The Alhambra. A fortress, an epic monument, a historical treasure that is synonymous with Granada. It looms above the entire city dominating the morning skyline and brightening the night sky. A reminder of Granada’s Moorish roots and an architectural hymn to beauty and innovation.

But Granada is so much more. Just on the outskirts of the city are its other majestic loomers. The Sierra Nevada mountains. They enshrine the city. A fortress in their own right. And they are a draw for all the adventurers looking to escape the city and experience the untamed side of Andalucía.

Just a thirty-minute bus ride outside of the city center in the Northwestern Sierra Nevada you’ll find Dílar, a municipality of Granada. Archaeological findings date the inhabitation of the region back to the Bronze Age. Now it’s a traditional agricultural enclave with cattle raising and ranching also forming the basis of its local economy.  But when standing at the Ermita Nueva – the starting point of a 15-kilometer hike through pine forests and past cavernous ravines – it’s the mountains that are most captivating.

The trail is deceiving. It starts off like a leisurely stroll meandering through olive groves along smooth and welcoming terrain. But soon enough the first incline comes into view. A steep rocky trek that is the precursor to the 500-meter uphill climb that separates the Ermita Nueva from the site of the Ermita Vieja.

But soon it’s smooth sailing again. The shade of the pine trees is a welcome respite in the summer, spring and autumn months. The Andalusia sun does lose a bit of its potency during the region’s very short winter.

Once you clear the forest, the next impending incline appears. It’s a winding trail past the gaping Barranco Poca Leña ravine up to 1380 meters. Destination: Ermita Vieja.

The Ermita Vieja that once stood at Picón del Savial, the end of this particular hike, was erected in 1745. It was the third and final sanctuary to the aptly named Virgin of the Snows. The first two sanctuaries constructed at higher elevations fell victim to the mountains’ tempestuous frost and blizzards. So the final Ermita is also, in a way, a monument to endurance and perseverance.

Today the Casa Forestal de Ermita Vieja stands on the foundations of the former sanctuary. It serves as a lookout point for forest fires in the summer months. More than 250 years later this site still remains the culmination of a sort of pilgrimage honoring the protectors and guardians of the region.