We almost visited Soportújar a few weeks ago; however the route Harri had chosen became a little bit too vertiginous and precipitous for me after we left Canar (both words were used in the walk instructions but Harri failed to mention this to me). As a result, we abandoned the walk and returned to Órgiva via the twisting but mostly deserted road. We covered 10.5 miles that day but didn’t get to visit Soportújar.
Keen to put this right, Harri had found a more direct route on Wikiloc, a resource he is finding more and more useful when planning our hiking itineraries.
From our temporary home, we headed the mile or so into Órgiva and left the town on a lane dotted with some rather nice houses, one of which is the home of a lovely English lady I met recently.
At 10am, it was already hot and the grasshoppers were out in full force. Every few minutes, I’d pause and look back on Órgiva, spotting the various landmarks. For a town full of very steep streets, Órgiva looked surprisingly flat from up here. The distortion of height also meant it looked like it lay on the valley floor; we know that’s not true after last week’s tough climb into town after our valley walk.
Such is the nature of the Alpujarras landscape that we could see our destination almost as soon as we were on the open mountainside. No matter what Harri said, from here it looked a long way up.
We came off the main track and joined a wide but very steep stony footpath. Really, the terrain was perfect for hiking, it’s just the August temperature and lack of shade that’s the killer. This is probably why we have rarely passed other hikers since we arrived in Andalusia at the end of June. The locals have more sense than to do anything energetic in the heat.
As we gained height, Órgiva’s cemetery came into view on the far side of the ravine. Here, as in the Algarve, the deceased are interned above the ground, one on top of the other in beautifully decorated tombs decorated with (mostly) plastic flowers. When I expressed concern about the difficult walk to reach this peaceful spot, Harri joked: ‘If you’re not dead when you set off, getting there will kill you.’
We didn’t enter the cemetery, but apparently there is a memorial to some of the first victims of Franco’s regime close to the entrance. According to a blog I read, their remains were apparently moved here from cemeteries near Lanjarón via Órgiva’s old cemetery.
Soon, we were walking below pine trees, providing us with a brief respite from the hot sun. From the number of ramps and tracks around, these woods are popular with daredevil mountain bikers. I half expected one to come flying across my head any moment.
Too soon, we emerged from the trees and stopped at a mirador where a faded interpretation board would once have helped hikers identify the various peaks of the Sierra de Lújar (the ridge opposite our villa). Sadly, the elements had combined to make the information illegible so we were none the wiser about the now-familiar topography with its near-vertical paths which appear to disappear mysteriously into the many ravines.
It would have been easy to end our walk here. The panoramic views were incredible, albeit the drop from the far end of the mirador a little bit terrifying. Despite being on the far side of a deep ravine, Canar actually appeared closer than Soportújar right now, which was a bit worrying. Fortunately, it was a (sort of) optical illusion. Canar, though it looked closer, is actually 1014 metres above sea level, whereas Soportújar is a mere 940 metres.
The next stage of our route provided some of the most spectacular scenery of the day, albeit with some pretty hairy walking. For a while, our well-defined footpath skimmed the top of a huge rocky crag. At times, it looked like it was about to disappear into a void, only to meander around what looked like a sheer cliff. At one point, the unguarded drop to our left was quite terrifying. Fortunately, the footpath was wide enough to keep well away from the edge. A few minutes later, we passed a mountain biker going in the opposite direction. Even dare-devil Harri said he didn’t think he’d fancy mountain biking along that stretch of the footpath.
No-one was more relieved than me when we reached solid ground again. Here, we followed a lovely path alongside an acequia. Here the dry orchards were positively blooming with promise: trees laden with as yet unripe olives, pears, pomegranates, figs and avocados. I wondered who came to collect the harvest in this peaceful spot or if the fruits were just left to rot on the trees.
We reached the junction where our circular route would return later and immediately got confused by a cluster of houses on the hillside (some for sale) with no immediate route to the other side. After a few false starts, Harri found an ancient and once-cobbled path running up between ruins and inhabited houses. Though passable, the steep footpath had clearly suffered from centuries of gushing mountain water.
We reached Carataunas – the smallest village in the Alpujarra – and fell silent at the plaque commemorating Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s best-known poets who was from Granada. He was murdered by Franco’s forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War when he was just 38. His body has never been found.
Adjacent to the plaque was a rather striking modern fountain whose centrepiece was four huge outstretched hands. We rather romantically thought the Fuente de la Humanidad was referring to the atrocities of the Civil War and reminding us that there is more to unite humanity than to divide us. It was only afterwards when I did a little research that I learned the fountain was erected to celebrate the village itself – ‘the place where magic and dreams meet’ – and recognise the generations of Alpujarra people whose hard manual work has created a legacy for younger hands.
Speaking of the area’s past, one of the hardest things about discovering the beautiful Andalusian landscape has been learning about the atrocities that took place in this region during the Franco era. We have come across several monuments to those who were murdered during his sickening regime, and there is believed to be a mass grave in a ravine just off the road between Órgiva and Lanjarón. In these times of escalating right-wing populism, it’s a sobering thought that there remain people alive who remember Franco’s murderous era firsthand. Let the lessons of history not be ignored.
The final haul of our hike was the 700-metre distance between Carataunas and Soportújar. To me, this felt more like a ski slope than a footpath, though I did feel a bit better on our way down when we saw a man of about 40 sitting down for a breather. The gradient of the road is far, far gentler but the footpath which we followed was hard core.
As the church bells chimed noon, I staggered into the village croaking ‘beer, beer’ to anyone who would listen and then immediately got distracted by all the witch paraphernalia. The main square was covered as in Lanjarón and there were spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, but unfortunately it lacked a bar.
A few minutes later, we were sitting in a busy shaded street drinking ice-cold beer and looking up at strings of street lighting depicting witches, broomsticks and cauldrons. Apparently, Soportújar has an old legend which tells of unaccompanied children who wander outside the village being snatched by the local witches’ coven and taken to a nearby cave where they would meet a grisly end. It’s all a bit Hansel and Gretel, but Soportújar has created a thriving tourist industry around its legend.
In fact, we were visiting during the Fiesta de la Bruja, the annual witch festival, which might explain why we kept bumping into models of witches around every corner. It’s a shame we couldn’t return in the dark when things would probably get really lively – and scary – but it doesn’t get dark here until about 10pm and neither Harri or I fancy driving on these meandering unlit roads at night.
When we finished our beers we went for a little stroll uphill to the mirador where those pesky witches allegedly took off on their broomsticks to travel to their all-night coven meetings. I couldn’t help noticing there was a small car park directly above it, presumably for those who think the walk from the main village is too far!!
Was the entirely uphill four-mile walk to Soportújar worth the effort? Well, my only gripe was that we didn’t get one olive or a peanut with our 2 euros a glass beer, which is unusual in Andalusia (although the same thing happened in Padul yesterday). In Portugal, we wouldn’t expect nibbles but the beer is cheaper.
The return walk to Órgiva was surprisingly quick. In fact, it’s amazing how much easier it is to cover downhill miles, especially as we avoided the craggy outcrop on our return route and stuck to a lower level track with a gentler gradient.
We rounded off the day with beers and tapas at El Molino, a wonderful courtyard bar and restaurant we stumbled upon last weekend. Here, at least, you can rely on high-quality tapas being provided (see my review on TripAdvisor).