10 Top Tourist Attractions in Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains
The soaring snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains are the highest peaks in Spain and offer inspiring scenery and a peaceful escape to nature. From November through June, the Sierra Nevada Mountains are blanketed with snow. The Pradollano ski resort is just 45 minutes from Granada and has wonderful wide-open downhill slopes. As Europe's most southerly winter sports region, the Sierra Nevada has relatively mild weather and frequent sunny days with perfectly blue skies.
Descending from the Sierra Nevada mountain peaks, Las Alpujarras is an unspoiled landscape of wooded rolling hills, verdant valleys, and olive groves dotted with typical Pueblos Blancos (Moorish whitewashed villages). Nestled into woodlands and rugged gorges, these characteristic towns feature quiet pedestrian lanes, flower-bedecked houses, and small historic churches often converted from mosques. The Alpujarras is one of the best places to visit in southern Spain for idyllic natural scenery. Surrounding the charming little villages are nature trails for mountain hikes.
Plan your travels around these soaring peaks with our list of the top attractions in Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains.
1. The Route to Pico de Veleta
Reaching 3,428 meters, the Pico de Veleta Mountain is the second-highest peak in the Sierra Nevada range after the Cerro de Mulhacén Mountain, which soars to 3,481 meters. The road to the Pico de Veleta is an enchanting trip into the glorious mountain world of the Sierra Nevada.
The journey begins at an elevation of 640 meters at Vega de Granada and climbs at a continuous ascent to 3,392 meters, nearly to the peak of Pico de Veleta, making it one of Europe's highest mountain roads. The route follows a paved road and can be made by bus or by car.
This 35-kilometer journey is best begun in the early morning to avoid driving in the direct sun. A striking feature of the route is the contrast between the lush southern landscape of the Vega de Granada and the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Warm clothing is advised because of wind and cold temperatures at the top.
2. The Moorish Charm of Capileira
In the wild mountainous region of Las Alpujarras, the village of Capileira stands at 1,436 meters just 37 kilometers from the Pico de Veleta. To arrive here from the Pico de Veleta Mountain, take the narrow road that winds up first around the summit and then descends in hairpin bends to the village.
Capileira is the highest and most remote of the three whitewashed villages in the Poqueira Gorge, an area of beautiful rugged scenery. Built into a hillside, the village has narrow, twisting streets and many freshwater springs running through the town. From almost every spot in the village, the views are exceptional. The village is a good base for nature walks and hikes in the gorge as well as up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Originally under Moorish rule, the village was conquered by the Christians in the early 16th century. The Catholic Monarchs created the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza on the site of a former mosque. The current Mudéjar-style building was renovated in the 18th century.
Showcasing the local culture and heritage, the Museo Etnológico Pedro Antonio Alarcón (on Calle Mentidero) displays a collection of local crafts and costumes, as well as an exhibition on the 19th-century Spanish author Alarcón. An exceptional hotel in Capileira is the Finca Los Llanos, with its spectacular views and swimming pool.
3. Pampaneira: A Whitewashed Alpujarras Village
Pampaneira is a typical Moorish whitewashed village of Las Alpujarras, with a rich cultural heritage. The small village of around 300 residents sits on the steep slopes of a scenic river gorge, the Barranco de Poqueira (Poqueira Gorge), along with the other whitewashed villages of Bubión and Capileira. Pampaneira is the lowest elevated of the three villages, resting in the foothills at 1,000 meters.
The village has been well preserved with its narrow streets and alleyways, peaceful squares, and traditional houses. At the center of the village is a lovely square graced by the Iglesia de Santa Cruz, a 16th-century Mudéjar church with a wood-panel ceiling and gilded altarpiece from the 17th and 18th centuries. The town square has a handful of cafés and restaurants, plus a few traditional craft shops (including an artisanal chocolate boutique).
In the peaceful landscape surrounding Pampaneira is the O Sel Ling Buddhist Monastery. Fittingly placed in this remote environment, the monastery is devoted to the Buddhist values of meditation and seclusion.
4. Picturesque Mountain Scenery in Berchules
This picturesque mountain village is perched on a hillside at an altitude of 1,320 meters, overlooking the dramatic gorge of the Guadalfeo River (a good place for trout fishing). In the background, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range offers striking scenery. The name of the village comes from the Arabic word "vergel" meaning pasture, and the area still has lush green pastures where goats, sheep, and cattle graze. Cow bells are heard as the animals move about, and the chirping of little birds is another familiar sound.
The countryside also encompasses fertile farmland of cherry, apple, and peach orchards; fields of tomatoes, strawberries, and raspberries; and ancient chestnut trees. Berchules is a great place for an outdoorsy vacation of hiking and nature walks. Other things to do include biking and horseback riding. For a pleasant scenic walk, take the path lined by mulberry trees that leads to an old Moorish arch. This is a popular spot for picnics on sunny days.
5. The Bohemian Village of Orgiva
Nestled in the fertile valley of the Guadalfeo River, Orgiva is 20 kilometers from Capileira and is the largest town of Las Alpujarras. Visitors come for the beautiful mountain views, peaceful setting, and mild climate. The countryside around Orgiva is covered with groves of olive trees as well as orange and lemon orchards.
