As featured in The Times Top 50 Holidays in Spain (February 2014)

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White villages in the high Sierras

More on the Alpujarra

To explore the Alpujarra is to step back in time. For many centuries until the late 16th century the area was populated by the Moors who left their mark on the landscape: every-where you look there are terraced fields, medieval mule paths and an incredibly sophisticated, hand-constructed irrigation system with hundreds of kilometres of water channels (acequias) and tiny reservoirs (alberquas).

For a thousand years these have provided water from the high sierras to every village and every meadow, almond grove and vegetable garden in the area. This system is still in use today.

The Alpujarra is famous for its ancient white villages, clinging precariously to the mountainsides. This too shows the legacy of the Moors: the jumbles of flat-roofed, rammed earth dwellings are not seen anywhere else in Spain but closely resemble the building style of the Atlas mountains of Morocco.

For anyone who enjoys walking, horseback riding or mountain biking, the Alpujarras is a paradise of winding paths and stunning views. It is also renowned for the abundant variety of its flora and fauna, including mountain goats, wild boar and genets. The Sierra Nevada is also home to more than 2,100 plant species, over 80 of them unique to the area, and many rare species of butterflies, insects, and birds.