Las Ubinas - La Mesa Natural Park, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park

An analogue reportage on the breathtaking landscapes in the second highest mountainous area in Asturias

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Whenever I mention that I am from Asturias to those of the outdoorsy kind, a smile on their faces always follows and they go ‘Oh, Picos’. Yes, Picos is a stunning part of our territory and it seems to retain an almost legendary status in the hearts of those who have visited it. Fortunately, Picos isn’t the only breathtaking mountain range there is in Asturias.

Last Christmas we asked our friend Alejandro, who for the last couple of years has been exploring Asturias from a climber perspective, to choose a place to go hiking. And as usual, by taking us to Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park, he delivered.

One of the things I miss the most when I go hiking in the south of England is that mountain air that you can only experience after you have reached a certain altitude. Pure, fresh, sometimes so cold that you can feel it all the way down to your lungs, air. That delicious air that makes you feel alive.

In Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park isn't long until you get that revitalising air. Actually you can feel it from the moment you step off the car. We started our trail from Casa Mieres (León), where we arrived after having driven up a narrow winding road, definitely not one for the faint of heart.

The Park is located in central southern Asturias, on the border with the neighbouring region of León (some hiking trails run along both Asturias and León). The landscape is rough with tremendous rocky slopes and framed by mountain ranges on all sides. It comprises 451 km2 through three Asturian counties: Lena, Teverga and Quirós. Its highest peaks are the Fontán Norte and Peña Ubiña, 7,939ft high. Futhermore, since 2012 Las Ubiñas - La Mesa is part of Unesco's World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

Our starting point, Casa Mieres, is 5,216ft high. When we visited it wasn't your typical Asturian December morning. It wasn't particularly cold (around 14C/57F in Oviedo) and the previous weeks had been extremely warm and dry for that time of the year (surprising even for climate change skeptics). The snow was nowhere to be seen and the grass wasn't as lusciously green as it usually is all year round.

John Muir used to say that in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. The memory I will always keep with me from this little adventure is that of a herd of chamois jumping graciously down the mountains. We were absolutely mesmerised; you wouldn’t think such unspoilt beauty happens so spontaneously. When you go, bear in mind that the local wildlife includes brown bears, wolves, deer, venison, foxes, otters or the much loved Cantabrian capercaillie, as well as birds of prey.

"In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks"

-John Muir

 

In terms of flora, this Natural Park congregates eleven out of the nineteen local vegetation series that you can find in Asturias. The predominant forest is beech (around 65%), but there are also oaks, chestnuts, birch or holly trees. If you visit in the berry season, you might get lucky as there are wild blueberries in clover.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach the summit (Peña Ubiña) because fog was unbearable and we didn’t have suitable clothes for such a cold biting wind, but we were close. However, the last section of the trail is dangerous enough on a clear day to risk it under adverse weather conditions. On some sections the path goes vertical and it requires some climbing. Nothing extremely complicated, but being cautious is always a good idea.

Apart from the unquestionable spectacular nature, in Las Ubiñas – La Mesa you can also find two ancient Roman roads, Vía Carisa and Camino Real de la Mesa. They were first established to connect Asturias with the plateau of Castile. Moreover, you can also visit the cave paintings at Abrigos de Fresnedo in Teverga. Dating back from the Bronze Age, these paintings feature goat-like animals and dressed anthropomorphic characters.

Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Natural Park has hiking trails for everyone, go and discover your own favourites!

By car: There are many points where you could start your hike in Las Ubiñas. We started from Casa Mieres -which is in neighbouring region of León- but another popular starting point is Tuiza, to go there you can take the side road from Campomanes. Tuiza is only 11 miles away.

By public transport: I am afraid there are no public transport options at this time, although from Oviedo you could take a bus to Campomanes (08.15, 15.15, 21.20 & 22.15) and then a taxi from there (aprox. 11 miles). Return buses from Campomanes to Oviedo are at 06.30, 07.15, 13.30 and 20.30). It is worth checking the schedules before you go.

Best time of the year to visit: spectacular anytime. Please check weather conditions before you go. Bear in mind that winter often means snow and ice and it is not recommended for inexperienced hikers.

Aprox. walking time: 7/8 hours return

Where To Eat: safer to take your own food with you or buy bocadillos (sandwiches) at Torrebarrio or Campomanes.

 

 

 
 

El Malaín

This berry orchard, located a few miles from Villaviciosa, is a paradise for slow-food advocates and anyone who enjoys pick-your-own farms

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El Malaín is a peaceful place where nature's rules are respected. A space to come to terms with modern times. A hidden slow-food gem, El Malaín is a three-hectares farm where you can collect organic blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and red and black currants. 

The bells of the cows tinkling here and there while happily grazing in the surrounding fields or the birds singing are the only noise that will keep you company while hand picking the berries. The idyllic aisles of small trees, a far cry from supermarket's ones, are a true treat to your senses. Tasting the small fruits in moderation is permitted and the owners surely know why they allow it: few things are more rewarding than the simple act of picking your fruit and eating it. Pure harmony with nature. Effortlessly delicious. 

