate, gray clay, or launa (wood from the chestnut tree). Houses are almost always whitewashed, and are cubic in shape with few exterior openings.
Alpujarras handicrafts, once in danger of extinction, have been revived. In fact, some visitors tour the region merely to shop. Embroidery, esparto work, silverwork, basket weaving, wrought iron, pottery, and leather goods, among other items, are just part of the wide range of crafts for sale from village to village. Alpujarras blankets are highly coveted.