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Still In Love With Asturias…

 Lago Ercina, Covadonga, Asturias

Lago Ercina, The Higher of the Covadonga Lakes.

Playa de Cuevas del Mar, Asturias

Playa de Cuevas del Mar (Map)

Asturias is still as green and majestic as ever (as if it would have changed!) Where else in the world can you leave such a stunning coastline and in under an hour be high up in mountains so impressive that they even look down on other slightly smaller mountain ranges below! Thank goodness it rains so much in Asturias, to keep it all so deep green, and to keep the developers at bay!

We stayed at the extremely nice, exceptionally friendly La Rondita. And it didn’t rain once!

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The Destruction of the Spanish Coasts…

Gandia Beach, Pedalo, Appartments

There is an important hold-the-mirror-up-to-reality article in El Pais about the well-advanced destruction of the Spanish coasts.

You can read the original here in Spanish or try your luck with Google Translate, which gets things totally the wrong way round sometimes in its English version, e.g. “by 2030 the entire Spanish coast is untouched by human activities.” – Err I think the article actually says that by 2030 the entire Spanish coast will be affected/damaged by human activity – that’s if things continue at the current rate:

More than 50% of the beaches and 70% of the dunes belonging to the Spanish coast have been damaged or seriously altered; 60% of the wetlands that were present in 1950 have disappeared; more than 60% of the land immediately surrounding the beaches on the Mediterranean, southern Atlantic, and island coastlines, has been urbanised.

So by 2030, bye bye to the rest. The concrete necklace that separates Spain from the sea will be complete.

But wasn’t there a ‘Ley de Costas’ (Law of the Coasts) that was passed to protect this fragile ecosystem?

According to the article it is largely steam rolled by all-powerful corporations, with local councils (who need/want the cash) in their back pockets.

What’s the solution?

I suspect it has to be ground-up – people have to choose to look for well-established and/or environmentally conscious holiday locations, rather than booking into the big new resorts that have just landed on the latest bit of ‘pristine’ coastline…

Unfortunately we are due to spend some time before the season is over in one-such new beach urbanización on Spain’s southern Atlantic coast (visiting relatives there), and having read the above article, I don’t feel overly happy about that…

We’ll think more carefully about trips like this in the future, and try to keep to the kind of eco-friendly place we were lucky enough to find in Asturias.

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Inspiring Asturian Dream – Posada Del Valle

Quick point: we don’t do paid or sponsored hotel reviews, in fact I hardly every write about accommodation, unless it is exceptionally recommendable, as is the case here… With that in mind:

There’s nothing like going on a holiday that leaves you with a feeling not just of relaxation and rejuvenation, but with a renewed sense of inspiration, purpose, and dedication all thrown in.

We’re obviously getting lucky with (or better at selecting) our Spain trips these days, because the last two places we’ve stayed have done just that.

First there was the extremely inspiring art retreat at Cortijada Los Gazquez, that left us convinced of the possibility of living with almost zero environmental impact (and left me better at drawing too!), and now we return particularly inspired from Posada del Valle in Asturias.

Posada del Valle, Asturias

Like Cortijada Los Gazquez, Posada del Valle is the exceptionally well executed realisation of a brilliant dream. The idea is set out clearly in a well-worth-the-read document produced by the British owners Nigel and Joanne Burch, called What We Do And Why (PDF download link here). The “overall philosophy and aims of the hotel” are:

To be a viable business.
To offer an enjoyable high-quality experience for our guests.
To have a low environmental impact.
To co-operate with likeminded producers, especially in the local area.
To integrate our farm into the hotel.
To further our guests understanding and appreciation of biodiversity, nature conservation,
and food production systems.
To share our beliefs and experiences with others.

How many hotels have a philosophy, for a start? And one that aims to leave their guests wiser than when they arrived? Just reading the document above alone leaves you feeling like an expert in how to run an organic vegetable patch and a small, bio-diverse, sustainable organic farm!

And after a few conversations with owner Nigel (at my instigation, no preaching involved here), and strolls around the farm trail, I certainly do have a much greater “understanding and appreciation of biodiversity, nature conservation, and food production systems“. Plus I know all about the environmental dangers of chemical-based mono-cropping, and have lots of ideas about how I can make more simple changes to ‘do my bit’ for the health of the planet.

