Casa de Almendras, photographed here in the condition we took it over, is a cortijo in the foothills of the Alpujarras, a little way out of Orgiva. There is a garden of oranges, lemons, figs and of course almonds!
Its taken us three failed attempts and ten months to identify and complete the purchase of a second home in the Alpujarras and to be honest, if I had known then what I know now, I might well have stopped in my tracks a lot earlier!
The process of buying in Spain is tortuous and approached from an english perspective, food for a nervous breakdown. Surveys? pah! Lawyers? pah! it can all be done in a week if you want to lose your shirt!
The cortijo is in the Rio Chico valley, just north of Orviga. Ten minutes walk into town, but with the most amazing views up the valley towards the Sierra Nevada and south towards the Sierra Luajar, an imposing mountain that cradles Orgiva in the low Alpujarras.
Orgiva itself is a proper working town, a bustling village playing host to many nationalities, about 80% Spanish to 20% foreigners. In the sixties and seventies, it was the hippy capital of Europe playing host to the notorious Dragon festival; the sons and daughters of those folk remain, manning the stalls in the street market and putting on slightly more sedate raves in the valley south of the town.
We’re renovating the cortijo over the next three months and will be spending a part of the christmas holidays there, preparing the place for a number of exciting projects we plan to run next year. It’s a very busy time and although I have managed to tear myself away from the renovations to do some serious photography, the coming months will provide many more opportunities.
The countryside is immense for landscape photography and I’m in my element here. I love the wildness of the hills and the sheer scale. It’s like the highlands of scotland without the midgees and with extra sun!
Beyond Orgiva it is possible to drive to Granada in 45 minutes and the seaside towns of Salobreña, Almuñecar and Nerja in 35 minutes in the opposite direction. Skiing is possible in the Sierra Nevada in winter and the area is famous for its walks during the spring and autumn months. in addition, the mountain villages of the high Alpujarras have to be seen, some of the oldest villages in Spain are here, including Yegan, the location made famous by Gerald Brennan in “South from Granada”.
A couple of points on photography – I brought with me a 100-400mm lens as well as a 70-200mm with 1.4 extender and a 17-40mm wide angle. I’ve used them all and really appreciated the extra length of the 400 mm. Additionally I brought a 24-70mm lens for people and places. It’s the only one I’ve barely used! This type of landscape can really shine with both wide angle and long lenses. The light is amazing here and having visited in Spring Summer and autumn, I know that doesn’t change.
The only downside of this whole expedition was the new baggage restrictions imposed by Easy Jet – 50 x 40 x 20cm is about 4cm smaller than the average rucksack style camera bag allowed for hand luggage so if you don’t want your lenses to go in the hold, you’ll need a smaller case. I have a Peli case that is almost exactly the right size, and a ThinkTank Urban Disguise that is slightly smaller. Both fit a truly amazing amount of kit and although the Peli case is heavy, it is virtually indestructible, so even if it were to go in the hold, I’d be pretty confident of getting my cameras intact at the other end!
Ten days in Andalusia, combining house hunting with photography. This time we more or less got the balance right and the photographs can be seen here and of the house hunting, more will be revealed later. Big plans. Suffice to say, third time lucky? I hope so!
We started the trip at Malaga airport where our hire car turned out to be a tiny Fiat 500, bright red with gorgeous retro styling inside. No problem finding that vehicle in a crowded car park!
The first leg of the trip was to Alhama de Granada where we stayed at the Hotel la Seguiriya, run by retired flamenco singer Paco Moyano. A lovely old townhouse with views over the gorge, a very welcoming host and the most beautiful, unspoiled town in Granada. The town dates from pre Roman times and boasts a hot spring within walking distance of the old town and an original Hamam a short drive away. The Hamam can also be accessed via a mile and a half walk through the most spectacular gorge, featuring a disused mill and an ancient hermitage carved into the cliff side. The old town boasts many outstanding tapas bars including one where they heat the place by shovelling burning coals underneath the tables in the bar!
From Alhama, we drove to Granada where we stayed at the Almunia del Valle, high up above the town in Monachil, where we ate the most amazing meal of the trip. The next day we anxiously checked weather forecasts in preparation for a drive across the Sierra Nevada to Mairena. The forecasts were good and the road was open so we set off, the Fiat groaning a bit at the hills, but reasonably confident of a fair crossing. This confidence dwindled dramatically as we got higher and the weather got worse. We saw by turn, rain, sleet, snow and impenetrable clouds before we got to the top and began the more gentle descent into Mairena. Only after we arrived did we discover a text from our hosts, Emma and David advising us not to attempt the drive as temperatures were plummeting and the steep roads become icy and very dangerous!
