“A sigh isn’t just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.” Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh.
It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve told the story of Boabdil, the last Nasrid King of Granada or Garnata al Yahud; Granada of the Jews. There are many legends and stories connected to Abdullah Mohammed Xll, the man who handed over the keys of the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula to Isabel and Fernando in 1492. He referred to these keys as the “keys to paradise”. As he left the city of Granada to go into exile to the Alpujarras (southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range) he paused at a mountain pass which is now named, The Sigh of the Moor, and shed tears over ending of 800 years of of Muslim rule. His Mother, Aixa, who was with him on this journey into exile said, “Do not weep as a woman for what you could not defend as a man.” Hence, the legend of the tears of Boabdil.
We have a dessert in Granada named after this legend. It is called “Lágrimas de Boabdil”. This dessert, with an obvious Moorish/Jewish influence, is unfamiliar to most people but they serve my favorite version at the restaurant next to my house. It has a buttery almond base topped with carmelized crunchy almonds and a raspberry glaze. It pairs well with a local red wine from the Señorio de Nevada winery.
Boabdil’s tears are understandable to anyone who has been to Granada. Not only did handing over Granada to the Catholic Monarchs signify the end to one of the most important examples of religious tolerance, Boabdil was forced to leave his home and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Washington Irving speaks well of this in his last paragraph of Tales of the Alhambra, and I can also share this sentiment as I have been unable to live anywhere else for the past 25 years.
The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.
History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.
Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!
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.
The Douro Valley in Portugal is known for its prolific wine production which is eventually taken to Vila Nova de Gaia near the city of Porto and stored in the wine cellars. Traditionally the wine was transported there by “rabelos”, a cargo boat native to the Douro region. The microclimate in this area also allows for the production of olives and almonds. The rolling hills along the river provide fantastic scenery to enjoy a cruise or a train ride. This summer we enjoyed both of these and a great pass through lock of the Regua dam, one of fifteen dams that exist on the river.
We parked our van in the town of Pinhão from where we were able to explore much of the valley and enjoy the excellent wine. Right in the small town of Pinhão is the Quinta do BonFin, one of the many winery’s owned by the Symington family. Eventually the grapes will end up at the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. Here we enjoyed one of our favorite afternoon drinks, “Porto Tonica”, white port with tonic water and a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick. The views from Bomfin were absolutely beautiful!
I have a minor addiction with tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. From Pinhão you can hike straight up hill to the well-preserved town of Provesende, home to 356 inhabitants. This town dates back to the time of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. They say that the name comes from the last Moorish King of the area, Zaide. The town is pintoresque and loaded with history. You can see the Pillory from 1573 , the granite fountain and the Manor homes which remind us of the wealthy families that resided in this area.
One of my favorites parts of this town were the trash bins on the streets that are actually the baskets that were traditionally used to collect the grapes during the harvest. What an outstanding idea! We also hit the jackpot for lunch in Provesende. The main restaurant in town was already closed but the owner offered us a “light snack”. Before we knew it we had a spread in front of us of ham and cheese, local olives served with a sugar cane honey to dip, vegetable soup, bread and local olive oil, sliced apple sprinkled with bee pollen, and a local sausage called Alheira. Don’t forget the wine, we are in the Douro Valley!
Dedicated to my Smithsonian group that I was forced to abandon due to minor injury.
En route from Valladolid to Northern Portugal we decided spend New Years in the small city of Chaves in the region of Trás-os-Montes, just crossing over the border from Spain. The city and surrounding areas are known for it’s hot springs. The history of Chaves dates back to Paleolithic times and holds much to discover. It is also on the Portuguese Path’s leading to Santiago de Compostela.
The holiday season brings the city back to life with many locals who have emigrated to France. They are home to visit and the restaurants were filled. We wandered into a small place with excellent homemade food. The local cuisine is heart and a good wine is necessary to wash it down. The first dish that we ordered was Alheira, a local sausage with pork, turkey, chicken, bread, garlic and paprika. The origin dates back to the 17th century when the “new Christians” were trying to disguise that they still followed Kosher rule of not eating pork. Here it was served with two types of potatoes and cabbage.
Just in case the Alheira was not enough, we also shared a Feijoada. A dish of white beans, various pork products, tomato, carrot, and onion. It is eaten with rice. Luckily there is always a perfect green salad available to lighten up the meal.
It was a bone chilling New Year’s Eve in Chaves so we decided to end our meal at a funky little cafe that served up a couple of excellent gin tonics with red pepper seeds. Needless to say 2014 will be a New Years’ to not forget.