Hiking the GR7 Through the White Villages of Spain’s Sierra Nevada

Tags:

The white villages of the Alpujarras are in a beautifully natural region of Andalusia located along the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. They feature outstanding scenery, traditional culture, local food specialties (cured ham, anyone?) and some of the best hiking in all of Spain. Which was, probably unsurprisingly, why we ended up there. To hike a small portion of the epic GR7 trail along the south side of the Sierra Nevada, Spain. And get a photo with an evil serpent in Soportujar, obviously.

 The entire GR7 (Gran Recorrido) runs for a very intimidating 1,900 kilometres from Tarifa (the southernmost point of continental Europe) all the way to the top of Spain, into France, even into Andorra (whatever that is), then back into France before eventually reaching the Alsace region.

Which is, in fact, also a portion of the even longer E4 long-distance trail that runs all the way to Cyprus (including a few boat journeys, presumably).

Hiker on a trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains spain

After having just hiked the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomite mountains in Italy we weren’t up for all of that (at least not yet) but the southern variant that passes through the picturesque Las Alpujarras of Granada province is considered one of the most scenic sections of the entire trek. Consider us sold.

As great as the views are, though, what really sets this portion of the GR7 in Spain apart are all the amazing little “white villages” (pueblos blancos) along the way. Most of the villages were founded centuries ago by Moors fleeing the Christian conquest of Granada (and presumably stopping now and then to cure some ham). Dating back to medieval times, their classic architecture is a fascinating mix of Moorish and Spanish.

Hiker looking over a white village in Sierra Nevada spain

Whether you are staying the night in one of the small, charming hotels, just stopping for lunch (you’re probably already sick of hearing about cured ham so I won’t bother mentioning it again, even though this would be a very relevant place to mention it) or simply passing through, these welcoming little towns are the true highlight of any Alpujarras trek in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Well, both the towns and the chance to practice rolling my r’s every time I say Alpujarras. I haven’t quite got it yet but at least I’ve stopped spitting when I try…

GR7 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains Spain: An Overview

While there was a time when we toyed with the idea of doing a much larger section of the GR7 (all the way from Tarifa to Valencia, he suggested, to gasps of surprise from his unconvinced wife) there is far too much we want to see and do on this particular visit to Spain to commit that much of our fall (which would mean less time for Greece and I know how much they’ve been looking forward to our visit). Maybe next time.

Nonetheless, we decided that 5 days and 5 nights would be plenty of time to hike through the best parts of the Alpujarras – roughly 65 kilometres from Berchules in the east back to Lanjaron in the west.

Passing the olive groves along the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Spain

From east to west is the opposite of the way most people hike the GR7 but it made the most sense for us to take the longer, less frequent bus journey to Berchules first and leave the shorter, easier connection from Lanjaron back to Granada for the way home, surely tired and desperate for some quality couch time.

And maybe some laundry – (surreptitiously sniffing his shirt) – yep, definitely some laundry.

GR7 Sierra Nevada Spain Map

La Alpujarra

This roughly stretch of fantastic terrain is known for its distant mountain scenery, lush valleys and spectacular gorges. Most of the villages are found at elevation, meaning cooler weather and a fairly distinct microclimate (high and dry) which, apparently, makes it an ideal place to produce jamon serrano, the award-winning (literally) Alpujarran cured ham.

They slice off a couple pieces and add some bread for tapas

As for people, the Alpujarras feature an eclectic mix of hikers, foreign expats, hippies and locals whose families have lived and worked in the area for centuries.

However, for all the many similarities the villages share (whitewashed houses, photogenic narrow alleys, atmospheric old towns), each Alpujarran village still has its own unique feel, culture and highlights (and marginally different ferociously barking dog).

White village on the GR7 Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain

The GR7 – Spain Southern Sierra Nevada Route

The Alpujarran section of the GR7 in Spain actually extends as far east as Laroles and features yet more impressive scenery and interesting villages. However, to make it that far from – or to – Lanjaron you will probably need 8-9 days instead of the 5 we had allotted.

It was interesting starting where we did as the terrain was much drier and sparser than the valleys in the middle. Coming up out of Berchules we actually followed the GR240 to go up and over the hill to Trevelez. The GR7 goes down the valley all the way to Juviles, then all the way back up to Trevelez – an uninviting 25-km day with 1,300 metres of elevation gain.

Hiker on the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Trail from Berchules – a long but relatively gentle uphill

Our route was a far more manageable 15 km with 800m of elevation gain (although it meant we didn’t spend a night in Juviles – can’t hit them all).

