The weather may have turned a bit chilly and autumnal in the UK this week, but not so in the Lecrin Valley, where the sunshine persists to provide lovely late summer weather, well into October and beyond. Continue reading “Make the most of the Lecrin Valley’s extended summer!”
Over the next few weeks temperatures in southern Spain will be in the mid thirties, so with schools off for the summer, many Spanish and visiting families are set to escape the heat of the city for the breezes of the valley and the coast…
The Lecrin Valley has the best of all worlds: It nestles in the heart of the countryside with accessibility to the city, the coast and great links to all sorts of places with the newly completed motorways to Malaga and Almeria.
One of the many attractions of this peaceful and beautiful place is that once it gets to July and August, whilst the valley still gets all the sunshine, the local breezes that come off the sierras take away the searing heat that you can get in the city.
So whereas temperatures will reach the mid thirties, you rarely feel uncomfortably hot or experience the sleepless nights you can get elsewhere, making the Lecrin Valley the perfect place to relax; enjoy the local fiestas, bars and restaurants; the beautiful countryside and scenery; walks, riding, cycling and fishing or simply kick back in a shady spot and snooze your cares away!
PHOTO CREDIT: Danielle Gouwens@At Home in Andalusia.
This time of year has to be the best time in the Lecrin Valley… the spring flowers are all out, the birds are singing, the weather is beautifully warm and sunny and the smell of citrus blossom, or “azahar” is everywhere.
While the majority of this uplifting, sweet and pungent aroma is orange blossom, el Azahar officially includes all white citrus blossom, so the amazing aroma around the Lecrin Valley is made up of all the different types of oranges grown in the area, together with lemon, lime, tangerine and even some grapefruit found in local gardens.
Easily one of nature’s most amazing natural perfumes, it’s no wonder that perfumers all around the world try to capture this scent in their fragrances.
PERFUME DE AZAHAR
Que armoniosa belleza
tiene la flor de azahar
es blanca como las nubes
que en el cielo veo pasear.
Su aroma fuerte intenso
que el viento esparce al pasar
que enamora a las aves
cuando su néctar van a probar.
Hermosa tu que floreces
en un día primaveral
que invades con tu fragancia
de pureza sin igual.
En las ramas del naranjo
y también del limonar
estas pegada esperando
ser frutos para degustar.
February is always a busy time of the year in the valley with the winter citrus harvest. Already 50-60% of the harvest gathered, the cooperativa (the Lecrin Valley’s local farmers’ cooperative) at Melegis is working full pelt with truck loads of local Lecrin Valley oranges being weighed and boxed up every day. Most will be exported overseas for marmalade production.
However on an Andalusian scale and for Spain and northern Africa in general, the harvest is predicted to be down around 25% this year, due to the lack of rain and high temperatures last year. However that has been reported from Cordoba where they have much more extremes than we do in the valley, so hoping the Lecrin Valley harvest is a good one.
The less plentiful harvest means that prices will be driven up… and while some producers will benefit, sadly the local growers won’t, because most of them are tied in to low price contracts with the local ayuntamientos…
If you’re out and about in the Lecrin Valley, don’t think that you can just pick an orange off a tree and eat it. Oranges are not all made equal! Most of the oranges that are grown and harvested at this time of year are naranjas amargas or bitter oranges.
These oranges are great for making marmalade, because they have higher pectin content than sweet oranges, but they’re not for eating whole or putting in salads!
Bitter oranges can be used for making juices, but you’ll need to add sugar. If you’re in shops and supermarkets they’re are generally labeled “zumo” oranges and are the ones you’ll most likely find being sold outside people’s houses and by the roadside.
You can juice these and add sweeter fruit like bananas, mangoes or peaches to make smoothies. The flowers of the bitter orange tree are used for aromatherapy and these days often used in diet products as they’re believed to help weight loss.
