Monday, February 22, 2010


Both Lanjaron and Orgiva dispute the title of "The Door of La Alpujarra" and in a way they both are, depending on which route you take. If you come the Granada City way, then Lanjaron wins the title, but if you arrive from Motril, then Orgiva wins it. To be fair though, I feel the balance tips in favour of Orgiva because the coastal road also leads to the region of La Alpujarra known as La Contraviesa. To reach La Contraviesa from Granada, you have to pass through Orgiva. The City of Orgiva also claims the undisputed title of "Capital of La Alpujarra". No-one has been able to tell me definitely why and how a village like Orgiva has been granted a city status.

Lanjaron is at 659m above sea level and at 45km from Garanada city. Although it is claimed that its name derives from pre Roman times and to mean a place abundant in water, its importance began towards the end of the 12th century during the Muslim rule. The remains of its Arabic castle, perched at the top of a hill and seen from every direction, definitely enjoys the "wow factor".

Lanjaron is a spa village, and as all spa towns it has a feel of gracious tranquility. Most importantly, it has a huge bottling plant for natural mineral water, marketed under the same name. I could safely say, that Lanjaron is to Spain what Evian is to France.

In the 19th century, it became renown as a health spa and I am told that until Spain joined the EU and prospered, Lanjaron was patronised by rich Moroccans. Today, most of the visitors to enjoy its thermal waters are the local foreign community or senior citizens subsidised by the Spanish Social Services. Its water is said to be the water of life, of health and of eternal youth. Its main fiesta is "La fiesta del agua" when maidens from the whole region come to have water thrown at their faces in order to remain beautiful for the rest of the year. Worth a try!

The village, unlike Orgiva, remains seasonal and many restaurants, hotels and shops close down for the Winter. It has more hotels than the whole of La Alpujarra and more hairdressing salons. The park is a wonderful feature where water flows and vegetation grows profusely. A haven not only for wildlife, but also for visitors escaping the heat of Summer.

Many performances of dance and music take place in these gardens and many exhibitions are held in the hall of the balneario.

There is a lot of general information to be had from the tourist office in Lanjaron, but four friends, Lindsey, Orla, Sheelagh and Tony, with a cortijo on the outskirts of the village, called themselves LOST in Spain and have created an organization, Intercambio Cultural, to promote integration between the Spanish and Foreign residents of Lanjaron. They email their list information about what's on in the village and they also hold events in their private entertainment hall.

Photo 1, Lanjarón Landscape by Lars-Ake Nilsson
Photo 2, The water of life, health & Eternal youth running on one of the streets of Lanjarón By Ann Morton-High
Photo 3, Lanjarón The Arabic Castle by Lars-Ake Nilsson
Photo 4, Yellow daisies in Lanjaron Water bottle, oil on canvas by Jeff Perks
Photo 5, At the Fiesta del Agua
Photo 6, Lanjarón High Street by Ann Morton-High

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Orgiva Now

If there was a breed of people I disliked, it would be estate agents. As a relocation agent in the UK working for property buyers, we were inevitably at loggerhead...yet, in 2001 (to the great relief of my family and most of my friends), having failed to get my snail project off the ground, I found myself setting up, with 2 partners, the first estate agency in Orgiva. Our office was situated on the main road that leads in and out of the town. Small but it couldn't be missed.

It was amusing how passers-by flattened their noses, through the metal grills, against the glass of the large window to peep in curiously in an attempt to guess what kind of business was going to be run from this bright and shining office with a vase of silk flowers on each of the two desks. I overheard a woman once tell her husband it was going to be a "guiri" beauty salon.

Before the advent of "Granada Propiedades", real estate in Orgiva changed hands through "corredores": individuals who knew someone who wanted to sell, would hear of a buyer and put the two together. Each village in La Alpujarra had its corredor. To find him, you went to the local bar and asked.

