Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya

Slow life in Tazones

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Tazones is a picture-perfect fishing village and an outstanding spot to enjoy the art of slow living while warming up sipping fish soup

Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya

Located in eastern Asturias, less than an hour from the airport or Oviedo, this charming village is said to be the place where a very young Charles V Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain set foot on Spanish soil for the first time in 1517.

These days Tazones is a bright looked after little village where the colourful houses facing the seaside only add charm to the place. Life here goes at a different pace. Slow mornings in Tazones are made of salty air and murmuring water. Days are easily memorable when you get lost around the narrow paved streets, when you seem to discover a pretty secret on every corner, when every neighbour says "buenos días (good morning)" with a smile and when you can have a truly spectacular fresh fish soup for an affordable price. Fish that has probably been captured less than twenty-four hours before you eat it.

Life probably doesn't get better than that.

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Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
Tazones, Asturias - Monica R Goya
 
 
 
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.

 

 

 
 

An Asturian cider house

Sidra Frutos is a family run cider house that produces over 500,000 litres of Asturian natural cider a year

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Cider is so intrinsically linked to Asturian culture that the beverage is key to understand this land and its residents. Gustavo Costales is one who has cider in his DNA. His family has been running Sidra Frutos from 1935, when his great-grandfather, Fructuoso –hence the company’s name, Frutos- founded the cider house that he manages today. Located in Quintueles, between Gijón and Villaviciosa, this llagar (Asturian for cider house) produces around 500,000 litres of sidra (cider) a year.

Gustavo is kind and straight-forward, with a smile on his face and the self-confidence that being the fourth-generation in the family business must entitled to, he explains that “I started to work here when I was around 20. When I was younger, 14 or 15, I used to come during the summer and I gave a hand with cleaning bottles, distribution, bottling…”. Many cider houses in Asturias are family business and those who grow up within the industry know better than anyone that there are harvests and harvests. However, Asturians have no mercy at the sidrerías. In the land where apples grow, being good isn’t enough. The cider has to have certain attributes that people simply expect. Excellence is just the norm.

The most frantic months at the llagar start with the apple harvesting, at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn and last for around two months. “In those days we work really long hours –says Gustavo, who adds- we only get to sleep 5 or 6 hours, but that is the way it is”.     

As Gustavo explains the process of cider making, he recognises that “the seasons set the pace for cider making”. When the season starts, the apples get into the llagar and they are cleaned with pressurised water, then only suitable apples are selected and sent to be ground down. The resulting pulp is then transferred to the cider press to extract the juice; the latter can take up to three days. Finally, the apple juice is moved to the barrels to ferment. Normally fermentation can take from three weeks to over six. As Gustavo explains, “the warmer the weather, the faster the sugar is consumed, the colder, the slower” and he adds “that is why I said that it is nature that sets the pace, from the apple ripeness, to its collection or fermentation… nature rules”.

From there the cider develops little by little into the Asturian cider we know. The bottling moment can come after four months in the barrels or after twelve, it doesn’t have a fix period. “Once I have the barrels full, I have cider to bottle all year long, you have to take into account that in two months you are making the cider that you will bottle in December, but also the one you’ll bottle almost a year later”.  

In the middle of my visit comes José Antonio, a specialist technician whose job involves assuring that cider meets high quality standards before leaving the cider house. His simple definition of the perfect cider is “the absence of imperfections”.

We taste the cider that will be bottled during the week and when I mention how different Asturian and English ciders are, they explain that one of the reasons for this is that the carbonation of Asturian cider happens in the barrel and it is bottled after. Frutos cider is a well balanced natural cider. Sweetness, acidity and sourness are even, it is refreshing to the taste and it has a dry and clean finish.  

One of the most remarkable particularities of the Asturian cider is the way it is served. At sidrerías as well as at home, there is only one way to have the cider and that is pouring it from above. The ritual requires good practice, one arm holds the bottle upwards, while the other holds the glass downwards, pouring the drink in small quantities. This is known as “escanciar un culín”. The most important detail is that once you are handled the glass, you need to drink it quickly. The air bubbles and sparkling taste do not last long.

Sidra Frutos can organise “espichas” (a gathering with friends, traditionally held in the llagares –cider houses- when the first barrel was opened) under request. The best time for these celebrations is February and March, when the first barrels are being opened, so if you are in Asturias, do not hesitate to contact them.

Sidra Frutos
Barrio Friuz, 28
33314 Quintueles (Villaviciosa)
Principado de Asturias

(+34) 985 89 48 26
info@sidrafrutos.com

 

 
 

Las Xanas Gorge

Las Xanas gorge, located in central Asturias, is a spectacular and easy route for hikers of all levels

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Have you ever pictured a place where pale limestone slopes touch the bright sky while a crystal clear river rustles? That place exists: Las Xanas trail. The spectacular gorge carved by the homonymous river (also known as Viescas) expands through 1.2 miles and it is part of a 5.5 miles circular route. It is conveniently located in central Asturias, in the lusciously green counties of Santo Adriano and Quirós and it has many surprises up its sleeve.

This path was first created to connect the villages of Pedroveya, Rebolleda and Dosango with the Trubia valley.

Both the river and gorge were named after one of the most popular mythological characters in Asturian culture, the Xanas. Legend has it that they are exceptionally beautiful fairies who live in fountains, rivers, waterfalls or areas with pure and clean waters. They are often depicted in a pre-Raphaelite style and they bear similarities with the Greek myth of Lamia.

