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El Valle, Asturias

Terri Mitchell

The El Valle, though a mere 10 to 15 minute journey from the three major cities in the region Oviedo, Gijon and Aviles, is tucked away and even people from the nearby fishing village are often not aware of its existence. It has the importance of various landmarks passing through, such as the Camino de Santiago (one of the many feeder routes) and the neolithic burial site of Monte Areo.

Incredible scenery of Asturias

Incredible scenery of Asturias

Lifestyle

Living in El Valle never ceases to amaze me how the old and the new merge together in perfect harmony. For example, depending on the season, you will see the local community of small holders (farmers of small plots occupy nearly the entire valley) scything their grass for the small herd of cows or flock of sheep they keep, gathering the corn for harvest and then plaiting the corn to be hung and dried from old fashioned granaries (known locally as horreos - particular only to Asturias) or collecting and drying the 'fabada' beans to be threshed and then the husks separated by throwing in the air and the bean falling and husks being blown away. All produce is then stored dry, preserved and kept to feed the households during the winter. The animals too are mostly for household use and as a part of the community I too have begun sheep farming on a very small scale and now keep two females who each produce offspring, which in turn is our larder for the coming winter (thanks to the visiting ram who comes on his hols once a year in summer).

The pace of life is slow and walking around the local area you can appreciate that the community cares enough about time gone by to restore its rich traditional heritage. For example the washing fountains, there are various types and over the last few years nearly all have been restored to their former glory. They are stone covered areas with scrubbing stones, which are located around a local source of flowing mountain spring water, where all the village women take their weekly wash and pass the hours scrubbing and beating their clothes together. In the local bar, there is a photo taken just after one of the washing fountains had been restored and the local women posed in their old attire to give a modern twist to an old fashioned act - lovely.

Asturias - local traffic jam

Local Traffic Jam

While it is always a chore to shop, I think if people had the opportunity to shop the El Valle way it would not be so. Opportunities exist for visitors to buy their vegetable and salad needs straight from the field at one of the neighbors small holdings. This in turn becomes a lovely act of making sure they have only the freshest produce for their meals from all the salad vegetables they could want, from summer vegetables to spring greens beans etc., all picked and on the table in the same day - truly scrumptious. In fact for the local fiesta in July of the Virgin Carmen there is a local horticultural show where visitors can see the most astounding array of local produce fresh and preserved from flowers plants to vegetables a wonderful display.

There is also the added attraction in the mornings of the bread van. “Tomas” delivers a grand variety of locally made fresh bread and particularly good are his donuts, which have to be one of his great success stories along with his tasty slices of tuna and tomato pie 'empanada'. This leads to lazy breakfasts in the garden with steaming pots of coffee - what else would you want from your holidays?

Historic Sites

If lazing in the garden doesn’t satisfy you, perhaps you fancy going back in history, say about 5,000 years just up the hill is Monte Areo with its spectacular viewpoint and Neolithic burial ground with dolmens scattered all over. Some have been reset in place and there are plenty of explanation boards. This was also the location of Aras Sextianas, a monument honoring Emperor Augustus Caesar of Rome, and commemorating his triumph over the tribes that lived in the area.

Monte Areo Burial Grounds

Monte Areo Burial Grounds

Monte Areo has many marked paths to walk or mountain bike upon and even a small model airstrip, if you fancy flying a model aeroplane. The area also forms part of an ancient Royal Way, which in combination with the local feeder route for the St James’s way makes this area of great historical value. You can often see the old breed (similar to darmoor ponies) of Asturian pony with their characteristic black coats.

Fishing Villages

Having explored the valley you may wish to take in a market or two. There is nearly one a day in surrounding areas. Start with Candas and Luanco, two delightful fishing villages within 10 minutes drive away. What better way to spend a morning than next to the old fishing port sipping a café con leche and a freshly squeezed orange juice, shaded from the bright sun by a large parasol and watch the world go by.