For most of the morning we followed a winding dirt road up through farms, pastures and orchards – about 3 hours to the top. Once we reached the Trevelez side of the hill there were more trees and a nice single-track trail.

Altogether it took about 5 hours to roll into Trevelez, where we spent the first half an hour blissfully soaking our feet in the pretty little pools right behind our hotel for the night (Hostal Mulhacen).

Man soaking feet in river on GR7 Sierra Nevada spain

There is a huge elevation difference from the bottom of Trevelez to the top, where the trail leaves for Portugos. If you stay down that the bottom like we did, factor in at least 30 minutes solid climbing just to get to the trailhead in the morning.

Even though we were now on the official GR7 trail after leaving Trevelez, the signage was still very poor (an ongoing theme). In general, you need to watch for the small E4/GR7 plaques, although usually the red/white markers indicate the correct route.

Unfortunately, they seem to use these red/white markers for multiple trails, for some reason, although sometimes you will also come across yellow/white or even orange/white for local trails. Plus, they have a knack for putting markers at intersections without really indicating which direction to take so you often have to choose one and walk a bit until you see another marker for confirmation.

Which is why, of course, it is essential to have your own map. Whether you purchase a physical map or just use online apps like we did (a combination of Wikiloc, AllTrails and Google Maps) it is important to have more than one option as they each seemed to only show the correct trail sporadically.

At least you always have a general idea of where you’re headed (up, down, toward that village you can see on the far side of the valley, etc).

Anyway, the GR7 trail from Trevelez to Portugos is surprisingly varied, going through farmland and forest, up and down endless small hills along the west side of the valley. It took us just under 5 hours from the top of Trevelez to reach Portugos. Most people hiking the GR7 stay in Pitres as it has more hotels and restaurants but we chose to stop in Portugos to even out the difficulty of our days.

Plants in Pitres

The next day it was down into La Taha valley with beautiful morning views and back up to Pitres – about an hour total. Pitres is a very nice place, too, with a great square lined with friendly restaurants.

From there it was only about 15 minutes up to tiny Capilerilla, another 45 minutes to the top of the ridge (an excellent place to stop to eat a packed lunch with amazing views) crossing over into the famous Poqueira Gorge and then another 45 minutes down to Bubion.

Woman on rock on GR7 trail in Sierra Nevada Spain
Viewpoint where we stopped for lunch

Bubion, Capileira and Pampaneira are all terrific villages in the Poqueira Gorge and are the most popular tourist destinations in the area (quaintness and views, an unbeatable combination). They are also all pretty close together (30 min walk apart) so you could choose to stay in any of the three.

We picked Capileira since it was the highest (we needed a way to choose and that’s what we came up with) even though, once again, it isn’t technically on the GR7. Why they chose to send the route through just 2 of the 3 “best” villages in the Alpujarras is a little baffling. Yes, you save an hour or so of hiking but, I can assure you, there are many, many other places where the trail goes every direction except on the most direct route.

A weird choice, and even if you choose to stay at one of the other two we’d highly recommend at least visiting Capileira.

There are a number of alternate hiking routes in the Poqueira Gorge but just two main choices to go between Bubion and Capileira. The most common option follows along just below the road (but out of sight of it), is fairly easy, has outstanding valley views and takes about 30 minutes.

The streets of Capileira

The Sendero de Pueblos de Poqueira, on the other hand, takes you all the way down around the farming terraces to the river at the bottom. To that point the trail is quite nice but then it continues to the other side of the valley and if you want to go to Capileira you have to head up a very steep, quite rough and surprisingly wet trail.

It wasn’t fun going up and it would be terrible going down. It does allow you to turn your visit into a loop, however. Going this way from Bubion to Capileira will take around 1.5 hours.

On your way down out of the valley it is just an easy 30 minutes from Capileira to Bubion and another 30 minutes or so to Pampaneira, then you cross over to the west side and spend about 2.5 hours following an occasionally tricky, quite varied, ridge trail to weird and wacky Soportujar. They have fully embraced centuries-old legends about witchcraft in the town, turning it into a bit of a bizarre sideshow of odd sculptures and supernatural art.

Person posing with spider on the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada Spain

At this point, the official GR7 continues west to Cañar and Lanjarón but we once again veered off, heading down to spend the night in Orgiva, “The Capital of the Alpujarras”. From Soportujar, it is a steep 15 minutes to the little village of Cartaunas (with its impressive church and oddly modern square) and from there another hour or so to reach the centre of Orgiva, by far the biggest town in the region.

