With the brown bear safe, the locals are now those who are in danger of extinction in the southwest of Asturias. Cangas del Narcea, the largest council in the Principality, clings to ecotourism and the agricultural sector as the last opportunity to alleviate the collapse of population, and of economic and social activity, after the decline of mining in the nineties. The region, submerged in river valleys as imposing as they are remote, has turned ancient isolation into the area’s greatest attraction. The traveler arrives and feels a pioneer, as if he were an explorer of something new, and he tells it. There is no better diffusion. The resurgence of wine in the area has contributed to this commitment, which, due to its scarcity and particularity, is as distinguished as the 300 bears that populate the Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias Natural Park; also the greater training of the guides who lead the visitor through the integral nature reserve of Muniellos because they have understood that it is not only worth showing but that you have to teach; and the opening of the Parador de Corias in 2013, a rehabilitated 11th century monastery that acts as a mediator between those who arrive and those who await them.
The inn and its region
One of those who await the arrival of these tourists characterized more by getting up early than by going to bed late is Javier Marcos, owner of the Narcea cider house (two kilometers from Corias, in the town of Cangas del Narcea) . Marcos, who did not enter the mine because he was dissuaded by a relative, acknowledges that the influx of the parador is so great that it even makes the holidays of his staff coincide with the closure of the hotel in February. “When it was announced that it was going to open, it generated suspicions. Then it has been shown that even the existing rural houses have benefited from the greater influx of tourists, “he says while unloading from the car a box of peas that he brings from his garden, a succulent starter to give way to the pink Asturian veal cooked to the stone used in the cider house.
“The parador has given a lot of life,” he says, wearing a blue polo shirt and the victory cross on his chest. But it is still not enough. The population of the council of Cangas del Narcea has declined steadily since 1984 (20. 504 inhabitants) up to 2020 (12. 132), according to the INE. Marcos’s daughter, who studied Tourism, worked for a time at the Corias Parador and is now at the Muxía (A Coruña) reception. “All his friends left town and live in Oviedo. Vaccination was very fast among the youngest, there are very few ”, he adds. The potential of attraction of the monastery of Corias – whose clients come in a 60% of Asturias and foreigners do not reach 5% – and of the rest of rural accommodation it is still large. And, therefore, the future development of more businesses linked to this friendly tourism.
INSIDE THE PARADOR
The parador’s relationship with Cangas is made concrete through the direct and indirect jobs it generates and, in a more emotional way, through the organization of activities for the locals. Daniel González, its director since 2018 , ensures that the vocation is to bring the monastery closer to the people. It organizes dramatized visits, storytelling for children, free concerts by Asturian artists … “The library can only be visited by hosted clients. But when someone from Cangas or another town comes, we let them pass ”, says this man from 47 years that he has been in Paradores since 1996. “They are at home,” he adds. González has enabled some dependencies of the monastery to house a sample of wooden containers that makes a cunqueiro of the area and the work of a local potter.
Start of the party
You can count on the parador. Four friends of the people organize from 2014 the Prestoso Fest, a small music festival in Gedrez, in the vicinity of the integral reserve of Muniellos (the largest oak grove in Spain and one of the best preserved in Europe). Although last year’s and this year’s editions have been suspended like so many musical events, that of 2022 it’s confirmed. The opening of the three days of celebration of the edition of 2019 took place in the leisure cloister of the monastery, where Asturian cheeses and wines from the Cangas protected designation of origin (PDO) were served. The City Council of Cangas del Narcea, where the hospital and the council institute are located, hosted several concerts to bring about that union between those who were visiting and those from within, a new popular festival.
Víctor García, forestry technician, knows the area where it is celebrated wonderfully. A native of Tablado, a village of 132 inhabitants, is the founder of the ecotourism company Trabau (the name of his town, in Asturian). García, from 29 years, he drives in his SUV in groups of four or six people through the Natural Park of Fuentes de Narcea, Degaña and Ibias. The Government did not grant protection until 2002 to these forests of chestnut, oak and beech where bears, chamois, wolves, martens or grouse live.
