The Spanish landscape designer Eduardo Mencos has spent the past 8 years leading the effort to have the region of La Vera to be recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Besides designing some of the most spectacular gardens in Spain, he also wrote several books and made some films on the rich and varied gardens of Spain. His passion for monochromatic planting arrangements, the treatment of light and perspective, the use of indigenous plants and the leading role of water has turned the landscape of “La Lancha”, his residence in Jarandilla de la Vera, into Mencos’ most beloved garden.
“La Vera is a garden.“
Question: How did you get to know the area of La Vera de Gredos and why did you choose Jarandilla as your place of residence?
Answer: The first time I heard about La Vera was in the late 70s. I was a sheep farmer and I came to meet an Irish goatherd who produced 50% more milk with his goats than usual. Quite a character who showed me a much more lush and fertile land than Guadalajara, where I had my sheep and bees.
Q: What drew your attention most when you first arrived?
A: The fruitful encounter between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic world: English-style oak trees next to stunted olive trees; rock and water; ferns next to prickly pears; sun and rain in abundance; distinct popular architecture on the one and and on the other an emperor (Emperor Charles V) who has lived all the luxuries the world can afford and spends the last years of his life here in sobriety and humility in the company of monks. And as a Meseta gardener, what more could you ask for than to always have a centennial garden around you, as is the case anywhere in La Vera? La Vera is a garden.
Q: Now that you’ve spent more years here, what would you say is its biggest draw?
A: The same ones that the emperor was looking for: friendly and secluded nature, peace, simplicity, water, light …
Q: How much time do you spend at your house in La Vera?
A: At least six months out of the year. Technology and communications make it easier all the time for us to live here.
Q: How does your routine change when you are here?
A: As soon as I arrive I begin to notice that I get into a better mood and breathe more happily. The air smells of oak, lavender, mimosa, fig tree … well, of life and of paprika.
Q: Would you say that La Vera de Gredos is still a relatively unknown area? How is it perceived in the rest of Spain?
A: I think it has become a reference for tourism. It is know for its abundance of water, for nature tourism and, of course, for the celebrities who have come here to enjoy life.
“La Vera meets all the requirements of the UNESCO, but one has to submit a candidacy and have it approved by UNESCO”
Q: What is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve?
A: UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are territories seeking to find a balance between the conservation of biological and cultural diversity on the one hand and economic and social development on the other, through the relationship of the people with their surrounding nature.
Q: Why is it important for La Vera to be recognized as a Biosphere Reserve?
A: It is an award that comes with funding for the protection and development of the area. It is an award that values the area’s products, and that gives us a chance to improve and to pursue excellence for La Vera. It rewards the existing qualities of the area while hardly imposing more limitations than those that currently exist. In short, being declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is similar to when they name you a UNESCO World Heritage city or ward your film an Oscar: it puts you on the world map.
Q: What requirements does La Vera already meet to be declared a Biophere Reserve?
A: La Vera in principle meets all the requirements of the UNESCO, but one has to submit a candidacy and have it approved by UNESCO. We are between two Biosphere Reserves: the Sierra de Béjar and Monfragüe. The two of them can tell us about the benefits it has brought to their lands and inhabitants.
Q: What obstacles have you encountered in trying to encourage the area to submit its candidacy?
A: The word Reserve produces misgivings amongst the La Vera population. Explaining what a Biosphere Reserve is and how it would positively affect them is the way to clear those fears. Asking people who already live in a Biosphere Reserve about all the issues that concern the inhabitants of La Vera is the immediate objective. In short: to let them know first-hand what a Biosphere Reserve is and the positive results it has already had in other places, such as in nearby Monfragüe. Spain is the country with the most UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the world, 52 and growing. There must be a good reason for that.
“I would like a La Vera where there is encounter and friendship between those who were born here and those who have adopted it as their home.“
Q: Is there anything you think the area is missing that you would like to see improve?
A: A kinder, more diligent and efficient bureaucracy for anyone who would like to start a project here. This is a complaint I often hear, about all the difficulties people encounter when trying to start something. A good internet network and larger businesses with more added value that retain the more qualified population are also necessary. And finally, to establish quality tourism.
Q: If you imagine the La Vera area in 5 years from now, how would you like to see it?
A: I would like a La Vera where there is encounter and friendship between those who were born here and those who have adopted it as their home. A La Vera where we can all contribute what carry inside to this beautiful land. An arcadian La Vera, rich in ideas, culture and agriculture that is a benchmark of good work for other places. Dreaming is for free and I prefer to dream of Tuscany rather than of Torremolinos
Eduardo Mencos’ favorite places in La Vera:
“The list is endless, every time I see a farm or take a walk, I travel through a microcosm of landscapes, north-south, aromas and sensations that lead me to feel that it is a place full of hidden gems.”
El Molino: restaurant next to Garganta Alardos in Madrigal de la Vera.
Llano Tineo: restaurant and hotel in Villanueva de la Vera.
Villa Xahariz: restaurant and hotel in Jaraíz de la Vera.
Vaquería Cantaelgallo: country hotel complex with a lovely garden in Jaraíz de la Vera.
Quinta de la Cerca: great for events. In Jarandilla de la Vera.
El Trabuquete: for hikes and to visit its rock pool. In Guijo de Santa Barbara.