Thursday, 18 September 2014

A private palace with a black saint

--> This is  the most amazing house I think I have ever stayed in.  We have checked into a little palacio in Asturia. It has taken all the afternoon to get here, winding through precipitous mountain passes and wondrous forests, passing river gorges and old iron mines, with a greyish rainy day for company and hardly another car on the road all the time.

Boal is nominally the name of the place. But the palacio is further on, winding, hidden, private…. In fact it's in Prelo, another valley, all quiet and soft. The place was more or less ruined, and took 4 and a half years for Antonio to do up… it has a tower, and a chapel, and every single inch is old and polished and filled with art and books and objets…..

The chapel has a small gallery at the back, and two altarpieces. One has the Holy Family looking very Spanish with an 8-year old Jesus about to hold hands with his parents. On one pinnacle above them is Sta Lucia (healer of eyesight), and on another is St Blast who is saint of the larynx. But the other altarpiece, facing the door which the villagers would have used, features a stunning beautiful St Benedict of Palermo - a black saint, son of slaves, who went to South America in the sixteenth century and worked miracles (including being white during the daytime and only reverting to negro at night). He is the patron saint of slaves, and stands here in northern Spain very mysteriously indeed, as he is barely known in the north, and only appears in about five other places in very small form. Here he is fully mansized. So what is he doing here? No-one knows.
Antonio is an historian, has lavished god-knows-how-much on the building which is just totally exquisitely perfect and very nice indeed.  Antonio - tall, academic, clever - suggests that we might like to stay another night.

We are here because we met and briefly conversed with a charming Dubliner while we were queueing for the ferry at Portsmouth… he said he had found it by chance and recommended it. Antonio remembers  him, says he owns most of Howth including a castle and a golfcourse. I would not be at all surprised. 

When I booked in, the website said there was just one room free. Now we are here, we find we are the only guests. 


Yesterday was most memorable for : lunch to celebrate my birthday, at la Solana restaurant at Cabañas; for a much-welcomed 90 minutes sitting in the sun on the beach afterwards at Argentina Bar catching some sun; and lastly for finally making it up to the tower of Andreda de Boo. This local lord made it big time during the time of the Black Death in Europe - built the tower in the middle of Pontedeume, but also constructed this craggy look-out on the hill right above the town. The view from the top is utterly stupendous - you can clearly see the Tower of Hercules (Roman lighthouse) at A Coruña,  and the modern lights and headlands at Cabo Prioriño and Prior where we went the day before, and you can see the rias of Miño and all the places we have been exploring and driving around.  It is breath-taking. My bloody sodding camera was playing tricks and so most of my shots would not load, but I will do my best to get something to you in due course.  It cost a euro to go in. There was a solitary woman in the kiosk and her duty was to stay there till 8.30 at night, middle of nowhere. She said 22 people had been there during the day, though it would be over a hundred in summertime.  The tower is a square, with a polygonal courtyard at the base, the whole thing built on a pretty impressive outcrop, and rising up about 30m from the ground.  Started in 1369, so just about one generation after the plague.

There are so many things I wanted to write about - the way the old houses here are usually built on a plan of three - symmetrical with one window on each side of the door. How there are so many beautiful ruined or sagging stone houses everywhere, some past repair but some just crying for some love and attention. How so much of modern Spain - here at any rate - is just horrible soul-less concrete and ugly, ugly, ugly.  Some houses are painted up with bright modern colours - scorching in some cases, but those are the exception and rather exciting.   

We have been trying to photograph the tiny little 'granaries' which are typical of Galicia - they are called 'horreos' and are built on stilts or slabs of stone or concrete, some actually on staddle stones, to keep rats out. In these ventilated tiny houses, the maize crop is stored. They are made to look like chapels, sometimes with a cross on them or other decorative finials, and they are always prominent and visible.  Given the absence of churches in general, I wondered if they had some sort of holy function too, but it seems not.  Antonio has a whole book about them. The Galician ones are rectangular. We saw some square ones as we came east - those are more typical of Asturia, where they are called 'panadeia' (I think).


  1. So sorry to have joined this wonderfully fascinating blog so late. No idea - truly - why thousands are not following Griselda's delightful jaunts.

  2. Thank you Stewart. I would love more people to read and comment.