There were three ranks of smart, white taxis outside Madrid airport, perhaps twenty, maybe thirty cars and the one that we took was driven by an aspiring Jason Bourne. By the time we reached our hotel, the location of which, our Bruce Willis act-alike had absolutely no idea, we had managed enough U-turns, over-takes and last minute lane changes, to convince us that we’d earned a large glass of wine in a setting that was hopefully tranquil.
The Hotel Quinta de los Cedros did not disappoint and in the jasmine scented garden, with Albarino to hand, my nerves settled. In the early evening, in the partial shade of trees, the temperature was perfect and dinner wasn’t bad either. The next morning we took the train, bullet shaped and bullet fast, north to Leon for the start of two weeks devoted to finding new wines and visiting restaurants that looked interesting and hopefully inspirational.
The train, which cruises at 199kph where it can’t cruise at 249kph, offered chilled mini bottles of Penedes Vino Blanco and excellent crisps cooked with herbs, olive oil and sea salt. The arid expanse of La Mancha flashed past the window and a sense of calm, which I seldom feel on a British train, washed over me.
The north of Spain offers numerous Michelin starred restaurants and some fabulous scenery. There are soaring mountains and salmon rivers that are reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, only the mountains are far bigger. The coastline has sandy beaches and the cities are a delight to explore on foot. That the north of Spain is seemingly almost unfrequented by tourists, bewilders me, but perhaps eucalyptus forests, Glen Coe like scenery and salmon fishing, are not what most folks associate with a holiday in Spain.
We based ourselves initially in Leon in the 14th century town house hotel Posada Regia. The three storey house with an ancient and precariously sloping staircase, has its own restaurant that’s in the Michelin guide. We also went to a local restaurant with a Michelin star, Cocinandos in Leon and dined very well; the mussel stuffed, martini infused, olives and stuffed tomatoes with concasse of tongue still linger in my mind.
After time in Leon we headed north through the jaw-dropping scenery of the Picas de Europa mountains to reach Arriondas, which we made our base for the next week. Arriondas has one Michelin starred restaurant in the town and there were others nearby that we wanted to try. El Coral del Indianu restaurant, in the middle of the town, is run by a chef proprietor who, not content with one Michelin star, seems to be pushing himself to achieve two. We dined in the small garden, encircled by vast hydrangeas and found the eleven course tasting menu a highly imaginative succession of well thought out creations. You can read about in detail on my other blog at http://www.markslaneyassociates.com
Vega is a tiny hamlet on the coast, a few houses, sand dunes and the Atlantic. Gueyumar restaurant with just one spoon and fork in the Michelin Guide looks out onto the sand dunes. For the view Vega is worth the drive. For the restaurant, it’s worth the drive. Both together make it well worth going. Again you can read all about the food on my other website.
The city of Oviedo is 90 minutes on a rattling local train from Arriondas through scenery of boulder strew salmon rivers, rocky escarpments, wooded hills and hamlets ringed by tiny fields. Oviedo is mostly modern and bold with numerous stone statues, wide streets and chic boutiques but there’s also an old quarter, noted for its tidy streets which are swept daily by the council. There’s a Cathedral in the old quarter and in a courtyard near the Cathedral we found the restaurant Traslaburra, in the Saint Antonio square. The place wasn’t on our itinerary but It was getting too hot to keep walking, it was lunchtime and the place had nicely clothed tables outside in partial shade and it looked inviting. The cooking was simple but sound and the flavours were great. The Clash “London Calling” followed Queen for background music, as we finished our wine then took nougat ice cream to finish our lunch.
The 2 Michelin starred Casa Marcial is half an hour’s drive from Arriondas heading up a narrow winding road into the hills and onwards to nowhere in particular. The restaurant is very simply decorated, stone walls, plain wooden tables without cloths and bare wooden floor boards. An exceptional restaurant, you can again read all about it on my other blog.
After the best part two weeks in the north we returned to Madrid and spent some time exploring restaurants and tapas bars there, the former for food inspiration and the latter to see what was new on the wine scene in the capital. We’ll definitely return to the north of Spain; sparcely populated, friendly, with stunning scenery and great restaurants, it ticks all our boxes.