Coming from Denmark where the highest “mountain” hardly reaches a height of 200m, it is no wonder that we are drawn to the Spanish mountains. For some time we have been wanting to conquer the peninsula’s highest peak – Mulhacen with its 3.482m – but it had not really materialized, partly because we had been told that it was at least a two-day trip – but just as much because of our preconceived reluctance to sleep in biuak or “Refugio”.
It was only recently that some Spaniards, who we met by chance in a restaurant in Trevelez, told us that, thanks to a great initiative by the Junta de Andalucia it is possible to make the trip back and forth in just a single day. The trick is to use the Junta-run bus service departing from Capileira and taking you the first 21 kilometres up the mountain road. That leaves only about 8 km on foot – and thus also about 8 km return to the “bus stop” again.
Booking is essential
It all starts by booking your car seat on the bus. We called the “Office” in Capileira where we were taken very well care of by both Conchi and Paco, who are the two people who man the place on a daily basis. The telephone number is 95 876 30 90 – although there are no official “office hours”, but when they answer they give themselves plenty of time to explain everything. There are two daily buses that go up. The first at 08:30 and the last at 11:00 hours. You can come back again respectively at. 16:15 and 18:45 The service starts every year in July and ends when the weather becomes poor – usually around the middle / end of September.
Return ticket costs only 10 € which we think is very, very cheap. The tour lasts about 1 hour and takes us from Capileira at 1,465 meters altitude, up to the “mirador de Trevelez” at 2,700 meters. The winding roads, offers of course some breathtaking views, but the trip is not unpleasant or scary, even for people with weak nerves or tendency to motion sickness.
Thursday – off we go!
We started in our Helle Hollis car on a Thursday in August driving the approximately 150km from Malaga Airport to Capileira in Alpujaras. The trip takes us east of Malaga towards Motril and then we head along the new motorway towards Granada, and after about 10 km we turn towards Orgiva. From Orgiva head for Pampeneira, and finally Capileira. The entire trip lasts about 2 hours – but in this case we were hungry in Orgiva and were lucky to find a very good restaurant there.
The first lucky choice – both of weekday and eatery
In Orgiva we found the restaurants and bars situated on the main road looks a little uninteresting and tatty. We therefore decided to go a little up the narrow and exciting streets – and were rewarded! We found the Argentinian owned “Pizza `nlove” .
The restaurant, which features seem a little bohemian, has only been opened a few months – and is only open for lunch just one day a week – Thursday! We got fantastic pizzas baked in a wood-fired brick oven. Yummy! We enjoyed the attentative service of the owner, who incidentally had just gotten a new tambourine which he found it difficult to keep his hands off. Nice dinner music.
The second lucky choice – overnight stay
Well fed and a bit tired of the many twists and turns on the last part of the mountain road from Orgiva to Capileira (20 km. Approx.) we quickly found our hotel. We reported in at a bar / restaurant in the middle of town called Cascapenas. They have rooms above the bar at 40 € per double room, but also have rooms in a small one star hotel, just a few hundred meters away – at 50 € incl. breakfast. We had booked the hotel through www.booking.com but you can also book directly by phone 95 876 30 11. If you choose the last option you will have to expect to face significant linguistic challenges. They not only speak exclusively Spanish – but with a very heavy dialect!
The hotel is in a quiet, calm and very pretty little street. There is no reception, so you get the key both for the front door and for your room. We were allocated No. 201 which turned out to be a large room with an extremely large bathroom. Even had a small balcony overlooking the street. The room was newly renovated, the beds of good standards – all in all a pleasant surprise for an one star hotel
However, the small quiet street should prove, in the evening, to be converted into an outdoor terrace where the nearby bar had put up 15 tables. It was a very lively and a bit noisy place until at. 1:00 in the morning – and then there were a few kids of about 10 years old who started a football match. At. 1:30 everything was quiet – very quiet as only one can experience in the mountains!
Third lucky choice – evening restaurant We spent the afternoon on foot, exploring Capileira, and the nearby village of Bubion. In the evening we found a relatively newly opened restaurant with a terrace out toward the main street and with impressive mountain views. The most amazing thing was the food. The young owners, chef Guillermo and the waitress Africa (that’s her name actually) has chosen to focus on the local well-known ingredients, but prepared and presented in a surprisingly modern and untraditional way. All dishes are available as tapas and half or full rations. This evening we decided to buy half rations and then share them. Three were plentiful, but as the menu card offered so many exciting dishes which were an absolutely “must” to taste, we chose to come back the next evening where we chose the tapas. The next evening the dinner was even followed by live jazz music on the terrace. Tables can be reserved on the “Botanic Bar” by either. email to email@example.com or by phone 689 587 756. Both Africa and Guillermo speak great English.
