Walker's Notes

No Andalucian sheep exporters were harmed in the manufacture of these merino wool socks!

According to walk experts, to be really comfortable in hot weather whilst trekking you should purchase some merino wool base layers. Whatever you do, avoid wearing cotton close to the skin. Cotton base layers will not wick away moisture and you will end up walking for hours in wet underwear and damp holiday spirits. I hadn’t given the base layers much thought, but after my recent walking holiday in Las Alpujarras that was going to change. I have spent hours researching waterproofs and footwear and it has often struck me that you can get never really stay dry until you have addressed the issue of non-breathable clothing. To give you some idea of how much moisture you need to wick away, just your feet alone can give off a pint of moisture when walking for around twelve hours.

You can buy all kinds of synthetic base layers but what you should know is that wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture and still leave you feeling warm and dry. The quality of wool can make a bid difference, so why should you choose merino wool? Well, this is the softest and longest wool fibre so it won’t feel abrasive or prickly against the skin: in fact it can feel quite luxurious. It is also the most durable type of wool and won’t smell bad when used in socks that have been worn for days without washing. Thankfully there is an increasing number of outdoor clothing companies which recognise the benefits of using merino wool, so merino wool clothing is not too difficult to locate.

We have the Moors to thank for introducing the Merino sheep to the Alpujarras region of Andalucía in southern Spain back in the 12th century. It was from the 12th to the 16th century that Spain dominated the wool market and up to the 18th century the export of Merinos from Spain was a crime that carried the death penalty. Fortunately, this law has been lifted and we can now enjoy walking holidays in Andalucía in the secure knowledge that no sheep exporter has been executed recently for our comfort. Today, most merino wool comes from Australia and New Zealand.

The main purpose of base layers is to keep you dry. If the layer next to you skin remains wet then no matter how much you have invested in superb outer layers they are not going to be effective in keeping you warm. Once you stop walking, wet base layers will cause you to cool rapidly and that’s just the moment you want to generate heat to dry them out. This is certainly what I experienced whilst walking on the beautiful mountain sides of Las Alpujarras when the temperatures were a pleasant 20 to 22 degrees Celsius. However, I was lucky enough to have discovered the perfect antidote to having ignored effective base layers - and that was choosing to stay at the Hotel Los Bérchules.

Set on the edge of the white village of Bérchules in the heart of Las Alpujarras, a region in Andalucía, southern Spain, is the Hotel Los Bérchules: the perfect base for walking holidays in Andalucía. The hotel owner, Alejandro, has considered walkers’ needs and has produced a menu of walks that would take you over a month to complete. After a day trekking you can return to the hotel and have a massage, a swim in the pool, or a relaxing bath followed by a sumptuous meal from the hotel’s restaurant. So after purchasing some merino wool base layers jump on the internet and book yourself a walking holiday in Andalucía at Hotel Los Bérchules.

This is the dilemma I face as I bite into my tostada oozing with grated tomatoes and olive oil at breakfast. It is my second morning at Hotel Los Bérchules and I feel if I don’t make a decision in the next few minutes I may remain relaxed in the chair all day mesmerised by the stunning view of the mountains beyond. I pick up the menu of walks and decide a grade 2 self guided walk would suit my mood and the beautiful weather. The hotel dog, Sammy, nudges my arm and reminds me of a former promise to take her with me. I gather up the lead as her penchant for chasing the neighbouring villagers’ cats might result in a cool reception. We set off armed with a picnic - enough to feed an army - and Sammy looks delighted at the prospect.

Having flown by budget airline and hired a car, I have managed to select a little bit of heaven on earth within four hours of Gatwick. Las Alpujarras, neighbouring the Sierra Nevada National Park in Andalucía, is an area of outstanding natural beauty perfect for trekking and horse-riding. It is no surprise that InnTravel use Hotel Los Bérchules as part of their mountain walking holidays package in Andalucía. A twohour flight to Malaga or Granada is all that is required. A transfer to Hotel Los Bérchules can be pre-arranged and within an hour and a half you can be relaxing by the poolside sipping the local wine or the deliciously cool beer making for the perfect start to your walking holiday in Andalucía.

