At the western frontier of the old Moorish Kingdom of Granada lies a region of great natural charm and warm, welcoming people …
"El Poniente Granadino" lies at the western frontier of "Al-Andalus", the old Moorish Kingdom of Granada. It is a region of great natural charm, warm, welcoming people and ancestral traditions.
Bordering with three other provinces, Jaén, Córdoba and Málaga, it is situated at the heart of Andalucía, an ideal rural idyll from which to travel to many of the most beautiful areas of Southern Spain: the fabulous, historic cities of Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada, the high peaks of Sierra Nevada and the beaches of the Costa Tropical and the Costa del Sol.
Row upon row of olive trees, the symbol of Andalucía, spread all the way to the horizon on gentle hills and through green valleys, surrounded by spectacular moon-like, craggy mountains, their silvery green leaves contrasting beautifully with the ever-changing, pastel colours of the earth.
Here and there, small towns and dusty villages appear like white jewels in clefts and on rocks, between poplars and olive trees, along rivers and beside lakes.
Driving west from Granada, the white village of Montefrio, with its high-towered church, suddenly appears through a gap in the mountains, resembling a ship sailing across rolling waves of hills covered with low lying, gnarled trees … those trees that produce the green-gold that the whole world desires.
Incidentally, Montefrio produces some of the world's best virgin olive oils and part of it is exported to Italy to be resold on the world market as expensive, top-of-the-range Italian virgin olive oil!
The steep streets wind they way up a craggy escarpment, dotted with thickly white-washed houses, up to the 16th century church which sits imperiously above the town, built within the remains of the arab fortress as a symbol of the victory of Christianity over Islam. Everywhere there are great views.
Perhaps because of its situation, far removed from conventional tourist venues, or maybe out of the townsfolk's innate sense of hospitality, travelers can be sure of a warm welcome here.
From Montefrio, the road south passes through a canyon of imposing rock formations to emerge at Milanos, an open area of soft hills and green fields. To the east the protected area of Las Peña de los Gitanos, "The Cliffs of the Gypsies", is famous for its many prehistoric tombs scattered in a spectacular landscape of white cliffs, gorges and meadows.
Hiding its treasures in the southern part of the Poniente, yet little more than half an hour from Granada, Alhama de Granada has been suspended in time on the edge of a spectacular canyon like a nest of eagles, its streets filled with centuries of history, not to mention the sound of its many fountains.
¡Ay, de mi Alhama ! Oh! my poor Alhama! From the streets of Granada the old Moorish King of the famous ballad sighed when his beloved Alhama was lost to the Christians. The town was lost but its Islamic spirit has remained.
The name "Alhama" comes from the arabic el-hammam, the bath or thermal water. The beautiful arabic baths a little way out of town are still in use today. In and around Alhama there is water everywhere. Rivers cutting through deep green gullies and flooding wide valleys create a stunning contrast to the arid mountains which surround them.
Driving west of Alhama towards the stark Sierra de Tejada, on the border of the Málaga mountains, one comes upon the high plain of Zafarraya, the market garden of the Poniente. There, in the late afternoon, when the light plays on the wheat fields and the limestone walls of the mountains, colours take over from nature.
Furthest west in the Poniente, between the foothills of the Sierra de Córdoba which stretch across its northern border and the Sierra de Loja to the south, a vast area of bare, rocky mountains, there is a landscape of soft wooded hills irrigated by a multitude of streams.
This is the district of Loja, a largely farming district, dotted with white homesteads and white villages nesting among the hills covered, as always, by a patchwork quilt of olive trees.
El Poniente Granadino, with its mild climate and fertile soil irrigated by plentiful water, was first settled in prehistoric times by shepherd tribes of nomadic Iberians. Phoenicians, Romans and Visigoths subsequently invaded, settled and left their mark, paving the way for the arrival in the 8th century of the Moors, who for eight centuries reigned here in splendour and refinement.
During the conquest of the Nazarí Kingdom by the Catholic Kings in the 16th century, the Poniente was the scene of many battles between Christians and Moors, hence the castles, fortresses and towers dotted throughout its territory. Traces of Moorish legacy are evident in the place names of the villages, in their ancestral customs and in popular sentiment.
Food here is varied and wholesome and, in good peasant tradition, helpings are generous. Try the many ways to cook an asparagus, for example the delicious "gazpacho de aspárago", a specialty of Montefrío.
Enjoy a rainbow trout freshly caught from the clear waters of the streams of Riofrio or sample the famous sweets made from ancient Moorish recipes. In Alhama you must taste the traditional pastry made by the Nuns of the convent of San Diego.
And, of course, there are olives, lots of them …
Andalucía offers so much: beautiful countryside - from snow-covered mountain ranges to tropical beaches - and truly great cities too: Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada. El Poniente, at its heart, is an ideal starting point for visiting the very best of of its treasures. At the same time, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the area on horseback, by bicycle, canoe or from the air, sail on the Bermejales reservoir or hike in the surrounding hills.
It is also the perfect place for doing nothing much at all, just absorbing the soft sounds and warm sunshine of the lovely countryside all around.
Towns & Villages
This friendly village (population 6,700) enjoys one of the region's most striking settings, one of its churches perched on top of a bare, rocky pinnacle, overlooking the town and surrounding hillsides clothed in olive groves and fields of cereal crops …
Alhama de Granada (population 6,000) is a pretty, ancient spa town perched precariously at the top of a ravine from where the Rio Alham carves through otherwise rolling countryside. Its picturesque location and thermal springs attract many visitors. …
With the limestone massif of La Sierra de Loja behind, this small market town (poulation 20,000) opens to olive groves and cereal fields. Palaces, churches, convents, gardens, stately houses, fountains and natural springs are testament to its history and character …