Monday, 22 December 2008

Snowy Mountains

With Christmas fast approaching I thought it would be nice to show some of the local mountain scenery covered in snow. This year the snow started in October and there has been plenty of it since. The photo above, taken a week ago, is on the way up to Vizcares on the north western edge of the Ponga Mountains. In the back ground you can see both the Picos (to the left) and the Ponga Mountains to the right.

A small yew forest on the way to Vizcarres

Also on Vizcarres

Sunrise over the Picos

The day before yesterday I went up to the Pienzo summit on the Sueve range (just behind the hotel) to see the sun rise over the snow covered Picos; quite breathtaking. At the bottom you have a sea of cloud covering the valleys

Pico Mirueñu

This is the second highest summit on the Sueve range. Note the Karst depressions in the foreground and the Cordillera Cantabrica in the Background

A beech forest in the Ponga range close to "Pileñes"

Awsome Pileñes (late October)

Farmers hut in the valley beneath Pileñes

That’s me in early November climbing up to Peña Main in the central Massif of the Picos de Europa

Central massiff with the famous "Naranjo de Bulnes"as seen climbing Peña Main.

Frozen plants near the top of Peña Main

Descending from Peña main

And a MERRY CHRISTMAS from the whole family (taken just over a week ago on a flat road outside the hotel.)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Joe and the donkey sanctuary.

Since the middle of summer Joe has been helping at the donkey sanctuary “El Paraíso del burro” in Arrobes about 8 kms from the hotel. The sanctuary has been operating just over a year and is run by a Dutch couple; Marlene and Leo.

Marelene with two of the donkeys.

Although a donkey sanctuary is a well established concept in the UK and Holland it’s a new idea here in North Spain. What Marlene wants is that when the working life of a donkey has finished there is a place where they can go and enjoy their retirement. Thanks to Marlene and with the help of volunteers and people who are “adopting” a donkey this is now becoming possible. Over the last few months there has been a lot of interest from both regional and national media, and they now have 14 donkeys in total.

Joe goes once a week and helps with the grooming of the donkeys and other work that needs doing on the farm. Although some of the work might be similar to the work we have on our own farm, she finds it a complete break from the hotel, enjoys the contact with the animals and has great admiration for Marlene and Leo and their enthusiasm and dedication to the project.

If anyone wants to get involved with the project or wants more information, they can get in contact directly with Marlene at; or contact Joe at the hotel web address

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Inntravel Discovery Day

Nigel and Joe in front of our stand at the Inntravel travel fair

Joe and I got back from the UK yesterday where we had been to exhibit at the Inntravel Discovery day, along with another hotel from Asturias . Inntravel is the major travel agent with whom we work and specialise in independent holidays with a bias towards people who are interested in walking, good food and authentic accommodation.

Every 3 to 4 years they organise a travel fair where all their suppliers (destinations and hotels) are invited to exhibit their products. This year they celebrated it at the Heritage car museum in Warwickshire on Saturday the 6th.

Joe preparing the final details for the stand

In total there were about 60 stands (including ourselves) and it was attended by over 1,200 people, not bad considering entrance is by invitation only. The hotels supply information about what they have to offer; the accommodation, destination, activities etc. and normally have some products for the people to sample. This year we took our own apple juice and some local cheese for people to try.

Joe talks to potential customers, telling them how nice our hotel is!

I think it was a very successful event, with lots of interest being shown by people about what we are doing. In the evening there was a gala dinner with dancing for the suppliers and all in all we had an enjoyable, if not tiring, time.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Self guided walking – a new “book”

Over the last couple of years we have spent a lot of time and effort in developing the “environmental” side of the hotel and the farm, which in general has been very much appreciated by guests. So I thought it was time we did some more work for those guests who want to use the hotel primarily as a base for walking in the area.

Asturias, with its soaring mountains, rolling hills and unspoilt coastline, offers a huge range of excellent walking opportunities; from people looking for a gentle stroll, to serious walkers looking for a challenging high mountain trek.

We have always had a selection of self guided walking notes and maps available for guests at the hotel, and updated them periodically. But after a lot of walking, photographing and fact finding, I am pleased to say we have just finished a new “book”: Self guided walking in the Picos de Europa and Asturias.