On my first day at the office, I brought along a few books to entertain me while waiting for a buyer to come by...clients, I knew, were going to be few and far between. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect the phenomenon that turned the property market upside down and inside out; the whirlwind that saw that the books I had brought to the office came back home 6 years later...unread.

Chris Stewart had published his first book "Driving over Lemons", putting Orgiva and La Alpujarra on the map. Then Banco de Andalalucia opened its doors and introduced a new style of aggressive banking: we saw for the first time a Manager visit every office where he felt he could sell the bank's services. He lured them with commissions to get them to introduce and bring him their clients' custom. For the first time we saw at least one bank employee speak a foreign language (this is not to say you could understand them any better than others who didn't). Then came Chanel 4 and "A Place in the Sun". We appeared on at least 3 of their programmes. We were interviewed by property magazines from the UK. The Costa del Sol's glossies asked us to advertise with them and the "Olive Press" opened an office in Orgiva.

...Incredibly, a rush of foreign buyers began, mostly English. With the exchange rate in their favour, they paid unreasonably high prices for those cortijos I had seen some years previously and wondered who would want to live in them.

Prices shot through the roof and vendors, suspicious at first, would now come to the office asking me if we had any foreigners looking to buy...everyone wanted to sell and anything and everything sold.

Orgiva changed. Even the Guardia Civil building had a facelift. Nearby, a square, Plaza de la Alpujarra, was built with an exhibition hall at one end and benches all around. The old municipal market was closed and refurbished; it is now more like a mini mall than a village market. With funding from the European Community, the town acquired the Palacio de los Condes de Sastago which was renovated to house the Ayuntamiento. The Notario moved to a brand new office and so did the Registro de la Propiedad. Bar Santiago became Meson Santiago and then it changed hands, was extended and now has a new and modern rustic decor. Even the mercadillo now covers several streets. The only unchanged bastion of "the good old days" is Galvez, Antonio's supermarket. Antonio still calls by name his customers of old... or those of them that are still here and is the only one who knows how to prepare a Danish style joint with crackling (Floeskestig) for Xmas.

Orgiva claims the undisputed title of "Capital of La Alpujarra". Curiously, this small town, was, at one time, granted city status. No-one has been able to tell me definitely when, why and how.

Restaurants open and close, shops open and close, new people come and go without anyone noticing or caring, for that matter. Ole and the danes from the high villages have sold and gone. There are car parks, but not enough places to park and traffic fines are as expensive as those of central Granada. In fact, Orgiva is now like any other town anywhere, with no soul and no heart, yet it has something -a kind of duende- that attracts people and it is this same intangible quality that also drives them away.

Photo 1, The seven-eye Bridge by Dr Friedrich Hach
Photo 2, Orgiva Landscape by John Giddings
Photo 3, The Ermita of San Sebastian after its facelift, by John Giddings
Phot 4, Orgiva High Street by John Giddings

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Orgiva pre The Millenium

Orgiva pre millenium , otherwise Orgiva pre "A Place in the Sun" and pre "Driving over Lemons" was a small, quaint, friendly and tolerant place. It is the first village you arrive at after driving through the tortuous mountain road from the coast. It has an altitude of 450m above sea level and is at 59km from Granada city.

Dominated by its 16c twin-towered church, with a most majestic and neglected building known as Palacio de los Condes de Sastago and crowned by the Ermita de San Sebastian, the patron saint of the town, you just warmed to it.

At its heart was Bar Santiago, a small bar-restaurant where anybody who was anybody congregated. It was run by José Santiago father and José Santiago son and their respective wives. Should one of them be away one day, it was easy to ask a relative or a friend to help.

On Mondays and Thursdays all foreigners from the "high villages" flocked into Orgiva to shop or conduct any pending business. Routinely, they met at Bar Santiago for coffee, sol y sombra and tostadas before dispersing in different directions. Often, they would meet again at supermarket Galvez where they were greeted by Antonio's Jovial smile. Apart from Ole, I don't think any of them could carry out a conversation with Antonio, but they all thought the world of him.

