I get up still disappointed by the fact of being in a thermal town, dirty and in need of a rest day. I decide to take the rest “on the road”, i.e. to cycle for a little bit, and at a slow pace, until a pleasant place. I first complete a decent bike cleaning and chain oiling, as it shouted for it in the last kilometers. I finally leave around 11 in the hot sun.
The villages on the road all consist of white houses arranged on a hill, reachable by narrow and daedalous roads. The surrounding landscape looks dry and unwelcoming. It is really hot today even though I am gaining some altitude, between 600 m and 1000 m, on the south side of the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain range of Spain.
This area is called the Alpujarra. It is the valley stretching between Almería and Granada, a bit high, squeezed between the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra de Gádor. As a result, even if close to the Mediterranean sea, it looks far away from a sea. No highway is crossing it and the main road is rather quiet.
When I reach Fondon, a town once prosperous because of the iron mining on the Sierra de Gádor, I see for the first time a snow cap on the Sierra Nevada. It’s a bit further, to the west, and is probably the highest point of Spain, Mt. Mulhacén at 3478 meters high.
The next town is Laujar de Andarax. I check the camping indicated at the entrance of the town, and it looks nice, and will do for the night. That stops my “rest-cycling-day” at 42 km, but still provided 1000 m of elevation gain.
It is simple but also a wonderful feeling to have at the very same place: shower, wifi, and sleeping place. I don’t have to run around and evaluate convenience / risk / safety / quality of camping spots and can relax for the rest of the day. The shower, healthcare and cleaned clothes feel like a re-birth. I discover new muscles in my back and the bruise on my shoulder from bike-carrying. And especially, my finger tan: it is officially sunny!
It is good to get up and feel clean, and, considering the warmth, to wear my short sleeve shirt for the first time of the trip.
Loic tells me that there are 2 roads to continue in the valley: the one at the bottom (wide and busy) and the one on the top (hard and scenic) until Trevélez at 1480 m. I am already at 900 m in Laujar de Andarax, so the latter sounds like a good deal.
I also need to shop preemptively as tomorrow is the 25th of December and I will not find anything open. The mini supermarket in Laujar has a long waiting line before the single cashier and I skip it until the next town, Alcolea. There, I get the last 3 breads of the shop, reach the 3000 km milestone, and … descend. The first 20 km of my day of moderate climbing are downhill. It will be a harder day than expected then …
Once as low as 500 m in Ugijar, I can start climbing again what I just descended with mixed feelings. I see a shop open and buy food again, just in case. Now I’m ready for the climb.
I sweat and sweat and reach Valor, the first town of the scenic part of the road. I am now on the Sierra Nevada itself, the south side of it, where the road is drawing the contour above 1000 m.
I know now why Nadal, Contador, Alonso, football and basketball teams … all the Spanish sport is doing well these days. It is not thank to good doctors, but because there are open air gym parks installed everywhere, in the smallest towns and at the most unexpected locations.
The road is indeed very scenic. It is like being on the balcony of the Sierra Nevada, with views on the other hills bordering the Mediterranean sea, the small villages at the bottom of the valley, and the small villages on my “high” road, hidden in the turns.
“Scenic” doesn’t mean that I can just watch the scenery from my saddle. The road is neither flat neither steadily uphill, it keeps going up and down all the time. From 1000 up to 1200, then 1100, then up to 1300, but down to 1200, then 1300ish again … and I am about to reach Trevélez, the place dubbed as the highest village of Spain. It is 6 pm and I have only 7 km and 100 m of elevation to go. It is also the eve of the 24th of December and I somehow feel like I have to camp in a decent location for the night.
Trevélez is special in the way that it is hidden in a scar inside the big cake that is Sierra Nevada making. The road cannot jump from one side to another, and lengthens of 15 km what could be crossed with a not-even-500-meter bridge. As a result, the village is right at the bottom of Mt. Mulhacén (3478 m), and I guess it is not enjoying as nice views as on the “outside” of the road.
That is why I decide to stay in the open south face instead of getting to Trevélez. I mount my tent in one of the greatest locations I could see, on the top of a bump, facing the whole valley of the Alpujarra. At dusk, I can see all the cars on the roads of the valley with their lights. I see all the house lights, everything. I can also see the snowy Mount Mulhacén, the highest point of Spain. The sunset occupies 45° of my vision field and I have a nice range of colors from red to the dark blue of the sky with the first stars of the night. It’s a wonderful place at 1400m. It’s 8°C outside while cooking, but doesn’t feel cold. And I’m looking forward to a magnificent sunrise.
On the morning of the 25th, my sunrise is spoiled by a cloudy grey sky. I compensate by having a consistent breakfast, as I managed to save bread for longer than a day (a real challenge).
But even my breakfast gets spoiled by raindrops. It is the signal for emergency packing before my tent and gear get wet. I hurry to Trevélez, one hand on the bike and the other one on the breakfast-sandwich, and receive light rain on the way.
Trevélez is also known for its ham. On the main place, I am surprised to see all the shops open, in the emptiness and quietness of a morning of a December 25th. Most of them sell ham, and have dozens of it drying on the ceilings.
I get some slices to taste the ham (which is indeed delicious) and a small part of fig cake. Small but 250 g of concentrated energy, that’s an efficient snack.
The road is still making up-and-downs through more villages, Busquistar, Pórtugos, Pitres, Pampaneira, until it finally leaves the edge of the Sierra Nevada to get down to Orgiva. I am still in the clouds and the light rain. I get a bit wet but not drenched, miraculously avoiding the short waves of heavy rain with last minute refuges.
I pass Lanjarón, another town well-known for its water, and the westernmost town of the Alpujarra, and cross the highway Granada-Sea to find a camp spot.
All the wind turbines are rotating, I have indeed a strong wind against me.
I have dinner/wifi in a restaurant where the people celebrate Christmas by being loud and drunk. After the oranges and the olives, I complete the camping collection since I am now in a field of lemon trees. Even if I skipped Granada, a city I heard only good about, those three days in the Alpujarra were fantastic.