Albar isn’t an ordinary restaurant with rooms, and it is concerned with more than ambiance and food. It is at the heart of the regeneration of a village and its surrounding area.
When Clayton Morley, an entrepreneurial resident of the tiny Andalucian village of El Pilar, decided to fulfil his dream of converting his ancient house into a restaurant and casona, he didn’t realise he was paving the way for a recession-busting revitalisation of the community. That is, until a group of local elders, headed up by the mayor, decided to join forces with him.
Rightfully proud of its heritage, El Pilar is a charming white mountain village tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra de los Filabres, north of Almeria.
As in all of rural Spain, many local people still use traditional methods in their farming, craftwork and cooking, and there is a strong sense of community co-operation and social wellbeing. From the start Clayton and his wife Rachel wanted to draw from the knowledge and values of the local community and to support those still maintaining their traditional skills. It is these values and skills that the group of elders had in mind when they approached Clayton with their contributions to the ethos of Albar.
El Pilar is home to around 80 people for most of the year, with the population swelling to about 240 in the summer months. As with most rural communities in Spain, many members of these families have left their roots in order to earn a living wage in the cities, returning to their home place only at holiday times. As a result, the village of El Pilar is home to an ageing population, with few prospects for the younger generation. This is why they are so excited at the prospect of bringing new life and opportunities to their home. In an increasingly multi-cultural region, the villagers have no doubt of the importance of their traditional methods and values, but need a way to give these traditions new life and focus. The villagers began offering suggestions, recipes and crafts. Much of Clayton’s menu is based on time-honoured local cooking methods and locally produced ingredients.
Through the community’s cooperative venture, Albar is provided with herbs, fruit, cheese, meat, honey, oil, and eggs produced by the villagers, and has an agreement with local farmers, who grow organic vegetables specifically for the restaurant.
Albar also supports local fine artists and the craftspeople of the village. Many of the local women belong to a sewing cooperative, making a host of richly coloured traditional wares and bringing a new dimension to the restaurant setting. Central to the story of Albar is a beautiful quilt, or colcha, made by the women using a rare and time-consuming method traditional to the village, in which hundreds of squares of brightly coloured fabric are folded and sewn together into a large heavy quilt, which would have offered warmth in the winter in the days before central heating.