Mecina Fondales

 
 

Our trip took us along one of the main Spanish motorways (A-7) and up past the town of Motril towards Granada on a new motorway section (A-44). We left the motorway and headed towards the town of Órgiva on a so-called “carretera autonómica” (A-346 and then the A-348), before taking a “carretera local” (A-4132) through the village Pampaneira, and finally turning off to Mecina Fondales on a “otra carretera”. The first section was quite windy, the second was both very windy and quite narrow, and the last bit was very windy and very narrow but at least now tarmaced. You really can’t drive at more that an average of 30-40 km/hr, and you have constantly to be on you lookout for locals and tourists cruising along in the middle of the road!

 

You can see Pitres and Mecina Fondales up in the right-hand corner

Spain, and in particular Andalusia, is a world of varied histories, cultures, and landscapes. This page is devoted to our visit to a small village called Mecina Fondales and its central location in the mountainous district called La Alpujarra.


La Alpujarra stretches south from the Sierra Nevada mountains near Granada. The region consists principally of valleys which descend at right angles from the crest of the Sierra Nevada in the north, to the Sierra de la Contraviesa and the Sierra de Lújar, which separate it from the Mediterranean to the south (part of the Costa Tropical with its tourist locations such as Almuñécar and Salobreña). A Sierra is a range of mountains with jagged peaks, and Mecina Fondales sits at about 1100 m, set against a backdrop of Sierra Nevada peaks such as Pico Veleta (3396 m) and Mulhacén (3481 m).


In fact Mecina Fondales is three separate but closely connected villages (Mecina, Fondales and Mecinilla) that are part of a rural district called La Taha (a Moorish word for an administrative area). La Taha actually consists of 7 whitewashed villages: Pitres (the main village), Mecina, Fondales, Atalbeitar, Ferreirola, Capilerilla and Mecinilla.


In 1986 the Sierra Nevada was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. La Taha is one of the municipalities included in that declaration. The 7 small “white” villages have been also declared of Special Cultural Interest for the exceptional conservation of their architecture and surrounding environment. In 1998, it was part of a EU pilot scheme for implementing environmental standards that meet the requirements of the International Systems of Environmental Management (ISO 14.0001:96) in municipalities. And in the autumn of 1999, La Taha became one of the first municipalities to obtain international recognition for environmental management. The Sierra Nevada is also a national park.

The village of Mecina is really very small and one Website just managed to single out the “modest monumentality” of its old public laundry as the only thing worth mentioning. Another Website only mentioned that someone called Gerald Brenan chose Fondales as his summer residence (he wrote a book called “South from Granada: Seven Years in an Andalusian Village”).

Yet Mecina itself is very picturesque. Due to the steepness of the land the village houses are piled on top of one another. The characteristic flat roofs, the distinctive roofed chimneys (I actually did not see any of these), and the steep narrow streets give Mecina a unique and picturesque appearance. I also noted that the upper floors are also build in a very characteristic way: wooded beams supporting large flat stones.

Here we have Mecina set against the backdrop of the Sierra de la Contraviesa

Here we see the village of Capileira with the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the background

Historically La Alpujarra was successively settled by Ibero-Celtic peoples, by the Romans, and by the Visigoths. In the 8th C the Moors conquered southern Spain and the region remained in their hands for over 800 years but it was in the last 150 years of that period that La Alpujarra became heavily populated. After the Reconquista all Muslim controlled lands were recovered in the mid 13th C, except in Granada. So La Alpujarra became a refuge for the Moors, and the “Moriscos” even maintained a distinct culture for nearly 150 years after the fall of Granada in 1492. Finally in 1568 the Moorish population was evicted from the region, but some were forced to remain in each village in order to demonstrate the workings of the terracing and irrigation systems on which the district's agriculture depended. The entire population of Moriscos were finally expelled to North Africa in 1609, but their influence remains in the distinct cubic architecture, the local cuisine, the local carpet weaving, and the numerous Arabic place names.

Here are the whitewashed houses and narrow streets on Mecina

A set of tiles telling the story of Mecina, Fondales and Mecinilla

Because of a warm southerly climate combined with a reliable supply of water for irrigation from the rivers running off the Sierra Nevada, the valleys of the western Alpujarras are among the most fertile in Spain. Unfortunately the steepness of the terrain means that they can only be cultivated in small fields, so that many modern agricultural techniques are impractical. Around each small village stretch terraced fields and vegetable gardens where different kinds of fruit trees grow according to the altitude. Above the main village of Pitres the landscape is dominated by oaks and sweet chestnuts, cherry and walnut trees. Further down you can see the cultivation of figs, almonds and olives in traditional groves.

And here we have the famous old public laundry, still fully functional and with its characteristic flat roof

But nature is not the only power imposing its will on La Alpujarra. Whist the rio Guadalfeo is not in itself an important river it nevertheless now provides the source for a large reservoir that has flooded a section of the lower river valley. The new motorway between Motril and Granada runs over a reservoir created by the impressive Rules Dam (La Presa de Rules).

The popular tourist village of Pampaneira

The stark foothills to the Sierra Nevada

The southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada and La Alpujarra are popular for trekking and mountain biking

When I said that the roads were narrow and windy, I meant it!

From one of the many viewing points you have spectacular views and can feel the power of nature. The rio Guadalfeo drains out of the Sierra Nevada and runs through La Alpujarra before emptying into the Mediterranean near Salobreña

The work was started in 1993 and finished in June 2003 and consists of a 130 m high arch gravity dam with a coronation length of 620 m topped by a road. The rio Guadalfeo drains around 1,000 km2 and carries about 210 Hm3/year.

The reservoir has a surface area of 345 hectares and a maximum capacity of 134 Hm3 (e.g. 134 million m3). It took about 3 years to fill and now along with the Béznar reservoir provides water for around 10,000 hectares of agricultural land (creating or supporting 20,000 jobs) and 250,000 people living on the coast. There is an 80€ million 16 km mains pipe which carries 1,000 liters per second down to the coastal plains. It is part of a 400€ million investment in more than 200 km of pipes and infrastructure with a total capacity of 1.2 million m3.

Two final points. The first is that we found a really excellent and friendly small 2-star hotel in Mecina called the Hotel de Mecina Fondales (http://www.hoteldemecina.com.es/). And the second point is that there is still much to see in the region, for example we did not have time to visit the thermal baths in Lanjarón (http://www.balneariodelanjaron.com/) nor visit many of the “pueblos blancos” such as Trevélez or Capileira buried in the high Sierra (http://www.andalucia.com/villages/alpujarras.htm).