High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain, lies an area seemingly untouched by time: Las Alpujarras (pronounced alp-oo-harrahs). Here, basket weavers sell their wares on the roadside, water channels known as acequias stream down the mountain, and the old men called ‘campesinos’ still make their way to their hilltop farmland on their trusty mules. This is the heartland of Andalucía, home to one of the most famous horse breeds of all: The Pura Raza Española, or Andalusian. What better way to soak up all the history and culture of this area than in partnership with one of these amazing, surefooted steeds.
Autumn is one of the best times to enjoy Andalucía. By now, the fierce heat of summer is dissipating, to be replaced by refreshingly cool mornings and evenings. During the day though, there is still plenty of warm sun, and when the rains come they are usually intense but pass quickly.
Caballo Blanco Trekking Centre is in the perfect location to make the most of all that this region has to offer. Situated just above the spa town of Lanjarón, the trekking centre sits at 1,000 metres above sea level. The owner, Sarah Vesey, has lived in this area since 1998, and over the years has learnt every trail that criss-crosses these mountains.
Sarah’s herd is predominately made up of PRE horses, with a few others including draught mixes, Arabians, Hispano-Arabes (PRE and Arabian cross) as well as Tres Sangres. This literally translates as “three-blood”, or a mix of PRE, Arabian, and Thoroughbred. The herd at Caballo Blanco incudes a range of horses for all abilities of rider, and Sarah has a talent for selecting the perfect horse for her clients. In fact, some visitors find the horse that they have been paired with is so perfect, that they end up taking them home. Sarah has sold horses to clients in Sweden, the UK, Poland, Germany, and Switzerland, to name just a few!
You can choose any length of trek you like, from a half-hour walkout, to a week-long trek staying at a range of different accommodation options. Our seven day trek took us from Caballo Blanco, high into the Sierra Nevada National Park, before dropping into the valley below to complete our route.
Sarah and her guides are informative and knowledgeable about the local area, pointing out huge birds of prey circling above, aromatic herbs crushed underneath the horse’s hooves, and the famous white villages perched on the sides of the valleys.
This trek provides a huge variety of landscapes: from sweeping pine forests, to open scrubland, through shady trails, and then down into the glittering silver-green of the abundant olive trees in the valley below. Lunches are taken out in the open, eating the generous provisions which we have carried in our saddlebags. Sitting at a remote picnic spot, with an ancient acequia thundering past our horses, we find contentment, and the peace of the forest.
We ride high into the mountains, to the foothills of Mulhacen, mainland Spain’s highest peak which stands at 3,479 metres above sea level. When riding at these altitudes, you can be out all day without seeing anyone else. This is in stark contrast to later in the trek, when we ride down into the valley. Here, the bustling life of the local market town suddenly catches up with us.
Accommodation is in a range of carefully selected hotels and farmhouses. We can be sure of stunning scenery, delicious home cooked food, and friendly hosts. Our luggage is delivered to each overnight stop, meaning all we need to carry in our saddlebags is whatever is needed for the day’s riding.
Depending on the snow levels, one of the possible accommodation options is a farmhouse which sits at 1,600 metres above sea level. From here, there are spectacular views across the Poqueira Valley, to the famous white villages of Pampaneira, Bubión, and Capileira. After turning the horses out for the night, the lights of the villages twinkle in the distance, and we listen to the gentle sound of bells from the cattle herd next door, before returning inside for a hearty meal in front of the fire.
Other accommodation sits deep in the valley, near the town of Órgiva. Here, it’s possible to ride down into the steep river valley, surrounded by lush bamboo. Another day, we leave our guide and horses and head into a vibrant market during our lunch break, finding piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, artisanal crafts, and the inevitable jumble of toys and clothes. Later, we ride through an olive plantation, with the trees stretching row upon row behind, around, and ahead of us.
On our last day, we climb high, higher, and even higher into the deep cleft of a valley. We follow an ancient mule path which has been carved into the mountain. Our surefooted horses carry us past the burnt trunks of a former Chestnut forest which was set alight when, many years ago, tourists became lost and tried to signal for help by lighting a fire. In this area, fires are a genuine concern. Over the summer, tinder dry undergrowth does not need much encouragement to set alight. On Lújar Mountain, across the other side of the valley, we see wide firebreaks carved into the forests. Indeed, while riding high in the Sierra, we cross a number of these firebreaks – devoid of vegetation and carefully maintained.
There’s plenty of culture to enjoy in this corner of Andalucía as well. Many visitors choose to extend their stay to make the most of all this area has to offer. Lanjarón is famous for its water, which is freely available from numerous springs dotted throughout the small town.
After an unforgettable week riding through some of the most picturesque scenery, some of which is at an altitude so high that it can literally take your breath away, it’s still the noble and kind PRE horses who are the true stars of the show.