Lively in summer, magical and mysterious in winter, Capileira epitomises the high mountain life in Las Alpujarras …
1.435 metres (approx. 4,700 feet)
La Virgen de la Cabeza
Fiestas Patronales: last weekend in April
Romería (pilgrimage) de Mulhacén: nearest Sunday to 5th August
August fiesta: 2nd weekend in August
If one village epitomises Las Alpujarras it is Capileira. Spectacular from afar - a white crown on the great Poqueira Ravine - its architecture characterised by 250 years of Moorish occupation and its culture by centuries more of hardship, it has developed today into a pretty, friendly place, popular with visitors seeking remote beauty coupled with good facilities.
Capileira is the second highest village in Spain, moulded onto the mountainscape 1,435 metres above sea level.
Its old streets - happily too narrow for cars - entwine and criss-cross their way a full hundred metres down the side of the gorge.
It's an enchanting maze of ancient dwellings, their cats and geraniums, hens and goats, nooks and crannies, fountains and sudden, dramatic views - both down the valley to Capileira's attractive sisters, Bubión and Pampaneira, and up to the mountain backdrop of Sierra Nevada, where blue skies meet pure white snow cresting the peaks.
While it has embraced rural tourism with enthusiasm and has a host of small bars and restaurants to serve visitors, craft shops and even night spots to suit differing tastes, it remains a village with a strong identity, dedicated to the well-being of its own families.
At weekends the main Plaza is the province of local children playing, accompanied by their mothers, grandparents, dogs and all, while you or I may stroll across to "El Castaño", for example, for a meal or a tapa (or two). Or a glass of fresh orange juice or costa wine (and a tapa or two) under the shade of trees on the terrace of Bar "El Tilo."
Major fiestas are boisterous affairs that everyone takes part in but there are also minor fiestas that knit the barrios, or neighbourhoods, together. On one night in January, when pigs have been slaughtered and converted into sausages, the inhabitants of each barrio (district) gather quietly round a bonfire in the street to eat and drink, watch the flames and share a few hours of company.
The 'mauraca' in November is a more collective affair. Be warned, tradition demands that the hot roasted chestnuts be washed down by hefty measures of anis …
The Alpujarrans are a hardy lot with healthy appetites and they expect visitors to require feeding properly so generous platefuls are set before you! A wide variety of meat and vegetarian dishes are to be had, as well as revived Moorish recipes and excellent pizzas.
An interesting shop by the church, "La Alacena," is a cellar stocked with cured mountain hams, goat's cheese, almond cakes, barrels of wine, honeys and pastries and has a little bar tucked round the back for those who wish to sample first.
An old wood-fired bakery is another lovely surprise, in the morning the baker may be heard playing the lute or guitar while the oven heats up.
Another baker's, a butcher's, an estanco (tobacconist's, but it also sells brushes and stockings … ) and two supermercados ensure that people are well supplied.
There's also a 3* Hotel, Finca Los Llanos, a bank with cash dispenser, pharmacy, doctor's surgery, a museum and a number of shops selling clothes, rugs, Moroccan lamps, ceramic ware and other artesanía. "Muy Buenas" pub, among others, has an internet service.
Behind the scenes and quietly making its own valuable contribution, is an active community of artists and musicians, for which thanks is due to Freddie Wildman Jr, a somewhat eccentric American who made Capileira his home more than thirty years ago.
His generosity with free housing for artists (including Victor Erice who went on to win the 1973 Cannes palme D'Or) was matched by his generosity to the local community. He paid many of the villagers medical bills because they were too poor to afford their own care. In those far-off days, only he and the local doctor had motor cars, tough subsistence farming was the lot of most men, laundry was still handwashed by their garrulous wives in the outdoor lavaderos, and electricity (here only since 1956) was a novelty. How times change!
Perhaps the greatest of Capileira's assets is the opportunity for fantastic hiking no matter which direction you go in. Horse riders on Rustic Blue's week-long riding holidays explore the very best of the area too.
The village dwindles immediately into marvellous mountain countryside all around. Tracks and mule paths are shared by shepherds and ramblers alike, heading down to the river past cherry, walnut and grand old chestnut trees, up to the head of the ravine where rivers meet in a thunderous spray, or up higher and into the National Park, through pine forest and scrub oak to protected lands, where herds of wild ibex roam, eagles and other hunters soar above and an extraordinary wealth of wild flowers and butterflies are close at hand.
Higher still, winter snows lie thick until late spring, when the summit of Mulhacén can be reached at 3,481 metres (over 11,000 feet). A refuge on Mulhacén provides a rest and overnight spot.
Capileira is situated on the southern skirts of the Sierra Nevada where it enjoys a Mediterranean climate without the humidity that pervades the coast. It affords a relief and escape from the heat of high summer and perfect walking temperatures in spring and autumn. There can be terrific sunny days in winter, too, but being at high altitude it is cold at night so hearty log fires are in order.
Lively in summer, mysterious in winter, Capileira truly is a magical place.