March 31st, 2012
You can holiday in a place in Spain. You can live there full time. But you don’t get to know a place until you get to know its people.
On the coast, people come and go. Inevitably so. But inland many a Spanish town or village is made up chiefly of those who have lived there all their lives.
The Lecrín Valley is comprised of a collection of white washed villages where many a resident has not strayed further than this place where oranges and lemons grow aplenty and where life is sweet, not sour.
I know the area well but not as well as those who were born and bred there.
People like Maria Luisa who tells me about her childhood in an area that was very different seventy years ago from what it is today. Although she and others paint me a picture of life in Lecrín back then, it is nevertheless hard to get my head around just how poor many of the residents were in times past.
She says: “You ask why so many people in the villages own land outside… it is because our parents and their parents handed the land down to us at a time when we only ate what we grew. When i was a child my diet would be what my father was growing on his land in the country. Many vegetables and fruit such as oranges. Life was hard then and to eat meat was a rare treat but i think children then ate better food than they do now.”
Maria Luisa adds: “Though some houses have been here before i was born, the villages are much bigger now than they were then. I would walk every day from my home in Mondujar to the home of my best friend in Restabal and there were no cars then. Some days i would get a lift on the back of a horse from neighbours. My age group knew each other and those of us still alive see each other almost every day. But there are many people living here now who we do not know. And so many of the young have gone to live in Madrid, Barcelona or Granada.
“It is a beautiful area still and many of the changes have been for the better. Outside my door now in Mondujar they are making a new plaza and garden area. It will be beautiful and I am so happy that money is being spent so that my grandchildren can play safely so close to home. Their lives will be much easier and more pleasant than mine. Things are tough in Spain now, but the young do not know how lucky they are. One thing that has not changed is that the Lecrín Valley is beautiful and so friendly.”
Maria Luisa lives in the most overlooked village of the valley. Mondujar is the most historic location, having such important ties with past Moorish Kings and Queens of Spain. People often drive on by after leaving the motorway that links the coastal location of Motril with the city of Granada. Be honest. When driving around Spain, how many of us stop at the first village or town that is located close to the motorway exit? Not enough of us, in my opinion.
That means Mondujar gets missed which, for fruit and veg grower Paco, is just fine by him.
He tells me: “More people come to the valley if the sun is not shining on the beach. I once heard a couple from Madrid talking to each other about how we were all peasants living here. They were surprised at how we live but I would rather live in Lecrín than Madrid. This is the Spain I have always known and nothing i see on television makes me want to go to live by the sea or in a big city. I like to go to Granada to see my brother and his family, but life in the country suits me more than being in a city.
“I see people come here on holiday from your country, England. They stand out with their white skin one day and red skin the next day. But they are lovely people and I like to show them around. It is nice that young people want to come to Spain and see more than the beach. We never saw anyone from outside of the village when i was young. And many of my friends who are in their eighties have never left the village for even a day. Ever! It is because they love the Lecrín Valley so much. Why go anywhere when you have olives, almonds, oranges and lemons outside your door?”
Like Maria Luisa before him, Paco has a point.
And time has moved on. While the fact that Kings and Queens are buried under the church in Mondujar is largely unknown, there is now a museum in the village. Molino de Mondujar displays ceramics and artefacts from centuries past and offers local artists and photographers the opportunity to display their works to the public who are allowed in free of charge at weekends and on public holidays.
Indeed there is a weekend walking tour you can go on that takes in this ancient mill and others in neighbouring villages such as Nigüelas. A village famous for its music and summer fiestas that hit the right note.
The Lecrín Valley is ideally located being equidistant between the beaches of the Costa Tropical and the excitement of the city of Granada. And it is close enough to the coast for people to spend a day out in the valley. Pick up some discarded oranges from the floor. After all, many landowners do not bother to pick and sell them these days. As Paco told me: “The last time i sold my oranges i got 3 cents a kilo. Cents, not Euros. It is not worth breaking my back to sell them for so little. I give them away to family and friends or tell you foreigners to take them.”
Restabal is another very authentic Andalusian village. Bar Jovi is an atmospheric place. Full of local chatter, characters and quality servings of free tapas. Walk the country lanes here. Between villages such as Melegis and Pinos del Valle. There are some beautiful walks through orange and lemon groves and along the river to the man made lake at Beznar, under which it is said the original village exists.
Quite a number of holidaymakers or expats choose one of the furthest out villages of the valley. Albuñuelas gives you an impression of what this area was like prior to the arrival of cars and cash. Rustic is one word. Charming is another. I like Albuñuelas because it is represents the Spain of yesteryear. The scenery above and below the village is stunning and above there is a bumpy country road through a pine forest that links up with the old road to Almuñécar on the Costa Tropical. If you have time, do drive to the coast on this road. The views are awesome and the road so much more interesting than the new motorway that links coast with inland destinations.
It is fresher inland. When it all gets too sweaty for you on the oh so tropical coast, i urge you to drive inland and experience a Spain that is not far away in terms of kilometres, but light years away in terms of atmosphere and character.
I once got into trouble when i wondered in print why so many local women walk miles in their slippers. I have even seen them in their dressing growns, strolling between villages while stopping only to pick some wild asparagus from the roadside. A letter to a newspaper said that not all women went walking in their slippers and that some, the younger ones, had even ditched their aprons. They even drove cars now!
I know that much of inland Spain today has caught up with the times. That the young love to live in modern homes with all mod cons and do not want to live in the old fashioned houses in which they grew up.
The Lecrín Valley is authentic Andalusia and easily reached from the beaches that are no more than thirty minutes away. The people are friendly and the air fresh and clean. Wander through the narrow streets of the villages. See real life in what people often refer to as real Spain.
It is good that so many locations inland now offer attractions to get people away from the beach, if only for a day. That is what you have to do if you want to go home from your holiday knowing that you have truly seen Spain. Not the chocolate box version.
The truth is that you have not seen the living breathing Spain if your only experience is of the Costas. Nor exchanged a smile, a wave or a few words with the likes of Maria Luisa and Paco.