The trail the next day was both difficult and fascinating. The terrain completely changed, becoming rough, dry and desert-like. From the edge of town there is about 30 minutes of easy, gradual incline along a gravel road to Beneficio, a locally famous hippie community.

Hikers, however, turn off just before and head up the hill. It is very exposed (i.e. hot) and the trail is lined with prickly bushes that did a number on my legs even though I was wearing pants (I wouldn’t recommend shorts, obviously).

Hiker on trail to Lanjaron on the GR7 Sierra Nevada mountains spain
Trail down to Lanjaron

It is about an hour to reach the ridge and the Ermita del Tajo de la Cruz, signalling the start of an hour descending into Lanjarón, the final stop on our personal Las Alpujarras GR7 trek. For many, though, it is the start, as Lanjarón has good tourist infrastructure, easy bus connections to Granada and fairly famous spa (not to mention its own brand of bottled water popular across Spain).

The White Villages of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain

We either stayed in or passed through about a dozen different villages over 5 days and each one had its own little quirks and unique touches. Yes, they are all pretty much white (hence the name), with steep streets, narrow alleys and always a lot of fountains (the water in these parts comes directly down from the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarrans seem very proud of how good it is).

But they do stand apart in many other ways.

Favourites

Bubion is the middle village in the Poqueira Gorge and is a really nice mix of “small” and “full of useful stuff”. Plus, the alleys seemed particularly photogenic, with lots of flowers and some weird cats. It’s a pretty tight race, though, between all three Poqueira villages.

The streets of Bubion

We stayed in Capileira and enjoyed it immensely, while Pampaneira looked like it would have been a great choice as well.

Portugos seemed the most local of all the villages located right on the GR7, if that makes sense. Lots of residents just going about their lives – kids coming from school, guys drinking in the bar after work, people grocery shopping in the one shop (once it finally opened after siesta, of course). As far as we could tell there is just the one restaurant (see below) which is probably why our AirBnB host didn’t hesitate at all when we asked her for a recommendation.

Portugos

Soportujar, mainly because it is completely bizarre and unlike the rest. Sure, the streets and buildings and views, etc. are all similar, it’s just that they have so fully leaned into some classic myths (Legends? Superstitions? Complete B.S?) that the town has a long history of witches and warlocks.

Fountain with witch statue in Soportujar on the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada spain

How so, you ask? Well, with over a dozen weird-ass statues and sculptures, for starters. In no way limited to witch stuff, either. Yes, there is a comically large broomstick, obviously. But also a giant spider, a giant snake/dragon, a pile of rusty cauldrons, a ghost in a doorway, a spell book… well, you get the picture.

Well, not literally, unless you are willing to wait your turn in some long lines of tourists, especially if you happen to show up at literally the worst time possible – noon on a Saturday that happens to be a festival weekend in nearby Orgiva. Still, it was a fun place and would have been a great place to stay to enjoy more thoroughly once all the day-trippers left.

Not so great

We didn’t actually dislike any of the villages but if we were to do it over again we probably wouldn’t have spent one of our nights in Orgiva. It is certainly nice enough but is also considerably bigger than the rest and is (very obviously) the main commercial centre for the region.

Plus, we happened to plan our visit for Saturday night of the “Feria de Orgiva”, the town’s biggest annual festival. I suspected something might be up when I barely snagged one of the last hotel rooms available anywhere in the area despite the fact it was October and, you know, not that many people are travelling just yet.

Main street in Orgiva in the Sierra Nevada mountains spain

The room we did get was spacious, comfortable and had not one, but two, terraces. Cool. Downside: both of them overlooked the very square where the dance/beer gardens/frenetic party was taking place. Until well past 3 am, as it turns out.

Maybe we should have approached this as one of those, if you can’t avoid ‘em, join ‘em scenarios but, well, we were already pretty tired from hiking all day, didn’t know anybody in Orgiva and, alas, I had left my best form-fitting, shimmery mesh dance shirt back in Canada so, really, what was I to wear?

The other place that I didn’t love, personally, was Trevelez. Great location at the top of a scenic valley and the usual fascinating maze of narrow white streets but just a few little things. Firstly, the dogs, lots of dogs, many of them wandering loose and barking idiotically all the time. And  lots of dog shit, of course, which almost goes without saying.

Trevelez on the GR7 in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Then, the climb up the hill from the bottom of town to the top took nearly half an hour, where it turned out no shops or restaurants were open there, either. And then we followed marked signs to a viewpoint that actually led us to a trail that ended at a gate guarded by ferocious dogs, forcing us to retrace our steps along the trail covered in trash and, if I’m not mistaken, human feces.