If you want to eat fresh oranges in slices, in salads or in other food, look for “naranjas de mesa” or “table oranges”. These are most likely Navel (so-called because of their “tummy button”) or other varieties of sweet oranges.
Andalucia is the second biggest orange producing region (after Valencia) and produces over a million tons of oranges each year.
It’s important to support local growers where we can, so try to buy local and check the labels of oranges in your supermarket.
Winter is an amazing time to get walking in the Lecrin Valley. Whether you consider yourself a walking pro, weekend rambler or Sunday stroller, there’s a walk for you, and there’s no better way to see this amazing part of Spain than to get out amongst it in a comfy pair of trainers or walking boots.
The winter has been so mild, but there is still snow on the sierras, so you can basically walk through snow on the high ground, down to warm blossom filled orchards in the lower parts of the valley.
The almond blossom is now out and will shortly be followed by orange blossom from the hundreds of orchards around the area, so the air is filled with a gorgeous, sweet aroma and the scenery peppered with a light pink haze from the thousands of almond trees.
It’s a truly beautiful time of year and one where you get to really appreciate the beauty and contrasting elements of this amazing corner of Spain.
The following websites have great walks planned out for you that can be downloaded.
Or if you’re a local and want to get into walking regularly, then The Lecrin Valley Limpers has walks every weekend. http://lecrinlimpers.blogspot.co.uk or ask to join the Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lecrinvalleylimpers. Members only.
If you want to get higher up into the Sierra Nevada, then contact Mike at Sierra Nevada Guides: http://sierranevadaguides.co.uk (based in Lanjaron).
No matter how many years you spend living in, or visiting the Lecrin Valley, you will never tire of the amazing spectacle every year when the almond blossom is in full bloom.
This year it arrived exceptionally early due to the mild weather, but the new blossom usually appears at the end of January, early February, heralding the spring and bringing the Lecrin Valley and surrounding hills to life at the end of the winter.
It’s so incredibly beautiful with the soft pink flowers contrasted against the rugged rockiness of the Andalucian landscape.
Photos by Danielle Gouwens @ At Home in Andalusia
by Mel Kidby, Casa Molino, Pinos del Valle
How did you discover the Lecrin Valley?
We saw an episode of “A Place in the Sun” on UK TV back in 2003/4 and loved the look of the place being very similar to where we’d lived back in the late 80’s in South Africa. We were getting itchy feet again and looking for a new challenge – Spain appealed to us being just a 3 hour flight back to the UK, so visits to family and friends would be easy compared to our days of living in South Africa.
What made you choose Pinos?
We loved the location being close to the autovia but far enough away to be nice and quiet. Access to Granada, the Alpujarra, Costa Tropical and Sierra Nevada Ski Resort made it an ideal location. The village is split into 2 parts – upper and lower and both have their own church – the one in the lower barrio being the oldest. It has everything you need – 2 pharmacies, 2 shops, tobacconist, post office, bank, doctors, bakers & 2 bars.
What do you do there?
After 9 long hard years of reform work we have now created a spacious and welcoming guesthouse situated in the upper barrio of Pinos del Valle. We offer 3 guest rooms all with ensuite bathroom, a lounge/breakfast room & terrace area for exclusive use of guests.The house is a short stroll from the main church square where you can find the local supermarket/butchers and the local bakery is also close by.
What are the main attractions in Pinos?
Pinos del Valle, or El Pinar as it is locally known, is a working Spanish village which has hardly been touched by tourism and is an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding area. It is just over an hours drive from Malaga airport, 45 minutes from Granada airport, 30 minutes from the beautiful city of Granada which is renowned for its historic Moorish palace – The Alhambra, 20 minutes from the spa town of Lanjaron and 20 minutes from the Costa Tropical and its beaches.
At 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level El Pinar has approximately 1125 inhabitants and is split into two parts – barrio bajo which is the lower part of the village and barrio alto which is the upper part.
