ANDALUCIA – When you think of Andalucia, you probably think quickly – and rightly so – of culturally and historically interesting cities. Seville, Granada, or Córdoba may spring to mind. Or picturesque white villages, roaring bulls, proudly stomping flamenco dancers. Or even the sizzling beaches of the Costa del Sol surrounded by seafood restaurants.
But what if you think it’s way too hot in the summer at the coast, in a Moorish palace, or between the white plastered houses with brightly coloured flower boxes?
Fortunately, Andalucia is very large. The landscape is enormously varied thanks to numerous mountain ranges, the valley of the river Guadalhorce and its location on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This results in a wealth of opportunities to do, all year round. InSpain.news has searched for cool ‘things to do’ and ended up in and around the Sierra Nevada National Park. This covers part of the provinces of Granada and Almería.
In the Sierra Nevada
The words sol y nieve (sun and snow) typify Europe’s southernmost ski resort. Here you can combine breakfast on the beach with an afternoon on the ski slopes between November and April. But when the skiers and snowboarders have left, the Sierra Nevada is still very beautiful. It is a large national park with protected ecosystems, rivers, the highest peaks of Spain, and rustic mountain villages. And more importantly: altitude in the southern Spanish summer means coolness.
The regional authorities and various outdoor companies in Andalucia are also understanding this better. Consequently, they are now skilfully responding to that fact. Since lifts are also open in summer, more and more people are discovering the attractiveness of the snow-free area. If you follow the signs for the Sierra Nevada and the ski village Pradollano from the city of Granada, it is surprising to see how quickly the temperature drops. In summer the average temperature is around twenty degrees, which is wonderful to be active and compared to the forty degrees elsewhere.
Pradollano is not the most beautiful of places in Andalucia. Located at an altitude of 2,000 metres and upwards, it appears to have been hurriedly crashed into the valley in a few years and designed by architects who were not having their best day. We, therefore, decide to spend the night elsewhere. There are several hotels along the A395 from Granada to Pradollano and we like Hotel El Guerra in a wooded area. From there you can drive to the ski village in fifteen minutes. The mountain slopes around Pradollano still look somewhat sad at the end of May. Four weeks earlier they said goodbye to the snow and the spring green is not going to float. The remaining patches of snow below look dingy and the village is deserted.
Fortunately, it is more than made up for by the majestic and beautiful white peaks of the Mulhacén (3,482m), the Veleta (3,396m), and the Alcazaba (3,371m), the only peaks in this mountain range above 3,000 metres. The peak of the Veleta is the most characteristic and is also the emblem of the Sierra Nevada. One of the three lifts that are open in the summer between June 24 and September 3 also leads to this mountain peak. Upstairs you end up in a completely different world, where at the same time a world of possibilities opens up for you. You can walk, hike, bike, run, stargaze and there’s even an amusement park for the young at heart, Mirlo Blanco.
Because we have limited time, we drive by car to the highest part of the village to walk from there to the Virgen de las Nieves at 2,580 metres altitude. Proud and white, this serene Virgin can be seen from afar, staring into the distance. The rugged snow-crowned mountain slopes of the three-thousanders form its backdrop. Once, with the baby on her arm, she appeared to a priest and his companion who were surprised by a snowstorm near this place. Mary showed them the way and thus saved their lives. Every year, therefore, on August 5, the highest (and also nightly) pilgrimage in the world departs from Pradollano to the top of the Veleta.
Rutas Fusion de la Nieve
From Pradollano there are six official and marked hiking trails that you can walk with or without using the cabin and chair lifts. They have an appropriate name: the routes of the melting snow (Rutas Fusión de la Nieve). There is a good chance that you will still find a slice of snow somewhere. The length of the routes varies from one to three kilometres. A route leads to Las Yeguas Lake. This natural lake was modified in the 1960s so that it now forms the water supply for Pradollano along with some artificial lakes in Andalucia. It is located at an altitude of 2,873 metres.
If you find walking too boring, you can go for a run. Six special routes with different gradients have also been set out for this to test your fitness. These are often used by professional marathon, duathlon, triathlon participants, or other fanatics. One of these routes is ominously called Kilómetro Vertical, you ascend 1,000 metres over 4.9 kilometres here!
Special mention deserves the Ruta Sulayr (Sulayr means ‘sun mountain’ in Arabic) which, with a length of 300 km, circles the entire Sierra Nevada National Park. It is the longest route in Spain through 2 provinces, 6 regions, and 60 villages. If you want to walk it all the way, allow between 16 and 19 days. You can also travel the route by bicycle. On a positive note, the average altitude is 1,800 metres, so cooler than along the coast. The stages vary in length between 9 and 15 km.
The Sierra Nevada is not only a mecca for hikers and sports enthusiasts. Mountain bikers and professional cyclists will also get their money’s worth here and can maintain their fitness at high altitudes. The Veleta is famous among cyclists because of the well-maintained and unpaved road that goes all the way to the top. Where else can you cycle to an altitude of 3,000 metres?
The Bike Park was set up, especially for them and other cycling enthusiasts. The bicycle can be taken in the cabin lift and then you hang it on the chairlift to cross back down from a height of three km via various routes, loop jumps and bends. You can also choose to do this with a guide and bicycles and e-bikes are available for rent. In total there are eight marked routes with a total length of more than 37 km and a difference in height of 1,000 metres.
There is even a MiniBike Park for the youths. This circular route of 8.6 km is accessible free of charge and is partly located in the forest that borders Pradollano. If you are not specially trained, it can still be very special to drive down quietly from the lift in this area through curves and beautiful panoramas.
Other activities in this part of Andalucia
Between 24 June and 3 September, there are various activities you can book. You can admire the sunrise or the sunset from the top of the Veleta. The highest observatory in Europe with two gigantic telescopes opens its doors to the public when special astronomical phenomena occur. For example, on August 11, a star shower can be expected in the Noche de las Perseids.
Those who want to learn more about the history and origin of geographical features, the consequences of the major climatic changes that we have already left behind, and an explanation of how the Sierra Nevada was formed, can participate in the activity ‘geologist for a day’.
On the website Sierranevada.es (also in English) all activities and events are listed and you can also make reservations. Horse lovers can take a horseback ride around the mountain lake Laguna de las Yeguas and if you like hiking, you can climb the top of the Mulhacén with a guide or go on a trek with overnight stays in mountain huts where you ascend the three highest peaks.
Three lifts are open from June 24 to September 3. Both open at 10.00 am. TC Borreguiles (cable lift) lasts uphill at 6.00 pm and TS Veleta (chairlift) and Alfombra Borreguiles are open from 10.00 am to 5.45 pm. Adults €19.50 for one day, children from 6 to 12 years €12.50 per day.
Also read: Sierra Nevada closes the winter season with the best on record