Pink and rose-coloured flowers dangled from narrow lanes, which wound through the village at the foot of the mountains. On one corner a seemingly endless supply of water trickled from a fountain, where an old stout-looking man stood beating his stomach, saying “the water makes me strong”. I didn’t doubt him, and it was pride like this that I found at every turn in the Andalucían village of Güéjar Sierra.
The walls and streets looked clean, the flowers sated and the town square stood immaculately amidst the dry hills so characteristic of this region in the summer. A sign which greets newcomers to town sums up the prevailing attitude: “people of Andalucía, how joyful you are! Water, shade, rivers and trees: eternal paradise is in your land. Fear not to enter hell – this is not possible, since you have already entered paradise!”
A short history
Güéjar Sierra dates back to Roman times, however it was the Moors who settled it in 791, naming it Qaryat Walyar before the Christians seized it during the final period of the Reconquista.
During the 1920s, a wealthy Italian duke who owned the famous Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada liked Güéjar Sierra so much he built a luxurious mountain lodge there. He also part funded and built a funicular railway to transport visitors from Granada to the village. The funicular consisted of 14 tunnels and 21 bridges, although it closed down in 1973. The hotel, which was never a financial success, became a seminary in 1950.
It was after deciding to take a day trip from the nearby Spanish city of Granada that my family and I arrived at this welcoming little village by bus. As we’d passed the jade Canales Reservoir en route, we were lured down to the shaded restaurant La Fabriquilla, which fringes the gentle waters of the Rio Genil.
It was a hot summer’s day and a good 30-minute walk down a winding road to reach the water. Searching for a lunch spot, we decided to explore the farthest reaches of the river, which joins the reservoir. I found it a slightly strange sight, the dry, desolate-looking landscape cradling the calm jade waters of the reservoir.
On the left bank of the reservoir sat rows of dejected kayaks, ready for hire, while a lone swimmer braved past the muddy shore in the murderous heat. As there wasn’t much shelter, we decided to lunch beneath the shadow of an old ruin (likely the funicular) on the shore, where hundreds of large fish darted about.
The shaded, riverside scene of La Fabriquilla is a much prettier spot, and pretty soon we found ourselves heading back there. With gentle rapids, plenty of trees and a restaurant, it’s a great spot for kids to play while dads can watch and slurp on a cool beer. My kind of place.
While I enjoyed exploring and relaxing by the river, the town of Güéjar Sierra is really the star. Walking back up the hill we discovered a friendly little artisan bakery opposite the town square – where folks sip on wine and nibble tapas in alfresco courtyards. I went into one restaurant and chatted with a spaniard who’d lived in Australia for years and played rugby union there. He makes nice falafels too.
The old square contains grand fountains that spit fresh mountain water into a huge trough for all to enjoy. It’s the kind of water that makes you want to beat your stomach (evidently). It tastes so fresh and a regular intake, I’m told, does wonders.
A day trip is barely enough time to scratch the surface of Güéjar Sierra, as there’s so much to do here. Here’s a few more ideas if you ever find yourself in this very pleasant little part of the world.
Things to do
- Visit the ruins of El Castillejo, a castle built by the Romans which sits above town.
- Go on one of the area’s many walks, such as the Vereda de la Estrella, which takes in the striking mountainous terrain.
- Güéjar Sierra also offers canoeing, climbing, mountain biking, horse riding and fishing.
- Ski at the nearby resort in winter.
- Enjoy one of the town’s many seasonal festivals.
- Eat at the tapas bars, which are reputedly excellent. The town’s bodega is also an interesting spot, offering local food and wine inside part of a cave.
- Explore the winding streets and soak up the town’s pride-soaked ambience.
- Dine by the Rio Maitena at the Maitena Restaurant, which has been converted from an old funicular station built by the duke.
You can reach Güéjar Sierra by bus from the city of Granada, which takes roughly 30 minutes.