Mairena: Jewel in the crown of the Eastern Alpujarras

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

Friday, June 8, 2018

Terrace and view at Las Chimeneas, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Terrace and view at Las Chimeneas, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Stepping back in time

Mairena, in the La Alpujarras, foothills to Spain’s highest mountain range the 3479m Sierra Nevadas, is one of the hundreds of famed Spanish ‘white villages’ visited by hoards of hikers and tourists across the summer months. However, Mairena, situated high in the eastern end of the Alpujarras, is still unspoiled, pretty, and a jewel in the crown of food and culture.

Tiling of the village scene on a fence in Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Tiling of the village scene on a fence in Mairena

Getting there

We rise above the coast, drive through a gap in the hills and arrive in Mairena through the winding narrow roads, small ravines and marvel at the high white villages dotting the picturesque Alpujarran landscape where olives, almonds, and grapes are cultivated.

Snow on top of Sierra Nevada with white village, ravines and beautiful landscape Alpurrajas, Andalusia, Spain

The entrancing view as we approach our destination. Snow on top of the Sierra Nevadas with white village, ravines and beautiful landscape

Manfred enjoying the view up to the hills with the valley and ravine views below, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Manfred enjoying the view up to the hills with the valley and ravine views below Mairena. The gap we have driven through is in the background with the Mediterranean sea in the far distance

Our accommodation in Mairena

We have three nights booked at ‘Las Chimeneas’ in Mairena, a village of 300 inhabitants. Back home in New Zealand, Manfred had searched to find a special place and we were delighted when we found this more remote settlement among a handful of other white villages; time appears to stand still.

Las Chimeneas, our accommodation in Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Las Chimeneas, our accommodation in Mairena

Manfred resting in our room at Las Chimeneas, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Manfred resting in our room at Las Chimeneas

We drive into a small square and immediately spot the ‘Las Chimeneas Restaurant’. We find Soledad, one of the local chefs from the restaurant who lives just off the square. Soledad speaks only Spanish and Manfred is delighted to practice his budding Spanish as Soledad shows us to our suite in the 800-year-old renovated house overlooking the narrow main road, the deep ravines, and the trees covering the valley stretched out below.

Manfred and Teresa with the valley near Mairena behind us, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Manfred and Teresa with the valley near Mairena behind us

Towns in the local area

At this end of the long narrow Alpurrjan valley, the region’s main town of Ugijar (pronounced ook-e-har) sits in a bowl just 6ks down the winding road to the south-east. Historical, and like many of these pretty Alpujarran towns, Ugijar provides the necessary provisions for the villages of this rural area. We plan to visit here in the next days for a more in-depth look at the culture of the area via the museum and of course sampling the food, coffee, and shopping!

Ugijar sitting in the basin of the Alpujarran valley, Andalusia, Spain

Ugijar sitting in the basin of the Alpujarran valley

Exploring the village of Mairena

We settle into our accommodation and then sit under a tall poplar tree for some local olives, cheese and Jamon with coffee for lunch before setting off to explore the small village. We find the 15 C church, which in all of these villages is the centerpiece of architecture and religious practice. In some cases, the churches can be thousands of years old as David, our host, explained when he gave the guests a historical tour of the 12th-century church in Jubar 2ks away

 

15C church in Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

15 century church in Mairena

We find the local supermarket, tiny and cute, which provides fresh fruit, vegetables, toiletries and tools, and a good array of wine. On our further wanderings, we find the old wash station where for hundreds of years the women of the village would wash the families clothes.

Washing area in Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

From the past: A washing area in Mairena

We enjoy the colourful potted geraniums and small vegetable garden of another resident and the steep cobbled streets that lead us back ‘home’ to Las Chimeneas.

A water fountain and potted plants, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

A water fountain and potted plants, Mairena

A household garden, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

A household garden, Mairena

 A pretty garden with the church and houses in Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

A pretty garden with the church and houses in Mairena

Dining at Las Chimeneas restaurant

Over the following three evenings, we eat what I call ‘the best food ever’ at the Las Chimeneas restaurant a few steps from our casa. Emma and David Illsley have lived in Mairena for the past 20 years. Initially they took a year out after teaching in the Canary Islands; however, loved the life in Mairena so much they stayed. They developed accommodation and the restaurant whilst bringing up their two boys.  They have become part of the life of this tiny peaceful village below the snow line of the Sierra Nevada.

The Las Chimeneas cookbook, full of amazing recipes used at the restaurant, Mairena,Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

The Las Chimeneas cookbook, full of amazing recipes used at the restaurant in Mairena

The menu is different each night using fresh local ingredients, sourced by the season and cooked and served by a team of local chefs.  The wait staff who are only too happy to stop and chat as they deliver food and wine, advise on menu choices and talk the history of this beautiful area. Soledad, Conchi and a French man (whom we didn’t meet) are the main chefs whilst Andrew and Fernanda help out with deserts and waiting tables. Emma and David pop in each night to check on the happiness and comfort of their guests, chat and advise about the current seasons’ weather, crops, and walks in the local hills.

The restaurant, Las Chimeneas restaurant, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Las Chimeneas restaurant, Mairena,

Sampling the food and wine in Las Chimeneas restaurant, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Sampling the food and wine in Las Chimeneas restaurant

A walk in the hills

Passing by the ancient church in Jubar we walk the trail to visit the 1,000-year-old chestnut trees. Enjoying the slow pace of walking among the almond, olive and fruit trees we locate the chestnut grove.

