The beautiful Sierra Nevada in the Granada Province is one of the best mountain regions in Spain, if not THE best! Not just for winter pursuits, the Sierra Nevada, which is just a short drive from the Lecrin Valley, is also a great place to visit in the summer, with loads of activities from hiking, cycling, snow melt watching, waterfall jumping and much more! Continue reading “Sierra Nevada – not just for winter!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Fiestas and now Fashion!
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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In 1970 I lived in the hills behind Marbella with the Australian Architect Donald Grey, who was building villages along the coast in the traditional Andalucian style. He opened my eyes to this fantastic landscape, taking me to Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and to Gerald Brennan’s Yegen in the Alpujarra mountains.
My dream was to return one day and make it my home, and in 1991, on a ten day holiday, I found a little house in Chite, remortgaged my council flat in World’s End, London and moved down permanently in 1995.
With enough to live on for six months I found jobs gardening, cleaning and decorating. I painted at my easel for a year and put on my first exhibition in Durcal, gaining commissions and selling enough paintings to encourage me to keep going. I drifted back into the film business which was booming, and was able to make a life for myself here.
The village is quiet, because it leads only to the orange, lemon, olive and almond groves, and is surrounded by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is brilliantly located, 20 mins from Granada with masses of history and culture, 30 minutes from the beach and skiing in winter, and the Alpujarra villages with their flat roofed dwellings are less than an hour’s drive away.
I love the Arab influence of this part of Spain: I am transported by the music and dance,(coming from a dancing family) walking around the Albaycin in Granada and everywhere I look, the unspoilt mountains are a backdrop wherever I go. There have been some wonderful old characters milling around over the years: “The man with long arms” and two very short brothers with a mule, one of which I have painted several times. When he asked to buy one of these watercolours, I gave him a more than reasonable price for it; he took out three rusty old nails from his pocket and handed them to me as a deposit! : ” I’ll take these to the bank immediately,” I said.
While Chite doesn’t have any shops (except my Camel Stop) or bars of its own, it is walking distance from Lecrin with all its bars, banks, shops, pharmacy, supermarket and petrol station.
If you are a drinker, (I gave up ten years ago) after a few glasses of mosto, you can walk home in fifteen minutes and clear your head.
The locals are as friendly as any other small rural community and money isn’t the prime incentive here. I have been treated over the years, first with suspicion (a woman living on her own) and later with respect, and even though I will always be a “Guiri”, my immediate neighbours accept me as a hard-working, eccentric artist and I’m happy with that!
Gym Halama is an artist and special effects (FX) and interiors painter who has worked on countless commercials, films and music videos, as well as creating amazing backdrops and themes for events and parties. She runs The Sandpit Club in Chite (barrio bajo) as a venue for events and gallery space and also owns The Camel Stop, in C/ Carniceria in upper Chite, which is an Aladdin’s cave of reloved furniture, artwork, vintage jewellery and clothes, nik naks, decorative knobs and fixtures, ornaments and all sorts of other interesting things. Open on Tuesdays or by appointment. To read more about Gym Halama, go to www.gymhalama.com.
More about Chite:
Chite is one of the Lecrin Valley’s smaller villages with only around 300 inhabitants. It’s built on the side of a hill leading to the orchards below that lead down to Lake Beznar. Separated into two barrios, the barrio alto (upper) and barrio bajo (lower), the village winds down from the mirador seats at the entrance of the upper village with incredible views down to Lake Beznar and the dam, past the plaza and down calle San Segundo into Calle Fuerte or Carniceria until you start on the sharp descent into the lower barrio, past the church and into the orchards beyond.
Chite’s recent claim to fame is Jose Guerrero, the artist, who grew up in the village with his siblings and grandmother, but there are a number of historic buildings dotted around the village: Three ancient mills that date back to the Moors and one even to the Romans and one which then became part of the Spanish Inquisition, el Molino de la Inquisicion. There is also a 500 year old house that was previously used by the Spanish Royal Family as a holiday residence and an old moorish castle, the Castillo de Morisco.
