The biggest town in the Alpujarras (and its self-styled capital) is not, in the words of my bank manager, an ordinary pueblo. There are people from at least 40 different countries here and they come from all walks of life. Toss a coin to the dazed looking drummer outside the market, enrol in a yoga group, visit a theatre, film or art show, buy a mule at the annual fair, employ a mountain guide, attend a dance camp, hear third rate thrash or first class jazz, sip a cool G&T with the smart set or beer from the bottle with the not so smart set at the back of the plaza. You can buy almost anything in Orgiva - from a three piece suit to a three piece suite, from local honey to a tin of paint, a PC and mouse to a bathroom suite, windows to floor tiles, an artists’ canvas to a ceiling fan, from whole foods to junk food, English books to Nepalese clothes.
If you intend to improve your property, go no further afield than Orgiva. There are blacksmiths, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and builders of several nationalities. Apart from two excellent suppliers of building materials, there are three plumbers’ merchants, three electrical shops, a couple of amazing old-style ironmongers, a couple of vast furniture shops and two suppliers of fridges, cookers and washing machines.
Notwithstanding all the hype in the guidebooks, Orgiva really does have the feel good factor. Much of this stems from the local people who, despite centuries of heavy handed repression (or maybe because of it) by church and state, display an endearing mix of dry humour, a love of life’s theatre (the pelicula, they call it) and a unique brand of tolerance. In the 23 years that I have been here I have not been aware of a single incidence of serious trouble or violence. Life here runs at a different pace from mainstream Europe. It may sometimes drive you crazy to realize that, despite what you read in the dictionary, mañana rarely means tomorrow but, once you relax and accept the fact that shopkeepers actually talk to you and that total strangers smile and say hello, life here can be a very enjoyable business indeed.
Orgiva has a lot of bars and most of them will serve you a good cup of coffee and a decent meal. There are also a number of specialised restaurants. Lanjarón, Pampaneira and the mountain villages all have good restaurants or you can enjoy a leisurely lunch of local fish at one of the many chiringuito bars on the beaches of Motril, Salobreña or Calahonda.
Orgiva, Lanjarón, Pitres, Soportujar and Tablones have state primary schools. The main secondary school for the western Alpujarras is in Orgiva. There is a private International School in Almuñecar. Motril has an Art College and Granada has various colleges and a thriving University. Orgiva has a public lending library, two good bookshops and stationers and a highly skilled printer. There are three dentists, two opticians and two pharmacies. Despite recent ill-considered spending cuts, the Spanish National Health Service is still considered one of the best in the world - Orgiva has a health centre and there are specialised clinics and major hospitals in Motril and Granada.
Treasured by the Moors for almost seven centuries as a paradise, this fascinating mountainous area is situated between the summits of the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean coast of the Costa Tropical. The south facing slopes that ascend to the high peaks are generally gentle but are cut by wild, deep and, on occasions surprisingly steep, valleys and gorges of the Rio Poqueira, Rio Trevelez, Rio Lanjarón and Rio Chico. The hillsides are covered in ancient walled terraces that are still used to cultivate olives, almonds, walnuts, fruit of every sort, cereals and vegetables. Springs of wonderfully pure water abound. The most impressive legacy of the Moors is the extensive and complex irrigation system - the acequias - which divert snow-melt water from the high mountains out of the deep valleys and onto the broad terraces. Despite a decline in small scale agriculture and a decrease in population there are, according to a recent government survey, still approximately 550 kilometres of acequia in use. This ancient system of watering has been responsible for the visual character of the area and for the fact that forests of broad leafed trees and an astonishing variety of wild herbs and flowers can survive wherever water is spread across the landscape. Along with the cultivation of crops the land is still grazed by sheep and goats, many of which migrate to the pastures of the high Sierra Nevada in the summer months ( that may sound idyllic but if you value your plants and your terrace walls, I advise you to keep them away ). The high peaks are covered with deep snow for several months of the year and a few patches sometimes survive the summer. The climate is generally mild with temperatures seldom rising above 30 degrees centigrade during the summer in the higher mountain villages. Orgiva can be several degrees hotter but not as hot as Granada or the coast. In the winter when skies are clear it is often warm enough for just a t-shirt during the day, but at night the temperatures frequently fall well below zero at locations above 1000 metres and the river valleys can be very cold indeed. Although in most years rain is unusual enough to be an exciting event, the area is saved from disastrous drought by that ingenious use of the Sierras’ snow.
Orgiva and the western end of La Alpujarra are, by car, about an hour from Granada, the Alhambra and the beaches of the Costa Tropical; 30 minutes from Motril (a great place to go shopping) and a couple of hours from Almeria, Malaga Airport and the Sierra Nevada ski station. There are excellent (and very affordable) bus services to Orgiva and the high villages from Granada, Motril and Malaga. Granada airport is about 50 minutes away and has flights to London and other European capitals. Motril has passenger and car ferry services to the northern ports of Morocco. From Malaga you can fly anywhere.