Seductive, funny, powerfully evocative, Sacred Sierra is a romantic, alluring leap into Spanish sunshine, remote mountains and rural life.
Jason Webster had lived in Spain for several years before his partner, the flamenco dancer Salud, decided to buy a deserted farmhouse clinging to the side of a steep valley in the eastern province of Castellón, near the sacred peak of Penyagolosa. With help from local farmers – and from a twelfth-century Moorish book on gardening – Jason set about creating his dream.
He had never farmed before, and knew nothing of plants, but slowly he and Salud cleared the land, planted and harvested their olives, raised the healing herbs they learned about from local people, set up beehives and nurtured precious, expensive truffles, the black gold of the region. And beyond all this they started to fulfil another vision, bringing the native trees back to the cliffs ravaged by fire.
At the same time they became drawn into the life of the valley: this is a book rich with characters as well as plants. it follows the people of the village from the winter rains to baking summer heat, from the flowering of the almond trees in spring to the hilarious, fiery festivals and ancient pilgrimages, and tells the history of the region through folk songs and stories of the Cathar and Templar past. Jason and Salud lived through storms, forest fire, and feuds over water, between the coastal development and the mountain communities. But as the year passed and his farm flourished, Jason found himself increasingly in tune with the ancient, mystical life of the sierra, a place that will haunt your imagination and raise your spirits, as it did his.
Like Gerald Brenan’s South from Granada, Sacred Sierra is a reminder that all good things perish, and most of the best perish in Spain A timely distinction divides the two books: both are bracing about the uncertainty of life, the hovering presence of disaster and accident, and human need for a direct relationship with the earth, but it is as though South From Granada – in Jason Webster’s case the heading is north from Valencia – has been compellingly overhauled for the eco-generation… Webster is a clever, hugely readable interpreter of Spain… Deserves to be – and undoubtedly will be – one of the most successful books about Spain this year.
Julian Evans, in The Independent
Entertaining, accessible and sincere… Readers and travellers alike – whether stranded in their comfy chair at home or already abroad and determined never to return to these shores – should pick up this gentle and moving guide to the discovery of an enviably unspoilt paradise.
Rory MacLean, in The Guardian
A charming, honest and fascinating account of a tough but enjoyable tussle with a hard-scrabble Spanish mountain farm… Millions of us in this cramped, over-regulated island dream of this sort of adventure; Webster has succeeded triumphantly in his.
Robert Carver in the Daily Mail
Appealingly conversational… an inspiring account of a young couple learning to deal with the vicissitudes of their rural idyll.
Chris Stewart in The Telegraph
Webster has the endearing writer’s knack of making us laugh and weep along with him… The colour and viguour of [his] prose infuses even the most humdrum domestic events with life and drama… This book is written in the sympathetic tradition of Chris Stewart’s best-selling Driving Over Lemons, but is even better.
Nigel Jones, in The Sunday Telegraph
Hugely informative… Most of us have fantasised about this sort of thing. It isn’t easy, but if you have the total commitment of these two, their intelligence and empathy with the landscape and the people, it can be done. I was left hoping that they will live happily ever after.
Robert Hanbury-Tenison, in Country Life
Webster offers both the humorous depictions of local traditions and idiosyncratic figures that we might expect, and a more searching Sebaldian perception of historical events that have shaped society… A blast of sunshine, full of wholesome, comic efforts at old-fashioned farming, wry observations about mountain attitudes, and, albeit with a nostalgic perspective on that old chestnut of rural authenticity versus modern progress, an optimistic vision of life.
Alison Ribeiro de Menezes, in The Irish Times