Tucked away in the hills north of Málaga lies Molino del Hortelano. We are staying in Frigiliana for a week, and are eager to learn more about the production of extra virgin olive oil. A quick search for an olive grove which we can visit without booking a tour leads us to Molino del Hortelano. This small scale farm has been in the hands of the owner’s family for decades. The next day we find ourselves driving along a narrow road twisting its way through the arid hills of Andalusia. An old man sitting on the side of the road, protected only by the shade of a tree, completes the typical Meditterranean image. A few minutes later a sign leads us off the main road and into the gravel road to this olive grove in southern Spain.
Molino del Hortelano: a small scale olive grove in Spain
After a few minutes on the gravel road we pull up to a whitewashed house surrounded by olive trees as far as the eye can see: Molino del Hortelano. We have only just parked our tiny Fiat 500 rental when Juan, the owner of the olive grove, approaches us. If we don’t mind waiting for twenty minutes he can give us a tour after he finishes with the group before us. He puts up the sunshade to protect us from the Andalusian sun and brings out some cake left over from the group that came for the breakfast tour – of course prepared with olive oil!
The house is lavishly decorated with colourful plants, and before we head off on the tour Juan leans over one of the plants and takes a tiny praying mantis from between the leaves. The fact that this little creature lives here is a sign that his olive grove is healthy, he explains. The farm is completely free from artificial pesticides. As Juan takes us around his small production facility he tells us that, although he uses modern machinery, he values the quality of the oil he makes more than the quantity of oil he produces. Although he could use all kinds of methods to extract more oil from the olives, he chooses to use more labour intensive methods which result in less, but qualitatively better, olive oil. Of course, the tour ends with a small olive oil tasting! Unfortunately, climate change has also affected Juan and other olive oil producers. Andalusia has been battling years of extreme droughts and this has resulted in a very limited harvest this year. When the harvest is good, you can taste and compare several different types of olive oil produced at this olive grove, but we can only try one. Nonetheless, it’s a delicious oil and we leave the farm with two bottles. These will definitely come to good use in our cooking at home!
A 1000 year old olive tree
Before visiting Molino del Hortelano, I had read about a nearby olive tree which has been estimated to be over 1000 years old. Although it’s not on his own land, Juan also produces a special olive oil from this tree. He gladly gives us the directions to drive there. The tree does not immediately stand out to us from the side of the road – it’s hidden between dozens of other trees in the grove. It is only when we turn onto a dirt road that we can appreciate the sheer size of this olive tree. Despite its age, the tree is still just as full of green leaves as the smaller, younger trees surrounding it. Just imagine all the history that this tree has seen!
Do you also want to visit an olive grove in Spain?
As we drive further out of the valley and up towards the plateau of El Torcal, we keep talking about our visit to Molino del Hortelano. It’s something we would not have wanted to miss during our trip to Spain. If you’re staying in the vicinity of Málaga I recommend a visit to El Molino del Hortelano, but of course there are plenty of other olive groves. Just make sure to check whether they require you to book your visit ahead of time. A rental car comes in handy when you want to explore the countryside and visit an olive grove in Spain!
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