Friday, 25 March 2011

Discovering the coast.

The Asturian coast waiting to be discovered.

We’ve lived in Asturias for almost sixteen years now and spend quite a lot of time exploring the coast and mountains (particularly in the winter when the hotel is shut.) Asturias never ceases to amaze us with her abundance of outstanding beauty and so many different places to explore and visit. Even after sixteen years we still come across superb new areas that we didn’t know of, such as the coast around Barro which we discovered this winter and visited last Sunday with all the family.

Joe walking on the headland above the beach at Barro

We spent most of the day walking around the headlands and beaches, and whilst the tide was out we had the chance to admire some most amazing rock pools full of sea urchins and sea anemones.

Beautiful rock pools at low tide

Colourful sea urchins in the rock pools

Lythophylum tortuosum a fairy tale thalloid algae found on the rocks at low tide.

Natural beauty abounds in Asturias and along the coastline there are often fields array with wild flowers and above the beach at Barro we found plenty of the small Narcissus citrinus playing tribute to the stunning views.

Narcissus citrinus on the headland

Barro is in the borough of LLanes about 30 minutes drive from the hotel or accessible (with a little walk from Celorio) by the Feve narrow gauge railway. It’s quite close to Torimbia another of our favourite beaches. There are a total of 54 different sandy beaches in the borough of LLanes, so I suppose it’s hardly surprising we don’t know them all. That’s what makes Asturias so lovely for guests who return year after year or for ourselves who live here, there is just so much to explore and discover.

Rocky cliffs

and sandy beaches.

Although it was a Sunday with brilliant sunshine there were hardly a person in sight but in the months of July and August this is an area which can get very busy with people. However with so much coastline and so many beaches; some of which are more accessible and some less so, there are always parts of the coast to discover and enjoy at any time of the year.

All the family enjoying a drink at a secluded bar above the beach.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Aroa Bodegas (Wineries)

Some of the Aroa vineyards with the new bodega on the hill in the distance.

In the season of 2004 we started incorporating organic wines in our wine list and one year later (after trying lots of different wines) we had a wine list made up exclusively of Spanish organic wines. In the beginning we had about 30 different organic wines on our wine list but over the years we have carefully selected about 20 of our most favourite wines to offer our guests

A recently pruned vine getting ready to send out its shoots for this season.

With out doubt one of our most favourite bodegas right from the beginning has been Bodegas Aroa. They have a philosophy of wanting to produce top quality wines and fully believe the best way to do this is by producing them organically. As we like to try and visit as many of our suppliers as possible we thought it time we visited Bodegas Aroa particularly as they had recently inaugurated new installations ready for this years grape harvest.

The recently finished bodega at Aroa

So on Wednesday we spent the day visiting the vineyards and wineries in the company of Txus and Kepa two of the key people behind the project. Bodegas Aroa started producing wine15 years ago from vineyards in the north of Navarra, an area which has been very famous for its wines for a long time. Over the following years they have planted more vineyards and now have about 20 hectares from which they will be producing about 120,000 bottles a year when the vines are all mature.

Kepa explaining about organic practices in the vineyard

They like us believe in the importance of caring for the soil in order to produce healthy crops. When they have to use a tractor they only ever pass it down alternate rows of vines so as to reduce soil compaction. The pruning’s and grass which grows in between the vines is cut and allowed to rot in situ so as to return natural organic matter back to the soil. Most of the crop treatments are based on plant extracts such as horsetail or stinging nettles and the vines are trained in such away so as to create a healthy environment around the grapes and thus reduce the possibility of disease entering. Their objective is not to produce lots of kilos of grapes but to produce top quality grapes so as to be able to produce top quality wines.

Testing different barrels of wine.

Up until this year Bodegas Aroa elaborated their wines in a neighbouring organic winery but after many years of planning they started building their own installations just over a year ago. One of their objectives is to be able to sell about 25% of their production locally, from the bodega itself. In order to do this they wanted to build a bodega people would want to come and visit, and they have certainly achieved that.

10,000 litre stainless steel deposits where the wine ferments.

Joe and Txus sampling wine from the barrel

The bodega consists of 4 stories; the lower two where the wine is elaborated is built under the ground and the upper two house the offices and restaurant. As it is situated on a slight hill there are stunning views of the surrounding valleys and mountains and most of their vineyards can be seen from the new bodega. The attention to detail in the design of the new bodega, the elaboration of the wines and the growing of the grapes is really impressive and it’s no wonder they produce such top quality wines.