A different time of day, a different turn or two, and our opinion may have turned out very differently. But it didn’t, so C- it is. Of course, the valley has some of the best hiking in the Alpujarras and there really aren’t any other alternatives near Trevelez so you’ll probably end up there, just go in with realistic expectations (and watch your step).

Where to Stay in the White Villages of the Sierra Nevada GR7

We enjoyed all 5 hotels/hostels/apartments we stayed at in the Alpujarras. The people were universally friendly and the hotels almost all had good views (of different types of things, but views nonetheless).

My only real complaint was their typically Spanish fascination with providing just one super-long pillow on the bed – Laynni and I don’t share well at the best of times, and really not well when it comes to pillows (apparently). Plus, when I can’t reach the end of the pillow I never know where to put my hands, like I’m Ricky Bobby doing a TV interview in Talladega Nights.

Anyway, overall, the places we stayed were really good. Of course, as you’d expect, some were better than others. These are in order from top choice to least favourite:

Hotel Rural Alfajia de Antonio (Capileira)

Pretty much perfect. Good size, great location just around the corner from the main square, friendly welcome (in Spanish or English) and a beautiful rooftop terrace with a shared kitchen to enjoy sunset and sunrise (the one good thing about it staying dark until 8 am here). All for €50.

man taking picture of sunset on the GR7 Sierra Nevada mountains Spain
Sunset from the rooftop in Capileira

Hostal Mulhacen (Trevelez)

Yeah, I know I just trashed Trevelez but this nice, basic hotel was an amazing value at just €35 for a double room, private bath and balcony overlooking the river. We also bought some really good jamon serrano across the street in the ham shop run by the same people.

Casa Maria Jesus (Pórtugos)

Beautiful, big apartment with nice couches and a good kitchen. Located close to everything (although everything is kind of close to everything in Portugos). The only downside was the neighbour’s barking dog.

El Vergel de Berchules (Bérchules)

Really nice studio apartment with great valley views and a small kitchen (we even had access to the fancy china cabinet for our spaghetti).

View from the couch

Posada Alpujarra Sol (Órgiva)

I already described the basics of this place above (remember the two terraces and rowdy dance?). But I didn’t mention the eclectic couch cover (numerous illustrations of all the best skateboard tricks) or the absolutely tiny bathroom (gain 10 pounds and a shower may not be in the cards). That roof terrace is quite something, though, with a jacuzzi tub and views over the town. I’m sure that any other weekend of the year our experience would have felt a bit different.

Where to Eat on the GR7 in Sierra Nevada’s White Villages

As usual, our biggest issue with travelling in Spain is trying (and inevitably failing) to adjust our eating schedule to match that of the locals. Because if you don’t adapt, well, you don’t really eat. Not a full meal, anyway. Having our packed bocadillo (salami/cheese sub, typically) on the trail and having our main meal at, say, 6 pm? That’s not happening, friend.

A snack mid hike

Around these parts dinner starts at 8 pm, at the earliest. And, really, that’s usually just when they start lackadaisically bringing out chairs and wiping down tables. The real action doesn’t happen until much later. When we’ve already got one eye on bed.

So we’ve slowly changed our timeline to include a big lunch on arrival, then just some small bar tapas later on, or maybe a snack (i.e. the worse-for-wear bag of Bugles Laynni dug into every afternoon, and still is nearly a week later, he said with mild disgust).

On the other hand, when you order a little “caña” (200ml glass of draft beer) every bar includes a tapas/racion of some sort, many of which would seem to be worth more than the beer itself (especially when the beer only costs €1-2).

Finally, as I may have mentioned once or twice, the Alpujarras are famous for jamon serrano. Basically, cured ham. Something to do with the altitude, the dry air and, I guess, really good pork. Not that we saw a single pig farm. But that is a mystery I’m happy to leave unsolved. All I know is that the hams, bacons, ribs and salamis were really terrific.

A ‘dinner’ of mixed jamon serrano.

Anyway, we had lots of good meals throughout but here were a couple of the standouts:

Pub Agua Agria (Portugos) – had the menu del dia with a starter (chose the salad and paella, then main dish, dessert and a drink for €14) the ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and Laynni was thrilled with her pork and buttery potatoes.

Meson El Viejo Molino (Orgiva) – two outstanding pork dishes (one with pepper sauce and one with Roquefort cheese sauce).

Bodega Gonzalez (Lanjaron) – I had another excellent rack of ribs and Laynni made a lot of inappropriate sounds while enjoying her goat cheese salad.