In this “book” we give an introduction to the walking opportunities in the eastern part of Asturias, including the Picos de Europa, with brief descriptions and photographs of 35 different walks.

The walks are grouped into the following geographical areas:

Around the hotel including the Sueve Mountain range
Picos de Europa Western and Central Massif
Ponga Mountain Range
Coastal walks

In each section (geographical area) the walks are listed in increasing degree of difficulty; easiest walks first, most difficult walks last. To grade the walk a combination of both the total distance and the total ascent has been taken into consideration.

Most of the information in this “book” has also been placed on our web page under the self guided walking section. The actual notes for each self guided walk are available for guests along with the appropriate map at the hotel.

Happy walking!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mulching, compost and humus

Cabbages in the process of being mulched.

Although there has been a fair bit of rain recently I have still been able to get out and work in the vegetable garden, and I have been mulching some of the vegetable beds over the last few days.
Artichoke beds mulched on Friday

Mulches are an integral part of our no dig growing systems for the hotel vegetable garden. We usually apply the mulches at the beginning of the crops growing season, and the most common mulch we use is our compost. First we remove the smaller weeds from the vegetable bed and then apply 10 to 15cms of compost carefully spreading it around the plants.

Mulching the larger pepper plants.

The mulch has a wide range of benefits including stabilizing soil, suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and increasing the organic matter content of the soil.

We avoid mulching very small plants as our compost at times can be quite “coarse”, but having said that, the effects on the crops we mulch with our compost can be quite spectacular. I often admire the plants a few weeks after they have been mulched and ask myself what is it that makes them respond so well?

Courgette plants basking on their compost mulch.

Could it be the humus? This makes up a large portion of the dark material in compost and is very valuable for improving the chemical and physical quality of the soil. Humic substances are a large range of complex molecules, but you can actually buy soluble “humic acids” from the chemical companies, sold as wonder potions for intensive crop production. In my previous career as a crop productionist I used them, but never found them to work.

Our compost; much more than a single component.

To me these soluble humic acids produced by the multinationals are rather like the “wonder health food additives” such as; eggs with Omeg 3, milk with added Calcium, yogurt with Danacol etc. May be the scientists trying to isolate the latest wonder molecule should look at my cabbages mulched with compost!

Mulched cabbages coming to maturity

So often it’s not a single factor which constitutes to the health of a plant or person but it is the result of all the different components of a complex natural system, working together, and this is what we should come to respect and appreciate

Monday, 17 November 2008

End of season meal

Every year, after the hotel shuts, we have a meal with all the staff from the hotel and their partners. This year was no different and we celebrated it on Saturday in the restaurant “El Molin de Mingo”

Starting on the left and going round the table the people in the photo are as follows:
Samantha (our daughter) who has been away a lot of the year but has helped when she has been here, when needed. In previous years she has helped in the kitchen, reception and cleaning rooms.
Hugh who works as farm labourer, on site naturalist and photographer.
Alice; Hugh’s partner.
Maria who helped Joe in the kitchen with food preparation and in reception.
Montse who helped in the kitchen and cleaning rooms at weekends.
Sebastian (our son) not only has he helped a lot in the hotel when we were short staffed (particularly when Mari Carmen fractured her foot) but he also contributed tremendously with the new web site and with many different ideas.
Patricia (Mari Carmen’s daughter) who helps with the cleaning and in many other ways including, reception and book work.
Joe; chief cook amongst many other jobs.
Mari Carmen who has been working with us the longest, does many jobs including; receiving guest, preparing breakfasts cleaning and even painting.
Lidia (Sebastian’s partner) also was a great help when Mari Carmen fractured her foot
Eduardo; Patricia’s husband.
Chichi (on the photo below on the far right) Montse’s husband

So a big thanks to everyone who has helped contribute to the success of the hotel and without whose help we would never be where we are today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Pico Moro

Joe and Samantha climbing the slopes of Pico Moro with the Picos de Europa in the background.

Just over a week ago we finally shut the hotel for this season, and since then Joe and I have been doing a lot of walking, updating and preparing our new walking guide for the area. In this guide we wanted to include a larger range of walks; from leisurely strolls to harder high mountain walks. We also want to increase the number of self guided walks which can be done with out using a car, either starting directly from the hotel or using public transport.

