The question “Do you want to quit your life and resurrect the Alharía?” is a very serious one. Half a millenia ago, the finca offered livelihood for some hundred people. Now, there are four siblings left, fighting to keep their childhood home and restore it to its former glory. And they’re looking for a hand. “We don’t want temporary volunteers coming and going”, Anjoulie explains. “We need people who are willing to stay here for at least a couple of years, who are interested in making a living off of the land.”
The Alharía, breathtakingly situated in the lush Valle del Genal, dates back to Moorish times. It’s well over 500 years old; perhaps as old as 800. It’s easy to see why the siblings – Laura, Jakob, Anjoulie and Akbar – would want to keep in in the family, despite living in Austria and Germany themselves. The siblings recently took over the Alharía from their father, Homayun, who has become something of an Andalucían legend. “When he first came here in 1984, local people were sceptical”, Laura admits. “At first, he focused on the finca; renovating the buildings, growing fruit and vegetables, producing olive oil, raising goats and doing all kinds of projects. In 1994 a forest fire destroyed most of the land. After that, he redirected his energy towards restoring the trees. He did it together with local people, introducing new techniques aimed at forest preservation. Over the years, his devotion and knowledge made him well known around here”, she says.
Growing up on the finca was not always easy, according to Anjoulie. The family had little money and produced most necessities themselves. “Don’t just sit around!”, Homayun would exclaim: “Go pick some figs! Make yourselves useful!” Laura laughs at the memory and confesses to saying the exact same things to her own children.
Today, the finca has seven bedrooms, a salon, two kitchens and a patio. There is an olive mill, a distillery and a workshop. It makes a spacious and eclectic meeting point for the family, allowing for all kinds of endeavours. Upon our arrival, Anjoulie and her partner are in the midst of making apricot schnapps.
We ask the siblings what the greatest allure of the Alharía is; why they’re determined to keep it, despite the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done. They tell us that time ceases to exist on the finca. The distractions, conflicts and turmoil of the outside world gradually fades away. “All that matters is right now and the tasks at hand”, says Laura. “I sometimes start reading the newspaper, but quickly lose interest and put it down.” This is an interesting remark, because it’s very similar to our own experience of spending time in Gaucín – even in the middle of the village: the drama and intensity of the surrounding nature, the mountainous views and the remoteness creates a feeling of being above it all; a feeling of well needed perspective and detachment from seemingly acute mondaneity.
On the finca, there’s a wide array of trees: avocado, tangerine, orange, lemon, kumquat, passion fruit, cherimoya, lychee, persimmon, loquat, feijoa, apple, pear, apricot, plum, mulberry, fig, pomegranate, pecan, walnuts, hazelnuts, almond, pine and carob. In addition, there is a vegetable garden. For now, the produce is limited to the personal consumption of the family, but there is great, unfulfilled potentiality. “It is absolutely possible to make a living here. People have done it for a thousand years”, the siblings remark.
If not for a thousand years, but for his entire life, neighbour Diego has done just that. As we sit in the garden, under a giant walnut tree, enjoying a gin and tonic, he drops by with his cousin. Diego, now approaching his sixties, tells us that he used to go to school at the Alharía. The teacher made pit stops at the big fincas in the valley and the children at each stop had a daily hour of tuition. “That was enough”, Diego contends, laughing. Life in the valley hasn’t changed since, he says, apart from some new machines making work easier. Diego’s visit is the second neighbourly visit of the day. “This morning another neighbour came by with seven litres of goat’s milk”, Anjoulie tells us.
Visiting the Alharía turned out to be the worst idea possible, in terms of feeding the Finca Demon. Obviously, we’ll need to find ourselves a derelict estate dating back some thousand years; what else is there? Should you feel the same, do pay a visit to the Alharía website and get in contact with the siblings.