Hello easy breezy Lecrin Valley 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.

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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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”

Lecrin Valley: It’s Harvest Festival gone nuts!

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!

To learn more about Spanish gardening and fruit take a look at : http://thespanishgardener.blogspot.co.uk also http://www.foodsfromspain.com is great if you want to find out what things are.

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.

A Place in the Sun comes to the Lecrin Valley

It’s been a very exciting week in the Lecrin Valley, with the arrival of Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun. The crew has been filming in the area for a new episode featuring a British couple who are thinking about buying in the Granada Province.

A few weeks ago we got a very exciting call from the researchers, asking if we could help the crew look for houses in the Lecrin Valley and suggest existing local expat residents to interview for the show. No problema!

Danielle Gouwens at At Home in Andalusia quickly got to work shortlisting suitable houses, while we set up interviews with a few of the local expats, including Louise Spink from Restabal’s Vinas de Vera,  Cathy King from La Tasca Restaurant in Niguelas and the lovely Molly Sears, author of the Piccavey blog who lives in Granada.

Laura HamiltonThe team, headed by popular presenter Laura Hamilton, visited 5 houses in total, of which three were in the valley – in Chite, Albunuelas and Pinos.

Now we just have to wait for the show to air to find out if the couple, Pauline and John, decide to buy in Granada, but everyone’s had a great time in the process!

We’re hoping that the show, which will probably broadcast in January, will encourage more people to visit or buy a home in our lovely corner of the world, as well as bring welcome business to the local bars, restaurants, cafes and activities.

Next week the show will be filming in Motril, so the Costa Tropical will also get a look-in!

A Place in the Sun

Channel 4 A Place in the Sun

At Home in Andalusia

https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Tasca

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!

LECRIN VALLEY IS…

In case you don’t know the Lecrin Valley, here you go… this is what the LECRIN VALLEY is all about!

Lemons and Limes – they’re everywhere. They’re not as obvious as their brighter cousins, the oranges, but they’re in most orchards and by roadsides.  Your gin & tonic will never be without this very important garnish!
Easygoing and Everything you need for a great holiday or a rural retreat.  Close enough to the coast and to Granada city to feel connected and be able to take in the sights and do some shopping if you like, but far away from the hustle and bustle of city life to feel like you’re away from it all.
Creativity – there’s so much going on here if you take the time to look. Local artisans make jewellery, ceramics and rugs; there are artists and writers, photographers, musicians, actors and much much more.
Riding and Rambling!  The area is hugely popular with on and off-road cyclists, horseriders, walkers and twitchers too.
Inspiring – when you spend time here you can’t help but be inspired by the beauty of the landscape and the easy pace of life.
Naranjas! This is one of biggest orange producing areas of Spain. They’re all over the place, pretty much all year round. Also Nisperos (date plums) – one of the local fruits, this little orange plum-like fruit is sort of half date half, plum in taste. The wasps and bees love them too!

Views – incredible views up to the mountains and down through the valley. Every direction you look there’s a staggering view – either of the Beznar dam to the south, the Sierra Nevada to the North, The Alpujarras and windmills to the East and West.
Almendras y Aceitunas (Almonds and Olives).  The valley is full of blossom at least twice a year (April and November) for the oranges and lemons and in January the Almond blossom arrives. The olive harvest is in the winter. And not forgetting Alpujarra – The Lecrin Valley is on the doorstep of this amazing area of beautiful landscape and pretty mountain villiages.
Lavanda (lavender in Restabal). Not really known for its Lavender, the new lavender farm in Restabal (Casa Lavanda) hopes to make Lavender as much a part of the valley as oranges and almonds.
Lovely Villages and Lush Landscape – you can’t beat the greenery of the Lecrin Valley – so different to most of Andalucia – and the pretty white villages are some of the loveliest in Spain.
Embalsa de Beznar (the Beznar reservoir and dam). The main landmark of the valley. The Beznar reservoir and dam is an amazing strip of bright turquoise water surrounded by orchards and pine forest. It feeds off the springs and snow melt of the Sierra Nevada. Great for fishing and non-motorised watersports (but not swimming), the lake really is not used enough.
YES please! See you soon.

All about aprons!

Fiestas and now Fashion!

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Oranges, lemons & life in Chite

When you set foot in the Lecrin Valley, you don’t immediately think fashion, but there’s a very talented designer here who has come up with some beautiful designs for jewellery and… aprons!

Yes, aprons! Not the first thing that springs to mind when you think fashion, and Lala (aka Ema de Haro, a French born artist, blogger and translator living in Durcal) has designed many different things to date, but her beautiful apron designs are proving to be a massive hit with not only the locals, but also international customers and recently she hosted a fashion show for her new collection.