Thursday was street market day. Though it was a small affair, no-one wanted to miss it and whoever had guests, taking them to the "mercadillo" was a must.

The local policeman, Antonio, much like an English bobby of long ago, kept and eye on everyone, like a shepherd with a flock of sheep. It was a "welcome back" greeting for those who have just returned for their Winter stay, or "why is your wife/husband not here today, is she/he alright?" as his sharp eyes followed tolerantly some half naked "hippy" high on marijuana.

A nurse I befriended once said to me: "God only knows how many babies were born or have died in those communes without official recognition, because no doctor or nurse or even a Guardia Civil would go there."

I cannot forget "the poet", a lean rather well-dressed middle-aged man with thinning dark hair and dreamy eyes. No-one knew exactly, but it was rumoured he was German. He would stand for hours outside the church, gazing up at the towers or at some old building or just at the skies. One day, he was gone and today but a few remember him.

Very few would remember that during the Semana Santa the only work people were allowed to do was to feed their animals. To ensure this was enforced, the acequias were closed and therefore, so was irrigation.

My thanks to Inge Olsen for the photos of Orgiva taken about 1984
In 1991 I took the photo of the old Ermita before its makeover and that of a building on the High Street that has now been pulled down.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Great Dane

I was going to follow with a post entitled Orgiva, but felt that I couldn’t talk about Orgiva without first mentioning Ole Frederiksen who was known as “The Great Dane” or sometimes “The King of La Alpujarra”.He often joked saying that his Spanish friends said of him: “El Danés loco que habla mucho y dice poco"

Without Ole, we certainly wouldn't have found the hillside named La Panorámica. Indeed it is him that changed the course of my life.

He was introduced to us by Ingrid, a Swedish artist we met in Almuñecar where Michael and I spent a year's sabbatical in 1991. By May of that year we had almost decided that, sadly, a move to Spain wasn't going to be feasible when Ingrid proposed we met this Dane she knew who had lived up in the mountains for some twenty years and who, she thought, would be the best person to help us. How right she was!

Within a few days, we had clambered on all fours to the top of The Hill, fallen in love with the views and bought La Panorámica. In Ole's house, and with his invaluable knowledge of building restrictions, we designed a cortijo with a large studio for Michael right at the top.

To our pleasant surprise, we found that there were several artists living in Orgiva, most known, was Liba Clark who happened to be Ole's neighbour and friend. Liba, like Michael, had been an art teacher both in the UK and in Kuwait and she had a group of artists coming from Almuñecar and La Herradura to paint with her, (some still do). She and Michael hit if off like a house on fire and they decided to set up a residential art school. With my love for cooking, I visualised myself preparing meals and even writing a book of my recipes! We began to look for a suitable place to rent or buy when disaster struck: Michael was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and died within the year.

I was still gathering my thoughts, trying to make sense of life without Michael, when Ole came to visit me in Windsor. He asked me if I wanted to sell La Panorámica, the only thing left of my dream. He said it was a pity that such a beautiful spot lies neglected.

Overnight, my life took a whole new meaning: the dream will not fade, La Panorámica will come alive. I announced to Ole that it was going to become a Snail Production Farm!

The next day, I called my niece who lived near La Rochelle to find me a centre that ran a snail breeding course and for the next nine months, I was working on short contracts at Heathrow airport, training and working in Charentes on a snail farm and travelling to Spain to chase up permits, find an architect and look for a builder. During that time I was a welcome guest at Ole's house without whose help my moving to Spain would have been impossible.

For reasons beyond my control, the snail farm didn't happen, but in 2002 I found myself involved in real estate instead.

Photos on this post by myself

Sunday, February 7, 2010

...and so La Alpujarra

I came upon La Alpujarra while my husband Michael and I were looking to buy a property in Granada city, in the days when Orgiva was referred to as "A village in the mountains" and anything from Bayacas and beyond as "up in the high mountains".

