Recently, my old friend from Boston sent me his video of snow gently falling through bare trees onto a white rolling meadow. I became slightly homesick for the beauty of snow, but not so much the cold and wet. In response, my wife and I decided to take a drive into the hills to see “Algarve Snow”.
Of course, you probably guessed that I am talking about the blossoming of the almond trees that grow wild all around the Algarve.
This is the only time of year that it’s easy to spot the delicately flowering almond trees around us. In a few weeks, almond trees won’t stand out strikingly; and will just blend in with the greenery around them.
My wife and I felt privileged to see the white and pale pink petals that dapple the landscape and are reminiscent of snow in a Japanese painting.
I’m very thankful to live here after a lifetime of North American winters, and all that plowing, shoveling, sanding, and salting of roads and pathways.
The subject of almond blossoms cannot be discussed without the telling of the Algarve’s greatest legend. Or perhaps it’s more of a fairy tale. I hear it retold often, and I never get tired of it.
Here’s how it goes …
One thousand years ago, when the Moors ruled the Algarve, in the capital city of Chelb (which is now called Silves), there lived the Arab King Ibn-Almundim. It can’t be a coincidence that his name sounds like “almond”, but research on that point is inconclusive.
This king fought and won many battles in many places. After one such victory somewhere in Northern Europe, King Ibn-Almundim met a beautiful, imprisoned princess named Gilda. He immediately fell in love with the blond, blue-eyed princess, and granted her freedom. They became great lovers and they married.
Queen Gilda went to live with King Ibn-Almundim in what we now call the Silves Castle.
The couple lived very happily for a few years, until Gilda started to grow listless and weak. Wizards and sages from around the world visited the kingdom to seek a cure for the queen, but without success. Queen Gilda’s condition worsened, and the King despaired.
When it seemed all was lost, an old man who had been captured from the northern lands appeared before the king. The man said that the queen suffered from nostalgia for the snow of her northern homeland.
For this reason, King Ibn-Almundim commanded that thousands of almond trees be planted throughout the kingdom, to cover the land with white petals and simulate the graceful beauty of falling snow.
The very next winter, Queen Gilda looked out her window, saw a vast field of white blossoms, and she was cured immediately.
I can attest that that viewing of almond blossoms brought forth many “ooos and ahhhs” from my wife and me. As we traversed old winding roads through the hills of Alte, Salir, Querença, Benafim, and other areas of the central Algarve, we felt a sense of awe and joy.
These feelings were similar to how it feels when seeing the simple, poetic form of a snow-covered landscape. So, I conclude by saying that the almond blossoms are a perfectly adequate substitute for snow. In fact, they are an improvement. Because of them a great love story has been told for a thousand years.
By ERIC ROTH
Photos: ERIC ROTH
It’s almost time for the third edition of ‘Festival das Amendoeiras em Flor’, an event inspired by the Algarve’s stunning almond blossoms which will take place between Friday and Sunday (February 2-4) in the small village of Alta Mora, Castro Marim.