The Almond Trees and Me

by Silke Elzner

I have a somewhat difficult relationship with almond trees. And they probably with me. There is no denying it: Almond trees pretend to be my friend, but truth be told they are evil creatures whose only purpose of existence seem to be to mock and confuse me.

No, that’s not quite fair. Almond trees are simply almond trees. They produce delicious fruits, they are beautiful in the Andalusian winter, and they smell like heaven. But, they are also elusive and shy. They make me do things that I regret. And they laugh behind my back when I try to dedicate my time to them.

But it’s all good. I think in the end we made peace and may have even become friends.

This is the story about me and how I found the almond trees. Eventually. After risking my life and almost killing the car. It is also that I found them quite incidentally, only after I had stopped looking for them altogether.

Close-up of a blooming almond tree in Spain

The Almond Trees of Andalusia

When autumn arrived in Andalusia, my first autumn in Spain ever, the days got shorter and temperatures dropped to a bearable average. The tourists went home, the kids went back to school, and overall things returned to a more normal pace. Which is fine when you like normal paces.

But if not, your friend may have to find some soothing words to prepare you for the long winter months to come. She may say things like, “You’ll experience Christmas in Spain, rejoice!”. Or, “Finally you can sleep with a duvet again!”. Or, quite simply, “Look out for the almond trees, they are supposed to be beautiful.”

So I did experience my first Christmas in Spain, and it was not spectacular but okay. Then I celebrated the fact that I could finally cuddle up in a duvet at night (until the real cold set in and I was earnestly considering wearing a beanie in bed to combat something resembling ice-cream headache at night).

But these almond trees, I somewhat forgot about those.

In January, we visited the Alhambra in Granada, and it was on our way home that we spotted the first almond trees of Andalusia in full bloom. Gnarly little trees on the slopes next to the highway, crowned with an explosion of blossoms in white and soft pink.

That’s when I remembered that blooming almond trees were about to be in season in Andalusia, and this is when my obsession began.

A single almond tree in Andalusia

The Almond Tree Route in Andalusia

I live in a town on the Costa del Sol, and there are no almond trees around. Orange trees with sweet fruit lining the streets, yes, but no blooming almond trees.

In order to find the trees I had to do some research. I had a faint recollection of someone mentioning an almond tree route in Andalusia, so I started with the tourism boards and Google. I couldn’t find a mention of the route, neither in English nor in Spanish. All villages that stood in connection with almond trees were isolated and there were no routes connecting them.

Some other articles popped up, some adorned with beautiful pictures of blooming trees under the blue skies of Andalusia. Names of villages, vague descriptions. The hill behind… try the orchard where… walk for three kilometres until…

It was not enough to convince me to drive for half an hour, risking that I wouldn’t be able to find my bearings with these inconclusive descriptions.

In the end, I dug up an article commissioned by a local car rental company naming three villages that were supposed to be a heaven for almond tree chasers like me. Since they were not too far away, in an area that I was familiar with, and close to each other, I figured that we would probably have our best chances of finding almond trees there. There was a little voice of doubt in my mind, given that the article was basically just a piece of content marketing for a car rental company. But I was hoping that the author had done sufficient research to produce a reliable enough article about almond trees.

This early in the season there are only a few blossoms

Risking my Life in Álora

The area we drove to is to the west of Málaga around the villages of Álora and Pizarra. We knew Pizarra already and couldn’t recall an area that would qualify as an unassuming almond orchard. We decided to start with Álora first, just so that we could have a change in scenery.

Álora is a lovely white village, just the way you would expect it to be. It’s situated on a hill overlooking the country, has a castle, narrow roads, and – almost no almond trees. We first decided to explore the village centre, climbing the steep roads that hardly ever see a tourist. Finding our way to the bigger squares where we hoped that we might be lucky to see an almond tree or two. Except that we didn’t.

However, in the distance we could make out the castle on a neighbouring hill, and just underneath there was a single almond tree in full bloom.

We walked in that direction in a bit of a confused daze – not sure why – let Google Maps show us the wrong direction, climbed steep streets for no apparent reason, and decided in the end to take the car instead.