Duck breasts with mulberries
Friday - Off to Mulhacen
The alarm clock rang at 7:30 in time for breakfast at Cascapenas outdoor terrace, which is just opposite the bus stop. So no risk of missing the bus. The breakfast was typically Spanish. Freshly made toast with either jam and butter or olive oil and slushy tomatos. Lovely freshly brewed coffee and orange juice. The next morning was supplemented with freshly cooked buñuelos, a kind of batter in rings, cooked in oil, typical for the area. They are eaten with caster sugar and taste super good. But you probably can not eat more than a few! – It turned out that the host got up at. 5:00 every Saturday morning to cook just over a thousand pieces – both for Capileira and the surrounding villages. We saw a van that took off with a few hundred buñuelos, and during the morning, I think that the whole village met for coffee and buñuelos on Cascapenas terrace.
The bus departed surprisingly precise at 08:30. After half an hour we were driving above the tree line, and from there and on there was just low growths to be seen – but this only made the views even better. The bus ride up the mountain lasted as already mentioned about an hour. We then stopped in the middle of a dirt road, where all 20 passengers were dropped off. There are well signposted walks for nearly everywhere – but nowhere is the sign to the top of Mulhacen!
It turned however out to be easy to find. Continue for a few hundred meters further down the gravel road, and then takes the only path that goes off to the right – and up! Once you are on the path you are never in doubt which way to take. It is extremely well defined and in places even marked with small cairns.
We teamed up with José who turned out to be 70 years old, and from Gerona. He is originally from Cadiar in Alpujarras where he and his wife each year spend a few months in the summer. We got the impression that Cadiar at times was getting a little claustrophobic for him -or was it the close company of his wife he was escaping from? Whichever the reason, he hiked to the top of Mulhacen once a week, and sometimes in addition other longer trips in the mountains. Impressive!
He kept us company throughout the trip of 7.7 km. up to the top – and all the way back down again. We had many good discussions about politics, resource waste, etc., but mostly about nature, mountain flora and fauna. We had not been able to find a better guide – even if we had paid for it.
On the trip up we reached the snowline – meaning that we found a lonely spot of snow which we obviously had to be photographed in front of. After two hours and 45 minutes of hiking we reached the top. All in a comfortable pace – without forcing or challenging our breath or strength too much. Of course we could feel that the air is thin (less oxygen) but we had no symptoms of altitude sickness (dizziness, nausea and headache) at all.
The very top is rather spacious – and there is probably not really talk about a real mountain peak – rather a small plateau where we enjoyed a picnic – and the ubiquitous unrivaled views. Most impressive was the views towards Veleta, the second highest mountain peak in the Sierra Nevada, and down the valley between Mulhacen and Veleta where we could see one of the many “lagoons” which is found in the mountain range. Lagoons are natural glacial lakes. The one we saw is called “La Caldera”
Unlike Veleta which is dotted with numerous ski infrastructure, Mulhacen is completely free of installations whatsoever. Pure nature!
We were lucky with the weather. The temperature was around 12 degrees and full sun on the upturn. The downturn took place in a mixture of sun and clouds which was enjoyable. The big success was that there was hardly any wind at all. With high winds 12 degrees feels really cold. Now it just felt nice – and as a welcome contrast to the more than 30 degrees in Malaga. Imagine being able to wear long sleeves and long pants! A novelty in Andalucia in August.
José proved again to be a real hit. He suggested that we took an alternate route back down – something we never would have dared – not because of the difficulty of the path, but because of ignorance of the duration of the trip. We would not want to miss the bus back to Capileira at 16:15.
Conchi from “the bus office” however, had said that they kept fairly good control that all those who have purchased return ticket also really returned. Further, she said that in case of bad weather she would send an extra bus up at. 12:00 to “rescue” those who did not want to or who did not have sufficient clothing to brave the elements.
On the whole, we got the clear impression that there was incredibly good check on the entire process, from booking to safety and punctuality.
It is necessary to bring a backpack with extra windproof clothes, gloves, 1-2 liters of water and a good lunch. We also always pack antihistamine and ibobrufene – just in case.
The trip down the west side of Mulhacen was quite steep, and we were for the first time to enjoy our newly bought hiking poles (from 8 to 50 € in Decathlon). For the first time the surface is not completely stable, and we clearly felt stress on ankles and knees. Fortunately the steep downhill is soon over – and ahead is a 5km long hike on a very fine path – back to the “bus stop” – where we arrived an hour before departure. The waiting time was spent on a slap of rock called “Mirador de Trevéléz” in the company of José, whom we are forever grateful to have been our companion on this our first meeting with Mulhacen.
Kl. 17:15 we were back in Capileira where we could celebrate today’s achievement and share the unforgettable experiences over a few beers at Cascapenas terrace. With every beer or glass of wine they serve, as the most natural thing in the world, a tapa for free. Normally a piece of cheese or a few slices of air-dried ham but always with bread and olives.
Now, we could have driven back to Malaga – but as a precaution we had pre-booked an extra nigh in Capileira. We could not know how tired we would be after the trip. With the extra night however we got the additional opportunity to enjoy Guillermos gastronomic magic in the Botanic Bar and Cascapenas fantastic freshly cooked buñuelos.
Saturday – homebound
A relatively uneventful journey home, where we could not stop talking about all the new impressions we had – after all in a bracket of just 48 hours.
If anyone would like to hear more about the trip to Capileira and up Mulhacen, or to have handy tips, just send me an email.
Hans Hugo From
Director Helle Hollis Car Rental