The Valencia Community isn’t all oranges and lemons; the cherries also blossom if you know where to look.
If you are feeling romantic and want to see mountains and cherry blossom, you could go to Mount Fuji in Japan, or to the Jerte Valley in Extremadura; but it really isn’t necessary to travel quite so far, as the cherry trees also blossom in March in the Espadán mountain range, just a half hour’s drive from Valencia.
Espadán is possibly one of Valencia’s best kept secrets, but in the easily accessible villages of Artana, Eslida and Aín there are plenty of treasures for those who suffer the stress of city life.
The cherry trees are mostly concentrated around Aín, a tiny village ideal for mountain walkers with well sign-posted paths where every step will bring you across a wide variety of flora such as white heather, cork trees and carobs, from which Valencians used to make chocolate, although today it is mostly used as animal feed.
The cork however is still harvested from the trees leaving the curious sight of the trunk with half of its bark missing.
Eslida is famous for its honey and honey-based products, and most locals will direct you to Finita’s, a little shop described by them as “our Corte Inglés”, where Finita herself will deal serve you in the old fashioned way with a little bit of local gossip and much good humour in a tiny space behind the counter which seems to have no way in or out, suggesting that she is lowered in there every morning by a crane.
Artana is full of surprises; not least the existence of a Mining Museum, which commemorates the existence of iron mines in the area, first developed by the Romans, which were fully functioning until the 1960s, and which supplied the now abandoned steelworks at Sagunto.
Today Artana focuses more on olive oil production, producing Extra Virgin olive oil of the ‘Serrana de Espadán’ variety, which is unique to the area, and much of which comes from centenary olive trees.
Apart from oil, the local cooperative also produces paté and a range of cosmetics and soaps all using olives as their main ingredient.
There are many interesting restaurants in the area, and one of the most distinct is the Ermita de Santa Cristina between Artana and Eslida, where the old church has been transformed into an eatery that can be reached from the main road or by an asphalted path from Artana, winding through olive and orange trees for an hour’s walk; an excellent way to work up an appetite.
All in all, using the free motorway that runs parallel to the toll motorway, you can go back in time within half an hour to an area where a pace of life from a previous era still exists, as do the manners and courtesy of the people of that time.