I first visited La Alpujarra in the early 2000s with a group of friends from Brighton. We were invited by a couple who had bought land near a small village called Lobras and were rebuilding a ruin to make it their home.

Just before departing for this holiday, I’d fallen out with my boyfriend of the time – he was tall, dark and notorious. I felt that fresh scenery would do me good and change my mindset to a more positive one.

Upon arriving from Malaga airport and viewing the impressive Alpujarran landscape with its looming mountains lined with terraces and olive groves, my personal problems seemed much smaller. I envisaged myself striding around the wide, open spaces accompanied by a theme tune, ‘In a Big Country’.

I’ve never seen you look like this without a reason
Another promise fallen through
Another season passes by you
I never took the smile away from anybody’s face
And that’s a desperate way to look
For someone who is still a child

In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive, here we go

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered
I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe
And see the sun in wintertime

In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

So take that look…

I loved the rural environment, being close to nature and the serene pace of life. However, motoring in La Alpujarra could prove a challenge. It was easy to get lost on the rural tracks. On one occasion, I drove into a nearby minefield near the village of Timar and had to be rescued, which amused our hosts endlessly. The winding roads between towns were not to everyone’s taste, but I rather liked them.

As we drove towards the market town of Órgiva, one friend asked, “do you think you could live here”. I reflected, “yes I could”, but it was almost time for our return flight.

After that holiday, La Alpujarra remained on my mind. I organised another group holiday a couple of years later, with a different set of friends. On this occasion, we were terribly hungover the day we departed for Malaga, which let to a disastrous outbound journey.

In my debilitated state, I lost both my debit card and the travel itinerary, so I couldn’t pay for anything and we didn’t know how to find our accommodation. This led to driving 100km off route, eventually crossing a twisting mountain pass – La Contravesia – whereupon one friend announced: “When you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen them all.” His attitude towards mountains remained negative for the rest of the holiday and, quite possibly, for the rest of his life.

While passing through a small Alpujarran village, hopelessly lost, we couldn’t decide whether to drive over some “twiggy stuff” (esparto grass) that local people were preparing in the road. ‘Driving Over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart became ‘Whether to Drive Over the Unidentified but Possibly Important Item’, by us. Would we ruin their livelihood? Would they shout at us? Our communication skills were limited because only one friend had thought to bring a Spanish dictionary. After what seemed like a lifetime in the stifling hot hire car, we somehow stumbled across our holiday rental in the middle of nowhere, near Almegíjar.

To our surprise, the accommodation for this group holiday was shared with the Spanish owners, removing any sense of privacy. One friend immediately requested “vino” and a large, plastic vessel containing the locally brewed ‘costa vin’ was presented by the ‘abuelo’ (granddad). Being typical Brits abroad, we drank it all immediately and passed out on the front lawn, burning ourselves like lobsters in clear vision of the owners. Despite the sunburn, I was impressed with the ‘vino costa’ – a preference that has remained with me for two decades.

I visited La Alpujarra again in 2004, after meeting the father of my children in Brighton and learning that he lived in a rural ‘cortijo’ (country house) high on the mountainside. I could never have imagined that I would eventually live here with two sons and a collection of animals.

Back in those days, I was a proper ‘townie’ and had no particular skills that could apply to rural settings – except surviving occasional camping trips to Scotland (midges!) and East Dean near Chichester, where my friends had a habit of knocking over other campers’ gazebos and a lively Dalmation ate our food supplies in the dark. Today, I’m hardly a ‘campesina’ (country person), but I can at least tolerate dust and insects and lift bales of hay. Plus I don’t become hypothermic when there’s no central heating and the water has frozen in the pipes.

Unlike our friend in the hire car who was sick of mountains, I was captivated by them from the start. The rural Alpujarra was calling to me, and I would answer by moving here and immersing myself in its particular delights. The experiences of a ‘guri’ (slightly derogatory word for foreigner) mingling with the local community might be of interest to some people, so expect a few personal anecdotes in this blog!

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