““Do you like that?” I’ll say and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad. That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?” but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say… it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.” Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’
In several previous travels to Alicante and the east coast of Spain we had visited much of the coast and the obvious places to go and see so today we set out to do something different.
I didn’t really have shopping at the top of my travel itinerary but you have to give and take sometimes and Kim and Lindsay wanted to go and look at sparkly things so we spent the morning at a modern mall at the town of La Zenia. I didn’t do a lot of shopping I have to say, just wandered about a bit and found somewhere for a drink as the girls enjoyed a frantic two hours or so in the shoe shops.
Later that day we eventually did something quite different. Mick and Lindsay knew of a secret place at the foot of the mountains inland, Moroccan Tea gardens called Carmen del Campillo the ‘Casa Morisca’. This it turned out is an unexpected and enchanting place with echoes reminiscent of Moorish Spain.
The description Moors derives from the Latin Mauri, a name for the Berber tribes living in Roman Mauretania, modern day Algeria and Morocco. It has no ethnographic meaning but can be used to refer to all Muslims, Berber or Arab, who over a thousand years ago travelled north out of Africa and colonised the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors arrived in Iberia in the year 711 and began a period of history which would give Spain a different and unique history to the rest of Europe as the entire region adapted to a new religion, language and culture.
The period of Moorish occupation was to last nearly four hundred years and normally I would look for palaces and castles as a reminder of this time but in the Levante you have to look at the countryside because the Moors created the landscape of the region.
They expanded and improved Roman irrigation systems to help develop a strong agricultural sector. After the irrigation they planted citrus groves and peach and almond orchards. They introduced many new crops including the orange, lemon, peach, apricot, fig and pomegranate as well as saffron, sugar cane, cotton, silk and rice all of which remain some of Spain’s main products today.
The terraces on the hillsides throughout the region are an everlasting Moor legacy. There are no olives or vines in Valencia and Murcia just acres and acres of fruit that stretch as far as the eye can see.
In holiday brochures this might be the Costa Blanca or Costa Calida but it has a less well-known alternative name – the Orange Blossom Coast which owes its name to the sweet smell of citrus that hangs in the Spring air. Spain is Europe’s largest producer of oranges and two-thirds of these little balls of sunshine come from the region around Valencia. The millions of orange trees are shiny green the year round, clothed in delicate white blossoms in spring and bright orange baubles in the autumn when each tree groans under the burden of up to five hundred fruits.
The Moroccan Tea Gardens are difficult to find and involved a long drive along a dusty track until we arrived at what seems at first sight to be an oasis in a thirsty plain. Getting in is easy enough but I worried about getting out again when the iron gate was closed firmly behind us with a firm jailhouse rattle.
One inside the whole place is a rapturous assault on the senses, the sights, smells and sounds of Morocco, brightly painted walls and decoration, the aroma of burning incense and the music of North Africa.
Terracotta pots with effervescent geraniums and boiling blooms. The garden weaving intricately and effortlessly through the house, making it an indoor and outdoor experience all at the same time. The house consists of a labyrinth of rooms that open onto open balconies, sun-bleached decks and private terraces that lead directly to the rooftops. The objective of this tea house is to encourage tranquillity and relaxation and as afternoon slipped into evening it was illuminated with Islamic lamps and traditional wood burning fireplaces in every other room.
After we had investigated the house and gardens we found a table and ordered tea and sweet pastries and waited for the sun to disappear behind the mountain range, the Serra de Crevillent and when it had gone and we felt tranquil and relaxed we left the little piece of Morocco in Spain and made our way back to Rojales and the coast.
The blue of the sky and the terracotta of the earth…