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People of the Sierra

Walking holidays in SpainGuest blogger, Linda Lashford, who takes many of our brochure and website photographs for us, talks about how little life has changed in the past 60 years in the mountains of Andalucia:

Julian Pitt-Rivers wound his way up to our sierra in the early 1950s. A welcome in the local bar and a round of drinks was all it took to persuade him to settle and begin his ground-breaking book, ‘People of the Sierra’.

Turning its pages today, somehow life doesn’t seem so different. Glistening white villages still ring the silver sierra linked by a lacework of intricate paths that remain the lifeblood of rural life.

Despite the passing years, the essential rhythm of life here in the Grazalema Sierra remains. Late autumn brings the first olives, shaken and beaten off the twisted trees; hand collected, cracked and pickled in bitter brine, flavoured with lemon and garlic and stored for the coming winter. Verguenza (loosely translated as 'shame') dictates the dress code. How could you possibly appear improperly dressed to harvest olives?

Walking holidays in SpainThe winter rains and warming sun bring grass, kids and milk. Hand-milked in the high sierra, the goats know when to gather, munching their way along the cobbled tracks. These goats are called Payoyos (apparently distinguished by their upturned nipples) and so are the villagers of Villaluenga similarly rudely named by their (possibly) less-goaty neighbours! Whilst Antonio and his father still make a daily journey up to the high pastures, milking and returning to the village of Benaocaz by mule, Cristobal is probably the last goatherd to live and sleep with his flock in a tiny, whitewashed house (right) set against the peaks of the appropriately named ‘Goatherd’s leap’.

Walking holidays in SpainThe first cheese is the delicate queso fresco, hand-made in every home; when wrapped in rosemary and aged, it becomes a tangy aromatic international prize-winning cheese. The Sevillanos still journey up on a breezy weekend for a plate of cheese or to savour a real egg, scrambled and flavoured with the first green shoots of wild garlic or asparagus. And all it takes is slice of cheese, a single drink or a few green leaves to pause and exchange a moment.

Times, of course, are hard. The talk is of ‘Crisis’. Red Cross parcels are arriving to supplement the poorest; yet somehow, simplicity, stoicism and self-sufficiency preserve a way of life that endures. Wild greens and the ribs of the taganini thistle are gathered to delicately flavour croquettes. Wild partridge and the occasional deer help stock the larder and optimism fuels our first party of the year; in February we pull out St Blas (patron saint of throat infections) and bounce him around the village to the strains of our local brass band.

Walking holidays in Spain

Posted: 20/02/2013 14:05:55 by Linda Lashford, Inntravel photographer | with 0 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, heritage, slow, Spain


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