Set high up above the village is the Ermita de Santo Cristo del Zapato and can be seen from our guest terrace. It is well worth the 40 minute trek up to the Ermita as the views from the top are stunning. Not only that, there are many local tracks that one can explore direct from the village which take you high up into the Pine trees and almond groves. During the spring wild orchids can be spotted along with other local flora.
The area has become increasingly popular with hikers, mountain bikers, road cyclists, & bird watchers wanting to enjoy this beautiful part of the Lecrin valley.
People come from all over the valley for the fresh and cured meats sold by “Carniceria David”, located next to the church in the upper part of the village – chorizo, salchicon, jamon curado etc can be purchased here and if you want some to take home with you they will vac-pack your purchase. This shop is also open on a Sunday morning – the only one in the valley, which means it can get very busy!
The bakery of Juan de Dios is open every day apart from Sundays and has a selection of fresh breads, croissants, napolitanas etc to enjoy and bakes local specialties during fiestas & Christmas. Not only do they supply the village of Pinos with their delicious bakes but also Guajar Farajuit – Juan de Dios loads up his van daily and makes the journey down the old back road (which has recently been resurfaced thankfully and is now as smooth as silk compared to the bone shaker it used to be!).
“Bar Venecia” is worth a visit to enjoy the stunning views from their terrace whilst you enjoy a drink and tapas in the sun. The bar opens from early morning – ideal for breakfast in the morning sunshine on the terrace with beautiful views over to the Alpujarra. The bar is very friendly and not only provides drinks and tapas but also a “Menu del Dia” available Monday – Friday from 1–3pm, and during the evenings a choice of “Raciones” – there is no set menu – just ask what is available on the day.
The “Hostal” is another local bar situated a short walk up from the main road and located near the Guadia Civil building, childrens park & Coviran store. The bar serves tapas with drinks and light snacks.
Are there any village characters or interesting goings-on?
During the August fiesta the Pinos flag bearers put on a rhythmic flag waving display set to waltz music played by the brass band. This tradition dates back 200 years and pays homage to the local saints and the Virgin del Rosario. There is a statue of a Bandero set on the roundabout as you enter the village.
When’s your main fiesta?
Dia de la Cruz. 1,2 & 3 May. This fiesta is in honor of our local saint, Cristo del Zapato. The villagers put on traditional outfits and decorate cars & trailers for the annual Romeria on 1 May. This is followed by free food and drink for all.
Fiestas in honor of San Roque. 15, 16 & 17 August. This is the local fiesta which is celebrated in honor of San Roque, Virgen del Rosario and San Sebastian.
15th August is the day of the Virgen del Rosario and the day commences with a marching band through the streets at around 9am and at mid-day there is a service/mass in the church (Parroquia) in the lower barrio in her honor. This is usually followed by sangria & tapas for everyone afterwards.
16th August is marked by a mass in honor of San Roque in the lower barrio church. This is followed later that evening by a procession and a display by the flag bearers who put on a rhythmic flag waving display set to waltz music played by the brass band. This tradition dates back 200 years and pays homage to the local saints and the Virgin del Rosario. This is watched with pride and admiration by villagers and visitors alike. When the solemn procession reaches the barrio of las Eras there is a spectacular fireworks display to honor the saints and Virgen.
The day of 17 August honors San Sebastian and as per the previous day this starts with a mass in the lower barrio church, followed later that evening by another procession and flag waving display. This procession concludes with each saint being placed in their respective churches and a final heart felt tribute from all the villagers & visitors with the cry of “Viva san Roque, viva san Sebastian and viva la Virgen”.
Favourite time of year and why?
I would definitely choose Spring as my favourite time of year. After the winter rains (hopefully) when the countryside springs into life, the green shoots of new vegetation appear and the wild flowers start to make an appearance. The hillsides and tracks around Pinos are full of wild rosemary, tyme, lavender, fenel and other wild herbs which you can pick to use in your cooking or just enjoy their scent. There are many varieties of wild flowers that appear in the spring and I love looking out for the wild orchids, iris and foxgloves, to name but a few. The days are beginning to warm up and we get to enjoy longer days in the sun.
