The scent of autumn infuses the streets of Malaga

  A chestnut stall just off the Alameda in the city of Malaga.
A chestnut stall just off the Alameda in the city of Malaga. / FRANCISCO HINOJOSA
  • Roasted chestnuts

  • The season has started for one of the most traditional family businesses at this time of year but sales are low due to Covid and warmer temperatures

The chestnut stands have returned to give the streets of southern Spain the evocative scent of autumn.

The aroma pervades every corner of the city of Malaga and people can now be seen walking the streets carrying a paper cone of hot, roasted chestnuts.

Taking a Sunday walk along one of the busiest streets in Malaga, a white cloud lingering on the corner of the Alameda Principal and Calle Córdoba announces that there is a stall nearby.

It belongs to Carlos Santiago Soto, born in the Cruz Verde neighbourhood and a chestnut seller for fourteen years although since he was small he has lived alongside the heat from the charcoal brazier in the winter.

"This stall has probably been in the same place for about sixty years. It was my grandmother's, my father's, my mother's... and now they are gone, I am here," he explains.

The scent of autumn infuses the streets of Malaga

No doubt each stall could tell a similar story but besides being a business that brings economic benefit, above all it brings many affectionate family memories.

Sonia Núñez and her husband, Antonio Bermúdez, continued the tradition after her mother's retirement. They have a stall between the Alameda Principal and the start of the Tetuán bridge.

The couple have been making improvements to their stall since August so that everything would be ready for the start of the new season.

"We started repainting it, fixing a plastic Covid screen... it's because we love it and we're looking forward to it," says Bermúdez.

María Teresa Segura has been in the business since she was born: "My grandmother started up in the 40s or 50s and I have always looked forward to the chestnut season ever since."

However, as has become increasingly evident, no sector is immune from the crisis caused by the pandemic. The chestnut stands, despite being running for only two weeks, are already feeling its effects.

"Going to ruin"

"We're all going to ruin," says Francisco Robledo, whose stand is on Avenida Plutarco on the western side of the city.

This is something that most chestnut stall owners agree on, like Manolo Marín, who accompanies his wife María Teresa Segura in the autumn evenings on their stall in the La Unión neighbourhood. The Malaga native complains that sales are low: "We might take 60 euros but the chestnuts cost five euros a kilo and the charcoal 19 euros... When you start doing the maths you realise that our profit might only be ten or fifteen euros a day."

The scent of autumn infuses the streets of Malaga

The fear of Covid-19 and the protocols also play a role, although most of the stalls have a plastic screen so that they can attend to the customers in complete safety. That said, "People walk past and look at you as if you're mad, they don't stop to buy."

Saved by regular customers

Despite the difficulties, "We're saved by our regular customers," says Antonio Bermúdez. "Some have been coming to us for 30 years."

The fluctuation in the temperatures this autumn haven't helped sales much either. In recent weeks thermometres have flickered anywhere between 20 and 30 degrees, which hasn't helped at all.

"We're just waiting for the cold to arrive," confesses Carlos Santiago Soto.

From behind the smoke from his stall in Teatinos, Francisco Robledo compares previous years with this one and it's not good. "Last year I got to leave here at two o'clock in the morning. This year I leave here about half past midnight, it's not the same," he says.

He has been at this location for only five years; he and his wife had a stall for 37 years in the Plaza de la Victoria but had to move after his wife was attacked. "It was a big problem, it took us a while to be able to change our location," he recalls.

The scent of autumn pervades the streets of the city but the chestnut vendors are waiting for colder temperatures to make their businesses, full of family tradition, successful again.