The fashion show was held in the main house of the Thai Elephant restaurant in Restabal, thanks to its owner, Clive and with the participation (as one of the models!) of its manager, Natasha.

A good crowd of Lecrin Valley residents were there to give Lala their support and…

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All hail the Pomegranate, official symbol of Granada

Everywhere you go in Granada you see pomegranate imagery: in drawings and paintings; on signs, pottery; as statues, fountains and imbedded into pavements and roads.

The pomegranate or Punica granatum, is “granada” in Spanish and the official motif or “heraldic symbol” of the city.

“Granada” also means grenade or hand grenade. I guess they do look a bit similar.  And when thrown against the pavement or a concrete wall they both explode in a quite spectacular way!

When you visit Granada you see that all the street signs have a painting of the fruit on the top of them. The pomegranate motif even adorns the sewer manhole covers!  Once you train your eye to the pomegranate, you’ll find it everywhere.

The fruit season for the pomegranate in the Northern Hemisphere is now – between September and February, so at this time of year the “granadas” are along every road and trackside both town and country, bursting on the trees and spilling all their juicy red seeds over the ground.

Originally from the Middle East (Iran specifically), the pomegranate has been cultivated all over Asia and the Middle East since ancient times. It found its way to Europe via the spice routes and was introduced into the “New World” of Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.

The name pomegranate derives from medieval Latin pōmum “apple” and grānātum “seeded” and has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (e.g. Granatapfel or Grenadine in German, grenade in French, granatäpple in Swedish, pomogranà in Venetian).

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Noone is really sure but it seems that the old French word for the fruit, pomme-grenade, influenced its name in early English as “apple of Grenada”. Although the original name of the city of Granada (derived from Arabic), Gárnata, the Moors named the city after the pomegranate later on. Gárnata became Granada and the city adopted the pomegranate as its official symbol or motif.

Between the size of a lemon and a grapefruit, this abundant, juicy, versatile and highly nutritious fruit is used for all sorts of different things, both culinary and medicinal. Pomegranate juice has had several rounds of being “in” in terms of a nutritious drink. It’s both sweet and sour a bit like raspberry juice; the sour coming from the acidic tannins in the juice of the arils (the seed casings).

The exact number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400 (contrary to some beliefs that all pomegranates have exactly the same number of seeds) and each seed has a surrounding water-laden pulp, ranging in color from white to deep red or purple. The seeds or Arils are all edible and actually the one part of the fruit that is high in fibre as well as vitamin C, B5 and potassium.

If you like cocktails you’re probably familiar with Grenadine syrup, which is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice and used as the red component in cocktails like the Tequila or Vodka Sunrise, Mai Tai and the revolting but very popular on Stag parties, Brain Hemorrhage shot (Baileys, Peach Schnapps and Grenadine).

Grenadine is also used in lots of sauces, particularly in Arabic cuisine, such as fesenjān, a thick sauce made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts, usually spooned over duck or other poultry and rice, and in ash-e anar (Persian pomegranate soup).

Wild pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana (from Persian: anar + dana, pomegranate + seed). They have to be dried for about 10-15 days and then crushed so they don’t get stuck in your teeth, but the dried husky seeds are also used in things like Trail Mix, granola bars and on salads or in yogurts and on icecreams.

From a health point of view the pomegranate has spawned many a slimming and detox fad over the years as it’s high in anti-oxidants, with brands such as POM becoming fashionable supermarket juices.   But of course it’s been used for its natural health benefits for centuries and is popular in Ayurvedic medicine.

In India the rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree is used as a traditional remedy against diarrhea, dysentery and intestinal parasites. The seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart and throat, and classified as a bitter-astringent (pitta or fire) component under the Ayurvedic system, and considered a healthful counterbalance to a diet high in sweet-fatty (kapha or earth) components.

The astringent qualities of the flower juice, rind and tree bark are considered valuable for a variety of purposes, such as stopping nose bleeds and gum bleeds, toning skin (after blending with mustard oil), firming-up sagging breasts and treating hemorrhoids!

Pomegranate juice (of specific fruit strains, so don’t try this at home) is also used as eye-drops as it is believed to slow the development of cataracts.

Pomegranate and pomegranate juice Researchers at the University of California, Riverside also identified components in pomegranate juice that both inhibit the movement of cancer cells and weaken their attraction to a chemical signal that promotes the metastasis of prostate cancer to the bone. No wonder the old Spanish men are often to be seen chewing on pomegranate seeds by the roadside. They’ve probably known about this for centuries.

Who knows the real medicinal qualities of the pomegranate, but at  the very least, with all the granadas, caquis, oranges, lemons and limes around this area, noone in the Granada province will ever suffer from scurvy.

Sophie Cross @ CasaCallistemon