Whether you are looking for self guided walking holidays or a fully guided walking holiday package, the owners of Hotel Los Bérchules have years of experience and can match your requirements with their local knowledge and access to guides. Nothing can prepare you for the scenery of wild lavender, rock roses, broom and the scent that drifts through the valleys and mountainsides. The criss-crossing of streams and irrigation channels reminds you that you are never far from water and cool surroundings when you need them. Entering the pretty white villages gives you the opportunity to refill your water bottles from the numerous water fountains (agua potable) that have served the villagers and their livestock for centuries. Nearby are open air public washing/laundry rooms which appear to be largely unused but in perfect order.

A walking holiday in Andalucía offers such variety of wildlife. The Las Alpujarras area support ibex and wild boar among the more common animals of hare and badgers. From the Hotel Los Bérchules, eagles can be regularly sighted and hoopoes are not uncommon. The distant sound of bells alerts you to a herd of goats or cows ahead, each wearing a bell, and if they were to organise themselves sufficiently they could enter Britain’s Got Talent and probably win but I will leave that to a colleague of mine whose entry aims to promote handbell ringing.

So you don’t want to walk today? Well head for the snow that you can see above you and join the skiers or check out the beach that you look towards down below the hotel. Or maybe you just want to relax, share tapas, and watch village life unfold, olive by olive… Bliss.

Those who eventually discover the beautiful region of Las Alpujarras beneath the Sierra Nevada, Spain, will mostly want to visit the area to walk the network of paths that criss-cross the mountainsides. Some may set off to achieve greatness by completing the long-distance E4 path that stretches from Tarifa, the most southerly point of Spain to its end in Greece. For the less energetic, there are lots of gentle walking holidays in Las Alpujarras and for bird watchers there is abundant opportunity to twitch and tweet about Golden and Bonelli’s eagles that can be found inhabiting the mountainsides and feeding on local partridge.

Twitchers can explore the southern and northern slopes of Las Alpujarras as there are different species on each. Species include: Golden and Bonelli's Eagles, Peregrine, Eagle Owl, Sardinian Warbler, Chough, Short-toed Lark, Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Alpine Accentor, Black Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Serin, Rock and Ortolan Buntings. Sighting a Rüppell's Vulture is an ever increasing possibility in the southern areas of Andalucía. Increased sightings of this vulture, normally only seen in Africa, have caused a few identification headaches for resident and visiting birders and shouldn’t be mistaken for the more widespread and common Griffon Vulture.

The beauty of choosing a bird watching holiday in Las Alpujarras is that you have such varied habitat ranging from open mountainsides to forests and it is less than an hour to the coast where a whole host of seabirds may be seen. 18% of Andalucia is protected land. There are numerous Natural Parks such as Parque Natural Sierra de Nevada which have great ecological, scientific and educational value with ecosystems little altered by man; Natural Areas (moderately protected areas due to the risk to or the uniqueness of the fauna, flora or landscape); Natural Reserves (enclaves to protect an ecosystem or natural element offering the greatest level of protection and where permission to enter is required from the warden of the reserve) and it is within these protected natural areas where most bird watching sites exist.

To make the most of you time bird watching in Las Alpujarras, it is essential that you find a suitable place to stay: one that is comfortable, welcoming and has local knowledge of the birds that can be seen in the vicinity. My recommendation is that you seek out Hotel Los Bérchules where Alejandro, the hotel owner, has such local knowledge. For the visitor to Spain, many interesting, spectacular and rarely seen birds abound in Las Alpujarras including Hoopoes, Bee Eaters, Golden Orioles, many species of owl, Golden and other eagles to name but a few – all are frequently seen within a few kilometres of Hotel Los Bérchules. So check out the hotel’s website for more information. Alejandro awaits your tweet.