I remember our first visit to Almuñecar, having decided to go on the bus from Granada rather than drive. We passed through the narrow High Street of Lanjaron where the branches of the trees lining it acutally touched the sides of the bus so that I instinctively pulled away from the window. Past the village, looking up the hills and mostly down them, there were, scattered here and there, cortijos barely fit for living. I asked myself: "who the hell lives in a place like this? ".

I now live in one of those, only in one that you can't even see from the main road while driving above Carataunas and then down a 2km dirt track. But my cortijo is new.

In 1991 Finca La Panorámica seemed very isolated. I remember telling our shocked families and friends that we had bought a fistful of heaven that God broke off and threw down on earth where noone could find it till we came about.

Right opposite on the next hill, was the Ermita de La Fatima, built on the finca belonging to what became known as Cortijo de la Fatima and whose owners retained the key of the little chapel and hosted its yearly fiesta. About the time we bought La Panoramica, an Englishman, Douglas, had acquired the property. He took his role seriously and played it to perfection.

Down in the valley, lived Serge, a Lithuanian with his American wife, Phyllis. He was a real citizen of the world: no ID, no papers, no official fixed abode and the only passport he ever owned was an American passport given to him posthumously. Sadly I have never met him.

Just below La Panorámica in Cortijo Las Flores, lived Jurgen, an ex German policeman whose help and advise during the building and after were invaluable. He still lives here with his wife Beate.

Above was Egon's Cortijo El Limón. Egon spent several months a year here, a solitary figure who spoke nothing but German. He could hardly see, but I supposed he enjoyed the sound of silence.

Then there was Grete, an amazing Danish woman who lived with her two dogs in two caravans in the Cerro Negro, the valley on the other flank of the hill where The Fatima is. When we first met her, she was rehabilitating a ruin, stubbornly insisting on using the old method of stones and mud. Because she had no car access, she had to take all materials on a wheel-barrow and so began the story of the house that Jack built: whenever it rained the walls collapsed...but she persevered and did it...some twenty years later. What was incredible is that Grete, who at the time didn't have the facility of a bathroom, served meals on fine china crockery and silver cutlery with hand-embroidered table linen. She still does but now in the home she calls her paradise.

The Olsens, at "El Corral" just past La Panorámica, were ones of the first to buy a property in this area. A lot of my information came from Inge Olsen. She knew Dominguez and his family long before Chris Stewart bought his property, in the days where Spanish and non-Spanish socialised, not allowing language to be a barrier.

Past El Corral lived Gitte and Bernhard, aslo from Denmark.

Now Julia. Until recently, I only knew her by sight: a slight figure that walked faster than I could ride on a bicycle. She and her architect husband bought and built the property I look at from everyone of my windows at about the same time as the Olsens.

The rest of the cortijos belonged to those born and bred in the Valley, Ramón and his family, Juan Días and his family, Dominguez and his family, Antonio Carmona, whose son has just published his biography in a book called "Clarito".

The equivalent of "the local" was Los Llanos, a bar restaurant run by Paco and Carmen. The food was excellent, the tapas generous and when there was a special occasion, it was at Los Llanos that it was celebrated.

Now in 2010, I sit on my sunny terrace and look at the breath-taking views of the hills and the valley below where rivers meet and ponder on how lucky I am to be in this place where it is so easy to forget that one is not actually living in heaven.

A friend from Brazil once said to me: "you should bottle the silence and sell it". On the warm and clear nights of Summer, I often stretch out my arm to pick a star or two, breathing deeply what is said to be the cleanest air in Europe.

Slowly I discovered the white villages cascading down the hillsides of the natural and national parks of the Southern slopes of Sierra Nevada and, despite the passing of time, I have never tired of them nor taken them for granted.

Photo 1, Michael & I on our discovery trail
Photo 2, The hilltop that's La Panoramica
Photo 3, Inge and Antonio (Clarito)
Photo 4, Erik Olsen & Dominguez
Photo 4, When language was no barrier
Photo 5, La Panoramica today, Photo taken by Daria Brasseler