Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A short resumen of 2010 and the hotel

During the first few months of 2010 we had lots of snow, making the Asturian scenery even more beautiful than normal. It also gave me the chance to do some snow walking and learn new techniques on various winter walking courses I attended.

Snow walking in the winter

But I didn’t only spend my time snow walking, I revised most of the self guided walking notes we offer to guests at the hotel as well as develop some new walks which can be done with out a car from the hotel. The culmination of this “work” was the production of the second edition of our Self Guided Walking “book,” a book which certainly gets used a lot by our guests.

We had another good season at the hotel slightly better than 2009 which considering all the economical difficulties is something to be pleased of. It is lovely to see so many “repeat” guests and very rewarding to see so many people interested in what we are doing. More and more people walk round the farm and particularly the vegetable garden.

Part of the hotel farm waiting for guests to visit

We were also extremely lucky this year with publicity, having had more press reports than ever. We started with an excellent article in The Guardian in April by Stephan Venable entitled Lone Ranger in Asturias. In May we were rated as one of the 100 Best Bolt Holes in Europe by the Sunday Times, in August we were featured on Notes from Spain as an Inspiring Asturian Dream and in September we were featured in the Waitrose magazine in an article entitled Hidden Spain. We were also featured in the Spanish press which focused on our food, with an article in the magazine “Integral” on our organic restaurant and the organic vegetarian cooking courses we offer were featured in “El Pais” two weeks ago.

Joe and participants on one of the cookery courses

So much of our success is due to our staff, the family and our collaborators. Special mention should be made to Maria Carmen who has now been working with us for over 12 years. Samantha and her boy friend Andres were working in the kitchen this year under Joe’s supervision and even though I say it my self, the food we serve is going from strength to strength. In the latest edition of the Alistair Sawday book it states we “use their produce in their menus (brilliantly.)” It probably sounds as though we are blowing our own trumpet, but I am just so proud and thankful to everyone here for what they have all managed to achieve over the years.

Mari Carmen preparing the breakfast buffet.

Special thanks should also go to our son Sebastian, who amongst other things arranged an extremely successful event this October “the Earths Pilgrim Retreat” with Satish Kumar and which was thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants. Encouraged by the response from this event he will be organising four more courses at the hotel for 2011.

A day on the Earth Pilgrims Retreat with Sebastian and Satish Kumar

The farm carries on being a central part of our project. We are now producing over one third of what we consume in the hotel restaurant and Joes imagination always helps in creating endless culinary delights when there are “gluts” of seasonal produce, (raspberries and aubergines come to mind this season.)

Home grown produce converted to culinary delights

Hugh who had been with us for 3 years working on the farm left in July to go and manage a community farm in Cornwall, and Wes took over his position. Amongst other jobs Wes built an amazing greenhouse, something I had wanted for many years. I am sure with the help of the greenhouse for plant production we will be able to develop our vegetable production even further.

The new greenhouse Wes built

For along time I have felt we have been doing a lot of environmental initiatives at the hotel and for the guests, but not so much for the local community. So it’s given me great satisfaction this year to be involved in the development of a local consumer group and the beginning of a community supported agriculture project.

Preparing vegetable boxes for the consumer group

It’s also good to see that after many years it looks as though we have a local person (Jenny) who is starting to get interested in using our wool to make artisan products.

Jenny showing samples of carded wool from our flock of xalda sheep

Our weather seems to have been as variable as ever this year. We had the worse floods in history in Arriondas this June, followed by a dry summer. We had snow as low as 200m a week ago followed by warm weather which has made all the snow disappear again.

The vegetable garden under snow last January

Having started and finished talking about the weather I think that’s a good time to wish every one a

Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Courses and events for 2011

We were very encourage by the feedback from the event “The Earths Pilgrim Retreat” held at the hotel in October and so have decided to offer more courses in April and October for 2011. Three of these courses are being organised by our son Sebastian and his company Gaia y Sofia, a social company engaged in organizing transformative events, pursuing holistic research and offering socio-ecological consultancy. The three courses are:

Mindful Earth

Exploring our inner and outer Nature

Yvan Rytz, Rupert Hutchinson & Sebastian Burch

28th of March - 3rd of April Language: English

During this course, participants will find themselves immersed in a journey of awareness, that conveys the underlying dialogue we all have with Nature. Further Information

The Way of Food

Walking, Agriculture and Cooking

Hotel Posada del Valle's Working Community
17th - 23rd of October Langauge: English

In this course participants will live as part of Posada del Valle's community. Getting involved in the processes and activities that give life to the Organic farm and the kitchen. Learning how to grow and cook our own organic vegetables. Discussing about the role of Organic farming in todays socio-ecological world crisis, as well as how to be part of the solutions from our own home communities. Further Information

Enlightened Agriculture

How and Why Feeding People is Easy

Colin Tudge ( & Hotel Posada del Valle's Working Community
24th - 29th of October Langauge: English

During this course, participants will enjoy the company and experience of Biologist and writer Colin Tudge, as well as Hotel Posada del Valle's Working Community. In a unique and enriching environment we will explore the innovative ideas with which Colin Tudge has started the "Campaign for Real Farming" (, and how each one of us can be part of it. Further Information.