This is the first in a series of mini articles from local residents to give you a picture of what each village is like…
Mi Pueblo – Restabal, by Danielle Gouwens
Let’s start with some facts: Restabal is a smallish village in the municipality of El Valle, together with Saleres and Melegís. It’s set in the heart of the ´Lecrin Valley´, which apparently means the “Valley of Happiness”, although there are some other thoughts as to its origin. They say the Valley was given its name by the Moors and I reckon it’s one of the most appropriately named areas of Spain!
Restabal has a population of 517 inhabitants (last count!) and is situated at an altitude of 541.1 meters above sea level. The inhabitants of Restabal are called Restabeños and even have their own dialect (Restabalín).
The village has three fiestas: San Cristóbal y Nuestra Señora del Rosario in December; a 3-day celebration in honor of Santa Ana around the 26th of July and on the 13th of May the Romeria de la Virgen de Fátima, with a procession the following Sunday, culminating in a big picnic with lots of food, drink and dancing.
We also have three monuments and the remains of a Moorish castle, although if you’re thinking of paying it a visit, be warned, there’s not much left!
The Beauty of Restabal
Every time I drive back from Melegis towards Restabal, I’m always filled with a mixture of happiness and pride, because it’s such a lovely setting with the pine forest in the background and the white-washed houses popping in the sun surrounded by orange groves and views down to the embalse de Beznar.
Daily life is very easy going. In the morning you greet the farmers on their way to the campo to tend to their vegetables and orchards, donkeys pass in the streets as if the industrial revolution never happened around here, and there is always a friendly welcome in the local supermarket – actually there are three of them.
A variety of people visit our village, both Spanish and international and having my office in Restabal I am often in the privileged position of welcoming people who have never been to this area before. Almost without exception, people fall in love with the area and our little pueblo.
Things to do
Apart from long walks in stunning scenery, which I personally love to do, the area is also great for cycling with some fantastic routes all over the valley, but many around Restabal itself. At the weekends particularly, you see a great many cyclists making their way through the village with the odd one or two stopping en route for a quick drink on the roadside at Arcos De Manuel or Bar Jovi.
The sports ground/campo deportivo at the top of the village often stages parties and events like Flamenco evenings, but like most things in Spain, they don’t usually start until around 11o/c at night, so make sure you have a siesta first!
As all the Lecrin Valley residents know and appreciate, Granada is pretty much on our doorstep and the beaches of the Costa Tropical are only half an hour the other way, so we’re in an amazing position of both rural life and closeness to the city and coast.
Restabal is a beautiful village with a warm heart and very friendly people, breathtaking views and surrounding scenery. Ultimately I wouldn’t be anywhere else. It’s a place I feel very much at home and although we´ll always be the “guiri” (a colloquial Spanish name used in Spain applied to foreigners), in the good sense of the word, the more time you spend here, the more you end up feeling like a true Restabeño!
Danielle runs real estate agency, At Home in Andalusia (www.athomeinandalusia.com).
A couple of years ago we (me, husband, daughter and two cats) were living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, wondering if we were ever going to make a dent into our huge Aussie Homeloan and if we’d be slaves to our jobs forever.
Having moved to Sydney from London in 2001, when you got 2.6 AUD to the British Pound, Australia seemed CHEAP, sunny and full of opportunity. It certainly was sunny and full of opportunity, but cheap? Initially yes, but over the 11 years we lived there, Australia’s economy boomed, house prices soared to the point they now bear no relation to anyone’s salary (even dodgy bank CEOs), interest rates were ridiculous and we started thinking about cashing in our city lifestyle and heading back to the mother continent to buy something we could actually afford to live in, stress free.
With parents in Spain (part time) and a long held idea of having a B&B or a small hotel in Spain, we started to think about the possibilities of moving back to Europe. Not England, “no, gracias”, but somewhere near enough to parents and friends, with cheap flights to Gatwick etc and the warm climate to which we’d become accustomed.
We’d never been to Granada, but everyone who had said what an amazing place it was. And looking at its position on the map we figured somewhere in between the city and the coast would be just perfect. So after a bit of online research (beware online research by the way, things, i.e. houses are not what they appear online), we booked flights and appointments to see houses and just over two years later, after one very disappointing house hunt in Orgiva, and with the help of the lovely Danielle at At Home in Andalusia in Restabal, we bought our own little pocket of the Lecrin Valley and here we are, living in Chite (yes I know. But it’s “ch-ee-tay”, not “shite”. Yawn).
