Highlights of Villages & Small Towns of Granada province
The best way to discover the villages of Granada is by car many of the whitewashed villages of Granda are impressive historical monuments in themselves. The province of Granada also has a coastline, the Costa Tropical, inland cave duelling villages, skiing in the Sierra Nevada, mountain climbing, so much to discover. In the terms of landscapes you have everything from the sugar cane plantations near Salobreña to wild poppies and Sunflowers.
Southeast of Granada city, nestling in the foothills of the mighty snow-capped Sierra Nevada, is a chain of ancient villages, with their distinctive Berber architecture of flat, clay-roofed houses, known as the Alpujarras. These 50 or so villages are surrounded by terraced farmland and lush vegetation that is irrigated with the melting snows from the mountains towering above it. These striking whitewashed villages include Bubíon, Yegen, immortalised by the British writer Gerald Brenan in the 1920s, and Trevélez, the highest village in Spain. There are many superb walks linking all these villages, as well as horse riding, cycling and loads of opportunities for wildlife watching. Other villages in the Alpujarras that are worth visiting are Capileira, Lanjarón, Órgiva, and Válor.
Granada's coastline is known as the Costa Tropical because of its high year-round temperatures. Augmented by excellent crop irrigation from the snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada, this tropical climate creates the perfect growing conditions for sugar cane, avocados and fruit that are usually found in more southern climes.
The A7 coastal motorway is slowly but surely edging eastwards, with great tunnels being bored through the foothills of the dramatically beautiful mountains that run eastwards from Malaga, the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama. It remains to be seen how this motorway will affect the largely unspoilt character of the towns and villages along Granada's Costa Tropical, shortening the journey time from Malaga airport and promoting more tourist development.
There are several towns along this stretch that are worth visiting. From Malaga, the first resort on Granada's coastline is La Herradura, named after the horseshoe (herradura) shape of its bay. Although somewhat blighted from insensitive development on its cliffside outskirts, the centre has retained its friendly character and its pebble beach has a wooden pier and some great chiringuito beach bars.
Almuñécar is popular with Spanish visitors and has an attractive historic quarter and some beautiful beaches in coves between rocky outcrops, a common feature of this coastline. Salobreña is in a striking setting, with a castle that overlooks the sea from its dramatic pinnacle, rising up from the whitewashed town and sugar cane plantations that envelop it.
Fortified villages of the northwestern frontier
Although less visited than other areas in the province, the north and northwestern confines of Granada province, known as the Montes Occidentales (Western Hills), are dotted with charming villages, frequently in stunning locations, which once stood on the frontier between Castile and the Moorish realm of Granada.
Directly west of Granada is Santa Fé; although not one of the most attractive towns in the region, it has a fascinating historical footnote in the siege of Granada under the Catholic Monarchs. It was here that the Christian army set up camp in 1491 and, after an accidental fire destroyed the former settlement, a monumental town was built in the Castilian style with four triumphal gates. The sight of this camp is said to have done much to persuade the beleaguered Moors to relinquish their hold on Granada. The surrender treaty was signed here by Sultan Boabdil, allowing the Christians to enter the city peacefully on 2 January 1492. Little of the camp remains, but it's still worth stopping in Santa Fé to see the gates that have survived, as well as the town's interesting church.
Thirty five kilometres northwest of Granada is the fortified town of Moclín, a village of whitewashed houses clustered around a hilltop castle. It is the most famous settlement in the battle for Granada, since it played a crucial defensive role in maintaining the Moorish hold on their kingdom. After fighting bitterly for Moclín for hundreds of years, the Christians finally conquered the town in 1486. Once it was taken, the Christians used the town as a base for launching their final successful attack on Granada. The ruins of the great castle and its watchtowers are suitably romantic and have unforgettable views of the surrounding mountains.
Some 30km west of Moclín is Montefrío, which boasts one of the most impressive locations in the region, with one of its churches perched on a wedge-shaped hill on the site of a Moorish fortress.
Southwest of Montefrío is the delightful village of Loja, which sits at the foot of the limestone Sierra de Loja and has some fine churches. Seven kilometres from Loja is the hamlet of Ríofrío, with the remains of a Moorish bridge. It is well known in the region for its many restaurants specialising in trout from the local fish farm. It is best eaten smoked (ahumado) and accompanied by a tomato dip or purée called porra.
Further south is the ancient spa town Alhama de Granada overlooking a deep gorge. You can visit the hot springs (al-Hamma in Arabic, hence the town's name) that have been used since Roman times. The town has several fine churches built after the Reconquest, one of which possesses priestly vestments said to have been embroidered by Isabel herself
CAVES & CASTLES IN THE EASTERN WILDERNESS
Heading eastwards from Granada, the landscape becomes increasingly arid and lunar-like. The most interesting town in this region is the town of Guadix, famous throughout Spain for its numerous cave dwellings, burrowed into the town's soft, sandy cliffs of tufa, and housing almost half of Guadix's population. It also has an impressive Gothic cathedral and a Moorish citadel.
Viznar is an interesting hill village very close to Granada which dates from Arab times, more recently notorious as the location of Lorca's assassination
Eighteen kilometres southeast of Guadix is one of the most remarkable castles in Spain, the Castillo de Calahorra, which dominates the village of La Calahorra. Behind its imposing walls and massive cyclindrical towers, it has an intriguing and elaborately decorated Renaissance interior.
Close to the Almeria border is Fuentenueva, where there are cave dwellings, although it doesn't have nearly as many as Guadix. Many of these have been cleverly converted into holiday accommodation. Fuentenueva is also noted for its historic buildings, including the 11th-century Alcázar de las Siete Torres.