By Wendy Williams
IT might be a backwater hardly known even on Granada’s own Costa Tropical, but the Lecrin Valley is certainly big in children’s TV.
So big in fact that regular visitors to the stunning rural idyll include Teletubbies creator Andrew Davenport and Bob the Builder producer Kate Fawkes.
“I actually met them both in a shop a few months ago and was able to introduce them to each other,” explains local hotelier Scarlett Farrow, who has lived in Lecrin, which translates literally as the ‘Happy Valley’, for a decade.
“It is a beautiful area where people can have their privacy if they want it, but there is plenty going on here and nearby in Granada,” adds Scarlett, who runs La Finca guest house near Murchas – home to just 278 inhabitants.
There is certainly something special about the enclave, which sits about equidistance between Granada city and the coast at Motril.
Comprising a wealth of pretty villages and charming countryside, it is little surprise to learn that other notables, including Alexei Sayle, Paul Weller and George Michael’s publisher Dick Leahy, either own homes here or visit regularly.
“The area attracts some rather strange, but interesting people,” explains painter James Connell, who has worked from a studio near Albuñelas for the last decade.
“They are certainly infinitely more interesting than the cocktail party set on the Costa del Sol with all those nationalistic enclaves.”
It is easy to see why.
Scattered with lemon, orange and almond trees, this beautiful area has been little affected by tourism.
If you are looking for a cultural hub with bright lights, and Michelin-starred restaurants then look again.
The Lecrin valley is what you think of when you conjure up traditional images of the sun-drenched south of Spain; rolling countryside and sleepy villages where sheep and goats are herded through narrow streets.
It offers a complete escape from the pressures of modern living.
Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, many of the 17 tiny villages seem to literally blend into each other.
As the mayor of Lecrin Salvador Ramirez Gongora, who is now serving his sixth term, explains: “It has changed, but not that much.”
Going hand in hand with this, you will be hard pressed to find people who speak English.
The indelible mark of the Moors remains in the names and architecture
Of course, this time warp is made all the more fascinating by the fact that although it seems a far cry from the twenty first century, the valley really is only twenty-five minutes from the centre of Granada.
Where this becomes apparent is in the history of the valley, which is dotted with ruined Arabic castles and look-out towers.
Travelling south from Granada in the 7th Century the Moors chanced upon this fertile land and named it El Valle de Lecrín – the Valley of Happiness.
But its history was not always happy.
It was actually here where Boabdil, the last King of the Nazrids, moved after being forced out of the city of Granada on signing the Declaration of Surrender, handing his beloved city over to the Catholic Monarchs.
Appropriately, the last view of the city before descending into the Valle de Lecrín is from the Puerto del Suspiro del Moro (The Pass of the Moor’s Sigh).
It garners its name, legend has it, as being the spot where the king broke down in tears as he took one last glance back at the city. And his mother famously commented: “Weep then like a woman, over that which you could not defend like a man.”
Later the valley became a battleground in the bloody Morisco uprising due to its strategically important position as the only southerly access route to Granada and the only point of entry to the Western Alpujarras.
Yet today the only hint of the devastation that swept through the valley is in the ruins – the most famous being those of Lecrín Castle where the kings and queens of Granada were buried.
It is believed that the last burial was of Moraima, the wife of Boabdil, who died in Cádiar as they were preparing to leave for exile in Africa.
Now, walking around the many villages the indelible mark of the Moors remains in names and architecture but the valley has slipped into a peaceful slumber.
It has once again become a Valley of Happiness and it is no surprise that so many people have come here to create their own idyll.