After extricating ourselves from the car hire counter at Malaga airport we had an enjoyable drive through the southern Spanish countryside to arrive at the oasis which was Las Chimeneas in Mairena. This was to be our home for the next week while we explored Las Alpujarras, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We were welcomed by David and Emma Illsley whose enthusiasm pervaded our life for the next seven days. We were shown the intricacies of the ancient water catchment and distribution system, introduced over 1000 years ago by Moorish farmers; a guided tour of the olive mill helped us to understand the local cooperative of harvesting and pressing with the resultant golden liquid, equally being shared out between the growers. David and Emma send a percentage of their precious oil to a Michelin starred restaurant in London. We reclined under a grape vine one cool morning to listen to a brief history of the area before visiting the unique church at Jubar that has been carefully rescued from dereliction. We learned that the present day building has been variously a temple, a mosque, a synagogue and a church throughout its long history. We heard how Emma’s ‘masterchef’, Soledad, has served this village restaurant for more than ten years and were given a fascinating introduction to the local cuisine, including rabbit stew, enjoyed by all visitors later that evening. We walked, mainly locally from the village with the offer of a lift, if and when required. We climbed above the snowline on the nearest high peak, at El Chullo, where the enigmatic Ibex evaded us and we rambled in the beautiful Picena valley in search of the fascinating nettle tree butterfly. Although all of these Moorish hillside villages, with their flat roofed ‘pueblos blancos’ are similar, each has a unique character worthy of a wander. We were sad to leave but drove the amazing switchback road back to Malaga, in the firm knowledge that we would be this way again.
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