Golco, Válor, Órgiva, Ugíjar... These are villages in La Alpujarra, an abrupt, wild area rich in Andalusian mountain scenery, on the southern side of Sierra Nevada. More than 50 villages are scattered across these primitive lands. One of them, Yegen, received a British writer Gerald Brenan in the 1920s, who was so struck by it that he set up residence there for over a decade and immortalised the village and the whole area in his book Al sur de Granada.
Brenan was fascinated by the simple spontaneity of the people, their language and customs and so he carefully noted down everything he saw, third and experienced. The result is this work, a song to ancestral, exotic Spain removed from modernity which, in addition to a detailed anthropological study, became the first travel guide of the Alpujarra region.
Eighty years later, Chris Stewart gives up music (he was the drummer for the group Genesis before Phil Collins) to live differently. He joined the circus, learned to shear sheep in Australia, became a crew member on a yacht in Greece, went to China to write a travel guide, got his pilot's licence in Los Angeles, did a course in French cuisine and ended up doing uncertain work in a cortijo (a typical Andalusian house) in La Alpujarra.
Here he decided to share his experiences and set them out in a book, Entre limones. Historia de un optimista (Amongst lemons. The story of an optimist), which almost effortlessly became a world bestseller. He still lives with his family in the same cortijo where he arrived somewhat more than a decade ago. ‘El Valero’, the name of his property, is full of olives, almonds and lemons, settled on the wrong side of the river with no access road nor water or electricity supply. Could life offer anything better? Not for Chris Stewart.
Between Brenan and Stewart, La Alpujarra has undergone a great democratic transformation. If in the first half of the past century immigration left most of the villages without their population. Now that the quality of life has improved, albeit a little, it is easy to see leisurely tourists in the bars or strolling through the village streets. Many village people are no longer brown and plump, but rather blonde with blue eyes. These are the ‘British countrymen’ who have bought up almost all of the cortijos and ruined houses in these villages from Trevelez to la Contraviesa to restore them and live their all year round following the sentimental writings of Brenan and Stewart’s books and, obviously, the southern sun.