It was a meagre result

Taking the car would have been a good decision, except that it wasn’t. The streets of Álora were narrow, the corners sharp. Many times we questioned the way, laughter bubbling out of our mouths uncontrollably in a fit of hysteria, as we were following the indications up to the castle. We were lucky to find a parking spot near a church and walked the last couple of metres on foot.

Our hope had been that we would find more almond trees on the other side of the hill, behind the castle. But we were disappointed. Our loot was less than a handful of trees, only rather solitary looking, with branches that were still devoid of blossoms as they were impacted by the deep shadows of the castle. It was with an air of defiance that we climbed up to the best looking tree of the lot, risking a twisted ankle or a broken neck, for this one sad money shot.

What was even worse: Looking down from the castle it was quite clear that the landscape around us had no notable orchards full of almond trees. Resigned and disappointed we returned home.

An almond orchard in Andalusia

The Story of the Almond Trees

Our quest to find the almond trees of Andalusia had so far brought no results to speak of. Why was that? Why was there the notion of almond trees but in reality they were nowhere to be found. I asked the experts, people who spoke Spanish much better than me and who had lived here for many years.

Through them I learned that almond trees used to be far more prevalent in the past, but their upkeep had become uneconomical. I guess most orchards have disappeared to make way for more profitable crops such as citrus and olives.

I also learned that almond trees are to be found on slopes and not so much in the valleys, so us looking down from the castle in Álora didn’t tell us anything about the almond trees as we were looking for them in the valleys.

Lastly, we learned about an Almond Tree Fiesta in a small village called Guaro, where there was a planned Almond Feast with walking tours through local almond orchards on an upcoming Sunday. We couldn’t make it to the fiesta on that weekend and resigned to the idea that the almond trees and us wouldn’t meet each other this season, maybe next.

There it was! And we weren't even looking

The Almond Trees near Torcal de Antequera

Fast forward around four weeks, and we had some time to spare for another exploration of Malaga province. We remembered our failed attempt of find blooming almond trees too well (the pain was real) and decided against giving it another go. By now it was already mid February and we expected that the flowering season had been over already anyway. Our destination for the day, we decided, was to be Torcal Nature Preserve near the city of Antequera north of Malaga. It sounded like a lot of fun.

But oh the irony, as we travelled up north, only to discover lots of single almond trees on the slopes on both sides of the motorway. Yes, they were still there, but of course we couldn’t take a photo while driving in the car. Maybe we would be lucky when we were leaving the motorway to drive to El Torcal, with an opportunity to stop.

El Torcal

We left the motorway in Villanueva de Cauche and travelled westwards to Villanueva de Concepción. And what did we see? Almond trees! Not just one, but lots of them.

Cottages with gardens, adorned with ornamental trees in pink and white. Orchards of almond trees on the slopes, cascading down the mountains in soft tufts of baby pink. Majestic trees on road bends, beautiful, spectacular.

In the end, we did find the most beautiful trees, set in the spectacular mountain region of El Torcal. Forgotten orchards next to crumbling ruins of abandoned farm buildings, almost placed there by a romantic painter who needed that little bit of extra sparkle to make the scenery stand out.

Delighted, I snapped away, almost forgetting about why we came to the area in the first place. I was in almond tree heaven, the pain and disappointment forgotten. Yes, I am a very forgiving person.

A farmer's cottage with an old orchard

The Almond Trees in Malaga Province

Almond trees still do exist in Andalusia but they are not everywhere to be found. We couldn’t make out specific designated routes but the road that we travelled on to Torcal was a great example of how you can find them even if you are not looking for them.

When visiting Andalusia in winter, do keep an eye out for these pretty trees and don’t forget to take home the memories of a nose full of their perfume. Almond trees are not just a pretty face, they smell heavenly too.

When visiting in February, look out for slopes in rural areas and along the highways. We have been told also that there are indeed almond trees near Pizarra. You will need to climb the hill behind the village to look down on the other side. Other hotspots can be found in Las Alpujarras near Granada and in Sierra de la Grazalema towards Cádiz.

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