From Leon, we drove north into Asturias along the impressively engineered AP66. The motorway passes through steep valleys across a series of enormous bridges and through hillsides in tunnels.
At times it winds out along the curving landscape on a massively supported and pillared platform, giving you the feeling of a ‘sky drive’.
Some sections are toll road, but we didn’t begrudge paying the small fees for the fast journey on an incredibly engineered highway. We both thought ruefully of the sink-hole suffering M25 and the myriad of pot-holed local roads along the South Coast.
We’ve commented many times to each other on the visible maintenance of Spain’s free motorway network and seen many workers along the verges and central reservations, mowing and cutting back vegetation and even planting and pruning pretty banks of Oleander bushes.
Our overgrown and weedy West Sussex roads get an annual mowing of the verges whilst in Spain they are not only maintained but gardened by a seeming army of workers on sit-on mowers with strimmers and hedge-trimmers. It is inspiring to see.
Asturias is a lush, green pastoral county with pine-forested topped mountains and green hillsides that roll all the way down to the sea. It calls itself ‘Vuelve al Paraiso’ and its unspoilt countryside and gorgeous coastal villages, as well as its beautiful pre-Romanesque civic and religious architecture made it feel indeed like paradise for two travellers coming to the end of a trip.
Asturias is proud that it resisted invasion by the Moors. Its Christian kingdom was founded in the eighth century and it has the greatest concentration of pre-Romanesque churches in Spain, many in its capital, Oviedo.
We weren’t the only ones in town on a warm Saturday night. A society wedding was being held at the Baroque church of San Isidoro in the town’s main Plaza de Constitucion.
Fittingly in the old civic centre dating back to the 17 century, there were also celebrations for the investiture of a new mayor. Two separate crowds gathered outside the church and the Ayuntamiento, the council building. It was a perfect storm.
The bride arrived with a multi-coloured brigade of bridesmaids who looked as if they had chosen their own dress in disregard of each other. A couple of guests muscled in to help unravel the bride’s wedding train at her apparent disgust. If looks could kill! Meanwhile the new mayor descended the old stone steps to cheering applause from locals.
The bride looked furious as cameras flashed in the opposite direction. We chuckled. The town drunk informed us that the groom is a millionaire author who lives locally. We weren’t sure but the interest of local media in the wedding meant something. For that reason, we were told not to take a picture of “el rostro de la dama“, the face of the lady.
Oviedo’s Gothic cathedral, San Salvador, squats in the stately Plaza Alfonso II and is bordered by handsome Medieval palaces.
Around the corner I inched open the gigantic wooden door of La Rua Palace, the oldest house in Oviedo and dating back to the 1200s. In the interior and cobbled courtyard, a line of welcoming glass storm lanterns held burning candles and tall displays of lilies and white roses scented the air. A smartly dressed porter shooed me out. It was the venue of the wedding reception.
The guests would be quaffing champagne, but the local tipple is sidre or cider. Not fans, we dutifully tramped outside the old city walls to the street of bars and bodegas.
At El Ferroviario we encountered a barman who could only be described as a hobbit with a skill of pouring – and not quite missing – cider from above his head into a lower held glass. What we failed to understand upon our first tasting was that we had to knock back the gassy drink quickly.
The idea behind the high pour being to get as much air into it the cider as possible. Having been told off for sipping slowly we understood what to do second time around. Gosh it hit hard!
Having bought a €3 bottle we had to knock back two more (comical) servings each before being allowed to unstick ourselves from the tacky floor where others had presumably left – or tried to pour – theirs.
Safely back via the swish and smart commuter train to La Corredoria we were welcomed at the locals bar by an affable and unhurried bar owner, who poured us a glass of Mahou Spanish lager and gifted us a bowl of olives and patatas fritas.
Although our visit to Oviedo was short, we felt that we’d had a true taste of the town’s life on a late Saturday afternoon in June. Salut!