We will also be organising the following events at the hotel for 2011

Cookery Workshops

Organic & Vegetarian Food

Samantha y Joann Burch

9th & 10th of April Language: Bilingual (English/Spanish)

This will be an informal hands-on course taught by Joann and Samantha Burch and with a maximum of 6 participants. For two days participants will enjoy and learn about the organic and vegetarian food that we serve at Hotel Posada del Valle. There will be about 3 to 4 hours cookery classes each day with lots of opportunity to cook and eat. Further Information

Farm Open Days

Nigel Burch

14th May & 17th of September

Language: Bilingual (English/Spanish)

Finally, as in previous years, for 2011 we will be having two farm open days in May and September. On these open days we will show and discuss with the local community (and hotel guests if interested) what we are doing on the farm. The main emphasis will be on small scale vegetable production, but there will be the possibility to look at the orchard, meadows, chickens and sheep. Further Information

Further information on all these courses and events can be found on our web page

Monday, 15 November 2010

The New Greenhouse

It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time, partly whimsical and partly needed; a greenhouse, to produce plants, a place to potter around and just pass time when it’s raining outside. I’ve often thought about building one but have delayed doing so for various reasons. So when Wes, the new farm worker and excellent handy man arrived in August it seemed the ideal time to start the greenhouse project.

The piece of land before the greenhouse was built

I actually came to Spain (almost thirty years ago) as a specialist in protected cropping so I knew the design and features I wanted for my greenhouse in Asturias, but I have to admit I’m not much of a handyman! So when Wes came along with his excellent knowledge of carpentry, things got moving.

The land cleared and preparing the foundation

At times the Asturian weather can be quite extreme; strong winds, heavy rain and hail, hot sun etc. so I wanted a sturdy greenhouse with good ventilation for the summer and with some thermal mass to help buffer both the hot and cold temperatures. I wasn’t sure on the covering material; whether to use polycarbonate or glass. As the greenhouse was to be built next to our house Joe had it clear, she wanted something that would look nice, so we decided on glass, wood and brick.

The foundation layed and starting the main structure

Building the back brick wall

The basic structure finished

Putting in the glass

The result is an amazing space which has been beautifully built with a lot of care and thought. In some ways it’s more like a conservatory than a greenhouse and it’s certainly become my favourite place to have afternoon tea in the winter months.

Basically it’s like a “lean-to” with the back north wall 2 ½ meters high, built of solid brick but with ventilation (4 windows) at the top of the wall. For additional ventilation we also incorporated two ventilation “boxes” on the lower south side which helps create a good air flow by way of a chimney effect. Finally to avoid excess heat in the summer we are just finishing installing a shading system which is a type of netting which can be “rolled” over the roof when temperatures get too hot.

Back view showing the large ventilation area.

We tried to incorporate a lot of flexibility in the growing area of the greenhouse as experience has taught me that requirements generally evolve and change with time. Over half of the floor space is fitted with shelving but there is also a large growing “trough” for tomatoes, lettuce etc. All the shelves are removable and the trough can be covered with shelving too.

Inside the greenhouse with shelving and growing trough

One of the objectives of the vegetable garden is to produce as much of the fruit and vegetable we consume in the restaurant as possible. Many of the crops we grow can’t be planted out till late April because the soil hasn’t warmed up enough. Hence the idea is to produce larger plants in the greenhouse which when planted out will come into cropping sooner.

I also hope that by producing our own plants we will be able to keep a better control on the best crop varieties, planting dates and subsequent harvest dates. With a higher technical input hopefully we will be able to generally produce more. We will see!

In the meantime we now have a really lovely greenhouse to enjoy, a dream come true. Thanks Wes.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Autumn is here and with it darker days have come. We change the clocks this weekend and some how this seems to make the shorter days more noticeable. We also shut the hotel this weekend and the time seems right. For us a more restful period begins and a time to recharge our batteries and prepare for the spring when we open the doors to guests again.
Autumn crocuses in the wild flower meadow by the hotel

Autumn is a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and Asturias has a rich helping of both. Cold clear nights can give birth to morning mist in the valleys, creating an eerie calm; a cold white blanket covering the lower lands only to be gracefully lifted by the rising sun revealing a radiant blue sky. Other days the skies turn grey, reminding us the possibilities of summer are gone and the chill of winter is on the horizon. That’s when we’re glad of those hard summer days work; cutting down old trees and preparing wood. It will soon be time to enjoy the warmth of an open fire and gaze endlessly at the magical forms of the dancing flames.

Autumn morning with mist in the valley taken on the farm.

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad. For us our major harvest is finished as we have picked all our apples a couple of weeks ago. They’ve now been pressed and are slowly fermenting ready to be enjoyed as natural cider this coming season. Now we have other harvests to tend to; pumpkins, beans, peppers and aubergines. These are crops we have sown in spring and then nurtured through the summer months. Now we are storing and drying these fruits ready to enjoy them through the winter months and the coming year.

