Asturias

Asturias

Never heard of it.

Thats because you are busy jetting much further south to the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava to burn your back, lose your wallet, dignity or virginity in the mediterranean sun.

Asturias is the northern region of Spain and can be found between Gallicia to the west and Cantabria to the East. Cantabria is home to Santander, the ferry destination and home of the eponymous bank, a seller of debt and false hope. This northern stretch is the Costa Verde, the ‘green coast’ running east west from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Its name is a give away. It rains here. A lot. It is also home to the the Picos mountains which rise up much less than an hours drive from the coast. In fact, they are visible from the coastal town of Gijon, shimmering blue in the late summer sun. The town has an alternative spelling; Xixon. Reading both gives you no clue as to its pronunciation. The first G is done by trying to clear your throat while also drawing up saliva onto the back of your tongue. Next, keep that saliva where it is, do not let it fly across the room as you proceed to the i, this is pronounced ‘hee’ and yes with a harsh ‘h’. The j is just to confuse you when in fact it should be another ‘h’. So far you should have a ball of spit at the back of your tongue as you expel a harsh ‘hee’ then a ‘hon’ with emphasis on the second syllable. The last ‘n’ is a soft n. Think of taking the piss out of the french accent by going ‘on he on hee on’, donkey like and you are nearly there. Saying ‘Santander’ is a piece of piss by comparison, and is the reason Brittany Ferries built a ferry port in Cantabria rather than Asturias. If you still have saliva in your throat “you may now swallow it” (as the Bishop said….).

The landscape is ‘undulating’, a bit like Devon and Cornwall but with menaces.The airport sits right on the coast, on top of a cliff, in a similar fashion to Newquay. This is because this is probably the only bit of flat land they could find. This is farming country, make no mistake about it, and very proud they are too of their produce. I’m in Asturias to do some teaching for the University of Oviedo, the main city in the region. Oviedo sits in a wide valley, upon hills, but between high mountains to the north and south. It takes about 50 minutes by bus, being 44 kms from the coast and right on the edge of where the geography begins to get really serious. A clue is that the few rail and major roads there are, hog the coastal stretch west to east and the odd valley north – south. The bus route takes an ‘autovia’, a two lane quiet motorway across river valleys on viaducts and through deep hillside cuttings. One minute you will be looking up at the fields, the next looking down to a tiny village in a valley. There is no rail link from the airport to Oviedo. You either take a taxi (mortgaging your wife first), blag a lift, steal a donkey or take the hourly bus which runs straight into the city. However, once in Oviedo, the railway happily skips back out to the coast to end at Gijon (pass the tissues).

Asturias is ‘famous’ (in Asturias) for cider, ‘fabada’ and rain. The King of Spain was the Prince of Asturias before acceding to the throne. Therefore it can be assumed that the rest of Spain has heard of the region. The Prince of Asturias title is akin to the UK’s ‘Prince of Wales’ but without the rabid overtones of English Imperialism snuffing out nascent Welsh independence through the vicious application of royal marriages. So, apart from Royalty we are left with booze and beans, for such is ‘fabada’.

The Cornish love a pasty and will duel to the death the right to establish who makes the best: ‘little Philps in Foundry’ or Rowes. Likewise, the Asturian fondness for fabada rivals the energy used by the most fanatical follower of Islamic State for zeal, single mindedness and sheer bloody loyalty to the cause. Take belly pork and cut it into chunks, likewise ‘morcilla’, i.e. spanish black sausage, and then some chopped chorizo and cook in a casserole with big white ‘fava’ beans stewing in a stock of cider. Serve with rustic crusty bread and more lashings of cider. Tiz simple, tiz filling, and makes you fart till your heart stops. They kill for it here. It is on every menu usually as ‘Fabada Asturiana’, just to remind you what region was responsible for letting you slip into farting orchestrations that would rival the brass sections, especially the trombones, of several colliery bands. The chorizo is spicely superlative, the morcilla a dark, black, devil’s penis of a sausage and the pork follows up the main act with the quiet confidence of a second chance virgin who knows how to tickle a scrotum. The beans have been wallowing in all of that meat and cider stock and have taken on the strength of a cuckolded dwarf at a piss up. What they lack in size they make up for in punch. This is not a dish for those of a nervous disposition. If you like your food to be robust, this little stew will stick around and kick your sorry arse until you faint. In short, it is bloody wonderful. The cider that goes with it is a Laurel to fabada’s Hardy. Cloudy and scrumpy in nature, this has the taste of…well, apples, what else? With a 6.5% alcohol rating, you need to be sat down, preferably near a wooden beer stained bucket, or an ambulance, just in case.

Food does not get any tastier than this.

This sums up Asturias in many ways. Rustic, simple, and warming. A comforting place to be, foreign but not strange, different but exactly the same. It is still Spain, but not as you know it. If you’d like a break and have a mind to try a different Spain, come and enjoy.