Just a few kilometres from Madrid in the province of Guadalajara is the region of La Alcarria. What you have closest is often most unknown to you and the Spanish capital’s inhabitants hardly knew of the existence of this place so nearby until in 1948, the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Camilo José Cela, wrote his ‘Journey to the Alcarria’ undoubtedly the best known guide of Spanish literature.
Cela discovered the region on foot. The book, which at the time cost 65 pesetas (less than half a euro today) and was illustrated with photographs by Karl Wlasak, was a true best seller and soon became one of the must-reads on the school curriculum. Today translated into more than two dozen languages and with over ten million copies sold, it is still so popular that it justifies the existence of a museum in his honour in the castle of the alcarreña town of Torija.
That Spain, in which the writer accompanied the people on horse and cart is now history (which became clear when Cela wrote his ‘New Journey to the Alcarria’ before he died). The countryside has also changed a lot; in fact one fragment of the original book says, “The people talk about the reservoirs being made on the Tajo and the Guadiela. They say they are going to be something great”. He referred to today’s Entrepeñas and Guadiela dams. However, something remains unaltered since Cela’s times: the smell. A place of plentiful sun and water, it is rich in wild aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender, which form the base of La Alcarria’s most famous product: its lovely honey.
Tradition says that it has to be sold in earthenware vessels with a wooden spoon, but there is so much demand that we usually find it in glass jars. But as always, the important thing is to enjoy its flavour. Cela was able to do so, as he received the ‘Su peso en miel’ (Your weight in honey) award in 1986. The trophy is not one to be displayed in a case, but is precisely what the prize says: the winner is given as many kilos of honey from La Alcarria as they weigh on the scales. Curiously another Nobel literature prize winner writing in the Spanish language, Mario Vargas Llosa, was also awarded this sweet prize in 2005.