Discovering the Picos de Europa

The sun was coming out nicely now as we drove on the narrow country roads of the Asturian mountains. We stopped in a pretty village called Asiegu which is a typical Asturian mountain village. Juan explained that in the Picos de Europa most of the villages are located on the southern slopes of the mountains because the north-facing slopes receive very little sunlight during the day.

The mountain village of Asiegu

We walked on narrow streets past a number of stone houses before we arrived at our destination: a cider house that was founded by brothers Manuel and Javier Niembro to introduce visitors to the typical gastronomy in an Asturian mountain village. The brothers wanted to preserve the cultural and culinary heritage of their region and now they make this experience available to travellers from all over.

Manuel Niembro introduces me to Asturian mountain cuisine and cider

 

Their company is called “Ruta’l Quesu y la Sidra” (the “Cheese and Cider Route” in the local Asturian dialect) and it provides a two hour of the village and well as a sit-down meal. Visitors get to see a cheese factory where the local cabral goat cheese is made. A visit to a cave where the cheese matures is included as well. They also learn about rural life and agricultural traditions in Asturias before they get to sit down and sample some typical Asturian delicacies. The menu includes cabral cheese, corn cakes, bean paste, a cod omelette, boiled eggs, homemade croquettes, Asturian chorizo sausage, and a pecan pie for dessert. All this is accompanied by cider from Manuel and Javier’s own production.

Manuel and Javier’s grandmother Guillermina acted as the inspiration behind their venture

 

Inside an Asturian farm house with a wooden ceiling and a stone roof, we first saw a video that introduced us to the details of cider production. Then Manuel showed us the ceiling-mounted spigots that bring in the cider from holding tanks in the next room. The spigots are mounted on the ceiling because in Asturias cider is always poured from above the head. If there is no overhead spigot, people raise the bottle high above their head and pour the cider in a long stream down into the waiting glass. This unusual method of pouring is intended to aerate the cider.

The two ladies from Asturian television and me (middle)

Then – what a big surprise – Asturian television showed up to film me while I was interviewing Manuel. The arrival of a Toronto-based travel journalist was apparently big enough news to draw out the local television crew. This was a first for me, getting filmed while I was interviewing Manuel! The two young ladies from Asturian television were very nice and they were planning to accompany us to our next destination.

The Cares River Gorge

 

Juan packed me in his car and we drove down the mountain into the Cares River Valley. This valley cuts deeply into the surrounding mountains, and the Cares River Gorge is one of the most popular hiking routes in the Picos de Europa. The road is also a popular drive for motorists who love scenic mountain routes. In truly awe-inspiring fashion, the walls of the mountains ascend almost vertically from the river bed.

Mountain views in CamarmeñaM

 

After turning off the main road and ascending through a number of switchbacks, we stopped in Camarmeña, a picturesque high-altitude mountain village that features a gorgeous view towards the Naranjo de Bulnes, one of the highest mountains in the Picos de Europa mountain massif. Although the weather was a little overcast, we enjoyed the awe-inspiring mountain panorama. Asturian television was still filming me as I took my photos of this unique location while mountain goats were munching away on grass completely undisturbed by all the commotion.

Another interview with Asturian Television, this time in Camarmeña

It was now late afternoon and my stomach was definitely growling. After we finished our shots with Televisión Asturias, we drove down the mountains into a village called Arenas where we stopped for a very late lunch in a rustic local restaurant. Juan ordered liver soup and pork with cabrales sauce while I requested “pote”, a local Asturian stew with beans, kale and potatoes. Our hearty dishes certainly hit the spot before we drove back to Cangas de Onís.

Pote, my Asturian bean stew

 

From here we made one more attempt to visit the glacial lakes Enol and Ercina, high above the pilgrimage village of Covadonga. But as yesterday, the fog had rolled in and the weather was getting worse by the second. Soon the mountains were completely enshrouded in a thick grey soup and there was no way I was going to see the beautiful Lakes of Covadonga or the impressive mountain panorama surrounding them. With my packed schedule in Asturias, there was no chance of me seeing these gorgeous mountain lakes this time; reason enough for me to travel back to Asturias some time the future…

Lookout point above Covadonga in the Picos de Europa

 

So we drove down the mountain again and Juan dropped me off at my comfortable home for the night, the Hotel La Cepada, where I enjoyed a nice warm night inside, looking out the large picture windows at the lit-up town of Cangas in the rain. Hopefully tomorrow the weather was going to be better for my explorations of the coastline of Asturias.

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