There are many reasons to travel Andalusia in September and October, after the searing summer sun begins to pale, the crowds slowly dissipate, and the hillsides awaken from their summer dormancy for something of a second spring with a burst of colour. But for active culinary enthusiasts, autumn in Andalusia holds a more specific allure, with the many harvest celebrations, food markets overflowing with the fresh new products and produce, and unique opportunities for culinary adventures not available throughout the summer.
First hand harvest
For those who want to literally get their hands dirty and experience the Andalusian harvest with a personal perspective, it is possible with the right connections. Formal agricultural and harvest traditions in the region date back at least 3000 years to the time when the Phoenicians brought the first olive trees and vines for production. Many of these traditions have continued to the modern day and the main grape variety still cultivated in the region is the same brought from Egypt by the Phoenicians millennia ago, the Moscatel de Alejandria.
By the end of August, most of the grapes will have already been harvested; however, in early September the last of the sweetest of the Moscatel, having aged on the vine to intensify the sugar content, are still to be collected. A “bodega”, or winery, such as Bodegas Bentomiz (http://www.bodegasbentomiz.com/index.php?lang=es) in Malaga province will allow you to join in collecting the grapes and educate you on the entire history and process.
The cooler days of October bring the start of the olive harvest all across Andalusia, particularly in the densely planted inland areas stretching from Antequera and Cordoba to Jaen, further west. This region produces nearly 30 of the top 50 olive oils in the world, as determined by annual industry rankings (http://www.worldsbestoliveoils.org/worlds-best-olive-oils.html). Many of the smaller producers still harvest olives with a long stick and nets to collect the fallen fruit. The larger producers will happily invite you along for a tour to see the process at hand and the pressing that soon follows. See such olive farms as Mueloliva in Priego de Cordoba (http://www.mueloliva.es), Melgarejo Mill in Jaen (http://www.aceites-melgarejo.com), or Finca la Torre in Bodadilla (http://aceitefincalatorre.com/en/), all of which are ranked as some of the best olive oils in the world.
A self guided visit to any of the many sensational food markets around Andalusia is another way to enjoy the harvest first hand, by sampling the freshest and best of the local products carted daily to these thriving markets. See for example, the historic Atarazanas covered market in Malaga, the upscale gourmet Ambrosia food market in Marbella (http://ambrosiamercadogourmet.es/en/), or one of the special ecological/organic markets that pop up on regular days monthly. Try the market on Cervantes Street in Malaga the second Saturday of each month, the Cala de Mijas market on the last Sunday of every month, or on the third Sunday of every month in the Arroyo de la Miel in Benelmadena.
A guiding hand
If you prefer a guided, more curated experience, your bases are covered. The local, culinary travel specialists at Paladar y Tomar (http://www.paladarytomar.com), for example, offer exclusive and in depth experiences tapping into a network of professional insiders for insights few travels would ever encounter on their own. They offer a variety of day trip experiences, or full weeklong itineraries including tours of wineries and olive mills, cooking courses, food markets, cultural and culinary city tours and more bespoke packages according to your interests. These guided experiences are not available during summer, preserving the exclusive nature of the tours by avoiding the tourist crowds and uncomfortable heat.
You may also consider a mountain guide, or “sendero”, to take you into the hills of the Serrania de Ronda or the Sierra Tejeda to search for the wild mushrooms that begin sprouting at this time of year. Or simply search for the same fresh chanterelles, boletus and oyster mushrooms, for example, at finer restaurants in the city and countryside alike.
A fiesta for every occasion
One of the most engaging and entertaining ways to celebrate the harvest and the proliferation of beautiful autumn products in Andalusia is to attend one of the many food festivals all across the region. The Spanish need little excuse for a party, and the harvest abundance of various delicious products is as good an excuse as any. Each of these fiestas will include music and dance, copious amounts of drink and delicious food, including of course whatever the harvest specialty may be.
Here you find a sampling of the many culinary and harvest festivals occurring across Andalusia in autumn:
Almond and garlic soup “ajoblanco” festival, Almachar (Malaga), 2 September
Grape harvest festival, Montilla (Cordoba), 3-6 September; Jerez (Cadiz), 5-11 September
Festival of raisins and wine, Viñuela (Malaga), 9-10 September
Anchovy festival, Rincon de la Victoria (Malaga), 10 September
Iberian ham and pork fair, Aracena (Huelva), 14-15 October
Quince festival, Priego de Cordoba (Cordoba), 28-29 October
Chestnut festival, Alcaucin (Malaga), and Alpujarras de la Sierra (Granada), 4 November
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.
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