When I first moved to Spain back in 2006 with my then 12 year old son, I had ideas that Spanish winters would be mild, balmy, sunny and dry. That was in Rubielos De Mora, about 45 minutes from the province capital of Teruel not far from Valencia.
It was so bitterly cold some mornings the pharmacy barometers would tell me we were looking at a chilling -7 degrees Celsius. I definitely didn’t have the right clothes for that and had to go shopping for both of us quickly!
One winter was enough for my thin blood, and we moved south to Andalucia where we found Casa La Celada, on the cusp of the Alhambra province of Granada, the Mezquita province of Cordoba and beach, Picasso and Alcazaba province of Malaga … We were literally slap bang in the heart of Andalucia.
I have never known a village embrace a stranger with such ease as we experienced on arrival in La Celada, our “Hidden Village” on the outskirts of Iznajar.
Luisa, our neighbour opposite who cares for her Mum and Aunt, her daughter and son and her husband as they work to keep their olive groves in good order, became an immediate chat partner – and a great way to help improve my Spanish. We cooked the village paella together for the 19th March Dia de San Jose, we walked through the groves together and we killed pigs together ….
Juan and Francisco who jointly own and run the little bar next door became a regular coffee stop in the afternoons once all the work was done and gave me a great opportunity to talk about life in England – something they simply couldn’t comprehend.
And Isabel and Dulce, the absolutely unfailingly professional and friendly village shop managers who always had something to say that would help our integration into village life – whether it was a sweetie slipped to Zack when I wasn’t looking, or advice on the best bits of dried meats or cheeses to choose.
But what made the difference for me was that first Winter. It really was a proper Spanish winter. Brilliant bright blue skies making me peel my sweater off down to a t-shirt. Warmth on my face, and sparkling sunlight all around. Yes, it was as chilly as anything in the shade, it was Winter, after all! …. But when in the sun … it was a totally new experience for me. No dampness leaching into my bones … no need for endless hot baths to keep warm …. but an opportunity to again live outside among the locals, wandering around without worrying about sun screen or time in the sun, but still benefiting from the sun’s rays in deepest December or Frosty February!
And it’s when the locals work at their hardest because of course it is Olive Season.
The trees are threshed and beaten into submission and the oils are pressed first, second and third times before the stones are crushed to make “logs” to burn in your winter fires.
Everyone has a winter fire to sit around, with a hot drink or, more likely, a glass of fino – a type of sharp sherry. The children run around outside, oblivious to the temperatures playing games we used to see on British streets 30 years ago.
There is warmth and friendliness that becomes more …. real, more grounded, more edged with the truth of Spain – that it is an upside down country that works hardest in the Winter and sleeps in the Summer so that the seasons work best for them.
Holidaying in Andalucia is not for the tan seeker, but it is perfect for the sightseer. While you might have a rainy day, you can do so much because there is no sweltering heat to have to fend off. Instead, there are open fires at the end of the day after easy access to some of the most amazing sights in Europe.