By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Asturias’ landscapes are simply amazing. Mixing sea and mountain they offer so many breathtaking sites that hiking, biking, skiing or simply driving you will be taken in an exceptionally well-preserved nature. Not to mention the rustic yet delicious food!
Asturias is a Spanish region on the northern Atlantic coast of the country easily reached with direct flights from many European cities. We began our discovery of Asturias in our previous article visiting Gijon and its seafront. Today let us take you inland. In the first century AD famous Greek geographer and traveller Strabo already boasted the beauties of the region. A first national park was created in 1918 and today there are no less than ten World Biosphere Reserves. Protecting nature is not something new here and it really shows when you look at the preserved landscapes and the rich wild life. Several species that are endangered or extinct in other parts of the world such as brown bear or grouse have been protected for decades and enjoy a “safe” life in a rich ecosystem.
Nature activities in Asturias
During our stay in Asturias we mostly visited Aller, a small mountainous area in the southern part of the region. Here small rivers have dug deep gorges through the mountain, beautiful oak, chestnut and beech forest shelter numerous wild animals, high peaks offer 360° spectacular views and a vast network of hiking and biking trails can take you to all these beautiful places. You can of course explore the area on your own but I highly recommend booking the services of a guide. You can get in touch with “Jarascada” a nature guides company proposing quality mountain activities. “Jarascada” is a word of the local language depicting the very first snow that falls in the area in autumn. A very poetic word that says a lot about the connection between nature and human beings in Asturias’ Mountain!
They organise year-round activities in the Cantabrian Mountains and the spectacular Picos de Europa as well as in the Pyrenees. In spring and summer time they can take you on special tours to see brown bears or go hiking for 3 or 5 days on the circular way going through and around the Picos de Europa massif with stops in mountain shelters. You can also learn more about stars and comets during a night astronomy workshop or discover the Roman Way of the Carisa, an ancient road created during the Roman colonisation to link Asturias and Leon. There are also one-night bivouac in a magical spot to enjoy unique sunset and sunrise. In autumn at daybreak they can take you to well-chosen places where you will be able to listen to the bellowing of the deer. Their most popular tour that is booked weeks in advance is the night route with snowshoes. Walking under a moon lit sky on the sparkling snow will undoubtedly build life long memories. More at www.jarascada.es
On your own you can make easier excursions to the Xurbeo waterfall, the Foces de el Pino or the Foces de Rio Aller gorges… On the way you can stop in lovely villages and simply enjoy the surrounding landscape. In winter a small ski resort is open in Aller Valley. Called Fuentes de Invierno the resort has 15 slopes (3 green, 3 blue, 6 re and 3 black ones) with modern ski lifts. It is the perfect place for unusual winter holidays far from trendy crowded resorts.
There are also many architectural places of interest to visit in Asturias. In ancient times Romans occupied the region for several centuries. They were interested in the rich gold and silver mines but also built cities and villas. Close to Gijon you can go to Veranes Villa and discover this vast archaeological site that used to be the home and farm of a rich family of Roman citizens. Not much of the walls are still standing but you will see nice mosaics and the surrounding landscape is both spectacular and relaxing. Some village churches are worth visiting. Several of these Romanesque churches date way back to the 12th and 13th centuries and still sheltered remarkable elements such as San Vincente church in Serrapio village that has a surprising votive altar from Roman time dedicated to Jupiter and moving colourful frescoes.
Exciting authentic cuisine
You may not call it gastronomic or sophisticated but the cuisine made in Asturias is a generous and authentic one made with excellent local products. We made hearty meals meant to fulfil hungry hikers and bikers and discovered local tasty recipes. Vegans may have a hard time here since most dishes include the delicious and quality meat produced in the surrounding mountains. Beef, pork and game are the stars of this rustic cuisine.
They make all kinds of hotpots with cabbage (pote de berzas), beans, chorizo, bacon and black sausage (fabada), chestnuts and vegetables slowly cooked with the right amount of spices. Amazingly you will still have room for dessert! Have a creamy rice pudding, a delicious almond tart or why not try the local “panchon”. Panchon is like no other dessert I have ever tried. They first make a big amount of dough with spelt flour, water and salt. The dough is wrapped in tree leaves and slowly cooked on the embers for several hours. Once cooked the ‘bread” is crumbled and mixed with melting butter and honey. Worth give it a try!
Here are three restaurants to enjoy these specialities:
In Nembra village: “La Casona de Nembra” renowned for its tasty fabada.
In Felechosa: The restaurant of the “Torres Hotel” is said to be the best place in all Aller to eat game. A well-deserved reputation! They also sell home made take away vacuum-packed ham, chorizo, game, terrines…
At “Cal Xabu” in small Cuerigo village, perched in the mountains, we made a meal to remember! The restaurant was opened many years ago by a local housewife who loved cooking. She soon became famous and even great chefs came to Cuerigo to taste her cuisine. Today her two sons are in charge and work with the same generosity and know-how. Everything is home made with fresh products and absolutely delicious. Try the “Pote Castanes” a very secret recipe of the local chestnut hotpot. This is the place to go to if you want to taste panchon. They serve local cider and will soon propose their own homemade juices and soft drinks!
Asturias truly is a land of plenty. People are welcoming, landscapes are breathtaking and food is incredibly generous and tasty. Definitely a place to discover!
More information at www.aller.es and www.turismoasturias.es/en/home
Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes
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