THE AGRICULTURAL LANDSCAPE

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The agricultural landscape

La Vall de Gallinera, good oil and better cherries

The landscape is what best defines a territory, what gives it an identity, and landscapes change over time. Since the beginning of the human occupation of La Vall de Gallinera, our species has changed the landscape seeking to take advantage of natural resources, first of all for survival and nowadays to maintain a certain economic well-being. But also caring for and protecting the surroundings so as to enjoy the landscape, as well as obtaining food, and not only for self-sufficiency but also to be able to offer products with an identity.

Nevertheless, the main product that is obtained from the landscape is the landscape itself. La Vall de Gallinera has a charm that attracts tourists from nearby regions, offers unforgettable stays, breaths of fresh and soft air, draws smiles on people’s faces and creates passions.

“La Vall de Gallinera, good oil and better cherries”. This is possibly the phrase that best identifies the valley, from an agricultural point of view.

In his diary of excursions, on his way through La Vall de Gallinera, Cavanilles wrote:

This valley barely has a league from east to west, with a very short distance from north to south, not reaching a quarter of a league. This whole land is made up of hills, ravines and the slopes of the mountains that enclose it. With difficulty you will find another land better planted with trees or better used. From the bottom, until almost the top of the mountains, you can see fields like an amphitheater and, within them, the beautiful confusion that is produced by the multitude of trees of all species, carob trees, pomegranates, holm oaks, mulberries, walnuts, olive trees, cherry trees, pine trees…

 

Cherries were already grown in Cavanilles’ time in La Vall de Gallinera and already had a good reputation for being the first ones and for getting good prices on the market.

The cherry trees are a considerable branch of trade in this valley: because seeing many in number and bearing fruit at the beginning of the season, when it is appreciated for being rare, it is sold at a higher price. These occupy the shady parts, not prevailing in the sunny areas.

Thus, early cherries is synonymous with a special microclimate, which marks the beginning of early spring and a consolidation of the fruit due to the mild temperatures, marked by the proximity of the coast and the orientation of the mountains. This also has a dark side to it, which is the fact that this landscape also endures climate variability in a more pronounced way, meaning that sometimes the flowers do not last long enough due to mild winters or rainy or too humid springs, or, if it rains at the moment of ripening, the fruit is spoiled. It is common knowledge that cherries are very delicate.

Cultivated cherry varieties have evolved over time. The traditional ones have been replaced by new ones according to market demand. The diversity of cherry varieties is enormous, but in La Vall de Gallinera the following are mostly grown: burlat or French and tilaua, the earliest ones; starking hardy giant, bing, van, and picota, which is the latest one. Among the oldest varieties are ripolles and segorbines, gerovines, dos-tres-lliura (which is heart-shaped), blaietes, those known as de bottella (always white), tilaua and del Frisco or del Monjo (because they were brought to the valley by Uncle Tilau, Frisco and Monjo), cor de pitxó (which were used for putting in brandy), d’ull gros (called planera in Planes), and carregadora.

The cherry tree (Prunus avium) is a tree that does not tolerate carbonates or drought well, which is why in La Vall de Gallinera the cherry tree of Saint Lucia (Prunus mahaleb) has been planted as a rootstock, onto which commercial varieties can be grafted. This cherry tree bears small, fleshy fruits, black on ripening, and a little bitter on the palate.

The olive tree is a monumental, rustic and passionate tree. It withstands cold and heat, rain and drought and lives for many years. It only has one clear enemy, the chainsaw. But, in general, humans have considered it a fundamental tree for obtaining the precious oil, or olive juice, and also for its generosity, with abundant harvests. Cavanilles already observed it:

The olive trees, despite having given a good harvest this year [1791], were nevertheless loaded with flowers [May 1792].

The flowers, bursting or about to burst, broadly speaking give an idea of the harvest there will be at the end of the season.

The method practiced by real farmers is not known here… rather, on the contrary, they let nature work so that you can often see olive trees, steep and narrow, loaded with whatever they wanted to give away. The harvests would certainly be more abundant, but those in this valley, satisfied with what they get from their fields, proud of the temperament and goodness of the atmosphere and soil, do not want to help nature in the harvest of oil.

Other important crops have been the almond and carob trees, which are now almost completely abandoned due to the low profitability and market prices of their fruits. At the end of the last century, the planting of citrus fields proliferated, especially orange trees, taking advantage of the increase in average temperature and the decrease in frost.

Mixed up among the main crops, there are many other fruit trees which are there to fill the tables and pantries of the houses with persimmons, apricots, plums, apples, walnuts, figs, and so on.

Traditionally the springs with the best flow volumes had vegetable orchards nearby. All kinds of vegetables have been planted, especially for self-sufficiency: lettuce, cabbage, chard, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, pumpkins and melons, amongst others.

In the drylands, among olive trees or other fruit trees, on the edges of the terraced fields, cereals and legumes were also planted: wheat, barley and corn, beans, broad beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.

One of the key reasons for the great biodiversity of the landscape in La Vall de Gallinera is the presence of strands of natural vegetation around the crops, either as hedges or occupying corners which are difficult to cultivate, screes, enclaves with large stones fallen from the cliffs, places of rough and steep mountain terrain, ravines, etc. These spaces permit the native fauna and flora to survive, and act as natural corridors, improving pest control. All of this together creates a mosaic of life that characterises this landscape.

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