June 2, 2010

Ferrierola, Spain. Day One: Hidden Tiled Fountains, Fruit Orchards, Chestnut Soup.

We pulled into Ferrierola at night, to a lovely Kurdish supper of cumin-scented yellow dahl with lemon. Hirsh, a neighboring cook, had provided a warm welcome.

The October air was cool and thin. After eating, we snuggled into our sweet beds for sleep, feeling like we had arrived at the end of a pilgrimage.

We had traveled from the luscious Costa del Sole, our bellies full of bocorones frittos, a last stop on the beach before winding our way up to the fairy-like Ferrirola, in the Los Alpujarras, that wondrous range just south of the Sierra Nevadas. Arriving at sunset, the valley dropped and whitewashed villages lit the mountainside pink. Snow was not a distant background.

The next morning, I woke in sun-drenched familiarity. The Alpojarras are not unlike the high Atlas mountains of Morocco. Andalucia was heavily settled and influenced by the Moors, originating from Morocco. They developed agricultural systems and pathways for herding sheep, planted olive trees and built villages in southern Spain similar to those across the Gibraltar.

Morocco had been familiar to me for almost nine years, but Spain was a new adventure. Kim Schiffer, long time friend, traveling companion and an extraordinary cook from Santa Barbara, invited me to join her in Andalucia, to discover the foods of the region. Casa Ana, where we woke that morning, is a sweet mountain retreat restored by Anne Hunt, a Londoner who arrived in Ferrierola seven years before and never left. It took her years to restore the rubble that started as an old horno, or bakery. Now it’s a hearty guesthouse to pass a few days away from it all.

After breakfast, we walked down the path that began just footsteps from our village. We passed fruit orchards, olive and fig trees and grazing pastures before stumbling on a beautifully tiled fountain, begging us to drink. I bent my head for a nice long slug, the spring water was—frizzante!—hitting my grateful, thirsty lips. Kim smiled, “Isn’t it fantastic?”

We walked on to another spring pouring through the moss, just as delicious, but plain. We foraged for chestnuts to make soup, picking them carefully from the ground with our bare hands, putting them into our skirts to carry back to the kitchen.

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