Philosophies aside, the location itself is also rather exceptional. Perched on the side of a steep valley a few kilometers from Arriondas, it is surrounded on all sides by the Picos de Europa, the Ponga mountains and the Sueve range, making for fairytale views – as I said in another piece about Asturias years ago:

The mountains are so fierce and sit so close to the coast that you imagine them put there by some imaginative storyteller, who would have giants sliding down them each morning for a quick wash in the sea. The foothills behind the cliffs are so green, the cows that graze them so picture-perfect and the woodlands and vegetable patches so ornate, that one would hardly be surprised to stumble across Hansel and Gretel, or houses made of chocolate.

Picos de Europa View

All of this lies before you as you set out each morning from the hotel, or wander the grounds, exploring the farm, accompanied by friendly chickens, with the smell of wild mint under foot.

Our favourite trip was to La Pesanca, deep in the valley above Espinadero.

La Pesanca, Asturias

Travelling with our toddler, we had no chance of following the whole trail up to Les Vizcares, but the starting point of this, one of the hotels many meticulously detailed guided walking routes, was stunning in itself – just a picnic area above a raging mountain stream, beneath a dense forest of trees – pure green nature, of the kind it’s easy to forget exists any more when you live in Madrid.

So why was the stay so inspiring?

It was inspiring to see a business so well run – to be personally helped to choose your days activities over breakfast, and given a wealth of personal notes and guides as you set out each day, to be using hand-made organic soap in the bathroom made with the hotel’s lemon verbana leaves, to be drinking organic apple juice made from the farm’s apple trees, and to be eating delicious organic suppers from the farm’s fields (and to look from the supper table at Nigel chasing his horses away from a delicate tree in the field below the restaurant windows one moment, only to find him seconds later at your side asking what you’d like to drink with your meal!)

Vegetable Patch, Posada Del Valle, Asturias

And it was inspiring to learn so much (to see so much in action) about organic sustainable farming, and to come away with the inspiration to live more ecologically, and to have fallen into deep streams of thought like this, that I scribbled down in my notebook one afternoon as I wandered along one of the farm trails:

If all the world’s great minds and powers turned their attentions to improving the lot of the whole planet, its ecology, ecosystems, species, and biodiversity, instead of just the lot and comfort of humans as the ‘top of the tree’ species, I have no doubt that very quickly the quality of life, and health, of not only the planet, but of all those that inhabit it, would soon improve immeasurably, and not only for the poor, but for the rich too, whose material and spiritual health and conscience would reach new previously unknown states of welll-being in as little as one or two generations.

I’ll leave my further expanded thoughts on this for myself (or for a later date), but I certainly do like holidays that make me think, that inspire me in areas of thought that I’d long meant to investigate.

I’m also pretty sure that you can go to Posade del Valle to simply do some exceptional walking, and some extremely easy relaxing, and I highly recommend that if you have Asturias in mind, you do just that.

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Hot Here, Green There

Asturias, Picos de Europa

As Madrid settles comfortably into the mid-thirties (day AND night in our flat – never buy a top-floor flat in Madrid!), I dream again of the green north.

A friend sent me an interesting link of different walking routes around Asturias – even if you think you might never do the treks, the photos are like a refreshing breeze on these hot summer days – click the numbers on the map here:

Asturias en imagenes

Update: it’s raining here now! Getting more Asturian by the minute!

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Spain’s Eco Future is Bright!


This ad pains me on so many levels I’m not sure where to start… Roughly translated as: “It’s name is the BioExplorer Insect Spy: Developer of Future Eco-Responsables” – I can’t even translate ‘eco-responsables’ but I guess the meaning is obvious – as the last line says, Suena muy cientifico, “Sounds very scientific”…

Sounds more like “very optimistic” to me – putting poor butterflies etc in small plastic tubes wouldn’t be my first approach to saving the planet, but who knows, good luck to ’em!

There is more to say, but I shan’t. Comments welcome.

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If I were an artist wanting to spend time in Spain…

I’d sign up for a residency spot at Cortijada Los Gázquez’s Joya program:

“The studio at Los Gazquez is beautiful. The atmosphere changes with the weather. Sitting in the space, viewing the low clouds floating through the mountains, or birds of prey circling high over-head, is an absorbing experience.” – Rebecca Fortnum, who was there in June.

Cortijada Los Gázquez: High on my list of places to get to soon…

Edit: I just said in an email to Simon, that what they are doing in Los Gázquez corresponds to a long-standing dream of mine, to run a creative retreat in Spain. That’s why I keep recommending them even though I’ve never been there or met these guys – you can just tell that they are doing it right, and with the right spirit and energies, and I can’t wait to get there one day to enjoy the reality myself.

