Spain – Drive from Marbella to Barcelona (and chasing a single olive tree harvest)
It was hard to leave Andalucia. The blue Mediterranean, olive groves, white villages, fragrance of orange blossoms and unique sense of culture lure you with their beauty, enticing you to stay. We loved our few weeks in Andalucia, travelling to many cities and towns along the coast and farther inland, exploring the history, culture and food. Many of these places I haven’t yet written about but will in upcoming posts. We explored Andalucian cuisine, both at high-end establishments and at local and out of the way places and loved experiencing the local and seasonal offerings. I will post more about the foods I learned about when I get back to my kitchen. We have to leave, but my reluctance to go is mixed with the excitement of continuing our exploration of beautiful España. In the meantime Yo no te olvidaré Andalucia, I will not forget you, and will be back.
We packed our expanding luggage collection into the rented Audi and left early in the day, heading north and east towards Catalunya and the province of Barcelona (Catalunya has 4 provinces, including Barcelona). I already mentioned that the highways in Spain are beautiful and safe to drive, as good as or better than what we have at home. The drive from Marbella to Barcelona is over 1000 km and takes about 10 hours, probably 12 with a couple of stops to eat and take pictures along the way. We decided to break it up, driving to Valencia first and continuing to Barcelona the next morning. I booked a hotel room for the night, this time at the elegant Las Arenas Balneario Resort situated along the beach in Valencia.
The drive to Barcelona was very interesting and took us through a varied and changing landscape. Driving along the eastern part of Andalucia you see the gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountain range extending east to west. It is rugged and dramatic, rising as high as 11,000 feet above sea level with snow covered peaks. Simply stunning in its rugged wilderness.
The highway cuts though miles and miles of olive groves stretching as far as the eye can see on both sides of the road and up on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Olives are picked in the fall and into perhaps early winter but by the time we were going through olive season was over and no activity was going on in the groves. Amazingly though, driving over a rolling hill we suddenly saw on the other side of the road two workers setting up nets on the ground around the trunk of one single tree in the large olive grove, preparing to harvest its olives. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted my husband to stop immediately but it took a while and by then we had passed the location. We continued to drive, looking for a turnaround but had to drive quite a long way before we were able to make a U turn and go back. I was determined to catch the moment. That one lone tree out of hundreds of miles of olive groves was being harvested and I could not pass up the opportunity to watch and photograph.
We drove a long way, eventually finding a turnaround and headed back toward the place where we saw the harvest. We drove back a long way until we were sure that we must have missed the spot somehow. We turned back, driving more slowy this time and looking for that one single tree among the miles of groves along the road. Sure enough, we found it. My husband stopped the car on the highway and I went across to the other side, climbing over the dividing railing into the mud and rocks and up the other side. Not my usual style but I was going to get my experience and photographs of the harvesting. How could I not? The odds of finding the lone tree being harvested, surely it was intended for me.
I said hola to the workers and asked permission to photograph which they granted. They invited me to join in the harvest but it would have been difficult to climb down there from the road, especially in my heeled boots now covered with wet mud. I did my best snapping a few shots from the highway with large trucks flying on the highway right behind me only a few feet away. It was certainly an adventure.
I have seen olive harvest before. There are mechanical ways to harvest olives but this tree was being harvested by hand the old fashion way and it was beautiful. The workers laid large nets under the tree extending farther then the branches. The nettings are intended to catch the olives as they fall. Then, one worker on each side of the tree they begin beating the branches with long sticks and the olives are released from their attachment to the branches and fall onto the netting. The olives are then collected by hand, placed into bins or baskets and transferred to be processed into olive oil or cured to be eaten as olives. Olives are first green when young and turn black as they ripen. In Spain the black ones are sometimes called Muerte (dead) (I think that depends on how they are cured) and I have seen signs in the market listing them as “muerta” olives (see image below). Olive oil made with green olives is generally more expensive and considered superior to olive oil made from black olives. When we were in Andalucia we had an olive oil tasting at a fabulous olive oil store and left the shop with 10 metal cans full of beautiful oils from Andalucia. I hope they make it home without spilling in my luggage. Post about the tasting to come.
We continued north and watched the agriculture change from olive groves to almond groves as soon as we entered the province of Murcia. Again, miles and miles of almonds trees, some beginning to bloom into gorgeous pink blossoms, some still dormant. Where we stopped, almonds were offered fried and salted or caramelized and sugared. I was assured that indeed these almonds came from the trees right behind the shops and can say they were delicious.
Next when we passed through Elche we were surrounded buy palm groves, with yellow clusters of yet unripe dates hanging from the beautifu palms. These groves are a testament to the rule of the Moors in the area several centuries ago. There are about 200,000 date palm in the area producing dates for consumption in spite of growing conditions that are not ideal for this type of tree. I noticed that they wrap the un-riped clusters with plastic bags, presumably to speed up ripening and protect them from birds.
Once you enter Valencia area there are fields and fields of artichokes, in season now and delicious. Here is also where the orange groves begin to take over the landscape and fill the air with the fragrance from the fruits, now in season. Further north closer to the city of Valencia get to see the rice fields where they grow rice (Bomba is one of the unique varieties grown here).
Further north as you enter Catalunya (a.k.a Catalonia) agriculture definitely changes into vineyards, especially as you go through Penedes, famous as the Cava producing region of Spain (Spanish champagne). We went to Penedes from Barcelona on a day trip and visited and champagne bodega with 17 km of underground caves used in making and storing the Cava, an interesting outing that deserves it own post later.
This is what I like about car travel. You get to see more, stop where you want, experience the local and explore along the way. Once in Barcelona we are returning the rental car as the last part of our three months adventure is coming to an end soon. There is no need for a vehicle while visiting Barcelona. After Barcelona we take the train to Madrid and end our visit with 10 days stay there.
In the next post i will provide a simple recipe for stuffed dates I encountered in our travel that can be served as part of tapas offering or even after a meal with a glass of champagne or a sherry.
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