Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Moving downmarket

It's a wrench to leave the Palacio, no doubt about it. The transition to a 2* hotel is rather odd, but also reassuring. Our two-bedroom booking actually has four beds in it.  The gleaming white 'stucco' staircase leading up to the reception has been coated in whitewash or some powdery stuff so that your hands looks quite ghostly by the time you get there.

I did mean to tell you one story about the Palacio. The eggs I had for breakfast were really delicious - they came from a neighbour's chickens.  Antonio said they used to keep them at the Palacio but at one point a guest had reported that he'd seen a dog carrying a puppy away across the garden..... This had happened six times. Six puppies.  No, said Antonio. That was a fox and each 'puppy' was a dead chicken.  Antonio had installed deep-dug wire to keep predators out, but the fox had dug under the wire.  Another disaster befell when some other sort of creature - not a fox, maybe a pine-marten or a weasel, we weren't sure - got the next lot.

We said cheerful goodbyes to Alicia (in Antonio's absence) and drove down into Navia, where we stopped for a coffee and looked at the enormous mullet swimming round in the harbour. No-one here seems to eat these rather gorgeous fish, though they swim round in every estuary and harbour. We saw them in Tapia de Casariego too, and elsewhere.  But presumably they're considered unclean here.  Then we set off eastwards, mostly on the new motorway which we've seen being built in previous years. My goodness, they know how to make beautiful roads here - smooth, landscaped, quiet, splendid.  Puts the UK's roads to shame. Shame.

It was also interesting to me how exciting it was to see the Picos again - after all, we had spent quite a long time there just a few days ago, but they still had the power to astonish - such height, such jagged horizons, quite different from the granites of western Asturias.

We pulled into the historic town of Llanes for lunch. Parking would be the main problem if you wanted to spend any time here, and we were very lucky to find a space up a backstreet, joining a few other local cars who were ignoring the yellow line outside a block of flats. There was a clothing market down by the port, and a friendly welcome in the Tourist Office which is a smashing little Deco building originally created as a fish-auction house, with lots of bidders' places in the balcony, all individually numbered.  The basin or puerto has a massive tidal range and floating pontoons, and all guarded by lock-gates.   We ate in a smashing traditional resto for €13.50 each, including some dishes never heard of: a starter of scorpion-fish mousse with an onion marmalade and tomato mayonnaise served with thin crispy toasts, deep-fried pasties with potato puree and squid, with a sweet tomato sauce, and then more usual hake with potatoes, or secret of pork with blue-cheese sauce. The postres (puddings) were divine - a bitter-chocolate flan and another flan made with morello cherries.  Superb cooking and presentation, lovely service, fantastic value and why can't we do this in England?

Why can't we do Tourist Services in England either? Open till 9 (or it could be 6 or 7 in England), with professional, cheerful, helpful staff and masses of information, free maps, suggestions, recommendations and something for everyone?

The drive from Llanes to Comillas was through yet more stunning countryside - wide sweeping beaches in particular, with hang-gliding and boating.... Fabulous clean blue water, golden sand, showers and loos on the beach with cafes or even restaurants.

Comillas itself is a paradise if you love architecture - every kind of building, square, church, park, alleyway, palace, folly (by Gaudí himself, no less), and lots of stories about royalty and aristocracy and how they intermingled (or not) with the locals.  Such a nice place to wander round.  The best story is about the parish church..... One day (in 1617) the local marquis got into a rage because he did not have exclusive access to his pew, and the rest of the congregation got very upset at this, and so they just decided to make a completely new church of their own and leave him to it. It took them a while, but they got all the money together and built themselves a brand new church (in 1648) and that is what you can go and see now. It's lovely - very wide and airy, and with two enormous conch shells for the holy water as you go in.

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