What do you love about living there?
We love the peacefulness of the village and surrounding area, but also the ease of access to enjoy the culture of Granada, beaches of the Costa Tropical and mountains of the Alpujarra. Pinos is surrounded by beautiful countryside full of oranges, lemons, olives, almonds, walnut trees, wild herbs and beautiful flora in springtime. Not to mention the great variety of birds which pass through this area on their annual migration. We also love the friendly & generous people of Pinos who have welcomed us into their village.
Are there any drawbacks to living there?
One of the main drawbacks of living in Pinos is the limited public transport. Just 2 buses a day to Granada – 7am and 3.45pm. You definitely need a car to get the most out of exploring this wonderful part of Andalucia, but for those who just want to get away from it all for a few days or longer and are not bothered about touring around then you can get by without a car as there are local taxi companies who can take you where you want to go if the bus times don’t fit with your plans. Many come to Pinos to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the village, to unwind from the stresses of daily life and to recharge their batteries. The village has all you need if you don’t want to travel anywhere.
Interesting anecdote that sums up life in your village??
Whilst we were reforming our house we would often have the doors open. As we passed in and out with buckets/barrow loads of bricks, cement etc we would often find one of the locals inside having a good look around to see what we were up to. Many would tell us about the time when they were children and knew the old owners and would come to play with their children or were romantically linked with the family.
The house used to be an old mill many years ago and when we took ownership of the place we decided to donate the old olive press which was located inside to the local town hall for them to put on display in the village. What we didn’t know was that under piles of old rubbish and corn husks at the back of the house there lay a full set of millstones. It was like an episode from Time Team as we slowly uncovered them.
In May 2006 the local mayoress and fellow supporters came to the house to remove the press and stones and these can now be seen on display in the village. The millstones were originally put on display outside the old mill in the lower barrio of Pinos, but they were then moved a couple of years ago to the Mirador as you enter from Beznar (the press next to them isn’t from our house). We feel very proud to be part of the history of the village.
The Olive Press is located as you enter/exit the village on the Restabal road.
Our website: www.casa-molino.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/casamolino
If you’re looking for some warm winter sun and crisp blue sky days, but prefer incredible scenery to sun-baking and love walking and a bit of skiing, then this is a great time of year to visit the Lecrin Valley. It’s also a great time to visit the Alhambra and the rest of Granada without all the busloads of tourists.
There isn’t a huge amount of rain over the winter in the Lecrin Valley, not that you need much with the acequias running full pelt most days, but just enough, with plenty of water coming off the mountains to water the orchards and it’s amazing just how much fruit and orchard goings-on there is at this time of year.
You’ll still find a lot of fruit on trees too – plenty of oranges (our grapefruit and navel oranges hung on well into February), and it’s quickly mixed with new blossom for the next lot of fruit – citrus trees are very busy all year round! The Lecrin Valley becomes filled with that amazing sweet pungent scent of the “azahar” (official spanish name for the white flowers of the various citrus fruits).
In January, the whole valley is transformed again with the Almond Blossom. From white to pink, the blossom colours the entire landscape giving it a sort of pinky haze. And despite the sometimes ferocious wind, the little flowers manage to hang on well into February.
It’s an amazing smell and just when you think the trees have lost all their leaves and life for the winter they burst full of pretty pink and white flowers again.
In October and November the Lecrin Valley is a hive of activity, as the locals harvest and shell the almonds, gather fruit and tidy up their orchards. There’s that lovely smell of bonfires now that the fire ban has been lifted until next year.
This area has a great climate for fruit and veg. Most of the locals grow a selection of their own vegetables in their courtyards, on their rooftops or in little pockets of their orchards.
