I am a Norwegian writer with careers within art, design, history, tourism and journalism. My second home is in a small village in Spain.
While the sun is still high in the sky and the smell of wet soil, evergreen plants and fruit trees spreads like a veil of the finest perfume after the night's heavy rainfall, we decide to explore Ítrabo, a small village on the other side of the mountains.
The white Andalusian village of Ítrabo is situated at 390 meters above sea level at the foot of the mountain hills of Bodijar, with its peak, Picacho. From the village and its surroundings, there are beautiful views of the coast and the Mediterranean.
Follow the Winding Local Roads
It is usually not far to drive between the villages in the amazingly contrasting landscape of Andalucia. The house clusters lie in between cultivated fields; thanks to their neatly built irrigation systems, these fields have long provided fertile crops of vegetables and fruits. In the mountainous landscape lie terraces built by strong human hands in ledges up steep hillsides. On the narrowest terraces with arable land, trees have been growing side by side for centuries. No matter where you go, you will be amazed by your surroundings.
From Lobres to Ítrabo, Jete and Almuñecar
Just a short drive in from the Costa Tropical on the main road away from Motril is Lobres, the starting point for our day trip. From Lobres, the winding country road takes you directly to the village and beyond over the mountain to Jete, the heart of the green valley of Rio Verde. From there, you can take the road further down the coast to Almuñecar.
There is nothing more charming than driving through this mountainous and fertile landscape on winding local roads and seeing the small Andalusian villages that pop up along the way.
From Almuñecar, you are now close to the main road which runs along the coast. From here, it is easy to get back to the starting point of Lobres. The road network always takes you somewhere—to a large or small village. If you leave the main road and head for a smaller local road, the contrasts and experiences are that much greater. Just follow the signs and let them take you there.
Artistic Activity in Ítrabo
Leave the car outside the village and walk up the steep and narrow streets towards Plaza de Andalucia. There, you can take a rest in the shade of the lush trees that surround the square. Just enjoy the quiet and relaxing atmosphere of this silent environment and breathe the fresh air. Looking around, we discovered a small written poster that announced an art exhibition in Calle Carmen with artworks by Norwegians. It was an indication of artistic activity in the village.
After walking around exploring the village, we met Åse, the Norwegian lady who arranges art exhibitions and has made a small gallery in the entrance of her house in Calle Carmen. She kindly welcomed us inside to have a look, even though the walls were temporarily empty of art in anticipation of a new exhibition.
"One of the ideas behind the gallery was to give students who are participating in painting courses the opportunity to exhibit. It is nice to give something back to the village that has received us so well," says Åse.
For 17 years, she and her family have traveled back and forth between their home base in Norway and Ítrabo. During this time, there have been several Norwegians and people of other nationalities who have settled in the small village.
The Church and Its Protected Birds
After observing a sign close to Plaza Andalucia for one of the two hiking routes in the area—León Africano—we headed for the pride of Ítrabo—the church. Located at the heart of the village, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen was built in the neoclassical style of the 16- and 1700s and stands as a beautiful unifying center for the town's residents.
Looking up along the roof of the church, you will see that many swallows have built their nests there. We started to count them, but soon gave up. Swallows—including their chicks, eggs and nests—are one of several protected species in Spain. It is, therefore, a criminal offense to block or remove their nests.
According to SEO/BirdLife (la Sociedad Española de Ornitología), removing a swallow's nest can result in a staggering fine of between 5,001 and 200,000 euros, or imprisonment for up to two years.
Like many other coastal villages in Spain, Ítrabo experienced economic growth in the second half of the 1990s due to growing tourism and increasing fruit and vegetable exports.
But the heritage of the Moors who ruled the area for hundreds of years remains clear in the town's architecture, network of streets (constructed with many narrow alleys and small, cozy places) and cultural landscape.
Jete, the Heart of the Valley of Rio Verde
After the surprising meeting with our Norwegian friends, our planned outing to Ítrabo was extended with a short visit to the small village of Jete. On recommendation, we continued our travel on the winding road further up the hill and down the other side, entering the green valley—El Valle del Rio Verde.
Steep mountainsides met us with incredible terraces built like neat horizontal lines twisting in soft waves along the hillsides, where the fruit trees clung to their allotted soil. The powerful green against shades of gray and red-brown soil is almost too hard to describe—it was breathtakingly beautiful.
In the middle of this area is the small village of Jete, known as the heart of this amazing green valley of Rio Verde. The village appears in stark contrast to the surrounding greenery—another quiet white village where the inhabitants mainly make a living from agriculture and fruit.
The Arabs knew how to carry on the legacy of the Romans' water channels and irrigation systems, and they eventually expanded the cultivation of fruit of several varieties. In this part of the province, it is the plantations of medlar trees that make the valley so incredibly green.
The little orange medlar fruit—sweet, but also a bit sour—is not so well known to us Norwegians or people from other northern countries, because the fruit is very fragile and cannot withstand poor transport. For those who are lucky enough to have access to it, it is a very important source of many important vitamins and minerals. Other fruits that grow in abundance in the district are custard apples, grapes and figs.
In summary, our day trip showed us that you do not always have to travel far away to experience the most beautiful moments—your heart may show you the way.
© 2019 Gro Kristina Slaatto