The “Green Coast” of Spain
June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
Asturias is called the “green coast” of Spain, because it’s practically the only part of Spain that has lush vegetation (most of Spain is too hot and dry). Asturias certainly earns the title. It’s got to be one of the absolute most gorgeous places on Earth. Really.
On Saturday, my aunt and uncle and I made an excursion into the mountains, which are just a few kilometers from the coast. We drove to El Mirador del Fitu, a lookout at the top of a mountain in the Sierra del Sueve mountain range that gives a 360 degree view, with ocean and beach to the north and mountain range upon mountain range to the south (and east and west, because we were in the first level of mountain range). From El Mirador, you can see the Picos de Europa which is the highest mountain range in Spain. Getting there requires driving up a great mountain road with switchbacks galore and glorious views that just appear out of nowhere when you come around a curve or clear a patch of trees. In some spots close to El Mirador, there were cows just wandering along the edges of the road. Cows and sheep are common sights on the hillsides in Asturias, and my aunt and uncle often make the comment that it looks as though they’ve been placed there just to make the view as picturesque as possible; it’s true, it’s as though someone is going through just ahead of you and arranging everything just so.
At the top of the mountain, there is a stone walkway that leads from a parking area up to the highest point. At the end of the walkway is a set of stairs that just climb up into the air and terminate at a small, round viewing station. From there, you can pretty much see the entire world. I spent quite some time marveling at the views, and we even got another friendly tourist to take our picture. I’ve completely given up any pretense of pretending to be cool and non-touristy; I whip out my camera at the slightest provocation and happily wander around with it clutched in my hand. My uncle calls it my spy camera due to it’s incredibly subtle neon green color. I’d take a picture of it for you, but, well, that’s impossible.
When I’d soaked in as much of the view as I could hold, we wandered back to the parking area, and I carefully selected a postcard with a picture of some nice, non-intimidating cows on it to send to my niece and nephew. I accidentally spooked my nephew by sending a [thoughtless] photograph of myself from the dinosaur museum in which it looks like I’m being chased by a vicious dino. Apparently this resulted in extended explanations that the dino was in fact a statue and dear aunt Abby was perfectly safe. It’s incredible that I can traumatize people even when I’m on an entirely different continent. Oops. So, cows, I thought, would be pretty tame. I hope I’m right…
From El Mirador, we headed back down the other side of the mountain to a town called Arriondas. Arriondas is a popular destination because of its annual kayak race down the Rio Sella. The race terminates at Ribadesella, a town I wrote about a few days ago (home of the cave paintings). Arriondas did not appear to be a big town, but there was a kayak rental shop every mile or two along the road (or so it seemed) and a couple of “adventure parks” with rope courses and so on. We stopped briefly in Arriondas, but only to buy gas. From there, we headed further south along Rio Sella to Cangas de Onis, a town that serves as the gateway to the mountains.
Cangas de Onis has become a very popular tourist spot in recent years, and has become quite the “tourist trap” type of town. We spent a few minutes walking along the main street and stopping into gift shops and so on. One place we went into specialized in local food products, including sausages, preserves, fabada kits, and cheese. Asturias is a region known for its many, wonderful cheeses. I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few of them, and they are really fantastic.
Cangas de Onis has at the center of town an old Roman bridge. I’m not sure what year it was built, but we’re talking ancient. We walked across it, and I insisted on taking a picture of my aunt and uncle at the top of it. Cangas de Onis was the first town my uncle lived in when he came to Spain, so it’s of special importance to him. It’s also of particular irritation to him that it’s become such a tourist trap.
From Cangas de Onis, we ventured to our lunch destination, a small restaurant called El Molin de Mingo. Molin de Mingo is nestled away in a hidden fold of the mountains where no one would ever know to look for it if there weren’t signs and if someone else didn’t take you there first. You drive so far out on tiny roads that just get smaller and smaller that you begin to wonder if it really exists. It’s in a stunning setting, with steep mountains shooting up on all sides and beautiful landscape on a much smaller scale right outside the restaurant. The restaurant owners raise a lot of their own meat for the restaurant, and we watched sheep and a horse crazing and chickens and some confused, crowing roosters while we ate.
Just outside the restaurant is a structure called an “horreo.” Horreos were traditionally used to hold crops (like silos, sort of), although many today have been converted to other uses as fewer people grow their own crops (some typical modern uses are storage spaces, office spaces, guest rooms, kids playrooms, and even as garages, where the car is parked underneath.
We spent a while after lunch just enjoying the scenery (and taking pictures, in my case) and trying our best to digest. We had a dish of chicken with rice and a special sauce that’s traditional in the region. I don’t remember the name of the dish, but my uncle told me that the name they use for chicken in the name of the dish (I don’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t “pollo”) refers to a particular type of wild chicken. I’m not sure if that’s what we were served or if we had a version made with domesticated chicken. Either way, it was completely delicious and absurdly filling. Despite that, we still ordered a dessert to share amongst us which is called tarta de la abuela, which means “cake of the grandmother.” I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I think it’s made with some sort of basic, thin cookie soaked in something so their soft and layered with chocolate. It’s like the Asturian version of tiramisu, and it’s delicious.
We started the meal with an appetizer of … something I’ve forgotten the name of. They are sort of like small corn pancakes (although I think they are fried rather than cooked on a griddle) with various toppings on them. I really should have taken a picture, but I forgot. There were five varieties: smoked cod (bacalao) with roasted pepper, a fried egg with Iberian ham, the meat that’s used as chorizo filling (picadillo), blood sausage (blood sausage is “morcilla,” but this was a special version from the Leon mountains called “matachana”), and one we couldn’t identify but that may have been some sort of cheese sauce with peppers ground up in it. They were all delicious! I even worked up the nerve and tried the blood sausage. If I blocked the concept of what I was eating from my mind, it was actually really good. I guess it’s good that I’ve discovered that since I’ll soon be in England…
From El Molin de Mingo, we drove to the closest town, a small town called Perueyes. My uncle took a brief nap in the car while my aunt and I strolled around the incredible countryside setting in the midst of the mountains. First, we wandered down a small track which led past some big fields along the edges of a valley.
When we got back to the top of that track, we headed down another (which may actually have been some sort of access road for a farm), which led us into the middle of a meadow with extraordinary mountains around the edges. It’s really, absurdly stunning. I know I use that word, stunning, about every fifth sentence, but it really is (and continues to be, even though I’ve seen countless impressive views).
From Perueyes, we headed back toward Gijon. Along the way, we stopped in Llanes, a town that is officially the farthest east I’ve been along the Asturian coast. It’s not far beyond Ribadesella. It, too, is a bit of a tourist town (a beach town, after all), but it wasn’t too tourist-populated this early in the season. By that time, after a long day of sightseeing, my aunt and I were both pretty tired (and perhaps a wee bit cranky), so our visit to Llanes was relatively brief. All in all, it was a beautiful, wonderful day.
Yesterday, we had lunch with some friends of my aunt and uncle. One of them is an English teacher who was pleased with the opportunity to practice her English with me. Our lunch was on the beach at Playa Espasa in a restaurant called Fito Mar. It was a beautiful setting, although the day was somewhat hazy and gray. More delicious fresh seafood. :) Today has been pretty uneventful. The only activity of note was packing up all of my stuff… which was a feat in which sheer will power defeated physics. Good luck, TSA, if you feel the need to open that suitcase. It won’t shut easily, my friends, not in the least.