For a pretty small area, the Lecrin Valley has quite a varied climate – subtropical to the south of the area and colder in the higher mountain areas, where you’ll find cherries instead of oranges and lemons.
The temperature is not as hot as Granada, but hot enough; mild in the winter; not as damp as the coast, but with a decent amount of rain and water fed from the mountains via the acequias.
Hidden amongst the obvious oranges, lemons, olives and almonds at this time of year, you’ll find orchards or gardens bursting with avocados, apricots, quinces (membrillos), pomegranates (granadas), apples, nisperos, tangerines and grapefruit. Many of the local residents have a grapevine or two over their roof terrace or balcony and the roadsides are littered with cactus fruit…just don’t try to pick them without protection. You often can’t see the fine prickles, but you’ll definitely feel them!
Really if you go on a decent walk in the campo with a basket, you can just forage enough produce to keep you going for a very long time!
You’ll have plenty to keep you going throughout the autumn and the oranges, lemons, grapefruit and some avocados can pretty much last you through the entire winter if you’re lucky.
Nearer to Christmas you’ll find persimmons aka caquis, kakis or Sharon fruit. Yes they have lots of names – they’re a very confused fruit, which is probably why they’re a bit later than other fruit and don’t really know whether they’re ripe or not. Commercial growers have given up on them – they’re just too temperamental. Now they’re just in gardens – and mainly splattered on the ground! But they make great pies (treat them like pumpkin) and you can cut off the tops and freeze them to make a sticky caqui sorbet!
How often when we eat almonds do we stop and think how they got to our table? Living here in the Lecrin Valley at this time of year it is a question that can easily be answered, as during the months of September and October the normal peace and tranquillity of the valleys and villages of Lecrin is broken by the sound of the small agricultural machines harvesting almonds.
Originally, almond trees came from Central Asia and were traditionally grown in non-irrigated areas of the Middle East and Mediterranean countries from ancient times until today. During the 18th century Spanish missionaries introduced the almonds to California, which is now the leading supplier worldwide, with Spain being in 2nd place.
The almond tree has an average life span of 20 to 25 years but does not bear fruit during the first 3 to 4. Additionally, almond trees are alternate bearing, so that a lighter crop the next often follows a large crop one year. The almonds are mainly shaken from the trees manually, although this can be done mechanically. They are encased in a tough leathery hull that has to be cracked open to expose the inner protective hard shell. It is during this first stage that the machines are used. The shells are then spread out in the sun for one or two days in order for them to dry until the kernels rattle inside. They are then bagged and stored for up to 6 months in a cool dry and well-ventilated area, which ensures lower moisture content and higher oil content.
But not only does the Lecrin Valley resound with the sound of the machines, but also the chitter chatter of families. It is not unusual for younger members of the family to return to the villages from the cities during harvest periods in order to help out with the labour intensive work. Parents, children and grandchildren are seen altogether gathered around the mountains of almonds, husks and drying shells as they prepare to get them into the sacks ready for market.
When thinking of almonds don’t just think of them as nuts as there are several different uses for them. Used in cereals and ice cream, they are also used for almond milk, which is a low fat non-dairy alternative for consumers who prefer to avoid dairy products. In addition to being a good source of protein, they are also a good source of Vitamin E, dietary fibre and monounsaturated fat, which is associated with the decreased risk of heart disease.
Additionally, they are used in beauty products. Almond oil helps to keep hair silky soft and is thought to keep greying hairs at bay. It is also used to keep skin smooth and supple and help with premature ageing. There is also growing evidence that almonds help with IQ and memory loss. You can blend them into a smoothie or milk shake to make a delicious drink. For the lovers of creative cooking there are some seriously mouth-watering recipes using almonds as many gourmet chefs are introducing them to their dishes. The least you can do after all the hard work involved in harvesting is to put them to the test.
Text by Elaine Dee Crawshaw
Photos by Lyn Baker
Additional photos sourced from Wikipedia, Guardian.co.uk and other local sources.