Festivals

June 13-14 in Pampaneira is a dramatic reenactment of one of the final battles between the Moors and Christians in the 15th century.

June 23 in Lanjaron (and Orgiva?) is the Festival of San Juan – a massive water fight/rave.

On August 5th in Capileira and Trevelez they haul the Virgen de las Nieves up to Siete Lagunas, spend the night, then carry her up to the peak of Mulhacen for sunrise.

Berchules celebrates New Year’s Eve on the first Saturday of August, for some reason.

Feria del Embrujo in Soportujar in August is, once again, all about the witches.

Feria de Orgiva is, apparently, the first Saturday of October.

In the Poqueira Gorge, theFiesta de la Mauraca (Chestnut Festival) takes place November 1st in all three villages.

Other Hikes in Sierra Nevada, Spain

The GR-240 follows a roughly similar route to the GR7 but stays up higher in the hills. It is slightly more remote, a bit more strenuous and misses a lot of the lower villages. However, it is very quiet. The couple of times we detoured onto this trail we didn’t see anybody else.

The Pueblos del Poqueira is a fantastic loop all the way around the most scenic gorge in the Alpujarras. Marked with yellow/white, it is 9 km long and will take around 5 hours because of all the steep climbs and descents (but the views, don’t forget the views!)

Then most villages have some shorter, local trails which you can find on info boards entering or exiting town.

Weather in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Spain – When to Hike the GR7

While the rest of Andalusia gets very hot in summer, the slightly higher elevation in the Alpujarras foothills keep the area far more temperate. It still averages in the high 20’s in mid-summer but nights remain relatively cool (16-17C) making it all much more bearable.

However, July and August are the only months of the year that are relatively dry. From September through early June rain occurs pretty consistently, although there are a number of microclimates within the region that create slightly different trends. We were lucky enough to have only great weather the entire 5 days.

GR7 trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains spain
Blue skies, cool morning and sweaty afternoon were our experience

Of course, rain can quickly turn to snow in winter, with temperatures routinely reaching freezing between November and April.

In general, the best time to visit the Alpujarras is between May and October, with the shoulder seasons best for serious hiking, climbing and trekking.

How to Get to the Sierra Nevada GR7

Lanjaron is generally considered the starting point for hikes into the Alpujarras and it is less than an hour’s drive from Granada and just 35 minutes from the coastal city of Motril, a popular jumping off point for Morocco. Getting to or from the eastern section (Berchules, Yegen, Valor) will take closer to 2 hours by car.

While driving between the white villages of the Alpujarras is relatively easy, finding old town parking is certainly not, so if you opt for a road trip it is usually easiest to just park on the outer edges of town and walk in.

Narrow pedestrian-only streets in the white villages

If you’re planning to hike from village to village it might make more sense to take public transport. Alsa buses run twice daily to and from Granada – from 1.5 hours to Lanjaron to nearly 4 hours to Berchules, stopping off at all the other towns on this list along the way. There are also two routes per day to Motril that take roughly the same amount of time.

Lanjaron is the first white village the bus stops at from Granada

One of the reasons we hiked from east to west was so we would do the 4-hour bus trip first and have just over an hour left from Lanjaron at the end. Experience has taught us that long bus rides at the end of tough hikes either make us grumpy (Laynni) or put us to sleep even faster than usual (Dean), leading even more painful head-bobbing than usual as well.

Summary – Trekking the GR7’s White Villages in the Sierra Nevada

The GR7 Alpujarras section is an outstanding area to come for excellent village-to-village trekking. There is plenty of exceptional scenery, many charming villages and lots of great places to eat and unique attractions to visit. The “mountain” scenery isn’t nearly as dramatic as the Alps or Dolomites, two of our more recent European trekking destinations, but the people are extremely friendly, the hotels cheap and far more comfortable than staying in mountain hut dorms.

Thru-hikers taking on the entire GR7 generally consider Las Alpujarras one of the most impressive sections in southern Spain. And, if you’re like us and only want to do a week or less it offers the perfect blend of accessibility and great hiking. And amazing ham, don’t forget all the ham.

Other Posts on Hiking in Europe You Might Like:

Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc

Trekking the Alta Via 1 in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

Portugal’s Rota Vicentina and the Fisherman’s Coastal Trail

Hiking in the Algarve

Hiking the Camino del Norte: Photos and Ramblings

39 Tips for Hiking the Camino de Santiago

Plus:

10 Amazing Things to Do in Seville

Andalusia Road Trip: 12 Pueblos Blancos

The 15 Best Places to Stay in Ronda

Hiking Quotes and Hiking Captions

Captions for Spain