So, you’ve killed a dragon or two, rescued several maidens in distress, become a saint, been named patron of Lebanon, Georgia and England and are now looking for some more action. Nothing better than becoming the hero of one of the loudest, most colourful and most extravagant fiestas in Spain – Moros y Cristianos in Alcoy!
St George takes centre stage in these huge, and hugely popular celebrations in the town of Alcoy, 45 minutes inland from Alicante, every year between 21- 24 April (or more usually the nearest available weekend). This internationally recognised festival commemorates the battle between the Christians and the Moors (think Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice) of Alcoy in 1276, and has taken place, in one form or another, since 1511.
The most interesting parts are the spectacular period costumes; the choreographed parades with horses, cigar-smoking sword-swinging Moros; re-enacted battles with fireworks and arcabuzes (13th century shotguns!); and, of course, St George riding along the battlements, leading his side to the final victory.
And if you don’t think you can keep up with all that on an empty stomach, try La Noche de la Olla (the Night of the Cooking Pot) on the first night of the celebrations. It’s a (very!) hearty stew based on the gorgeous, sweet, fresh broad beans of the region, and is often washed down with a plis-play (coffee liqueur with coke) or a Sonrisa Alcoyana (an Alcoy Smile, of whisky with lemon sorbet). St George swears by it!
Today, Easter Wednesday, Lent finishes; the moment that ends a difficult 40 days of fasting.
In case you didn’t know, in its origins Holy Week was a form of penitence, of sentence. In fact, the typical cone-shaped hats of the Nazarenes that are frequently worn in the processions have their origins in those sentenced to die by the Inquisition. Originally, the hat would have been decorated with illustrations of the crimes the convict was found guilty of. Its elongated shape was supposed to reduce the distance between the penitent prisoner and their imminent place in heaven!
As fasting finishes today, you can find a huge range of typical sweets in all the pastry shops. In times past, in order to combine faithful fasting with hard physical work in the fields, agricultural workers needed a little sugar. Over time, these little sugary treats evolved into the famous Easter sweets and cakes
In Alicante province, among many others, the best known processions are those of Crevillente, he famous Palm Sunday in Elche, and the procession of the Gypsy Christ in Santa Cruz.
Last March we were lucky enough to visit the Enrique Mendoza vineyards and cellars in Alfaz del Pi, a pretty little village, close to Benidorm, which is nowadays home to an international community.
Enrique Mendoza started to plant grapes in the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until a full 30 years later that wine production could start from the now mature vines.
Those 30 years of care and patience mean that Enrique Mendoza wines are exceptional, the jewel in the crown being their Reserva Santa Rosa.
Our guided tour included a visit of the facilities, the experimental vineyard where they try out new cultivation techniques, the spectacular barrel room, and an explanation of the process that turns the fruit into the stellar product we can find on wine merchants’ shelves.
Our visit ended with Miguel, our guide, helping us to find and enjoy the subtle flavours of six of their wines, accompanied by some of the finest Spanish cheeses. Quite a delicious challenge!