Just south of the historic Moorish city of Granada, the Lecrin Valley is a lovely green, orchard-covered area at the foot of the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountains; a skip (a very steep one) up to The Alpujarra and within half an hour of the beautiful Costa Tropical – it only gets busy there in July and August and is mainly Spanish families on weekend and August breaks, not the usual Brits Abroad, although there are many around if you take a closer look.
Perfect for walkers, cyclists, families, riders, gourmet travellers and skiiers (in the winter obviously though you can waterski on the coast), twitchers and anyone else who loves the countryside, but likes being near amenities and the odd trip to Zara, The Lecrin Valley is pretty much an ideal location for temporary or permanent stays.
An area of outstanding natural beauty, the Lecrin Valley is famous for its verdant landscape (due to the melt-water run off from the Sierra Nevada), its citrus groves, its walks, birdlife and amazing spring colours.
It has amazing views up to the snow caps of the Sierra Nevada, across to hills towards the coast and down over the orchards to Lake Beznar – a bright turquoise reservoir surrounded by walks, recreation areas and orchards and great for fishing and apparently non-motorised watersports from Beznar village, but you don’t see many on there – hopefully this will change.
According to Wikipedia: “Lecrín derived from Arabic Iqlim, meaning “gateway”: this refers to a small area of land situated between the villages of Mondújar and Talará, which controlled the access to the vast coastal areas of sugar production in Moorish times”. However, the other school of thought is that El Valle de Lecrin actually means “Valley of Happiness” and this is how the residents like to think of it!
Apart from Dúrcal and Padul, which are the area’s biggest and busiest towns, villages are pretty small and agriculture and farming remain the principal occupation for the locals with pine, citrus, almond, olive and grape as the main crops. There is also however many non locals who have started new business like Lavender Farms, restaurants, bars and other service companies, there’s a burgeoning artistic community and the area has a strong musical tradition with lots of concerts throughout the year. Tourism is also a very welcome income for The Valley, especially in Spain’s current economic climate.
Steeped in history The Lecrin Valley has been populated since neanderthal times, was a popular destination for the Romans who built baths here (there are still ruins of some in Mondujar) due to the thermal springs. It then spent a long time under Moorish rule, with the last remaining Nasrid Queen being buried under the historic church at Mondujar. Ruined fortresses and Moorish castles pepper the landscape and the villages are still full of the same Moorish architectural influences as seen in the region’s capital, Granada.
It was also a key region in the Spanish Civil War and while that part of the nation’s history is not particularly talked about, there are references to the struggle in many of the villages’ statues, fiestas, ruins and historic buildings.
Due to its agriculture, warm climate and position mid way between Granada and the Coast, The Lecrin Valley has always been a busy agricultural area. However it suffered greatly under Franco and the population was left significantly depleted. It had started to pick itself up again over the last couple of decades, but with the current recession in Spain, the Valley’s main income (being from Oranges and lemons) has been hit hard as the price of oranges particularly has fallen to such a point that for the smaller growers, it’s not financially viable to even harvest the fruit, so there are many orchards with ripe fruit just left to fall to the ground and many farmers have simply upped and left.
That said, the Lecrin Valley people are resilient and a pretty happy bunch. They love their villages and their lifestyle. They still live pretty much as they have always done. They don’t have to go out for anything. Daily vans bring everything in from bread to bottled water, fish, fruit and even knickers and nighties – I kid you not! There’s nothing you can’t get from a man with a van in the Valley.
Many of the older people have never even been to Granada, let alone to other parts of the country or overseas. And while there has been a marked and regretful exodus of both foreigners and local young people over the last few years due to the GFC, with good communications infrastructure, transport and utilities in most villages, for those who can either commute or work from home, it’s a pretty great place to be and hopefully the Valley’s beauty, affordability and available houses will start to bring in a new generation of Happy Valley residents – Spanish, foreign or a mixture of both.
After all, in the last couple of hundred years alone this place has survived wars, earthquakes, fire and flood, so a little recession: “Pfff. No pasa nada!”