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It has been some time since I have written in our blog about our travels but after having just spent a terrific weekend in the lovely city of Gijon in Asturias, I´ve been prompted to do just that. Our base was at the 4 star Parador de Gijon, a converted old mill situated in the Isabel La Catolica Park, where we were kindly given a spacious, superior room with 4 poster bed overlooking the park and it´s many bird inhabitants. The perfect location from which to explore this fine Northern Spanish coastal city.
The people of Asturias are so friendly and welcoming and they enjoy a cuisine to die for. Our first evening, despite being in Asturias, we couldn´t resist having a pre-dinner drink at O´Rison, a Galician bar/ restaurant situated on Calle Emilio Tuya that specialised in the most delicious octopus and lacon (boiled ham) accompanied by a tasty Ribeiro wine served in the typical ceramic cup known as a “taza” or “cunca”.
Our appetites whetted, we headed to La Fueya de Tomas, a traditional sidreria or ciderhouse situated on the Calle Marques de Urquijo. Asturians drink fresh apple cider like the Irish drink Guinness and therefore cider houses can be found on nearly every corner of this city where they are also known for serving tasty traditional Asturian cuisine. Here we enjoyed a scrumptious meal that included squid calamares a fogaos, cecina (cured beef), beef cooked with a cabrales cheese sauce, seafood salad and several other dishes all washed down with fresh apple cider. Mmmm. Happy and content we retired back to our cosy room at the Parador de Gijon.
The following day we spent exploring the city and strolling along the marvelous promenade that runs the length of the San Lorenzo Beach and Bay.
We saw the Eduardo Chillida statue that dominates the headland.
We also saw the impressive Roman baths which are very well preserved and certainly worth a visit. Lunch today was at the wonderful Sidreria El Pozu L´Arena which is at the junction of Calle Manso and Calle Marques de Urquijo. The owner had spent a decade working in the mines in Asturias and his restaurant is now a museum dedicated to mining. We ate their incredible 4-course, 12 euro menu-of-the-day ( yes, only 12 euros) from which we choose a stunning, spicy seafood soup followed by a clams and giant mushrooms, followed by roasted goat, followed by dessert. A remarkable meal at a remarkable price and a highlight of the weekend.
At this time of the year the traditional Christmas market is open in Gijon in the Plaza del Instituto so after lunch we headed there and enjoyed some last minute shopping. An intended brief refreshment stop at the Sidreria La Verja on Avenida de la Costa turned out to be longer than expected as the barman was extremely friendly and kept us plied with tapas, cider and his good humour as we tried to learn the art of escanciar or pouring cider from a height to aerate it.
This evening we dined in the Parador where they are celebrating the chain´s 80th anniversary this year with a range of interesting menus based on the cuisine offered in Paradores hotels across Spain.
On our last morning before heading home to Cantabria, we left Gijon and made our way to Villaviciosa. This small, pretty town is right in the heart of the cider-producing region and is to cider what Rioja is to wine. The famous El Gaitero cider comes from here. In the main plaza, Plaza Generalisimo, we ate another superb lunch at the Sidreria Meana consisting of fabada, the famous Asturian bean stew followed by roasted suckling lamb and, you guessed it, fresh cider.
I´ve been to Asturias many times and it is a place that I always feel comfortable, I always enjoy myself and I always miss it when I leave. It´s simply marvelous and always lives up to it´s reputation as a Natural Paradise.
I had the pleasure of spending the last weekend of October discovering some of the amazing, smaller wineries to be found in the Castilla La Mancha region, the biggest wine region in Spain and perhaps the least known or least appreciated as a producer of quality wines. They do produce many excellent wines here although the majority of the wineries struggle to compete in the national market in Spain. My trip started in Madrid from where I took the high speed train to Ciudad Real. Remarkably it´s only 40 minutes to get there and well worth keeping in mind as another ideal daytrip or overnight stay from Madrid.
The first winery I went to see was Pago del Vicario near Ciudad Real. In fact I stayed here as they have attached to the winery a lovely 4 star hotel, very modern and chic. The winery´s restaurant was terrific too, one side of it being a glass wall with pleasant views of the interior of this modern bodega. I didn´t get a chance to try the pool but it did look inviting. In summer they have live music and dining outdoors. A great modern approach by this winery looking to open it´s doors to the world. I´d recommend staying here for a night, perhaps en route from Madrid to Cordoba. You won´t be disappointed. And the wine, simply wonderful.
Next I went to see the Dionisos winery in Valdepeñas. This was an incredible experience. Known as the Winery of the Stars this family winery dates back to the early 19th century and practises biological farming. All the decisions regarding the cultivation of grapes, harvesting, etc are taken based on the stars, the cosmic rhythms and lunar cycle. Inside the winery they even have an inflatable globe large enough for 12 or more people to sit inside and contemplate the universe which they have projected on the walls of the globe. The wines produced here have won a number of awards. I highly recommend visiting Dionisos. It´s unique.
I next went to see the Bodegas Real another marvellous modern winery with an excellent restaurant where I enjoyed lunch. Here too they are planning to build a hotel which will make this a very attractive place to stay. While at this winery I had the opportunity to enjoy some additional activities including a flight in a hot air balloon followed by a very unique guided tour through the vineyards on segways. Great fun.
My next stop was at Bodegas Castiblanque another family run winery but what a winery. It was a pleasure to visit. The people here eat, drink and sleep the world of wines. They have even started courses in wine appreciation for children. Before getting concerned, they do this with the non-alcoholic grape juice known as mosto. The children really enjoy themselves and get a chance to experience the workings of a tradional winery. I loved this very welcoming winery and our host while there, Miguel Angel Castiblanque, was charm personified. Later I was delighted to discover that on the outskirts of the town where this winery is located, Campo de Criptana, you can visit the famous white windmills made so famous by Cervantes in Don Quixote. Miguel Angel informed me about this and took me for a trip up to see them.
My last stop on this whirlwind tour was in Toledo at the Viñedo Cigarral Santa Maria situated in an unforgettable location in the hills above Toledo. This small yet impressive winery is owned by Adolfo Muñoz, a famous restaurateur who has a string of successful businesses to his name including a fine 5 star hotel. They produce just 4500 bottles of wine a year here but each bottle is much sought after. I enjoyed an incredible lunch here while soaking up the views of Toledo city. Later I took the high speed train from Toledo to Madrid which now only takes 30 minutes.