Escape to the rolling hills of Spain with Jo Thomas as she reflects on her experiences of Spain in the spring. Jo sets the scene for Andalucía, the backdrop to her irresistible new novel Sunset over the Cherry Orchard.
I was in no doubt as I boarded our plane that we were heading for Spain. All around me young people were chatting loudly and expressively, enjoying each other’s company and sharing their opinions, often all at the same time. There was a joy to their conversation, bursting with enthusiasm. Spain, I realised, was expressive, joyous and passionate. Until, that is, I reached my villa…
Driving from the airport, I pulled off the main road and up towards Casa Nobleza. The road twisted around the cream coloured stone mountainside and in the cracks and crevices wild flowers were starting to poke through. I passed small whitewashed villages and their locals sitting outside bars, watching lost tourists go by.
When I finally arrived, I got out of the car and was stunned not only by the view, but the peace. There was nothing more than the sound of a few birds and, in the distance, a single dog barking. A watering system was gently hissing, feeding the lush grass and olive trees in the garden, but the surrounding mountainside was covered in what looked like dead vines. The villa was blissfully remote and quiet, with mountains wrapping right the way around it.
On my first morning waking in the villa, the sunrise was slow to creep over the windowsill. The sound of a lone cockerel finally signalled the sun coming up above the mountains.
Clouds rolled along the hillsides as the day slowly warmed up. The sky was light blue and there was a breeze in the late-March air. A bay horse wandered across the slopes of the field on the opposite side of the valley, grazing in the early morning sunlight.
In town, I walked the steep cobbled streets of Competa where pots of red geraniums hung along the whitewashed walls and in amongst the blue and brown tiled mosaics, as if eagerly waiting to welcome the arrival of springtime.
As darkness fell that evening, I lit the fire and read, drinking in the peace and a soft rioja. But the quiet was shattered when the dark sky lit up with huge sheet lightening. The thunder rumbled and crashed, and rain pelted down like an intense performance of two rival dancers on a big stage, both wanting to claim the crowd’s applause. It was intense and passionate. Spain was filling me with its sounds and smells, and the feeling I wanted for my new book.
The following morning, the sun burst over the mountain like a fresh start, like lovers waking having made up after a falling out the night before. Everything felt newly showered and green, ready to soak up the day’s sun. Outside the French doors of my bedroom, birds were tweeting and chirping, as if they were swapping family news. The sky was the most amazing, brilliant blue, like someone had painted it with poster paints, and not a cloud in the sky. There were small, colourful birds everywhere: gold crests, finches and blue tits. They were like the Spanish youngsters on the aeroplane: loud, chatty and expressive. But most noticeable were the blackbirds, arguing and squabbling, fighting off rival suitors. Everything was waking up and bursting into life with colour, smells and sounds. Spanish life had arrived here, too.
The wild flowers on the side of the road were now a riot of colour, like a bright Spanish dancer’s skirt: mauve sweet pea flowers, wild lavender, bright red poppies, and vibrant yellow and fragrant gorse like broom.
The vines I had thought were dead suddenly unfurled their tightly closed leaves and sprung into life. The wisteria over the outside table burst out its beautiful purple blossom. All around, there were bees the size of bomber planes, hard at work, buzzing loudly, going about the serious business of visiting all the flowers that had suddenly opened in the Spanish sunshine. Lizards scuttled out to bask on the rocks as the birds continued their loud courting and bickering. As I sat writing in my room with the patio doors open, a little but loud blue tit sang outside my window, perched on a pine tree behind the twisted, ancient olive, serenading me. All around, nature was imitating the colourful, vibrant, enthusiastic and passionate Spanish life! Across the country, valleys of cherry orchards were waking with blossom bursting into bloom on the branches.
In town, families congregated, soaking up the spring sunshine. Kids set off firecrackers in the back streets and I heard the clap, clap….stamp, stamp, the sound of flamenco taking place somewhere within the whitewashed walls of the town. Noise, laughter and happiness surrounded me in the cobbled streets.
And as the sun set over the mountains covered with different patterns and colours created by the flowers and shrubs bursting into life, I sat beside the beautiful blue pool, soaking up the sounds and smells, watching the swallows arrive to sit on the overhead wires, heralding that spring had well and truly arrived in Andalucía.