The village has an impressive 16th-century church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Expectación, featuring a twin-towered Baroque facade. The church possesses a sculpture of Christ that is considered to be the work of the renowned artist Juan Martínez Montañés. Another noteworthy attraction is the Palacio de los Condes de Sástago (Palace of the Counts of Sástago), a 16th-century aristocratic palace that was home to the Great Captain Don Gonzalo Fernández of Córdoba.
Nowadays, the town of Orgiva is better known for its artsy bohemian ambience. The main street near the church has many atmospheric cafés. Tourists will also appreciate the town's choice of hotels and other lodging options. The Casa Jazmin is a highly rated boutique accommodation with stunning mountain views, a delightful garden, and swimming pool. The lovely guest rooms feature traditional decor.
6. Camino Real de las Hoyas Nature Trail
The tiny neighboring villages of Yegen and Mecina Bombarón are surrounded by a pristine countryside that is an excellent place for hiking and nature walks. A path lined with ancient oak trees, the Camino Real de las Hoyas (Royal Road of the Hoyas) unites both villages.
Along this five-kilometer trail, hikers will come across an old bridge, believed to be of Roman origin, that linked Almería with Granada; the ancient bridge lies below a modern transit bridge, offering a stunning contrast of architectural styles. The route traverses the varied landscape of the Sierra Nevada, full of diverse vegetation and wild animals such as mountain goats and wild boar.
Typical of Las Alpujarras villages, Yegen and Mecina Bombarón are made up of Moorish-style whitewashed houses clustered around historic churches. In Yegen, the Iglesia del Dulce Nombre del Niño Jesús is a Mudéjar-style church converted from an old mosque. The interior is notable for its simplicity and serenity. In Mecina Bombarón, the 18th-century Iglesia Parroquial de San Miguel Arcangel was built to replace a 16th-century church destroyed by the Moors. As is common in Andalusia, this church has Islamic-influenced design details including Arabic tile work.
Several little hermitage chapels are found in Mecina Bombarón, and the nearby community of Montenegro. These small chapels hold shrines to sacred figures and are important pilgrimage sites.
7. Lanjarón: A Famous Spa Town
With its pure mountain air and gorgeous scenery, Lanjarón is the gateway to the Alpujarras region at its western edge. The town is famous for its natural spring; the prized mineral spring water is sold all over Spain. Lanjarón's thermal baths are also known for their healing effects, and the town's spa has attracted visitors for centuries. The Balneario de Lanjarón spa facility is in the center of Lanjarón and offers many different spa treatments including steam rooms, thermal baths, and massages. The property also includes contemporary-style accommodations.
The town is well designed for tourists, with a wide variety of hotels and restaurants. Above the village, on a rocky outcrop, are the ruins of a Moorish castle, where the Moors were defeated by King Fernando's Christian army. The countryside surrounding Lanjarón is a rugged mountain landscape with hillsides full of wildflowers.
8. The Mountain Village of Trevélez
Set in a dramatic river valley, the village of Trevélez is the highest in mainland Spain at 1,476 meters. This tiny mountain village is home to a community of around 800 residents and is divided between three barrios: bajo (low), medio (middle), and alto (high). The Barrio Bajo (Lower Barrio) is the most touristy and has many artisan boutiques, restaurants, and hotels. Trevélez is a wonderful base for taking hiking expeditions in the Sierra Nevada National Park.
9. Country Village of Bubión
This sleepy country village lies halfway between Capileira and Pampaneira in the Poqueira Gorge. The little hamlet of whitewashed houses is surrounded by the Alpujarras foothills and snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountain peaks. Magnificent views await at every turn. The village has several artisan craft shops and a folk museum, the Casa Alpujarreña. Bubión is a great starting point for taking long-distance nature walks, hikes, and horseback riding trips.
10. Pradollano Ski Resort
The winter sports resort of Pradollano, previously named Sol y Nieve (which translates to "Sun and Snow") offers excellent powder snow and brilliant sunny days. This ski resort prides itself on the amount of sunshine it receives each year and on being the most southerly ski resort in Europe with relatively mild weather. The Pradollano ski resort is at an altitude of 2,100 meters to 3,282 meters and has an extensive system of ski lifts and cableways.
The ski season runs from late November or December to April or May. The area has all types of tourist accommodations from luxury resorts to basic hotels, charming chalets, and rustic mountain huts. The Pradollano ski resort is about 38 kilometers from Granada.
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Nearby Treasures in Granada: Bordering the Sierra Nevada Mountains is Andalusia, southern Spain's most quintessential region. The closest tourist destination of Andalusia is Granada (a 90-minute drive from Capileira), renowned for its splendid Alhambra complex. With the majestic, snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains as a backdrop, the Alhambra palaces stand as a marvelous testimony to the legacy of the Moors who ruled here from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The Alhambra is also famed for its luxuriant gardens filled with flowing fountains, fragrant orange trees, and vibrant roses.
Other Highlights of Andalusia: Slightly further afield are other amazing travel destinations including the dramatic cliffside town of Ronda (a three-hour drive) and Córdoba (a 3.5-hour drive) with its UNESCO-listed 8th-century Great Mosque. For the ambience of an old Mediterranean port town, tourists can visit Malaga (a two-hour drive), which boasts beautiful seaside scenery, an old Moorish castle, and fabulous museums. Nearby are fun-loving beach resorts along the Costa del Sol that attract many summertime vacation-goers.