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Marta Serrano and Pablo Álvarez started their berry business 25 years ago. Originally from Ciudad Real and Astorga respectively, they fell in love with Asturias and decided to look for a place there to start a new life. They quitted their white collar jobs -decor and advertising- in Madrid and transformed the then grazing field in the berry farm we know today. "Getting people to know the fruits was the most difficult part" says Marta. Asturias' soil is optimal to grow berries, so much so that it is common to find wild berries in rural areas. However, up until recently they weren't sold at supermarkets and some people were not familiar with these small fruits. If you live in Britain it is likely that you have had Asturian berries since a high percentage of the region's production (in some cases over 90%) is exported, mainly to Britain. 

"Some people thought they were exotic fruits from faraway countries" comments Marta, and adds "it was hard to convince Asturians that the fruits were grown here and that is why we decided to open the orchard to the public, so they could see it". These days El Malaín is an institution among the berries connoisseurs in Asturias. Most of the people who visit are loyal Asturians who year after year go to El Malaín, but there are also off the beaten track adventurers who appreciate high-quality berries at reasonable prices. Furthermore, families are welcome and children truly love this place. The farm is family friendly and one of the must-do activities if you visit Asturias with children. 

Berries have become popular in recent times for their nutritional and medicinal properties. All the berries you can buy at El Malaín are highly nutritious but each has different properties:

Blueberries

They are good for prostate and eye health, to improve memory and to treat urinary tract infections.

Raspberries

They minimize the absorption of fat, their leaves may help to tone uterus (it is recommended to drink raspberry leaf tea during the last two months of pregnancy only) and it is believed to have some cancer-fighting substances.

Blackberries

They help repair sun-damaged skin (and luckily they are in season right on time for that), they help lower blood pressure, they contribute to a healthy gut as they contain insoluble and soluble fibre and they contain salicylic acid, which may help protect against heart disease.

Currants

They help regulate blood pressure, they protect against neuro-degeneration and cataracts and they are a great immunity-boosting tonic thanks to its mixture of vitamic C and antioxidants.

How does El Malaín work? The system they follow is very simple. When you arrive to the farm you get a plastic basket to place all the berries you take. It doesn't matter if you mix them because they are all priced the same. Once you finish your visit you go back to the tiny shop to pay. They also sell homemade jams, vinegars and juices.  And ice-cream. But their ice-creams deserve a special mention. Probably a whole feature. I am an ice-cream person, from Ruby Violet to Berthillon to Carapina, I have had ice-cream in every city I have visited or lived. Always. And these are unbeatable, the perfect balance of softness and silky consistency, an explosion of pure flavour. If you are in good health, I recommend you to have one when you get there and one before you go. Excesses sometimes do feel good. They only do raspberry and blueberry and they do it right. 

Once you have experienced the real thing, it is difficult to go back to the ordinary. Enjoy it while you can! 

El Malaín

San Justo, Villaviciosa  CP 33314

Opening times: June - September 10am-8pm

Frozen berries available throughout the year

 
 

Torimbia beach, an oasis of freedom

Torimbia, located in Eastern Asturias, is one of the most charming beaches on Cantabrian sea and Asturias' main nudist beach

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Fortunately the merciless lack of regional planning that has distorted many other Spanish provinces in coastal territories as well as inland is nowhere to be seen in Torimbia. The beach is an ode to conservation and nature. You can only access it on foot via either a paved path from the carpark or a rough trail down the hillside. Boasting a shell-shaped beach of velvet golden sand lapped by turquoise waters, Torimbia is nestled between vibrant green cliffs offering idyllic breathtaking spots. 

Torimbia became a popular hippie hideout in the Sixties, when practising nudism was an act of revelry under Franco's dictatorship. Although nudism wasn't specifically forbidden by law then, policemen were entitled to fine if they considered that nudists were perturbing other citizens' morals. According to some of those who enjoyed 1960s and 1970s Torimbia, police couldn't be bothered to go down to check on people's behaviour, likely because of the rugged and steep paths to access the beach. Torimbia was an oasis of freedom. These days nudists and textiles share the beach peacefully.

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The busiest months are July and August. The beach is rarely crowded but still parking anywhere near it is challenging as carpark space is scarce. The signs to get to the beach might be confusing. You need to cross the village of Niembro to access the top of the hill where the carpark is located. To your left, Torimbia,  to your right, Toranda. If you have the time and the strength I would recommend to park the car in the village and walk all the way up and down to the beach through the coast path. The rewarding feeling of having found a treasure the first time you see the beach is stronger on foot than by car.

If you visit outside the summer months you can easily have this wild beach to yourself. The average water temperature is 20C, it is 500 metres (546 yards) long and it can get windy. The distance from the carpark to the beach is approximately one kilometre (0,6 miles). 

Where to eat: San Pelayo restaurant is probably the best place to enjoy local produce and traditional Asturian foods