For me there is nothing better than going back to the places where I have spent precious time. Sometimes it takes years to get back to certain places regardless of how close they are to us. The area of the Alpujarra in the Sierra Nevada mountain range south of Granada is one of those places for me. I recently read a novel based mostly in the town of Pampaneira which spoke of Gypsies and the difficult times of the Spanish Civil War. These beautiful towns are so filled with history that one can almost feel it in your bones and you hike through the valleys and drink from the fountains. Last week I was ready to come and spend a few days here enjoying the solitude and beauty.
As an important agricultural area the Alpujjara produces almonds, lemons, figs and the most delicious cheese. It also boasts an amazing variety of cured pork products. Cured pork loin with rosemary, white sausage, blood sausage, morcón (similar to chorizo yet a bit bigger) and of course, the ham from Trevélez. You can enjoy a generous tapa with one of the local wines from Europe’a “highest vineyards”.
It’s not all pork and cheese here in this region. We ordered a great dish made with fava beans, based on a recipe that goes back generations. It was prepared with local fava beans, pods and all. Usually we only find these beans naked, shucked from their home. But here in Pampaneira they use them in their entirety and bathed in a flavorful almond sauce to make any vegetarian smile! They went perfectly with a local wine served in a glass Porrón which actually originated in Catolonia.
The poet, Federico García Lorca, referred to the Alupjarra as “el país de ninguna parte”. A NOWHERE COUNTRY. The history lingers here in the streams and the valleys. Such as the legend of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, going into exile here. And more stories of the rebellion and expulsion of the Moriscos and the repopulation of the area by colonists from Extremadura and Galicia. All of this and more rests here in the trees.
During and after the holidays is a time for me to regroup a bit and enjoy some down time before the tourist season begins. The weather has been unusually beautiful even for Andalucia. We always take advantage of the warm sun to explore some of the small towns and nature that we have a stone´s throw from Granada. We can hike or bike to Pinos Genil which is a beautiful small town on the river known for its outdoor terraces where you can enjoy lunch or just a small tapa. The “huevos rotos” are especially good at La Taberna de Guillermo. Sauteed potatoes with excellent Serrano ham and fresh eggs. The eggs are served fried and whole on top and you cut everything up with a knife and fork hence the name, Broken Eggs. Here they let us use their homemade hot peppers to put on top which makes us extremely happy.
Since my daughter Luna “adopted” my bike a couple of years ago I have not had my own until this Christmas. Thank you Santa. To celebrate we biked to Fuente Vaqueros, the birth town of Federico García Lorca, a prominent poet and playwright who was assassinated by the Nationalist troops in the Spanish Civil War. From the path along the Genil River you have a perfect view of the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In the afternoon we stopped to talk with a shepherd who was out walking with his 180 goats. He was a happy man who mentioned that the day would be perfect if he could spend it sitting on an outdoor cafe drinking beers with his wife.
One of the most pintoresque drives in Andalucia takes you from the city of Granada down to the Mediterranean Coast passing through the mountains and the Tropical Valley. It is called the Carretera de la Cabra, or the “Goat Road” in English. There is a beautiful hike down to the Rio Verde and a few small white towns that are yet to be discovered by the masses. We usually stop in a couple of those along the way to the coast. In the town of Otívar we have a glass of one of my favorite wines which is quite strong. It is called vino de la tierra, wine of the land. Here it is pink and harsh. A dear friend from another town close by laughingly commented, “be careful or you will end up asleep in the valley.” That same friend directed us to a bar in Otivar to taste their award winning tapa, grilled eggplant with goat cheese.
“UNDERSTAND ONE SINGLE DAY FULLY , SO YOU CAN LOVE EVERY NIGHT”
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
The cave where I lived………
We all have places in this world that enter in our hearts and never leave. I have a few that come to mind. Simply closing my eyes I can take myself back to certain sounds, streets, mountains or sunsets. My sister Georgianna has always joked around saying that I can only live in two cities, Granada or Flagstaff, Az. Hopefully I will prove her wrong one day but she knows me well. They are the two places that cling tightest to my heart.
The “Poppy” Fountain
Granada is unique in this world, one of the most beautiful cities without a doubt. I have been lucky to live in almost every neighborhood in the city. The best was without a doubt , Sacromonte. A magical neighborhood of caves with the best view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The fountain next to my old cave home says, “How I would love to be the fountain in my neighborhood, so that when you pass by and drink I could feel your lips close.” The history of cave dwellings runs deep in this part of Spain, Sacromonte dating back to before the 16th century. In 1963 this Gypsy quarter was almost completely destroyed by severe flooding but today life is still thriving in its bars, flamenco and cave homes. It is our favorite “city” hike especially on a sunny day.
On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal. In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad. Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year. The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options. But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general. I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course. But actually, the options are endless.
One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos. A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil. Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover. In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere. Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey. My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada. It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!
Salads are plentiful and diverse. One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes. Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally. In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.
There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar. I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal. The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.
Every morning we leave our house and as we cross over the river I look up to the right and enjoy the view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love this view year round, with and without snow topped peaks. For me it is one of the reasons that makes Granada very special. In about 25 minutes you can be up at the ski resort Sol y Nieve to enjoy the snow that we usually don’t have here in the city. And in 40 minutes you can drive south and be on the beach. For me, this is an ideal place to live.
Last year on the Day of Andalucia (the day to celebrate Andalucia becoming an autonomous community) we woke up to snow in the city. It was like a gift for children and adults. No school and snow falling from the sky. We spent the morning throwing snowballs with our neighbors and building snowmen. We had to enjoy it fully because we don’t know the next time this will happen!
I have a serious problem. I am an obsessive menu reader and am yet to find a 12 step program to remedy this. It is impossible for me to just walk into any restaurant and sit down and eat, even if the establishment has been highly reccomended. I need to read the menu. Either the the actual menu itself or simply the food on display. It is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. However, my decision isn’t only based on what is offered on the menu but my simple instincts and how the bar or restaurant makes me feel upon entering. Trusting your food instinct is an art and one to believe in and to keep finely tuned.
On a recent trip to El Puerto de Santa Marìa in Càdiz I had one of these special moments. We had a great lunch at one of the most typical restaurants in El Puerto for fresh fish and seafood (recommended by my dear friends who are on a plane to Thailand at this very moment). After lunch, happily filled on wine, clams and baby squid we decided to take a long walk to the beach. As we were wandering through town I caught eye of a beautiful street sign, Calle Luna, and a great little bar right on the corner. I knew we would have to go back after the beach.
While my daughter dug into a garbanzo and shrimp stew the owner prepared a marinated salmon with avocado for us that was simply beautiful and delicious. Accompanied by a glass of local white wine for myself and a cold beer for my friend, it was the perfect end to our daytrip.