During my two-year work assignment in Madrid, Spain, I travelled to off-the-beaten paths and hidden corners of the city to experience the four seasons.
Cherry blossoms in Valle del Jerte
Cherry blossoms signify the beginning of spring. In early April each year, a celebration of cherry blossoms called Cerezo En Flor takes place in Valle del Jerte, in the Spanish region of Extremadura.
From Madrid, Valle del Jerte is about a three-hour drive away. Located at the foot of Sierra de Gredos mountain range, the valley is flanked by two million blooming cherry trees on both sides of the main road.
Hues of white transform the terraced landscape of Valle del Jerte. When I was there, the valley appeared as if covered in snow, glistening. It was a spectacular sight.
Valle del Jerte consists of several villages where orchards of cherry trees are planted. Navigating through narrow windy roads connecting these villages, I stopped at the orchards, strolled through acres of white and took in fresh whiffs of the radiant blooms.
The flowering period in Valle del Jerte typically lasts 10 days. In summer, the valley turns red with ripe cherries.
Lavender of Brihuega
An hour east of Madrid in the region of Guadalajara, the blooming of lavender takes place in mid-July, in the height of summer.
When I got there I was greeted by a vast lavender field in full bloom. The place spanned over 1,000ha, along a stretch of road at the fringe of Brihuega village. Guadalajara is blessed with abundant sunshine, where lavender thrives.
Despite heat from the blazing sun, I wandered through swathes of violet-stained bushes, admiring the lavender sprigs – long green stems with delicate purple petals, in the company of a hundred buzzing bees collecting nectar from the blooming buds. Heady aroma of lavender wafted through the air, inducing a calming effect.
Only a handful of visitors were seen there. Little known to the public, the sun-drenched lavender fields are considered one of Spain’s well-kept secret.
The annual Festival de La Lavanda (lavender festival) was celebrated in style that year. Visitors, dressed in white, flocked to concerts organised in the lavender fields. Watching the performance in a lavender-scented ambience was a one-of-a-kind experience for me!
The flowering of lavender lasts between three and four weeks. The aromatic plants are then harvested to extract essential oils.
Autumn splendour in Hayedo de Montejo
Hayedo de Montejo is part of the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of Europe, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2017. It is situated within the Sierra del Rincon Biosphere Reserve, 100km north of Madrid. Beech trees are aplenty there, as well as pine and oak trees. It is a remarkably well-preserved forest.
As summer was turning to autumn, the green foliage of Hayedo de Montejo and its surrounding forests took on vibrant tones of gold, amber and scarlet. It was a joy treading on piles of withered leaves and listening to the rustle beneath my boots.
The villages in the vicinity offered excellent local cuisine, such as judiones (white bean stew), cordero asado (roasted lamb), entrecot (steak) and croqueta (croquette).
Snow-capped peaks of Puerto de la Puebla
Snowfall in Madrid city is rare. However, one could still experience snow in the countryside and mountains surrounding Madrid.
I made my way to Puerto de la Puebla, part of Sierra del Rincon mountain range located an hour north of Madrid. Ascending the steep mountain pass, I had to negotiate a series of hairpin bends to reach the viewpoint, at an altitude of 1,636m.
The lookout offered breathtaking panoramic views of the valley. Snow on the mountain had partially melted, making the trails slippery at some points. Winter boots with good traction is a must to hike the snowy jagged peaks.
A chilly breeze swept through the air. The crisp mountain air felt refreshing. Tucked away from hustle and bustle of the city, Puerto de la Puebla is a nice winter retreat.
The change of seasons marked the passing of a year. Bidding adios to winter, I welcome the arrival of spring. Hola primavera!