The restaurante at Bodegas Aroa

In the hotel we stock four of their wines; a young Tempranillo Mutiko, a crianza Jauna, a reserve Gorena and a rosé made from grapes of Garnacha Tinto.

Aroa wine ready to be drunk in the hotel dining room

Bodegas Aroas is situated near the village of Estella in the province of Navarra and is just under a 5 hour drive from the hotel. The installation are open to visitors but it is necessary to make a booking first as it is to eat in the restaurant.

We wish them a long and successful business and thank them for such interesting day. More information on Aroa wines.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Fruit and Nuts

Hazelnuts waiting to be harvested.

We’ve been enjoying a week of lovely sunny weather and I’ve been working a lot in the vegetable garden making sure there will be a good supply of fresh vegetables for when the first guests arrive. But its not just vegetables that we have been planting this winter, we’ve also planted a diverse range of fruit and nut trees.

Its an important part of our philosophy to produce in a sustainable way as much food as possible for the restaurant and to help achieve this we’ve been planting different types of fruit for many years now. Some types of fruit have been more successful than others and with time we are learning which fruit and which varieties are better adapted to our farm.

First shoots on the newly planted "Polka" raspberry bed.

Tempting fruits!

Raspberries have always been very successful with us producing abundant crops of tasty fruit and so this winter we planted a third raspberry bed with an autumn fruiting variety Polka which we had already trialled. In January we also planted a new strawberry bed to replace one we planted three years ago. After a couple of years strawberry plants start to age so now we replant a bed each year to keep production up and maintain a good supply of quality fruit. Not all our soft fruit has been successful; this year we grubbed our gooseberry bushes having been defeated by “sawfly” a nasty little fly which lays its eggs on the gooseberry leaves and whose lava leave the bush embarrassingly devoid of any foliage. This winter we also pulled out our blueberry trial. Our soil isn’t sufficiently acid and rather than getting a bumper harvest of juicy blueberries we only had some sickly yellow plants with no fruit, but that doesn’t put us of trialling new types of fruit!

Newly planted strawberry bed.

The major trial we have planted this year is kiwis. Asturias is a region which has quite a lot of kiwi plantations, particularly by rivers and in the warmer coastal area. We’ve planted two types of kiwis; the better known fuzzy kiwi and the smaller hardy kiwi. Both are sensitive to late frosts which may be a problem in our area and both are thirsty climbers and will need some form of irrigation. If all goes well the fuzzy kiwi will provide us with fruit over the winter and early spring when the hotel opens and the lesser known hardy kiwi will produce a smaller red fruit ripening in late summer.

Tender bursting bud of the fuzzy kiwi.

New shoots on the hardy kiwi.

Hazelnuts are an integral part of the Asturian landscape and have various uses. As well as producing nuts they are used for making “green” fences and they are also regularly coppiced to produce poles. A few years ago we planted a number of bushes on the edges of the meadows ready to make a living green fence, but this year we have planted some hazelnuts in the orchard with the principal idea of harvesting the nuts. This is assuming the badgers and wild boar don’t eat the nuts before we harvest them.

Hazlenut ready for copiceing

We have often been told by the local villagers that many years ago our farm abounded with walnut trees but sadly one of the previous owners brought the farm with the exclusive purpose of felling and selling the walnut wood. Luckily walnut trees seem very content with the shallow soil and limestone rock which predominates on our farm and the red squirrels have done an excellent job planting the walnuts and there are now mature walnut trees on the farm once again. To accompany these indigenous walnuts this winter we planted some grafted trees but I think it will be quite a few years before we get a chance to sample the nuts.

Mature indigenous walnut tree by the hotel.

Immature walnut fruit

Over the last two years we have lost quite a few apple trees from our orchard and this is most probably due to voles which relish on eating apple roots and the presence of a mystery fungal disease. So in the apple orchard we will leave some areas with out trees and in other parts we have replanted with different types of fruit trees including; Nashi, figs, plums, persimmon as well as the kiwis and hazelnuts. This will make the orchard more of a “patchwork” and with more edges which is always good for biodiversity. Hopefully some of these different fruit trees will adapt well in the orchard, be less attractive to the voles, and in years to come we and our guests will be able to sample their fruits and enjoy a more diverse orchard.

Plum trees in flower in the apple orchard!


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.