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.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Earth Pilgrims Retreat

Sebastian Burch and Satish Kumar on one of the walks during the Earth Pilgrims Retreat.

As I sat looking out of my window this morning I see the large trees like giants on this land giving home to the birds I hear chirping as they hop from branch to branch. In the distance I see the green meadows giving food to the cows and nourishing the fruit trees whose fruit will soon be made into cider. In the far distance the mountains are standing around us, as if protecting us, from who or what I wonder.
. Morning walk and around the farm

This is my introduction to the Earth Pilgrim Retreat that has just taken place at the hotel. Thank you to everyone who helped and participated so this event took place, especially to Sebastian who planted the seed and Satish for making the long journey to be with us. If success can be measured by happiness I think we scored tops.

Satish talking with the group at the local Santa Marina Chapel

Contemplating the River Dobra

Evening Yoga session with June (Satish’s wife)

It was a wonderful experience, to be and listen to everyone, our walking with nature embraced us with all elements; the fire of the sun at the beach, the wind up at the lakes and the overflowing river the Dobra. An amazing and very memorable time!

Work shop in a woodland classroom on the farm.

Embracing the elements at the lakes of Covadonga

The open evening with 35 attendants

The Earth Pilgrims retreat was held at the hotel from the 30th of September to the 5th of October and attracted participants from Spain the UK and further a field.

The group photo.

Blog entrance written by Joe


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.