The Hotel and Sueve Mountain range from Pico Moro

The ascent of Pico Moro is a circular walk starting and finishing at the hotel and takes about five to six hours. Throughout the walk there are spectacular views of the mountains and countryside which surround the hotel. Where as most of the mountains in the area are limestone, Pico Moro differs with a predominately silicate based subsoil. As a consequence the flora on the slopes is quite different and in parts there are even small forests of Mimosa trees.

The summit of Pico Moro

Once on the summit there is a rather bold cross made out of metal road barriers and then the descent back to the hotel and the satisfaction of having had a lovely day with our using a car.

The coastline as seen on the descent of Pico Moro

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Dried Beans

Beans or “Fabes” are a very important part of the Asturian cooking, the most famous dish being the “Fabada Asturiana” or bean stew. On our farm we grow several different varieties of dried beans as can be seen in the photo above. Over time we have collected different local varieties from small growers at local markets and evaluated them under our growing conditions. It is one of the crops for which we now save our own seed of the best local varieties.

Some bean varieties are low plants growing no more than 30 cms high and others are climbing plants which we generally train up maize plants as a polycrop. In the year 2008 all the bean dishes we served in the hotel restaurant came from our own harvests.

Young bean plants in the vegetable plot

I often wonder if guests realise the work involved in producing dried beans on a small diverse cropping system such as our farm, with no machinery. All very sustainable but very labour intensive. First the beans must be sown, grown and then allowed to dry on the plant, which depending on the variety, can take 3 to 5 months from sowing. At the end of the season if the bean pods are dry enough (which will depend on the late summer weather) the pods can be harvested individually. If they are not dry enough the whole plant is harvested tied in small bundles and left to dry under cover. Then comes the most labour intensive part of the job; taking the dried beans out of the pods. Most pods only contain 4 or 5 beans so it’s a lot of work.

Shelling beans

Traditionally in Asturias most fiestas were associated with important labour intensive agricultural jobs. An example being the special meals held through out the “matanza” which is the 2 to 3 day process of slaughtering the pig for making sausages. Another example is the “amaguestu," when people drink “sidra dulce” (young cider) and eat chestnuts, celebrated when the apple harvest and pressing the apples for cider has finished.

Excuse for a fiesta.

So following this tradition we decided to make a small fiesta out of the labour intensive job of shelling of our beans, inviting friends around to help and at the same time having a glass of cider and generally having a good time.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Local Resilience – Bluetongue

This is a blog entrance I have thought about a lot; when was the right time to talk about bluetongue, what it meant to us and to the local farming community in general and did it mean anything to people visiting the area.

Bluetongue arrived in Eastern Asturias in late June and I suspected the first symptoms on one of our sheep at the beginning of August. It’s a viral disease which only affects ruminants (no danger to humans what so ever) and is transmitted by a midge which arrived in Europe in recent years (supposedly due to climate change). There are different serotypes of bluetongue, but they all affect sheep quite seriously.

As part of the Asturian governments preventative plan against Bluetongue our flock was vaccinated by the vets of the Ministry of Agriculture in April, as was the entire sheep population of Eastern Asturias. So when sheep started to die from it in July there were a lot of questions being asked, and in particular “why are sheep which have been vaccinated against bluetongue dying from it?”

For me (and most farmers) there has been a huge mismanagement and with holding of information on the situation. We still don’t know if the sheep were vaccinated against the wrong serotype, if the vaccine came defective from the laboratory which produced it, or if the vaccine had been stored incorrectly by the Ministry of Agriculture at some stage.

The consequences of this bad management by the Minister of Agriculture have had a devastating affect on the farmers in the area. If the distress for the farmers seeing their animals suffer and die wasn’t enough, there was a complete lack of understanding towards the problem from the agricultural ministry. There was mountains of paper work (associated with the disease) which the farmers were suppose to fill out, but not even the local agricultural office could help them with the bureaucracy or the necessary procedures, as they didn’t know what to do, as there was no clear directive coming from above.

