Sierra Nevada (meaning “snowy range” in Spanish), is situated in the provinces of Granada and Almería.
The mountain range is marked in the north by the city of Granada and rolls down south to the Costa Tropical, Granada’s Mediterranean coast. The Mulhacen (3.479 m.) is the highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula and, together with La Veleta (3.398 m.), dominates Sierra Nevada and its National and Natural Parks.
It is a popular tourist destination, as its high peaks make skiing possible in one of Europe’s most southerly ski resorts, near to the Mediterranean Sea which is predominantly known for its warm temperatures and abundant sunshine.
Parts of the range have been included in the Sierra Nevada National Park. The range has also been declared a biosphere reserve. The Sierra Nevada Observatory and the IRAM radiotelescope are located on the northern slopes at an elevation of 2,800 metres (9,200 ft).
On the southern side of Sierra Nevada and extending over two provinces, Granada and Almeria, is the region known as the Alpujarra or Alpujarras. Benefitting from a more benign climate than the northern face of the range, the small villages of the Alpujarra cling to the steep mountainsides, amidst green pastures and chestnut woods. There are several interpretations of this Arabic name: the most convincing being that it derives from al-bugsharra, meaning something like “sierra of pastures”. Originally populated by the Berbers after the Moorish invasion in 711 AD, the unique architecture stems from the houses built by these Berbers in the style of their homes in North Africa.
Re-populated after the reconquest by settlers from all over Spain, the Galician cow herds gave Galician sounding names to many of the villages. The village of Trevelez 1.486 metres claims to be the highest in Spain but there are other contestants for the title! Due to the annual snow melt and numerous springs, on the lower slopes it is possible to cultivate oranges, olives, almonds and grapes. The developing wine industry is also producing wine from grapes grown at altitudes over 1.000 metres.
The slopes of the Alpujarra reach almost to the Mediterranean coast where popular detinations are towns such as Motril, with its important fishing port and Salobreña, with its higgedy-piggedly aspect on a rocky outcrop, as well as the better known resort towns of Alumñecar and La Herradura. The Costa Tropical of Granada is true to its name, being home to many tropical fruit orchards, thanks to the influence of Sierra Nevada on the climate. Kiwis, mangoes, papayas, avocados and custard apples all thrive in the sub tropical climate enjoyed by this stretch of coast. Less developed than the neighbouring Costa del Sol, due to the mountainous coastline, there are many points of interest beside the beaches. Worth visiting are Roman and Arab remains with the Alcazaba of Salobreña being particularly attractive. There are also some interesting coastal wetlands and the possiblity of seeing aquatic birds.