Evaristo is teaching me to make paella. You might, like I did, think you know already, but Evaristo lives and breathes the stuff – he has made it every day for over 30 years. We’re doing it in his barn, which adds challenges.
I’m in deepest rural Spain, in the Vall de Gallinera, Alicante, the kind of Spain where you expect to bump into Laurie Lee’s ghost on every footpath.
There are the ruins of an old convent on the next hill, and a ruined Arab fort beyond that. It’s a tranquil land weathered by mystery and tragedy, but only a day’s walk from Benidorm, with its 200 nightclubs and 1,000 bars. It does not seem possible.
Evaristo is not part of that Benidorm world. He slops a great puddle of olive oil into a pan the size of a Visigothic war shield. Around this he builds a defensive wall of salt, then slices red crescents of peppers into the gently simmering oil. “Now,” he says, “let’s go and check on the horses.”
He is steeped in rural traditions that are slowly, inexorably, withering as the valley loses its population. But I’m here to witness an attempt to halt that. Evaristo is one of many locals who are taking time to introduce visitors to their forgotten, bucolic idyll.
It’s an innovative rural regeneration scheme operated by VillageWays that gives the outsider a privileged introduction to a host of local characters and experiences.
Just a few miles from the tower-blocks of the Costa Blanca, the Vall de Gallinera is another Spain entirely: a remote, mountainous valley where the ancient villages house people who are justly proud of their traditions and rural way of life.
Local people have got together here to welcome guests to discover their beautiful valley and to allow them privileged access to their ways of life.
This holiday is all about appreciating local life. Guests are invited to visit a local shepherd and join him for a few hours in the mountains, to see how a farmer tends his olive trees, or harvests the cherries, or to join Alicia as she prepares her delicious preserved fruits, something that has been done here for centuries.
On other days, you enjoy guided walks in the hills and around the villages, to learn about the landscapes and cultural history of the valley, and you also have two free days, when you can relax and explore, or follow our notes on more wonderful walks.
You stay on a self-catering basis in beautifully-restored stone village houses – casas rurales. These are comfortable and appointed to a high standard, with wood burning stoves for cool evenings in the autumn and spring.