12th century church in Jubar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

12th century church in Jubar

From the walk we did looking towards the valley and the gap which leads to the Mediteranean Sea, near Mairena & Jubar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

From the walk we did looking towards the valley and the gap which leads to the Mediteranean Sea, near Mairena & Jubar

Almond grove near Jubar &M airena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Almond grove near Jubar & Mairena

Las Chimeneas also provides a healthy breakfast and picnic lunch for those venturing further on their walks. Many white cortijos (farmhouses) dot the landscape and it is lovely to be in this quiet, calm, peaceful but fully working environment, listening to the trickle of the water races, far away from the hustle and bustle of the coast and the cities. This is bliss!

Grove of 1000 year old chestnut trees in rural area near Mairena & Jubar Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Grove of 1000 year old chestnut trees in rural area near Mairena & Jubar

Signposting on a walk to the chestnut grove near Jadar & Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Signposting on a walk to the chestnut grove near Jadar & Mairena

 

Laroles white village from the walking track, near Mairena & Jubar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Laroles white village from the walking track, near Mairena & Jubar

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A visit to Ugijar

In Ugijar we walk the length of the town where we come a cross a church which was built on the site where, fact or fiction, Ulysses was said to have visited.

Church in Ugijar on the site Ulysses was said to have visited, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Church in Ugijar on the site Ulysses was said to have visited

We lunch at a little tapas bar with vines and greenery over the outdoor tables where the owner Juan tells us how he prepares his own olives with salt, garlic, and fennel – they were delicious!

Lunch and coffee in a tapas bar in Ugijar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Lunch and coffee in a tapas bar in Ugijar

At the museum a local artist is in residence with his sculptures of local wood and paintings on display. Manfred enjoys a chat with him about his work while I wander upstairs to look at the historical informative displays about how they carried out their craft and farming work in times gone by.

Wood carving on display in the museum, Ugijar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Wood carving on display in the museum, Ugijar

Museum, Ugijar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Museum in Ugijar displaying cultural and agricultural life as it used to be

Cultural history

In a small square adorned with roses and bench seats, a monument in the form of a ship and plaque mark the 500th anniversary; 1492-1992.   Ugijar’s settlement predates the Moors who ruled from the 8th-15th century. Data indicate that the region was occupied in the pre-Roman neolithic period when  people lived in caves. The Moors left a legacy of food, art, and architecture that is now inextricably interwoven into the whole fabric of Spanish culture. The Alpujarras was largely a forgotten area where crops were raised in a traditional manner right up until the 19th century when slowly, modern techniques of tilling the soil and harvesting the bounty of the area were introduced.  The area has not lost its fine traditions of a slow lifestyle which makes it a perfect restful getaway.

Church square Ugijar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Church square Ugijar displaying the monument to 500 years 1492-1992

Some local village history

That night David gives us a well informed and researched talk on the ancient cultural history, the little church in Jubar and conquests old and new. The little church has a small and interesting graveyard, overgrown and now not used.

The ancient church, Jubar, near Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

The ancient church, Jubar, near Mairena

Small unused graveyard behind 11thC church in Jubar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Small unused graveyard behind 11th century church in Jubar 2km from Mairena

During restoration, about 1 metre under the current floor, they found a Roman tiled floor. Frescoes behind the altar were partially restored after being found behind a six-inch plaster wall which demonstrate the Roman Christian era.

Restored frescoe's in the 11th C church, Jubar near Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Restored frescoe’s in the 12th Century church, Jubar near Mairena

The ceiling beams demonstrate further multicultural use of the church with decoration using the Star of David representing Judiasim, shell carved cornices representing the Moors from Africa and its women’s nave set high up near the bell tower demonstrating the Muslim rule. David tells us that much of this worship occurred in similar or the same timeframes.

Stunning wooden church ceiling bearing the Star of David, Jubar, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Stunning wooden church ceiling bearing the Star of David, Jubar

Women's nave, church Jubar near Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Women’s nave, church Jubar near Mairena

The position of the church was noted to be where the sunrise and sunset are seen in the groove of two sets of hills – one in the west, one in the east – and Africa could be seen over the Mediterranean Sea through a gap in the hills to the front. Further historical artifacts and excavations have shown that this strategic point was possibly used for religious and spiritual purposes as far back as 4000-3000BC. David alluded to the age of artfiacts found in the region and some DNA dating on ‘findings’ in an area ‘over the hill’ has shown that settlement was most likely hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Ravines and agriculture, white towns and villages, from Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Ravines and agriculture, white towns and villages, from Mairena

A fond farewell

That night at dinner we bid farewell to some of our fellow guests who are staying on to enjoy the walking trails in the area and Manfred engages in a chat with Fernanda about some flamenco greats that they both enjoy. Unfortunately, we are not there at the right time to catch a flamenco performance and realise this is now a more rare occurrence in the remote regions of Spain.

After a nice breakfast the next morning, we leave Mairena with our expectations having been blown out of the water with the amazing food and hospitality of our hosts at Las Chimeneas; as well as the local townsfolk and the culture of this beautiful semi-remote area of Andalusia. The Alpujarras left a great impression on us when we visited the more developed western end 10 years ago. As we leave this amazing region with its particular culture, microclimate, and scenery, we know that it has captured a special place in our hearts as we take many fond memories home.

View a map of the area here

Enjoying some rest in the sun at Las Chimeneas, Mairena, Alpujarras, Andalusia, Spain

Enjoying some rest in the sun at Las Chimeneas, Mairena

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch

Friday, June 8, 2018

As a young adult, I wanted to travel and write - I now get to do both. In the interim, I became a registered nurse and gained a Masters in Health Science and bought up a family of 4 children - who live scattered around the world, providing me with destinations and stories. I also practice and teach Accunect, a holistic healing practice based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I practice meditation and enjoy my collective and extended family of Oneness and Buddhist friends. My husband loves to cook and we explore the food of the world, particularly Mediterranean cuisine. This myriad of experiences feeds and inspires my writing. We are always researching and planning the next trip.

Read more at teresaglobaltravels.com

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