The trip to Granada and the Alpujarras – May 2015
The sun shone on the righteous as 32 members of Val de Pop U3A set off on a beautiful day in May on a nine-day visit to Granada and the Alpujarras.
Our first stop was at the village of Purullena, just outside of Guadix, where half of the villagers live in cave houses. We were proudly shown around one of the caves by Paco, who was a fifth generation dweller in his house. They have all the usual rooms – kitchen, lounge, bedrooms, bathroom and toilet and keep a constant temperature of 19 degrees all year round. Only the kitchen has windows, but all the cave houses have running water, electricity and even Internet connection. Paco has turned the floor above his house into a fascinating museum full of old farming and cave making tools, furniture, flat irons, Singer treadle sewing machines we could remember our mums using, and some old radios that brought back memories of listening to Journey into Space on a Monday evening. We arrived in good time for a delicious buffet dinner at our hotel in Granada.
The next morning we assembled for a walking tour of Granada. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, effusively reeling off facts and figures with fluttering hands and eye contact intensity. Escorting us around the alleyways and silk market areas, we visited the Cathedral and Real Capilla where Ferdinand and Isobel are entombed. You will remember from your history lessons that they were the parents of Katherine of Aragon who was the first wife of Henry VIII.
After dinner our coach took us for the short drive to the Albaicin, the gypsy area of the city where we watched a flamenco show. The seating arrangements were reminiscent of a trip on Ryanair, but it didn’t spoil the frenetic display of hand clapping, heel tapping and shawl shaking, Granada-style. It was different from Seville-style flamenco we’d seen before – no castanets, fans and heavily flounced gowns – but much singing and even a display of belly dancing, no doubt a nod to the Moorish influence in Granada.
Day three of our visit had been reserved for us to visit the Alhambra individually – or not, as some of the group had been before. Even after four visits it was still a sight to behold.
Next day we drove up through the scenic mountains of the Sierra Nevadas to the purpose-built ski village of Pradollano. Situated at 2,150 metres, there was still snow nearby on some of the mountainsides. It had closed for the skiing season the week before and was due to open in June for the summer. Consequently, it resembled a ghost town with just one cafe open for a much needed coffee and comfort break.
Perhaps it was the high altitude that caused our guide to miscount us when we returned to the coach, but we’d driven for only a few minutes when we noticed that two of our party were no longer with us. In spite of the tight, hairpin bends, our driver effortlessly turned the coach on a sixpence and we returned to pick them up, much to their relief.
For our final day in Granada, we took the local minibus from the hotel into town, then another into the fascinating and winding streets of the Albaicin where we’d visited for the flamenco show. It was well worth the bone shaking and squashed-like-sardines experience for the fabulous view of the Alhambra we were afforded. That evening, our hotel gave us a superb gala dinner that included a special cake decorated with U3A Jalón and was accompanied by cava, and a surprise disco. Other guests in the hotel were intrigued by the sound and were encouraged to join in the fun with, in particular, a Turkish lady who danced all evening and treated us to an impromptu display of belly dancing.
Onwards and upwards
The Alpujarras are situated to the south of Granada and we settled down for a jaw-dropping, scenic drive as we slowly climbed over a thousand metres to the lovely white village of Pampaniera, where we stopped for lunch. Few of us could resist the lure of the locally made, colourful carpets and spare coach seats were soon stacked with bags of goodies as we made our way the short drive to the village of Capiliera, where we would spend the next three nights.
Next morning we began another long, slow climb up to the village of Trevélez to see where a family firm still makes jamón in the traditional way. The cold, dry climate is ideal for making jamón, but is not good for the raw material – pigs – as it’s too cold, so the pigs are bought from Murcia and Córdoba where they live wild in the fields among the trees. It was a fascinating process, all the more interesting as it was still being carried out in the traditional way. When the legs (jamon) and shoulders (paleta) arrive from the butcher, they are weighed and labelled then sea-salted. The number of days they are salted is according to their weight – 12 kilos takes12 days for instance, but less salt is used in this process than that used in a factory. After salting, the jamón is then rinsed with water and massaged by hand to press out the rest of the blood before it goes into a special fridge. This dries the ham of the water and humidity it has picked up in the cleaning process and takes seven to ten days. Lard is then rubbed over the exposed side to cover up any holes and to protect the jamón from flies and mosquitoes. Most importantly, the larding makes the jamón take longer to dry, which is better for the meat.
It then comes into the hanging room to mature on ropes from the ceiling. There are no refrigerated hanging rooms – it’s all done naturally. Windows are opened at night when it’s cold and fresh and closed during the day. Jamón is hung for a minimum of 14 months but Pata Negra hangs for 3 to 4 years. It loses 30 to 35 % of its weight from start to finish. One wag wondered if perhaps we all needed to be salted and hung for a while……..
After the talk, we tasted a plate of two year ham, chorizo, lomo and pancetta. Our guide then demonstrated how to slice the jamon and gave us some of his four year ham. We could definitely taste the difference between the two. No wonder it’s so expensive.
On the return journey, we stopped at Portugos and walked down (and up) 68 steps to see a golden brown waterfall caused by iron in the water. One of our party was 90 years old and made it down and back up, putting the rest of us to shame. What a super, interesting day.
Our penultimate day found us in Órgiva, the largest village in the area, where it was market day. Here there were hippies of all ages and nationalities wearing sandals and an eclectic selection of clothing, beards and ponytails straight out of the 60s, reminding some of us of our miss-spent youth. This day happened to be the hottest May day for decades at 36 degrees. Later, we boarded the coach again for Lanjaron, the spa town famous for its bottled spring water, where we tasted four different types.
As it proved such a good source of carpets and souvenirs, we all agreed that we’d spend another half an hour at Pampaniera to pick up last-minute purchases on our final day. We took a different route back along the coast and drove for hours along the new motorway through the lunar landscape of Almeria, which was littered with polythene covered greenhouses. To take our mind off the boring view, one of our party provided us with an entertaining quiz that quickly sorted out who had been paying attention to the various guides. A couple more comfort stops later and we were suddenly back in Jalón.. What a wonderful holiday and wealth of experiences we’d had. Our heart-felt thanks go to Anne and Derek for organising such a superb trip.
by Ginny Whitehead
1) Just a quick note to say my thank you to you both for the lovely trip, brilliant, really delighted for you, as all the feedback I had was very positive, plus I feel everybody adapted the days to suit themselves apart from the trips out and about. Again, many thanks for a fabulous trip to Granada.
2) A big thank you for organising the most relaxing holiday in such wonderful surroundings. We enjoyed every moment and were not aware of anyone who thought differently. It just goes to show that it’s not necessary to have lots of early mornings to have a good time!!!!! (We’re not early risers now we are retired!!!!)
3) Hi Anne and Derek
Thank you so much for a most enjoyable trip. Full marks for organization and research.
I look forward to being able to be a participant on many more trips organized by such a great couple
4) The words are totally inadequate but thank you for a truly memorable holiday. There were so many highlights it’s hard to choose but the main one was our group who all got on, loved every minute and made all your hard work worthwhile.
5) Just to say a big thank you from both of us for such a wonderful 9 days.
6) Thanks to you both for organising such a wonderful trip. I have just been looking at the photos we took – what lovely places we visited.