Bread selection at a local market

Bread selection at a local market

Both fishing villages and indeed many more around the local area have an array of seafood restaurants with everything from lobster crab sea urchin etc to sardine cod hake and variety of local fish. However, if fish is not your thing and you are more of a meat person the area has some wonderful grill houses, which specialize in everything from lamb on the spit to great steaks of oxen (buey) ribs and steaks of all kinds and at amazing prices.

Cape Peñas

Having had your breakfast and wandered the market and then your lunch, a lovely afternoon walk along the spectacular cliff-tops of Cape Peñas would work wonders. There is a maritime museum inside the lighthouse and it gives an explanation of a variety of themes from shipwrecks to fishing the local area and traditions there is even a room to experience a storm with sound and wind.

Rugged local coastline

Rugged local coastline

The cliff top walk apart from the amazing geological sights also explains the flora and fauna on handy boards and it’s always amazing to watch seagulls flying but here they are below you and not above. There is also a handy bar/cafe so you can replenish any lost energy with another cafe con leche.

Ancient Market Towns – Pravia and Grado

Inland from the coast there are also lots of things to investigate and do, from ancient market towns of Pravia and Grado to wonderful gardens with aromas and canoeing on the fantastic Nalon river.

Pravia – Ancient Seat of the Original Kings of Asturias

Pravia also has a market day and bustles with life in the evenings as well along its busy restaurant streets with dining outside. Try the delicious ‘cachopo’ (basically two steaks stuffed with cheese and serrano ham and then breaded) a hearty meal and easily feeds two, with a salad for approximately €8.

Pravia

Pravia

Just outside of Pravia is the wonderful garden of aromas (Jardin de los aromas). There you will find Michael (a Brit) and his wife with their charming garden and shop with homemade soaps and candles waiting to take you of a tour of their mini botanical garden with a wonderful selection of plants from around the world mainly having in common their wonderful scents.

Grado

Grado – another market town towards the Asturian Mountains but still only 20 minutes drive - holds its market on a Sunday, which is useful as in Spain everything is closed and if you fancy buying some fresh bread, chorizo, variety of cheeses this is your place. Handily there are also some supermarkets so if you were just too busy you can pop in here too. The market is set through the middle of the old quarter and has a wonderful back drop of old houses. You can see that this town was of great importance in its day and drew wealth from around the surrounding areas.

Local Flavors

In El Valle we have a bar restaurant, which also houses the local social centre for villagers but has great, homemade, typical food and deals with specialties in game and hunt such as roebuck, boar etc. They also serve special dishes such as spider crab and a bottle of local cider for very reasonable rates.

If you are a hearty meat eater you can have wonderful meat platters of ribs, steak and all sorts of meats at a great indoor grill house set in a very typical old building with a safe, walled garden and playground to entertain children. El Torrentegui also has a wonderful lamb grill specialty of the house.

For seafood any of the above mentioned fishing villages and more found within a range of 30 minutes have numerous places from which to choose. However in the new up and coming town of Aviles, which is to house the new cultural center designed by Oscar Neimeyer, there is a restaurant with its own tanks to keep seafood straight from the fishing fleet fresh, called The Charlana. It specializes in all fish and seafood, yet, it also has special deal menu based on different items. Recently it was a ham serrano starter, lobster, hake, lamb cutlets pudding and wine for €40 (for two people!).

Conclusion

Anyone staying in the area is encouraged to take time to see the wonders of what is in the vicinity rather than making mad dashes around the region to see what is on the marked tourist trail - some follow the advice and some don’t, but those who do always seem to be the ones who truly visit and see Asturias at its best and realize that it is possible to have a modern way of life and enjoy it in the old fashioned way.


Terri moved from the UK to Spain some 15 years ago and has since restored a property, including horreos, which are now self catering vacation apartments. You can find more information about this area and the vacation rentals at: http://fancorniorural.es/.

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