It’s our second day on the hills and I already know I’ve made new friends that will share plenty more adventures. What a bunch of super characters we’ve brought together in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountain and the soft, moist breezes from the Mediterranean Sea. We start with a buffet breakfast at the Hotel Finca Los Llanos, ironically named for its perch on a ‘flat’ terrace, then we’re gathered outside, adjusting our walking poles, lashing on sun-cream in the cool of the morning; and wondering what’s on the agenda today?
Jesus is our guide. I’m not being disrespectful – our guide is called Jesus. We walk towards the village fountain where icy drinking water, gushes freely down from the mountain, and we top up our bottles. I can’t resist asking Jesus if he’ll be turning the water into wine later, he laughed and answered in Spanish. I grinned, with no idea how prophetic my cheeky remark might be. Tapping down from Capileira towards the Poqueira River, we recognised some of the path from our journey the day before, but shortly we turn away from the high mountain and we cross over the river and start walking in the direction of the sea.
Light dances on the little white villages shining brightly where they hang, nestled among the green mountain terraces. The ground is stony underfoot, but occasionally we step through lightly dampened earth – moisture trapped among the chestnut and oak trees, leaking between the stony trek to join the river below. Jesus stops to explain about the trees and flowers that grow along the path, and Danny, our Travel Department guide translates and adds his own humour and knowledge to the mix. Enjoying the landscape is becoming a large part of this holiday, and dinner and lunch involves conversations about the stories we’ve heard about the area, its people and its history.
The sun is up, the mist has burned away and it’s hot, as we push upwards through gnarled roots and ancient branches to reach a platform once used for threshing. An ancient tableau would see grains beaten by villagers, while the fragrant breeze blowing through the gorge swept away the chaff. A skill inherited from the Moors, then lost to new generations.
Crossing back over the river we push upwards to Bubion, another village hanging impossibly from the side of the gorge; and refresh ourselves in the square’s airy fountain, before turning back down towards Pampaneira. We drop down hundreds of tiny slatted steps among gardens growing vibrantly from the soft, irrigated earth; life made possible by the intricate irrigation channels that save the mountain melt and rain, and slow its inevitable chase to the sea. We reach up high with our walking poles, dragging down branches to grasp for figs, eating greedily, with the juice escaping and splashing on chins and fingers. Someone spots a hazelnut tree, another finds walnuts. We are walking through a treasure trove of fertile delight; a larder full of treats, as we pick our way gingerly along the uneven steps.
Jesus points to a bank of trees and we step down onto a flattened, grass cushioned lane. Hesitating, I think I’ve taken a wrong turn. Tomatoes are carefully draped over stone walls to ripen in the sun, ridges are furrowed and everywhere there are signs of order. I think I may have strayed from the trail into a garden. I move a little further, turning a corner and hear dogs barking a welcome and then smell wood-smoke and see a table, chairs, and plates of meat and cheese and bread. We thought we were headed to the village for lunch but Jesus has taken us home.
Chorizo grilling on an open flame, wines, beers and plates of home-grown, sun ripened tomatoes swimming in dishes of olive oil. I find myself playing on the sloping lawn with the old lab and the new, darker, less decipherable but no less adorable pup; while the boldest among us take turns to try swinging on a hammock at the bottom of the garden. Without notice we’ve been plunged into a family feast, welcome guests savouring our new friends’ hospitality. There is no matching this, no Michelin Star to compare. Lunch continues so much longer than any of us had intended, and our smiling hosts seem in no speed to rush us on our way. Finally, with a visit to the snail farm, nestled down beneath the hammock, we pick up our rucksacks and poles, and re-join the trail, heading for badly needed coffees in the little white village below.
Much later, we burn those calories, as we return along the winding path, revisiting every worn and ancient step along the way, with the incline reversed, and laughing rueful comments about the size of the lunch just a lifetime ago. As one, we survive the climb, and head for our recovery of choice, a siesta or a splash in our little hotel’s icy pool. As the sun goes down and we gather again for a dinner of rabbit and salmon, we reflect on a day of memories to help brand our time in Capileira and the night plays out on laughter and new friendships as we prepare for another perfect day.
Teena is currently staying at the Hotel Finca Los Llanos in Capileira. Her walking holiday in the Sierra Nevada is booked with Travel Department www.traveldepartment.ie and includes hiking, culture and sightseeing to the beautiful coastal castle at Salobrena, and an excursion to the Alhambra in Granada (World Heritage Site).