As a travel aficionado, you know that popular destinations are full of people. If you’re also a travel photographer, then things get a little more serious. Crowds in front of monuments or landscapes are a big turn off if you want to do more than selfies. Still, there are some ways to wanderlust while relaxing somewhere. Or to put a city or mountain in front of you to explore as if it was yours. Although that can be the subject of another article, I’ll have to forcefully tell you one next. Sierra Nevada is one of the most popular winter destinations in southwest Europe. Likewise, it IS packed in the winter. Lucky for me, I’m not particularly fond of winter sports. Nor do I find a snow-white landscape to be as complex and observational as the “real” landscape that lies beyond. Solution: go in the summer!
Sierra Nevada is supported by a little town from which infrastructures and accessibilities exist (called Pradollano). Both the mountain and the town are very much vacant during July, which was when I visited. And that’s just great! Their cultural agenda also entails events during the summer (as they should). But the fact is that you can almost hear the crickets when walking around. Visiting this place in the summer is a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.
Sierra Nevada lies less than an hour away from Granada, which has the largest attraction in whole Andalucia: the Alhambra. In fact, many people can and do visit both places on the same day. The drive is a gorgeous one too, with the landscape and mountain replacing the urban setting as you get higher. Please keep in mind that Pradollano doesn’t have a gas station, but there’s one 20 minutes away. As a place that pretty much lives for the winter season and tourists, the town can seem a bit uninteresting in the summer. Everywhere you look, accommodation facilities! And of course, restaurants and shops fill the main squares (some of them not working in the summer). In any case, chances are you’re not there to visit the actual village.
You can explore the mountain in three ways: by foot, by bike, and by cable cars / ski lifts. The cable car takes you almost halfway between the town and the main peaks. At this level, you’re already rewarded with a pretty good view and starting point for hikes. Speaking of hikes, the tourism board did a great job at creating a very clear and informative hike map that lets people choose which one fits them best. For me, that’s something all natural parks, or at least the non-extreme ones, should have. From there, various open ski lifts diverge and put you much closer to the summit (yes, at least one works in the summer).
It’s important to notice that Sierra Nevada is a VERY easy to tackle mountain. In fact, the Valeta peak (3398m) even has a road leading to it! Veleta is, of course, the summit present in the iconic Sierra Nevada logo. This type of accessibility really amazed me, and it turns out that it’s the highest paved road in Europe! But don’t think about taking your car there: roads leading to the summit are off-limits (park staff-only). Nevertheless, you can still take your car to the very point to where those gates are (near the Virgen de las Nieves shrine). Because of this effortless access, this is where you’ll see most of hikers and bikers around.
Hiking to the Veleta peak, albeit probably too easy for the hardcore hikers, is a pleasant trip. You can see the surrounding landscape in a lot of directions, as well as dramatic cliffs and contiguous serrated summits. Be on the lookout for the extremely cute mountain goats while wondering how the hell can they move so fast in the steep mountains. Don’t try to get to them: you’re not a goat whisperer and you know it! As always, I was in Sierra Nevada for less than 24 hours, so I could only do so much. In a future visit, I hope to tackle other hikes, as well as travel to the picturesque towns that exist east of the main summits.
The cable car ticket is available with a meal option for only 3€ more. You do have to lunch at a specific place, BUT that place has a buffet, so… come on…!
I highly recommend the Mirlo Blanco amusement area, which stands in the town center. You can practice several sports and activities in the summer, or in case you’re not fond of the mountain roughness. I got a chance to try the Russian sleigh and it was a blast!
Since I’m not going to write an article about the Alhambra anytime soon, I can give you a quick off-Sierra Nevada trip. They have a reservation system with a limited number of people, so book ahead of time or get there insanely early.