Emma and David run the Casa Rural las Chimeneas, an organic farm with several Casitas for the guests. They host yoga and walking holidays and author Chris Stewart of “Walking over Lemons” fame hosts a writing workshop there every summer. A delicious dinner was served in their restaurant and we got a personal guided tour not only of their farm, but of the olive press that gives them their olive oil and is run as a co-op to service the needs of the local community. Fabulous views from the village and some excellent walks available for every type of walker. Emma and David are very passionate about the community they live in and as a result enjoy the respect of the locals. The trend in the mountain villages has been downwards for years now, but the recession is beginning to drive younger folk back to their parents, bringing with them new, modern ideas about farming, so we may yet see some regeneration of these beautiful places. One idea that is not so popular is the trend for industrial scale greenhouses where vegetables are grown hydroponically, producing vast quantities of tasteless, chemical infused produce that undercuts the local farmers.
We travelled West after this part of the journey to Orgiva, a town that nestles in the fertile low Alpajurras, providing a gateway to the mountain villages and Granada from the South. Orgiva is a bustling working town with a large english ex-pat community. It has outstanding landscapes, to both North and South and appears to have its own ecosystem – the weather here was the equivalent of August in the UK!
From Orgiva we travelled back to Alhama de Granada for another look at the Arab Quarter, where I discovered the story of Elena de Cespedes, born a woman in the 15th century and later in life declared a man, married as a man and eventually tried and sentenced to 200 lashes and ten years working as a nurse in a prison hospital for the crimes of witchcraft, heresy and apostasy. Every year there is a cross dressing festival in her memory.
This was the last stop of the tour, we drove to Malaga and a flight home. I’d recommend any and all of these places as holiday destinations, we had a truly wonderful break where we met some delightful people who we will definitely be seeing again.
Pictures can be found in the Gallery under Landscape & Travel / Spain. Or click here!
Las Alpajurras is a region of spain I’ve wanted to visit for years. Situated on the edge of the Sierra Nevada national park, it has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I based myself in Orviga, a small town at the base of the mountains with good access to the white villages of Capileira, Canar and Bubion and the Moorish town of Lanjeron.
I got lucky with the weather, blazing hot sun for five of the seven days I was there. I took a great many photographs without really having a theme, the landscapes came off best, but I have some ideas ready for when I return – this region of spain is teeming with wildlife and the farming methods in the mountains are thankfully not particularly modern. People routinely live over the age of 100 apparently and I’d like to capture the spirit of this wonderful country on camera.
This was the first time I’ve used a Canon 5D Full frame camera, so I can’t really write about this trip without raving about the technology. I got my hands on the new Mk III for the trip and have been frankly blown away. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of this camera’s abilities, but things that impressed me mightily were the AF point selection – the camera supports 26 AF assist points which gives so much more precision to the business of focussing. The picture above is a radical crop of a shot I took from about 75 metres away from the subject. The focus point was on the head. The combination of the 10.1 megapixel sensor and the extended AF points meant I was able to put the focus precisely where I wanted it and have pixels to spare even after such a radical crop.
I also loved the speed at which this camera focuses – in combination with an “L” series lens I found myself checking a couple of times to see if autofocus was switched on. Very impressive.
This picture is my favourite from the trip – yes, it is an HDR shot, but it is very close to the idea I had when I shot the three pictures it is made up from. I exposed first of all for the Sky and then for the mountains in the middle and finally the foreground. I was after the layers and as a technical challenge, trying to get the dynamic range or richness of a picture shot with film. Don’t know if I succeeded in that, but I do like this image!
I used Nik HDR Pro to do the HDR conversion and then tweaked it in Lightroom. I like Nik software a lot – it works well with Lightroom and is so intuitive to use.
I’ll be returning to Andalucia, hopefully in November for a few days, and will be spending less time on business and more on photography.
So, Las Alpajurras and a Canon 5D – what could possibly go wrong? ! I must admit, I love this part of the world and this trip has fired my imagination with a vengeance. There’s a lot to photograph and a lot to explore, I plan to go back many times in the next few years and see if I can do the place justice. Here’s hoping!