Wild rosemary and lavender grow beside a maze of whitewashed buildings, and steep cobbled streets, all ending in stunning views of olive groves and mountains.
This picturesque village in Southern Spain is definitely hidden away but worth the effort if you are seeking a traditional Andalusian experience.
Mistela, the traditional anise and coffee liquor, is abundant, especially during the holidays. It’s stored in clunky glass bottles, a memory of the past. Flooded at the turn of the 20th century, the old glass factory that once brought prosperity to this land can still be visited with a brave hike over a wooden suspension bridge and down into the gorge.
Families that have lived here for many generations will weigh heavy on your heart. Very few people speak English. Children dream of moving back one day to raise their own families and many do return.
Life is slow. Traditions are continued. There is a warmth and kinship on a different level than anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world.
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Matanza, a rare tradition in Southern Spain
In November, the ritual of Matanza is celebrated. Men of the family sacrifice a pig and women make all types of sausages, salchichon, sobrasada and many cured meats. Every step is done by hand. Nothing is wasted.
Most larger towns have let this tradition slip away. Nowadays, they must sacrifice pigs under strictly controlled conditions. But in a few very small villages, like Castril de La Pena, some keep true to the past and perform the tradition at home. I was lucky to stay with one of these rare families.
For three days, villagers come together to sing, drink and eat traditional foods only prepared at this time. Antonio, the father of my host family, begins by piercing the neck of the pig with a metal spike, allowing blood to flow into a large bowl. Apron clad women take turns continually stirring the blood all day with their hands.
After a long night of drinking, they awake early in the morning to slowly create everything from spicy chorizo to the famous jamon serrano. Some cuts are preserved in lemon and cinnamon, some are fried in oil, others are cured in salt and will not be ready for several months. Each is made using time honored, inherited methods.
Morcilla, the traditional black pudding of Andalusia is the most treasured item prepared during the celebration. Blood from the first day is mixed with bread, almonds, spices and onions that have been cooked down and drained in large sacks overnight. It's rich and spicy, with a creamy texture and crispy skin.