From salopettes to sarong, from balaclava to Bermuda shorts, snow boots to sandals – you have to be a master of packing when you take a ski holiday in Sierra Nevada.
For just 90 minutes’ drive down from the ski slopes you can find yourself bronzing on a beach of the Costa Tropical.
That was our schedule for a spring trip to Sierra Nevada which boasts the largest skiable domain in Spain until May with nearly 75km of runs.
We were to exchange the pistes for a palace and the whistling winds of the snowy mountains for the warm zephyrs of Grenada where we could eat just-picked tropical fruits warmed by April sunshine. Our guide Federico assured us it was possible to be skiing in the morning and scuba diving by afternoon.
”But if that’s too exhilarating a leisurely swim is fine,’ he suggested. We opted for a walk along the promenade in the charming little town of Almuñécar, immortalised by Laurie Lee in his books As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Rose for Winter.
The author of Cider with Rosie was remembered fondly by the townsfolk, who erected a monument. As a teenager seeking adventure he had left his home in the Cotswolds in 1934 and, armed with only a fiddle to earn his crust, had walked, yes, walked to Spain.
He arrived in the fishing village of Almuñécar, just 60 miles east of Malaga, on a cold December day and deemed it ‘grey, almost gloomily Welsh.’
How times and the seasons have transformed it. As Springtime swimmers splashed in the sparkling waves we paused to read the monument’s inscription: ‘Just before the Spanish Civil War I lived in a small fishing village in Andalucía. I hid the name in the beginning for political reasons and called it Castillo (Castle).
‘Fortunately there is no reason to be reticent any more and I can give the real name: Almuñécar.’
And Laurie Lee, rescued by the British Navy as the Spanish War broke out, returned to fight with the International Brigade against the Fascists.
Since then Almuñécar has become a thriving tourist centre, attracting the likes of David Niven and generations of package holidaymakers and Spanish day-trippers lured by Andalucía’s 100kms of Mediterranean beaches and international jazz festival. It even boasts among its archaeological remains a Roman salt fish factory and a Phoenician necropolis.
The majestic mountains, shimmering white in the distance, protect the Tropical Coast from chilly north winds and provide a micro-climate with 320 days a year of sunshine, annual average temperature of 20C and plains brimming with colourful tropical vegetation.
We sampled that bounty on a visit to a farm, San Ramon, where Rita Galiana and family run a thriving export business. She is happy to welcome tourists to sample her crops so, with the air thick with the scent of jasmine, we happily tucked into succulent elevenses of mango, avocado, papaya, star fruit, guava, kumquat and avocado. She sells the most delicious honeys and natural skin products. You will smell delicious.
This region is rich in culture, conflict and history. The Phoenicians and Romans colonised it. The Arabs fortified it with castles and watchtowers to defend it from the Christians, who then defended it from the Berbers and Turkish pirates.
The jewel in Granada’s crown is the Alhambra Palace, a citadel, fortress and residence of the Nasrid sultans. This architectural and garden paradise is arguably the most beautiful Arabic palace in the world and certainly the most visited Spanish landmark.
It is called the Red Palace, its name derived from the red earth from which it was built in the 13th century
Narcissistic tourists with selfie-sticks were having a field day when we visited. I would have happily fed them to the water-spewing marble lions.
It was late afternoon when we prised ourselves away from the fabulous filigree, engraved poetry, shady alcoves and sweeping arches, contemplative lakes and playing fountains, vegetable and formal gardens where bees buzzed lazily among the wisteria and roses the colour of the sinking sun.
Perhaps the last word should go to Ernest Hemingway: ‘How lazily the sun goes down in Grenada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra.’
A word of warning: give yourself a full or at least half day for a visit and book in advance. Visit: www.alhambra-patronato.com.
Another fascinating place to explore is the white town of Salobreña. We wound our way up steep narrow cobbled streets, nosily peering into pretty gardens, to reach a 10th-century Moorish castle. Sadly this El Castillo De Salobreña, which was once a main tourist attraction, remains closed while archaeologists unearth more treasures. As one expert, Antonio, locked up for the evening he revealed they have just found evidence that this could be the summer palace of Alhambra. There are traces of a Roman bath, or is it, he mused, a hamam?
The town is surrounded by sugarcane fields along the coast and further inland, an industry that has died out after 1200 years. But we discovered the one and only surviving family distillery, Granadinos Ron Montero, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
You can feel tipsy just breathing in the aromas of the liquor as you wander around the virgin oak casks, learning about the alchemy of distilling the finest rum through evaporation, condensation and years of slow aging. The best part: sampling the smoothest of rums, both neat and in cocktails.
All these aperitifs and sightseeing fires the appetite. So Spanish tapas fit the bill. Cheap, tasty, salty fish, crisp pastries and spicy meats (including my favourite tripe) – all eaten with a cold beer or local wine in a locals’ bar with blaring TV showing soccer, or in a shaded courtyard or stylish boutique hotel.
We found that tucker in the town was better than menus in the mountains. As was the weather. Down in Pradollano we had more than our fair share of rain. And although this was falling as snow at altitude at the mid-station of Borreguiles the wind was whipping up.
This is a great resort for beginners, with a magic carpet and gentle nursery slopes, a fine range of runs for intermediates, less scope for the experienced.
But in our brief visit survival and keeping upright was the name of the game. ‘Exposed and prone to wind,’ is how Where to Ski and Snowboard 2015 describes the resort.
They weren’t wrong. Children were being blown over like skittles as winds – warm, sandy air from the Sahara – reached 100km an hour.
‘That’s nothing,’ said a veteran from the British Ski School. ‘We’ve had winds of 230km here.’ With the gondola lift suddenly closed for safety ski instructors scooped up pairs of children over their shoulders to ferry them down the slopes while a piste basher rescued any skiers not competent to tackle the last run to the resort.
I skied a last couple of wind-whipped runs before heading for the comfortable haven of our Melia-sol-y-Nieve Hotel and its glorious spa under a spectacular glass pyramid. There we allowed jets of water, steam baths, cold and hot showers to revitalise our bodies…in time to pack away the ski helmet in favour of the sunhat.