The first time anyone hears about this tea house in Alicante is always through a friend who’s been there and returned enamoured of the place. And that friend will have gone based on someone else’s recommendation. It’s a chain reaction. When you leave Carmen del Campillo, you do so with the irresistible urge to tell people about it. Because a visit to the “Crevillente tea house” as it’s popularly known, is always a discovery.
Nestling in an out-of-the-way spot between Crevillente and Albatera, this small tea palace is about half an hour’s drive from the city of Alicante. It’s a calm, green oasis in the midst of the area’s predominantly arid landscape. A few years ago, if you heard that it existed you also learned that to actually find the way there was by no means simple. You had to reach the tea house following rather rudimentary directions, a few unpretentious arrows pointing down dirt tracks. Nowadays it’s a bit easier.
“This was never made for people to come here, it’s the house where we live. I never wanted to publicise it so as to keep some privacy. Before there were cameras in mobile phones, I didn’t allow people to take photos,” Harun, the owner, explained to Ling. The rumours you used to hear before visiting also coincided in the clandestine feel of this tea-lovers’ hideout. “You arrive and it’s dark, there’s a gateway,” people would say. “You have to knock.”
Carmen de Campillo is bathed in the yellowish light of hanging lanterns and everything about it evokes the Arab world, takes us back to Al-Andalus. There’s lush vegetation over gurgling fountains, aged wooden tables, jugs, mosaics. It’s hard to decide where to sit because everything has the feel of a family heirloom. Nobody shows you to your table; you have to search it out. Stepping inside gives you the feeling that you’ve travelled to some distant age, to a labyrinth of secluded corners where you can settle down and drink tea. The atmosphere seems to invite whispered conversations.
“It’s my house and we share it. People can come into the dining room where I eat, although there are some places where visitors aren’t allowed.” Carmen del Campillo didn’t become a pilgrimage spot overnight. Its story goes back forty years.
Harun, a muslim from Granada, had a steady job but packed it in to move to the countryside, to the lifestyle he’d always loved. And he did so with this property, almost two hectares of land. “At the start there was just a cave to live in, but I like Arab design and I started to decorate it with old stuff. We have relatives in Morocco and whenever I go there I bring things back.”
They never imagined making a living like this. “At the beginning it was very private. If we didn’t know someone, we didn’t let them in. I had my livestock and the land, that’s what I did. But it grew little by little and we started opening up a bit because the goats weren’t producing so much milk any more,” laughs Harun. His closest friends passed the secret on to their friends and word spread across the whole province. It was the only way, as Harun had never wanted to advertise. They now have a website, although it’s fairly rudimentary. Harun is a man who resists the onslaught of technology and, perhaps because of that digital isolation, dedicates his energy to the manual jobs that are his passion.
The tea house’s decor is impressive for its composition and harmony. “I don’t even have a primary school certificate, but when you like something…” Harun reflects. “There’s a quote by the Prophet which says that whatever you do in life, you should do it with love. If you sweep, sweep with love.” This space grew freely and calmly, like a forest. “There’s never been a project, I’ve just done things as they occurred to me.” And the virtue of this oasis comes precisely from that: in a world where supposed improvisation is so often the result of painstaking design, true spontaneity appears almost magical.