Unconquered Land

April 2016

The Catholic Kings began their (re)conquest of Spain in Asturias, their last foothole in the Ottoman country. Hence the saying: Asturias es España, el resto es tierra conquistada (Asturias is Spain, the rest is conquered territory). 

Like the Moors before him, Franco was never able to fully control the area. From the air, it is easy to see why. 

I flew across the plains of Castilla y Leon and watched the tiny cars tracing routes across an increasingly green landscape. It began to ripple as rolling waves of hills reared up. And then suddenly steeps of rock burst out the ground. There was a deep, vibrant green across the land that I didn’t recognise as Spain’s countryside and narrow paths ran between sheer, stone slopes to villages that hid in sheltered valleys.

Oviedo has a well preserved old town and seems to be a wealthy city. But it is small. My friend and I crossed off the bars on the ruta de vino within a few hours of her joining me. But wine isn’t Oviedo’s drink of choice.

The local cider is hard and dry. Personally, I thought the taste was pretty rough (although it grew on you after a few glasses) but the experience of drinking in Oviedo’s sidrerías is much livelier than the earthen, mossy drinks they serve.

Because the cider is flat (and to release its flavour) it is poured with the bottle held above your head and the glass, down by your waist, tilted (this act is called escanciar). The trick, apparently, is to look straight ahead (although spillage and splash-back seems innevitable). A glass is filled only a centimetre or so, knocked back in one go, and the sediment then tipped on the floor before refiling the glass for the next person.

The smell of cider fills the streets.

I hadn’t seen my friends since November and it was a great place to meet again. Oviedo felt like a grown-up Granada (fewer bars, more offices) and a great place to pass a day wandering, chatting and  spilling sidra.

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