Different types of pumpkins just harvested from the vegetable garden
Mother earth is kind as she allows us to harvest her gifts of life. There are many crops where we do nothing, just wait till the moment is right and then harvest her offerings. Like the parasol mushrooms which this year have appeared on our farm in the hundreds. All we do is harvest them when they are at their best, no cultivation from us is necessary nature does it all. Then we prepare them for our guests who can enjoy their delicate falvour in the restaurant whilst enjoying each others company. Walnuts have also abounded this year and they are now slowly drying waiting to be shelled ready for the coming season.

A Parasol mushroom in the orchard just ready for picking
Walnuts drying on the hotel terrace.

Autumn is also a time of exceptional beauty as seen in our wild flower meadows which are alive with a mass of glorious autumn crocuses. Fungi of all shape and sizes come and go puzzling the mushroom collector who, whilst admiring them, wonders on their identity and edibility. The trees prepare for the dormant season and with it grace us with a spectacle of autumn colour. Then their leaves fall silently covering the paths and woodland floor providing food and habitat to a range of hard working creatures that help nature’s cycles to carry on as the seasons follow.

An unidentified fungi on the farm!

The hotel yesterday.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Walking in the high peaks of the Picos de Europa

Late summer is an excellent time to go walking in the high peaks of the Picos de Europa and this September I managed to do two two-day walks in this stunning mountain landscape.

The Picos de Europa are sliced into three distinct areas by deep gorges running south-north, these area; the Western Massif, the Central Massif and the Eastern Massif.

The first of these two day walks was in the central massif which is the most abrupt of the three massifs. The central massif is home to the highest peak in the whole Cordillera Cantabrica – Torre Cerredo, at 2648m – amongst several others over 2600m; plus the most famous of all, Picu Urriellu, the Naranjo de Bulnes, at 2519m.

The high dry karst landscape taken from the summit of Torre de la Palanca with Torre Cerredo in the background.
Chamois are very common and well adapted to this high mountain terrain.

On this walk in the central massif I explored an area less known for me; the “Llambrion sector” on the southern side of the Picos. I started at the Pandetraba pass near Posada de Valdeon climbing the Torre de la Palanca (2614 m high) and staying the night at the very spectacularly situated Collado Jermosa Refuge.

The spectacular setting of the Collado Jermosa refuge

Tracks and paths in the lower peaks range from being moderately well way marked paths to minor animal tracks but the higher you go up the passes and routes tend to be much more difficult to find and follow. Apart from knowing how to use a compass there is a definite need for mountain sense when walking in the high peaks, as well as experience of walking and navigating in the mountains.

Good waymarks on the lower mountain paths

The path leading to the Collado Jermos refuge

The high mountain paths can get quite difficult!

The second walk was in the western massif. This massif covers the greatest area of the three massifs which form the Picos de Europa and climbs relatively gently from the hills of the Covadonga area, becoming an almost lunar landscape across its high rocky plateau, centred on the wide depression of Hou Santu, and peaking at the 2596m of Torre Santa de Castilla, before plunging 1500m into the narrow Cares Gorge. On this second walk I started from Pan de Carmen near the lakes and did the complete circuit around the high peaks of the western massif including Torre Santa de Castilla and through the Hou Santu depression.

The impressive Jou Santo

Walking along the rocky slope of Jou Santo.

Geologically what is so special about the Picos de Europa is that they are a unit composed almost purely of limestone, and are the largest single mass of mountain limestone in Europe. The limestone dissolves in rainwater by a process known as karstification, the most visible sign of which is the vertical fluting of rock-faces. Also notable, and typical of karst landscapes, are the sink-holes or “jous” (or “hous” in Asturian), formed by lakes having drained through underground passages. The largest of these seemingly-lifeless jous are over 1km across, and are just as dramatic as the peaks surrounding them. The passages through which they drained have formed an extensive and complex cave system. The high dry karst landscape is typical for its lack of surface water, but infrequent springs do arrive at the surface, though not for long, and they are notorious to locate.

Vertical fluting of rock-faces on the Karst landscape.

A good network of mountain refuges exists in the Picos de Europa, allowing multi-day walking routes. Most refuges are manned and provide meal services, sleeping bags are necessary, and some don’t have washing or toilet facilities. Opening times can vary, and it is advisable to contact the refuges themselves before planning to stay in the. Other refuges are unmanned, such as the one at Vega Huerta. I stayed at this refuge whilst doing the circuit in the Western Massif, it only sleeps four but there is a cave near by to sleep when there is over booking!

Mountain sunset taken from Vega Huerta

The unmanned refuge at Vega Huerta with the highest peak Torre Santa de Castilla in the background.

Opportunities for walking in the Picos de Europa are limitless, with something for everybody. Not only are there high mountain circuits like these two walks but there are also gentle valley strolls, gorge walks, and even easier walks at the 1000m level such as the short walk around the lakes! It’s also possible to visit the impressive Jou Santo on a (longish) day walk. Information on these walks is available on the section on self-guided walking on our web page.

“Gentler” terrain just above the lakes with the higher peaks in the background

Walking up towards Jou Santo from the lakes

There is also much more detailed information on the Picos de Europa on our web page, covering a range of topics including such as flora, geology culture, driving itineraries, walking etc.


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.