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Lunch at El Valero – with Chris Stewart

Take a drive deep into the rugged mountains of the Sierra Nevada in southern Andalucia, not far from Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacén, and you eventually reach the small whitewashed village of Ferreirola. Quiet and unassuming, it’s the end of the road, a place so remote that few visitors venture here. But keep going along ever-narrowing stony tracks that wind down the precipitous valley walls towards the River Trevélez, and Ferreirola soon begins to seem like a veritable metropolis.

Having crossed the river, you soon start to see signs of life and habitation – a fence or two, cultivated fruit trees, chickens scratching for worms, a few sheep seeking shade beneath an olive tree – and there, on the hillside ahead, a house, half hidden by lush vegetation which surrounds it. This is El Valero, as far off the beaten track in southern Spain, as you are ever likely to find yourself.

Walking Week in Spain with Chris Stewart

In 1989, it was all very different – an abandoned, ramshackle farmstead falling into disrepair that no-one wanted to live in. It was also on the ‘wrong’ side of the river – no electricity and no running water – at a time when making a living as a farmer in these remote mountains had become increasingly difficult, if not impossible. And yet, when Chris Stewart and his wife Ana first saw it, they somehow fell in love with its remoteness and had the vision (eccentricity? madness?) to see beyond the crumbling walls and arid landscapes.

Walking Week in Spain with Chris Stewart

Twenty five years on and the place has been transformed. Chris and Ana bought El Valero and started to build a new life for themselves, despite scepticism from their Spanish neighbours. They bought some sheep and chickens and started to grow their own fruit and vegetables, while rebuilding the house, and taking whatever work came along. The farm slowly developed and they were soon growing oranges, pomegranates, almonds, olives, apricots – and, of course, lemons.

Ten years after moving in, Chris penned his experiences in his first book, “Driving over Lemons”, which became a surprise bestseller and allowed them to develop their organic farm – and to drink better wine. Other books followed, and they haven’t looked back.

Where this was once a sparse, arid land, they have created a lush micro-climate, complete with a charming old green-roofed farmhouse and an extraordinary pool. There are acres of orchards, a kitchen garden where the family grow their vegetables and free-range chickens keep them supplied with fresh eggs and meat.

Walking Week in Spain with Chris Stewart

The pool, finished in 2003, has been described as an ‘eco-folly’, comprising a waterwheel that purifies water naturally while keeping the pool fresh and natural, and a solar micro-power station which tracks the sun. In fact, they have a bank of solar panels sufficient to power a deep-freeze; and the house is topped with a green roof – recently covered in special insulating pebbles and planted with a variety of succulents that help keep it warm in winter, and cool in summer, as well as helping it merge more into the landscape.

So what’s it like to live here and was it worth it? Well, why not ask Chris and Ana yourself over lunch on their shady terrace this November? You can join Chris on a walking week from Las Chimeneas in nearby Mairena (run by his good friends David and Emma Illsley, long-standing Inntravel hoteliers) during which time Chris and Ana have offered a cordial invitation to join them for lunch at their charming home.

Walking Week in Spain with Chris Stewart

And you won’t be disappointed. They are no mean cooks, and have appeared on TV with chef, Rick Stein, when he made his way down to their isolated farm in 2015 to enjoy a leisurely meal of local wild boar and other tasty dishes created from fresh produce from El Valero’s garden.

Posted: 08/01/2015 15:16:05 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: culture, gastronomy, Spain, walking


Comments
Jen Bath
I'm reading Chris Stewart's book 'Driving over Lemons'
and would love to walk in this area of Spain. Please send me information about walking in this area.
Kind regards, Jen
25/01/2016 02:04:15

Norma
Just come back from walking Capileira, Mecina, Trevelez, Berchules. Amazing! Have read the 4 books by Chris, also amazing! Must go again
21/05/2015 16:33:23

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