The Route of the White Villages
I felt like I was traveling into a mystical part of Spain as we flew from the coast and deeper inland. When I say “flew”, I don’t mean in a plane; we were driving, but at such fast speeds that it felt at times like we were flying. I like how Francisco drives – FAST! Hills began to form, rolling with fields of fluffy-white cotton. Their stocks look almost purple-brown, giving it a surreal look and making me think of drawings in Dr. Seuss children’s books. We passed so many wonderful things and my eyes and heart were fixated looking out the window, taking in every detail that is part of experiencing Spain and that I do not tire of: sheep grazing with their shepherds herding them and fortress ruins in tall grasses. In the distance rose castles and ancient cathedrals, positioned on hilltops and nestled within white-washed walls of houses that cluster together to form villages. At times, either side of the road would be lined with olive trees, aligned in perfect rows that grow up and down the hills likes waves curling. The the roadside scene would give way to trellis’ of wine grapes stretched out in planted formation around Spanish-tiled villas…I soon learned that we were enjoying The White Villages Route. The farther we journeyed, the more the terrain rose higher and higher, forming larger hills with grey rock outcroppings and sprouting dense forests of lush green trees.
Francisco and Marcos were my adventurous companions who wanted to take me for a visit to the world-famous guitar luthier Valeriano Bernal. Read about that experience in my earlier post, Visiting Guitar Luthier Valeriano Bernal. The guitar store and factory are located in the small village of Algodonales, which is where we enjoyed our time along the White Villages Route. We drove into the small town under low-lying grey clouds. They added such a mystical feel to the place…I could sense it in the pit of my stomach, that exciting feeling of childish imagination; a very good sign of a great time to be had. The village is situated on a mountainside, hugging the rock walls as they rise up behind the white-washed walls, topped with roofs of red ceramic tiles. Once we parked and got out of the car, I craned my neck to look up at this natural backdrop that the village was living on….bare rock was exposed from the green mossy grasses and trees that made up the steep incline. It disappeared into the dense rain clouds and the grey wispy tendrils seemed to be fingers pulling at the mountain wall to descend lower upon the village.
After an amazing one-of-a-kind experience visiting the guitar factory, we enjoyed lunch at a small bar tucked away on a somewhat lonely street, farther downhill from the bustle of the more popular village square. And to be honest, it was conveniently a block down from the guitar store. We enjoyed bacalao, the Spanish traditional dish of cod-fish, as well as a plate of sautéed carrots drenched in olive oil and vinegar dressing dusted with herbs, diced onions and garlic. Savoring lunch with a glass of vino tinto (red wine), we found ourselves there for just as long as we had been in the guitar store, especially when it turned out that Valeriano and his family were eating lunch there. It wasn’t long after we sat down that they started trickling in, their younger children running in and out the front door from playing in the quiet street and the older generations relaxing in their seats at the dinner table to the back of the small cafe. They talked boisterously and happily, taking their time to enjoy the mid-day lunch break by starting with glasses of wine or beer and some tapas. Valeriano sat with us for a time and we shared stories of his trade and places we had all traveled to around the world. Our conversations included friendly interruptions when locals would walk in and greet Valeriano and he in turn would introduce them to us. When the time came to say hasta luego and part ways, we were saying goodbye to practically the whole restaurant.
We had just pulled away from the village center when we took another curve in the winding road and our view opened to reveal a scene that looked like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie! The sky had been overcast and stormy throughout our trip, dark with heavy grey rain clouds that here formed an impressive background to the dramatic rock outcropping that stood solitary and unique in a valley below. The hill in the distance was almost like a rectangular chunk of rock rising up from the ground and on the top far end of this rare land formation, I could slightly make out what looked like a fortress tower. Just below and hugging this flat-topped stony hill, was a village that seemed to be clinging to the side and spreading out into the valley, the white of the houses forming a cape with only the stone cathedral standing out like a jewel with its differentiating color. As if this alone were not beautiful enough, the valley was hemmed in from behind this scene with higher towering mountains that left us awestruck as their colors of green and grey became more vibrant in the sunlight that managed to just then break through the clouds and shower down. I marveled at the sight and wondered how I did not see it there when we first arrived earlier that day. It was as if the village and our experience were sending us off with a great impression so we would return again one day. The people I met and the beauty of the countryside certainly left a wonderful impression that I will not forget and that already has me wanting to return.