Week 9: Sierra Nevada

For the first week of 2023 we headed to Spain’s highest mountain range – the Sierra Nevada, James did some epic road cycling, we had to adjust to several failed plans, and spent some time chilling on the south coast.

Road cycling in the Sierra Nevada

We’ve watched television coverage of the Vuelta and have been awestruck as riders battle each other on super steep climbs that look like walls of tarmac. After a couple of tough road rides in this week James can confirm it is every bit as brutal as the TV screen makes it look – “It’s a good reminder that you are a mortal and middle aged”.

His first ride was from Pinos Genil in the heart of the Sierra Nevada and was plotted as a moderate morning ride. Unbeknownst to him it took in a significant part of the main climb from the 2022 Vuelta Queen Stage – “I saw a sign at the foot indicating an average gradient of 12%, and 22% for the immediate section, similar signs repeated up the climb”. In spite of the fierce climb the ride was survived and even enjoyed.

His next ride was into the mountains from the coast where we stayed at Castell de Ferro. This time it fulfilled expectations and had stunning views back to the sea, although James’ planned mid-climb break in a village had to be deferred as he was cheered on by some guys in their eighties, so it felt disrespectful to stop a few meters further up the road.

No room at the inn

This week we had several instances of having to change our plans because we could not stay where we planned to, or do what we planned to. In all cases it seems to work out for the better (we think). Though we can’t seem to make it to Granada.

The first instance was on New Year’s day. We had hoped to stay in La Peza, a town at the foot of the north end of Sierra Nevada. We were tired from a hike we did in Sierra Cazorla, we’d been driving for 2 hours and it was getting late. As we got close to the town we saw a lot of what looked like abandoned vehicles at the roadside and we were met by the Guardia Civil, who blocked us from entering the town. We drove on and managed to snag the last spot in an Area de Autocaravanas in Beas de Granada. Turns out the police had been trying to disperse an illegal rave in La Peza for days. The next day we planned to head to Granada. While waiting at a bus stop, a stranger walking by kindly informed us it was a fete, and buses weren’t running. So we headed back to the campervan, put on our hiking boots and went for a nice walk directly from Beas de Granada instead. We enjoyed our first sighting of the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and Granada nestled in the valley at the foot of the mountains.

In the second instance of a failed plan, we had planned to stay at another Area de Autocaravanas closer to Granada, the plan being we would take a bus into Granada the next day. We’d done a tiring hike in the mountains that day and it was getting late (a trend maybe?!). The campervan park was full. We decided to do an hour-long drive to another Area de Autocaravanas in Órgiva, the gateway to Las Alpujarras, and instead do a hike and/or explore the famous whitewashed mountain towns of the Poqueira valley the next day. Las Alpujarras is a region of deep dramatic valleys that form the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada. It has a fascinating history having been a centre of silk worm farming for the silk mills of Almeria during the reign of the Moors. After Reconquista, the region was given to the last emir Boabdil as his fiefdom. When he left for Fes shortly after, the Muslims who lived in the area either had to convert to Christianity, or be banished. A lot of the land was given over to northerners who changed the area’s economy to one of farming of livestock and grains that it is today.

It was a dreary rainy day when we visited that area, so we made the most of it by having a most excellent lunch of Pierna Choto Asado (roasted baby lamb shoulder) at El Asador, a restaurant in Capileira. And we managed to admire the beauty of the area as we drove through the squiggly misty mountain roads.

In the third case of a failed plan, we had to bin a hike in the Sierra Nevada. We had stayed in a parking lot in Monachil overnight, the plan being to do a hike to Los Cahorros the next morning. We woke up and while we were getting ready for the hike, we tried calling a VW service centre to make an appointment to sort out a potential coolant leak issue. With our very basic knowledge of Spanish (and a rather unhelpful person on the other end of the phone), we failed miserably to make an appointment. We decided the issue was important to resolve, so we drove 1.5 hours to a VW in Malaga to make an appointment with Google Translate in hand. We managed to make an appointment at the earliest slot they had available the following week.

The flexibility and freedom of living in a campervan is both a blessing a curse. A blessing in that you do have the freedom to roam and always have the comforts of a home with you. A curse in that you have to flexible and adjust to the inevitable uncertainty when things don’t go to plan.

Hiking in the Sierra Nevada

We did eventually manage to do that hike around Los Cahorros. Los Cahorros is a deep gorge that runs from the town of Monachil to the source of it’s eponymous river. It is a popular walk, particularly through the gorge where the path is linked by several suspension bridges. We elected to do a bigger, elevated loop around the surrounding area and were rewarded with some beautiful scenery and stunning views. We definitely just scratched the surface though, and no doubt there are many wonderful hikes we could do in the region. Alas we had the VW service appointment scheduled that required us to move west to Malaga. Sierra Nevada is definitely an area we need to explore more of at some point in the future.

Castell de Ferro

For our necessary and important days “off” to thaw and clean, we decided to head to Castell de Ferro on the coast south of Granada. It was nice not to have to wear a jacket, or thermals and socks to bed. The town itself had a long wide beach and clear water, great sunrises, nice cafes and restaurants, and a picturesque Muslim fort on top of a hill. The valley behind the town however, was lined chock-a-block with the polypro-covered tunnels for fruit and vegetable farms. It’s quite a remarkable site, but not in a good way.

Eagles eagles eagles

We forgot to mention in the last post – over the past number weeks we have seen a LOT of eagles on walks. They’ve been super impressive to watch and thankfully none have fancied Zeus for lunch, at least that we know of. Whilst driving through Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas we saw what must have been at least a hundred eagles circling as a group in a huge column. At one point about 5-10 eagles swooped into a tree right next to us on the road. We want to mention it here because the blog is our diary of our adventures, and in case anyone knows what that behaviour is related to? We’re guessing it could be related to mating, but the internet has let us down on a dependable explanation, so do let us know if you know what it’s all about!

What’s next?

We aim to visit Granada – our priority is to see the Alhambra. After a number of failed attempts, will we finally make it we wonder? (If you follow us on Instagram you may know the

Afterwards we need to head to Malaga to get the van’s coolant issue assessed and hopefully fixed.

From there we aim to head north towards Cordoba.

Thanks for reading this week’s instalment. We’d love to hear your questions or thoughts about our blog. Feel free to drop us a comment!

2 responses to “Week 9: Sierra Nevada”

  1. Loving your blog, we stayed in Capileira about 3 yrs ago and ate well too, it might have been the same place. We will be catching you up in Feb as we are driving to Jalon not far from where you were for a 2 week stay and lots of hikes with the dog


    1. We are glad you are enjoying the blog. Have a great time in Feb. The Alpujarras looked lovely for hiking.


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