The first time I visited Las Xanas –Monument of Natural Interest since 2002- it was a spectacular clear day in the middle of the summer. A man we came across, equipped with all the good rambler gear, asked us if we were Asturians. We nodded and he said “I am green with envy” and kept walking pointing out to the mountains with both arms. Back then I didn’t give it much thought, but every time I go back to Las Xanas I remember his comment and I understand for it doesn’t matter how many times you go, it is a walk that captivates you every time. The scenic view takes you by surprise, the gorge is right there, after less than ten minutes walking you can marvel at this wonder of nature. The dramatic landscape might make you feel vertigo, but remember that the trail is completely safe and well kept.

Beyond the gorge there is a forest in which you can expect a very Asturian sight: dozens of hazels nearby a shaded creek. Soon after, green pastures open wide in front of you, the village of Pedroveya recognizable by a church in the distance.

This is a much loved hike among Asturians because its difficulty is low (the ascent is 1500ft) and with a little surveillance (the path is wide enough for two people to walk side by side) children can easily do it. It is especially busy -meaning you might find over 20 people- at weekends.

 Many called Las Xanas the little Cares, a well-known hiking trail in Picos included on the top 10 European gorge hikes according to British newspaper The Guardian. However, Las Xanas is less busy and it is at a stone’s throw away from the main cities in the region, which makes it a recurrent destination for tourists as well as locals. If you are lucky you might even spot one of the cutest animals in Asturias: ponies.

GET ME THERE

By car: From Oviedo head to road A-63 Grado-La Espina to Trubia. Once in Trubia, after the bridge turn left on road AS-228 towards Villanueva. You will find the free parking space when you leave behind the village of Tuñón and right before arriving to Villanueva. The journey takes just under thirty minutes.  
   
By public transport: This might be a challenge since there are only three buses a day. The route you need to look for is Oviedo – Teverga. Check at the Oviedo Bus Station prior departure. The timetables as of January 2016 are: Oviedo - Teverga: Monday to Friday: 09.15; 14.30 and 18.15/ Teverga - Oviedo: 07.00; 10.15 and 17.00. Saturday and bank holidays: Oviedo – Teverga: 09.00; 12.00 and 17.00 / Teverga – Oviedo: 10.15; 13.15 and 18.30. The journey takes around one hour and fifteen minutes.

Best time of the year to visit: autumn and spring

Aprox. walking time: 5 hours return / 2.5h one-way to Pedroveya

Where To Eat: Casa Generosa (closed on Wednesdays: +34 985 78 30 46)

 

 
 
 

Cangas de Onís, a historic market city

Cangas de Onís farmers market offers a superb insight into Asturian food culture  

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Cangas de Onís is located in eastern Asturias, at the feet of Picos de Europa, surrounded by a lusciously green valley. Cangues, its Asturian language toponym and the name used by most locals, boasts the title of city and it was until the year 774 the capital of the Asturias Kingdom. Maybe that is why the replica of the Victory Cross (the original is kept in Oviedo's cathedral) hangs proudly from the Roman Bridge and it is one of the most iconic Asturian landmarks. Legend has it that its wooden core was carried by King Pelayo of Asturias in the infamous Battle of Covadonga, when he and his fellow paisanos defeated the Islamic military force ruling the rest of the Iberian peninsula. In hindsight, historians consider that battle the beginning of the Reconquista.

The first records of the Sunday market date from the Middle Ages. Furthermore, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a major figure of the Age of Enlightenment in Spain, described this market in his Diaries, written at the end of the 18th Century and first published in 1915, pointing out that on Sundays at the market there were "many people and bustling activity".

With a population of under 7,000, these figures grow considerably on Sundays as this is by far the most popular market of the area. It is located near the Palaciu Pintu and Santa María church, in an open plan space. A part of it is framed by a colonnade and while there are some stalls selling clothes and other goods, this is mainly a farmers market. A very special one that tells at a glance what Asturian food culture is all about. 

Most of the food sold at the market is grown/produced locally and most times by the same person who is selling the produce. It is a great chance to engage with the locals, willing to explain the properties of their foods. From fresh fruit and veg, to organic honey, cured meats, superb seafood pâtés, Asturian legumes (if you are a bean stew fan, this is the place to gather high-quality produce at a reasonable price), local hazelnuts (there are at least five varieties unique to Asturias), Asturcilla, homemade jams, preserves, breads (Asturian spelt ones are remarkable), pastries and desserts (look for frixuelos or casadielles), the quality is outstanding. Nevertheless, the big deal here is the cheese.

Cheese is the most predominant product in the market and a reason enough to travel to Cangues. Asturias is a cheese destination, also known as the "country of the cheese". Having over 40 different varieties, it is extremely difficult to choose just one; there is certainly an Asturian cheese for every occasion and person. However, if you go to Cangues, the ones you must try are these three:

All of them are produced in the Picos de Europa area and its surroundings. Cabrales is the most international Asturian cheese, available worldwide, produced in the homonymous county and three towns in Peñamellera Alta, while Gamoneú is native of Cangas/Cangues de Onís and one surprisingly, still one of Asturias' best secrets. A slightly smoked high-fat blue cheese, its quality is superb and its rich, strong flavour will stay with you. Los Beyos is produced in both Ponga and Amieva counties and hopefully its current PGI will soon become a PDO.

Of course there are dozens of other Asturian cheeses on offer, from the Western part, (Oscos, Taramundi) to the Eastern (Llanes) also worth tasting.

Best time of the year to visit: if you are into cheese, October is when most cheese festivals and fairs are held. Plus, you get to try the hazelnuts (ablanes in Asturian language, what most signs read) from nearby areas like Piloña, where these nuts grow in clover. Furthermore, if you happen to be there on the first weekend of October, don't miss the Hazelnuts Fair in Infiesto (16 miles from Cangues).

 
 

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