We associate cherry blossom or ‘sakura’ with Japan, but the Jerte Valley in Extremadura, Spain, has its own glorious display in March and April. The Jerte Valley is mostly planted with Picota cherries, an unusual stemless cultivar specific to this valley. The blossom is white rather than pink; when the wind blows, the valley ‘snows’ with delicate ashen petals. In fact, at the peak of flowering, the whole valley looks wintery and frost tipped, with blue foothills in the background still crested with snow.
In this intricately terraced valley, there are two million trees and around 6000 growers, some of whom only have a few trees or one terrace handed down from a grandparent. From May to August, farmers, men and women, collect the Picota cherries, by hand, leaving the stems upon the tree, and transport their cargo to the cooperative where they are weighed, washed and graded.
Extremadura is one of the least touristy parts of Spain for foreigners, but the Jerte Valley is the most popular rural destination for Spaniards. People hike around the Jerte river, visiting the ‘Los Pilones’, a World Heritage site.
Prices are reasonable and the local wine is full bodied and fruity. Culinary specialities include orange salad, sometimes with onion or olives, creamy stew of cep mushrooms or artichokes, cherry gazpacho, tortilla, goat and sheep cheeses, smoked meats and river fish such as trout. I tried cherry liqueurs and kirsch, chocolate and caramel covered cherries, cherry jam. Meat can be served with a cherry sauce.
In a few weeks time, we will be able to buy Picota cherries in British supermarkets. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to the valley when it’s full of ‘red diamonds’, as the people from here call them.
Sakura or cherry blossom seems to be having a moment. ‘Cherry’ Ingram: the Englishman who saved Japan’s blossoms is Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4.