Spain's Asturias: Wales on steroids
Green, mountainous Asturias is the place for Celtic sheep, cider, hearty cuisine and hill walks, finds Chris Moss.
Asturias and Cantabria, famed for their mountain wildernesses, evergreen forests and lush meadows, are known together as Espa?a Verde - Green Spain. Off the map for mass tourism because it often rains on the northern coast, and because the sea is cold, the region's main attraction - the Picos de Europa national park - is a hill-walker's dreamscape, a kind of Wales-on-steroids for those who hate the crowds and clich?s of southern Spain.
It was the verde bit that led me to plan a trip there. The idea was simple: my wife and I would travel on the Plymouth to Santander ferry, use public transport to get around the Picos, and - shunning luxury hotels, supermarkets, planes, GM food and man-made beaches - be thorough do-gooders as we explored one of the least visited corners of the favourite country of British tourists.
From Santander, we headed inland to the tiny hamlet of Collia and the Posada del Valle hotel, where it all got very organic. After showing us around the delightful stone house, our British host, Nigel Burch, lavished plates of home-grown roots and shoots on us, as well as the tender meat of some rare Xaldas sheep, of Celtic origin, that are raised on the property.
Nigel went into the hotel and organic farming business after 15 years in the south of Spain working in large-scale industrial crop production. "We decided we wanted a change," he says. "We took a three-month tour of Spain with the family to decide where we would like to start our new venture. During that trip we came to the conclusion that Asturias, with both mountains and coast, is the most beautiful part." The three main types of walk you can do in Asturias are lowlands, canyons and high peaks. We did the first two, starting with a gentle stroll that Nigel calls the Asturias Village Trail. It kicked off with an easy downhill walk into the town of Arriondas, where we had a caf? con leche and bought picnic food and a pocket knife before boarding the little train that plies the northern coast. We hopped off after four stops at Sevares and began the trek back to the hotel.