In total we lost 6 sheep to bluetongue (about 10% of the flock) and I reckon at least another 10 showed symptoms but pulled through. We were lucky because mortality rates in sheep were generally very much higher. Our neighbouring farmer lost 70% of his herd and another close farm lost 50%. Since talking to the local vets it appears as though the Xalda sheep (the indigenous breed we keep) appear to be more resilient to the virus. They might be small sheep but they are hardier and better adapted to difficult conditions.

I must say I found it a very difficult time when the disease hit our farm, feeling so upset for our animals which were suffering and at the same time helpless and frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the system and the inability of being able to do anything to improove the situation. I have the utmost sympathy for the farmers in the area whose livelihoods have been affected.

A white xalda sheep being vaccinated.
A couple of weeks ago the second vaccination program was completed on our farm, (and in the whole of Asturias) and along with lower temperatures there are now no sheep showing symptoms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope the vaccines work for next year.

The only good thing for me, which came about from all the problems associated with bluetongue, was that I felt the need to “escape” and that’s when I started doing a lot of walking in the mountains again, and I am so glad I have!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Farm Flora Guide – a celebration of biodiversity.

The culmination of ten months work and study, this new “book” is hot off the press and already being thumbed through on one of the hotel’s coffee-tables. To date, 322 species of wildflower have been identified on the farm, of which 308 are portrayed in this book of colour photos, grouped into families, including details of where they can be found.

Three areas of the farm are managed specifically for wildflowers, these being the Wildflower meadow, Castañarina meadow, and Cuevona meadow. Over 80% of the species identified have been found in these meadows, though many also appear elsewhere on the farm. Each meadow is managed in a different way:-
The Wildflower meadow is cut for hay in early July (exact timing depending on the weather), and grazed by sheep in late autumn or early winter. The wildflower meadow is small and dry, and characterised by its columbines and orchids in the spring, then a swaying carpet of yellow rattle in early summer. It has the greatest diversity of species per unit area of any of these three meadows.

La Castañarina meadow is cut for hay in July and grazed by sheep over the winter, with some areas grazed by our two Asturcon ponies in late summer. It is a large south-facing meadow, with several diverse habitat types, reflected in its having the greatest number of species (210) recorded in it of any of these three meadows. Three orchid species have been recorded only in this meadow (out of the ten found on the farm) – man orchid, autumn lady’s tresses, and small-flowered serapia.

Cuevona meadow is not cut for hay, but is grazed by sheep in early spring and early autumn. It contains some of the wettest areas on the farm, reflected in the species found there – bog pimpernel, heath spotted orchid, heath speedwell, compact and soft rushes, and wild angelica.

This area of Spain is regarded as having a high level of flora biodiversity, and the number of species found on the farm reflects this. Because we farm organically, with diverse cropping and grazing systems, and with wildlife in mind, the farm is a haven for wildflowers, insects, birds, and other forms of nature.

Now all that remains is to photograph the other 14 species – a farmer’s work is never done!

Entrance by Hugh Taylor

Monday, 20 October 2008

Mountains and coast

Making the most of the lovely autumn weather Joe and I went for a coastal walk and a swim on Sunday and then today Monday I climbed Peña Castil a high mountain in the central massif of the Picos.

This is really what makes Asturias so exceptional, the combination of a stunning coastline and spectacular mountains in such close proximity.

For the walk on Sunday we did one of the self guided coastal walks we have available for guests at the hotel; “Circular walk of Torimbia.” This is one of the most beautifull beaches in the area and just happens to be a nudist beach.

The walk starts in Niembro and passes by the church sitting on the edge of the river estuary. You then carry a long a foot path with spectacular views of the coast line when you soon come to the idyllic beach of Torimbia. After walking around the beach the walk carries on over the headland (more views) and back to the car. It really is one of our favourite short walks.

One of the reasons for doing the ascent of Peña Castil today was to assess its suitability to include in our self guided walking notes. With an ascent of 1550m I don’t think we could term it an easy walk! Its summit at 2444m is certainly the highest mountain I’ve climbed in the Picos and as you can imagine the views from the top were quite something.

Looking towards the Eastern Massiff of the Picos de Europa from the summit of Peña Castil

The famous Naranjo de Bulnes seen from the asscent of Peña Castil

Thats Asturias; mountains and coast, and much more; just fabulous!


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.