With the brown bear safe, the locals are now those who are in danger of extinction in the Asturian southwest. 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 is as rare and particular 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 restored 11th century monastery that acts as a mediator between those who arrive and those who await them.
The parador 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 that they serve 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 from 1990 (20,504 inhabitants) to 2020 (12,124), 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 to attract the monastery of Corias – whose clients come 60% from Asturias and foreigners do not reach 5% – and the rest of rural accommodation is still great. And, consequently, 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, assures 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 47-year-old man who 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 a cunqueiro of the area and the work of a local potter.
Start of the party
You can count on the parador. Four friends from the town have organized the Prestoso Fest since 2014, a small music festival in Gedrez, in the vicinity of the Muniellos integral reserve (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, the 2022 one is confirmed. The inauguration of the three days of celebration of the 2019 edition 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 create a 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, he is the founder of the ecotourism company Trabau (the name of his town, in Asturian). García, 29, drives groups of four or six in his SUV through the Fuentes de Narcea, Degaña and Ibias Natural Park. 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 [parque natural] Somiedo and [nacional] from Picos de Europa [en Asturias] but, on the other hand, there is the advantage of surprising ”, affirms García, who was trained in León, studied English in Scotland and Ireland (“ how they take care of traditional folklore ”) with a scholarship from mining funds and returned to their land to lead the ecotourism discourse. Part of the income you get from visits goes to an initiative called Save the rural world through 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 ”. Compensate for the carbon footprint generated by the car by planting trees.
Life in the surroundings of the parador
Pedagogical and with a great capacity for transmission – 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 of people continuing to live 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 as he greets Magín Díaz, a 66-year-old retired miner who offers cider to staff. “Here people put you in their own home. 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 lasts for a whole morning or an afternoon, takes 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 17 kilometers from the parador.
Three exits without leaving the province
Click on the three photos to discover leisure, cultural or outdoor plans a few kilometers from the parador.
From the black mine to the green mine
In the buoyant times, 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 through the dangerous curvilinear roads of the council and the miners themselves financed their participation in rallies. The housing blocks grew in an outrageous way, 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,” says Marcos already with A bottle of open cider for those who like it. An architecture that, together with the bronze statue dedicated to the miners (1984) and the one that represents a countryman lighting a flying fuse (2002) –the Carmen festival honors the patron saint and the past with the launch of thousands rocket, which is 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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On the other hand, nostalgia does not prevent us from continuing towards a more sustainable model. They were better times but not for that reason desired. The mine made a lot of money but was very tough per se and for the addictions it brought. 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 southwestern Asturias represented by customers, 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 between 2003 and 2012 competed in the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta, opened a cycling school for kids in the town five years ago. 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”, summarizes. Shortly after arriving, the traveler realizes that the wealth that once seemed to be only underground, in fact had always been on it.
Asturias, in 3 paradores
Writing and script: Mariano Godson
Editorial coordination: Francis Pasha
Design coordinator: Adolfo Doménech
Design and layout: Juan Sánchez, Belén Polo and Rodolfo Mata