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Asturian Bears and Marmite and Olive Oil on Toast

Asturias, Picos de Europa

Photo: Asturias, Picos de Europa
Midnight nearly, and I’m too full of Marmite and olive oil on toast to sleep properly. Marina bought the Marmite – strange considering only 50% of British people are supposed to be able to stomach the yeasty black spread (I think it’s genetic, you have to like it at birth), and it is said to be all but deadly to anyone from beyond the UK at a distance of anything less than 10 feet.

A small jar cost us 7 euros in Madrid. Worth every centimo. Especially when spread over Extra-Virgin Olive Oil on white Galician bread. Really. I feel like I’m en la gloria.

Actually I think this insane happiness coursing through my veins at midnight near the end of February has got a lot to do with a) a very sunny afternoon walk in Madrid’s early-blossoming Retiro Park, and b) fruit trees.

We (‘the company’) just bought 120 fruit trees through a charity in Asturias called Fapas: the “Fondo para la protección de los animales salvajes”. They will be planted somewhere in the Picos de Europa mountains to help feed, and thus repopulate, the dwindling wild bear population, (plus sort out a bit of this pesky CO2 problem at the same time.)

The money for these trees came from the sale of our latest product at, the ‘Crisis Collection’, recorded with our good friend Isabel who is profoundly and infectiously in love with the environment and suggested we donate our promised percentage from this latest launch to this particular charity.

So, there are to be 120 trees with Spanish learners names on them (figuratively) in those wondrous fairy tale mountains in Northern Spain, and that makes me very happy and incredibly grateful to everyone that buys our stuff. This post is really by way of thanks, thanks for El Bosque Notes in Spanish – The Notes in Spanish Forest.

We shall continue to send a percentage of any profit we make to worthy destinations, and I hope you won’t mind if I very occasionally tell you about it. I feel genuinely happy about it, and really hope this doesn’t come across as smug or ‘halo-polishing’. It simply makes work even more rewarding and fun than it is already. And again, this is by way of thanks to anyone that reads this or uses our Spanish materials.

On a sort of related/unrelated note…

When I was young I was obsessed with the idea of being a nature program film maker. This is probably a very very common ambition – especially amongst Spanish people I imagine, who love to siesta to overdubbed nature programmes on hot summer afternoons. Perhaps one day I’ll get the chance to go and film those bears in Asturias. Now there’s a dream worth pursuing… an idea even more exciting than another slice of Marmite and olive oil on toast.

Update: Email from the charity Fapas… “Hola Marina: vamos a preparar una ficha específica del Bosque Notes in Spanish que podréis ver en la web del proyecto … Mi compañero Luis, la persona responsable de las plantaciones me comentó ayer que tiene ya localizada una finca para plantar vuestros 120 árboles … Un saludo y gracias por vuestra generosa colaboración”

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The “Africanization” of Southern Spain

Murcia, cactus

Photo: Murcia, Drying Up

“The Spanish Environment Ministry estimates that one-third of the county is at risk of turning into desert from a combination of climate change and poor land use. Still, national officials visibly stiffen when asked about the "Africanization" of Spain’s climate – a term now common among scientists.”

The above quote comes from a must-read article in the New York times. It is the first time I have heard the term "Africanization" applied to the future of the country’s climate, and it does not paint an optimistic picture.

Temperatures are rising, but as the article points out, in areas such as Murcia this also has a lot to do with water management, or mis-management perhaps, where the endless new golf courses are concerned. But then grass, when grown for golf courses, is said to be the most profitable crop on the planet, bringing in top tourist dollar (or euros) for local communities.

One thing is for sure, Marina and I often still dream of moving to the coast one day, but whereas we used to think about setting up long-term in Andalusia, we now think very seriously about making that investment in the north, just in case the worst-case "Africanization" scenarios come true in the next 20 to 30 years. After all, who wants to end up living in a desert?

green spain Spain Travel

Should I let Easyjet off-set my carbon emissions?

I was just coming to the end of my flight booking process with easyjet (off to the UK later in the month), when I was presented with the following message, in Spanish, offering to off-set my carbon emissions for me:

So, for 4.18 Euros per person Marina and I can stop feeling guilty about the 217 kilos of carbon we will each produce on our retrun trip to the UK, by helping to build an energy efficient power station in Ecuador. (I wonder if that figure takes into account the 50 or so kilos the plane must use taxiing half way round the planet to the new runway on the far side of Madrid’s Barajas airport?)

I think this kind of initiative is wonderful and am increasingly convinced that we are screwing up elements of the planet with our reckless use of energy resources. Yet something just feels weird about putting this in the hands of easyjet, and this time I didn’t tick the box. What would you do? Does it make perfect sense to pay off our carbon crimes the moment we buy a plane, boat or bus ticket? Should this just be included in the ticket price anyway?