Winter walks in the Lecrin Valley

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.

http://www.treksierranevada.com/walks/start-point/lecrin-valley

http://www.spanishhighs.co.uk/lecrin-valley-walking-tours.php

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).

Happy walking.

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Amazing almond blossom

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 

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Winter in the Lecrin Valley: crisp blue sky days and warm sunshine

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.

Continue reading “Winter in the Lecrin Valley: crisp blue sky days and warm sunshine”

Altogether Almonds: it’s harvest time in the Lecrin Valley

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.

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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.

Full of Fruity Goodness: Produce of the Lecrin Valley

The Lecrin Valley is a wonderful place, rich in history and primarily an area devoted to fruit. All over the place you’ll find old and existing mills, factories for frutos secos (nuts) and of course citrus orchards and olive groves as far as the eye can see.

Sadly over recent times with the recession and reduction in the price of oranges, the Lecrin Valley has taken a huge hit as far as its primary product is concerned. Almost all the locals sell to the local cooperative and are currently getting extremely low rates for their oranges, so many of them have just given up, because it’s not even worth them getting in the seasonal workers to help with the harvest.

Consequently you see orchards full of unpicked oranges and lemons just rotting on the ground. But the locals are still very proud of their orange tradition and every year at the end of March/beginning of April there’s a special festival devoted to the local citrus heritage – Feria de los Citricos – which this year runs from 23 – 30 March. This takes place in Melegis, the heart of Orange country and where the cooperative is located.

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Aside from the oranges and lemons, almonds and olives, there’s a huge variety of other sorts of fruits: Pomegranates, custard apples, figs, nisperos, caquis (persimmon or “Sharon” fruit), avocadoes, grapefruit, cactus fruit and apparently even some mangoes.

Lots of these fruit trees are roadside, so you don’t have to pay for them anyway. You simply gather what you need on your daily walk! This definitely keeps a lot of the locals going. Most of the locals grown their own vegetables in their own “huertos” or “huertas” (huertas can be translated as orchards or vegetable gardens or even “allotment”). You can even find a lavender plantation in Restabal at Casa Lavanda.

The climate is pretty mild with the exception of a couple of cold months in January and February, and although the valley is surrounded by snow-capped hills and mountains, it rarely gets frost or snow itself. So the locals have a huge repertoire in fruit and veg in their gardens, huertos and even just on balconies – all kinds of peppers and chillis, root veg, tomatoes, judías (runner beans) and all sorts of other leafy veggies. They also almost all have a grape vine or two over a roof terrace or balcony. You could pretty much be self-sufficient and survive without spending a centimo on fruit and veg, just by foraging!

As well as fruit, there are also many herbs to be found lining roadsides and up in the hills on the way up to the neighbouring Alpujarras, including wild mint, basil, loads of rucola (rocket), rosemary and thyme. And the Alpujarras is also famous for its goats cheese and hams.

Some of the best ham in Spain comes from up in Trevelez. Trevélez (the second highest muncipality in Spain) is famous for the quality of its air-cured hams, a speciality throughout the Alpujarras, but particularly associated with the village, because the cold climate due to its altitude makes ideal conditions for storing them.

Honey is also a big product of the area – there is some in Lecrin, but mainly up in the hills of the Alpujarras and the Sierra Nevada. There’s even a honey museum in Lanjaron.

Local residents are well versed in making their own jams, marmelades, preserves etc and sun-drying peppers and tomaties and there are a few great companies sprouting up, like Almond & Olive who are exporting the Lecrin Valley’s fabulous fayre abroad, as well as the not for profit organisation Eco Valle that brings together all the local eco-friendly producers in the area.

To see some of the local producers in action you can either hang out around the orchards in harvest time, or some of the producers and mills run tours – like the Hacienda Senorio de Nevada vineyard near Conchar and Olive Oil Tours in Niguelas and La Flor De Las Alpujarras in Orgiva, an organic olive oil cooperative. Several local businesses, such as Casa Amelia and rural hotels also offer cooking classes and catering with local produce.

Of course if you really want to see what’s on offer, just go to the local markets – the best being in Niguelas, Padul, Durcal, Lanjaron and Orgiva.Whatever your tastes you won’t go hungry in the Lecrin Valley. See what you can find on a walk around the area. You’re sure to come back with a basket full of goodies, perfect for juicing, salads, preserves and garnishes and if you don’t find what you need the little vans that travel around the villages on a daily basis are sure to have it!

Buen provecho!