“There is a promotional disadvantage with respect to de Somiedo and [nacional] from Picos de Europa [en Asturias] but, on the other hand, there is the advantage of surprising ”, says García, who was trained in León, studied English in Scotland and Ireland (“ how they take care of the traditional folklore ”) with a grant from the mining funds and returned to his homeland to lead the ecotourism discourse. Part of the income obtained from visits goes to an initiative called Save the rural world by which they have restored a water mill. “The way to save ourselves. It is about not letting things die so as not to have to save them later ”. Compensates the carbon footprint generated by the car with the planting of trees.
Life in the surroundings of the parador
Pedagogical and with great transmission capacity –he has given lectures in Italy and Greece on the rural world and nature reserves–, García mixes the explanation of these spaces and the guide in the sighting of bears with the importance that people continue living in the rural world. “It is about implying that there is another way of life. You don’t have to wear a beret or work with cows instead of a tractor, ”he says to clarify that authenticity is not incompatible with progress. “It can be a hard life but it is based on great wealth,” he adds while greeting Magín Díaz, a retired miner from 66 years offering cider to staff. “Here people put you in their own house. They get angry if you don’t eat something ”, he assures to highlight the hospitality of the locals. If not the bear who knocks at the door, increasingly daring by depopulation.
The route, which extends for a whole morning or an afternoon, it leads visitors through La Artosa or Vega del Tallo, villages clinging to the steep mountainside where two, three, ten countrymen live, not many more. Very remote places that seem from another time but that for the good of the region should evoke new times. An ancestral but current life, like the one that takes place in Besullo, the hometown of the playwright Alejandro Casona and which is located at 17 kilometers from the hostel.
Three departures without leaving the province
Click on the three photos to discover leisure, culture or outdoor plans a few kilometers from the parador.
From the black mine to the green mine
In During the buoyant period, in the seventies and eighties, when young people came to Cangas from Asturian towns, León or Lugo, the money supply increased considerably. The best cars of the moment circulated on the dangerous curvilinear roads of the council and the miners themselves financed their participation in rallies. The housing blocks grew wildly, an urban development that frustrates the visitor for being in such a beautiful place, but which explains that “Cangas was one of the towns with the highest per capita income in Spain ”, Marcos says with a bottle of cider open for anyone who likes it. An architecture that, together with the bronze statue dedicated to the miners (1984) and the one that represents a civilian lighting the fuse of a flying (2002) –the Carmen festival honors the patron saint and the past with the launch of thousands of rockets, known as the discharge – shows the significance of coal and gunpowder. Asturias went from having 50. 000 miners in the middle of the 20th century to the total closure in 2018.
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Nostalgia, on the other hand, does not prevent us from continuing towards a more sustainable model. They were better times but not for that reason desired. The mine generated a lot of money but it was very hard per se and for the addictions that it led to. Cangas del Narcea, refuge for the visitor when he has completed the visit to the imposing nature, has great attractions. It has a lot of atmosphere in summer; the Narcea, whose water makes you shiver first with cold and then with taste; a more benign climate than in the rest of the Principality and that favors the cultivation of vineyards —with climate change more—; and a great gastronomic offer. Restaurants such as the aforementioned cider house, Blanco, Chicote or Del Río guarantee what many visitors take for granted when they are in Asturias. Places where you can enjoy a glass of albarín blanco or verdejo negro and the hospitality of the southwestern Asturian region represented by the locals, restaurateurs and merchants. And in the taxi drivers, who trust the four-euro ride from the parador to Cangas if the tourist comes from so far that they don’t have cash.
It is easy to find cyclists climbing the steep slopes of the council more with the kidneys than with the legs. Luis Pasamontes, raised in Cangas del Narcea, crowns the ports more easily. This professional cyclist, who enters 2012 and 2012 competed in the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta, opened a cycling school for kids five years ago in the town. González, the director of the parador, knows the fans in the area and has detected a growing interest from his customers for bike routes. He plans to set up a space in the monastery to store the invaluable bicycles of the amateur experts and a workshop to fix them. “We want to be bike-friendly” , he summarizes . Shortly after arriving, the traveler perceives that the wealth that once seemed to be only underground, in fact had always been on it.
Asturias, in 3 paradors
Click on the numbers to find out more information about the places.
Writing and script: Mariano Ahijado
Editorial coordination: Francis Pachá
Design Coordinator: Adolfo Doménech
Design and layout: Juan Sánchez, Belén Polo and Rodolfo Mata