The citizens of Tokyo famously cherish their annual visits to the cherry blossom and here in Alicante we can enjoy a similar experience with the famous local almond tree blossom. Almonds are one of the signature crops of our region and the trees come into flower at this time of year. Interestingly the trees produce their blossom early despite the risk of frost since they require a lot of water to develop their fruit; this means that in order to take advantage of the rains in March and April they flower early giving a spring like floral treat despite the early time of year. The further inland one travels the later the blossom. In the Alicante region, there are many areas where this wonderful nature display can be enjoyed; the four most popular areas are Valle de Guadalest, Valle de Relleu, Jijona and Valle de Pop. To see an early display we headed to the local Valle de Pop, specifically the area between Xaló and Alcalalí. This location is famous for its magnificent early almond blossom which combines with cherry tree blossom to create an unrivalled floral display.
Almonds are used in a wide variety of products from food stuffs like the famous local turrón to cosmetics. The hypoallergenic quality of almond oil makes it an important ingredient in face and body creams. Have a look at the list of ingredients on the back of your tube of moisturiser or can of shaving gel and you will likely find almond oil listed. Spain produces around 200,000 tons annually with our region being one of the main centres of production. The use of almonds in cooking has an even longer heritage and stretches back to the original introduction of almond trees to Europe from the Middle East, which is thought to have been in the third century CE. In turn Spanish Francisan priests are said to have taken the first almond trees to California in the 17th century when the American west coast was under Spanish rule.
Almond production is however currently threatened by an outbreak of Xilella Fastidosia, this bacterium is spread by insects and will kill or seriously harm the trees and it is currently impacting countries like Spain, Italy and our neighbours in Northern Africa. In recent years the infection has had a major impact on the number and health of our region’s almond trees. There is no cure for the infection once it is established and the only current treatment is prevention by removal of infected trees to control the spread. It is to be hoped that the disease can be controlled before it inflicts further damage on the almond tree population. This disease has sadly impacted negatively the splendour of almond tree blossom in the valleys of Alicante, however, it’s still worth the visit.
Our trip to view the almond blossom had the additional attraction of visiting the Saturday markets in the town of Xaló. This little town nestles in a valley and hosts both a charming organic produce market (Mercat de la Terra) and a little local antique and flea market. We spent a fascinating hour examining the items on sale; of particular interest were the old guide books showing Spain as it was in the 1960s and 1970s! These markets pull in many people from the surrounding valleys and countryside including both Spaniards and foreign residents, it was lovely to see so much life in the cafes and restaurants and we recommend it as a weekend day out. Things may finally be looking up!