I love the change of seasons in autumn. When we were living in Colorado, the changing of the leaves and golden Aspens were a distinct trait of this time of year. Now that we’re living in Spain, there are new things that spark these cozy Fall feelings for me. The strongest of them is the tradition of castañas, or what in English we know as chestnuts.
You know how the famous holiday song goes in English…chestnuts roasting on an open fire…Funny how even as a kid I loved the idea of that, yet I never actually experienced it until I was in Spain. It was in 2012 that I got to be in Spain during the Fall season. During this visit my mom and her boyfriend took me on a day visit to the small, enchanting village of Aracena, in Andalusia. The village is known for its spectacular underground caves, the Gruta de las Maravillas, and the ancient Priorial Church that still stands alongside castle ruins from the 12th – 15th centuries.
When we visited that November the weather was cold, but beautiful and sunny. In the village’s main plaza was a man roasting castañas over an open fire. He was using what looked like a giant, copper spoon to toss and toast the chestnuts. It was a wonderful sound, hearing them clang around the pan and sizzle from the heat.
They were served up piping hot into paper cones and we found a table and chairs in the plaza to sit at and devour them while they were still hot. I remember having to be careful to not burn my fingers as I peeled away the outer burnt husk to reveal the delicious, nutty chestnut inside.
That same day we had also stopped and enjoyed castañas at the even smaller village of Fuenteheridos. Tucked back into green, forested hills, this tiny village is famous for its natural spring water that is channeled through the Fuente de Doce Caños (Fountain of Twelve Jets). In the village square we nibbled on freshly roasted castañas while drinking their delicious, local wine that is special to this area. The two go very well together.
This region of Andalusia, and its bordering region of Extremadura, is known for the beautiful woods where people can enjoy hiking, horse-back riding, and cycling. In the fall, gathering chestnuts and the local Sierra’s setas, wild mushrooms, characterizes one of the area’s traditions for enjoying the autumn season. Both of the villages I mention here are less than a couple of hours from Seville, so they are popular among the local Spaniards as well. If you’re visiting the famous Andalusian city, it’s worth setting aside time to experience these villages as well. And during the Fall season you have the opportunity to experience these areas without the crowds.
Even in the larger cities, like Valencia and Madrid, you can find people on street corners roasting castañas. They make for a great street-snack or a bite to take on the train or bus when traveling around. I love the smell and sound of them, whether I’m wandering through the city or visiting one of Spain’s enchanting small villages. When in Spain during the Autumn season, make sure to experience the castañas.