An Irish part of Spain?


Langreo, Asturias, Spain

When we Irish think of Spain, images of sun, sandy beaches and blue seas generally come to mind. While these things are easy to find on the southern and eastern coasts of Spain, the northern coast has something a little different to offer. One would be forgiven for thinking he or she found him or herself in the Irish countryside while wandering the hilly regions of Asturias, for example. It was while doing exactly this in the early part of 2013 that I came to this conclusion.

‘La Costa Verde,’ or ‘the Green Coast’ of Asturias receives more than its fair share of rain. Obviously, this is something Irish folk complain about when at home. Why, I hear you ask, would you leave Ireland to travel to a place that receives a similar amount of rainfall. Well, I’ll tell you.

My first experience of travelling was a short trip to Rome in the summer of 2009. A beautiful place no doubt, however, I found myself yearning for the strangest of things. Grass. Pure, simple, soft Irish grass. Perhaps my country upbringing instilled in me this yearning when I found myself parted from greenery. I know I was in a city, so grass was in short supply, but when I did find a patch that looked ideal as a place to rest during my explorations of the city, I discovered, to my horror, it was prickly and spiky! How could it be, I asked myself? In Asturias, one can find the greenery and soft natural beauty that we perhaps take for granted in Ireland. For those of us who appreciate a landscape that is not too alien from the one we are used to at home, Asturias is a home away from home. And don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of sunshine.

Agriculture and horticulture are big sectors in Asturias. The main milk supplier for the entire nation of Spain is based there. ‘La sidra,’ the special type of cider brewed in Asturias is another of the exports of this region. I had never seen anything quite like the process for serving cider in an Asturian ‘Sidrería’ before I saw a waiter pouring a serving. Holding the bottle high above his head and a large glass below his hip, he poured a small quantity, which he promptly handed to an elderly gentleman, who promptly drank it (before the drink became flat again) and promptly returned it to the waiter. The process was repeated with the three other people sitting with the man, using the same glass. Bizarre, I thought, but it this type of sharing that typifies the people of Asturias.

They are a very open and generous people, which I think is something that can be said of us Irish. I had more drinks bought for me by random people in bars than I ever expected, simply because I was willing to chat with them. Not that I went hunting for free drinks, of course! It was just the social norm. To share, both in conversation and refreshment. Nobody is left out. Even children partake in late night socializing  at the weekend, with the streets full of laughter or the sounds of a football being kicked about, at twelve o clock at night. And there is always room in the small, local bars for a foreigner doing his best to churn out some Spanish!

A key part of these social meetings is, like anywhere else, music. The traditional music of Asturias is akin to that of our own as well. I challenge you to do a YouTube search of this music and hear for yourself. Once, I walked into a shop and could have sworn the music playing through the speakers was Irish, until the man started singing in Spanish. I put this down to the fact that there is only the Atlantic Ocean directly between Ireland and Spain. This is simply my opinion, but centuries ago, travelers between Spain and Ireland must have recognized the Ocean was the most direct route between the two places. Thus,  in some cases they avoided the cultural influences of other regions in Spain, France and Britain by travelling across the Atlantic. There must have been trade between our peoples, in every sense of the word.

Whatever the truth is, the similarities between Asturias (and other parts of Northern Spain) and Ireland are fascinating and this small region is a largely unheard of place. This makes it ideal as a holiday destination for those who crave something that is more peaceful and centered on nature.

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