Postcard from the Vuelta II: Asturias

Expectations were high for the remainder of our vacation, particularly after our previous hotels had spoilt us with spacious suites. We arrived in Gobientes late afternoon, after a pleasant stop for a seafood lunch in the middle of nowhere. Despite GPS and GoogleMaps, we had trouble locating the hotel. So I rang them for instructions. A combination of my Spanish and the hotel owner’s French had us driving round in circles for almost an hour. No one we asked had heard of the hotel and there were no road signs guiding us to it – not a good omen. We finally chanced upon it, about 400 metres round the corner from where we’d first rung, given our location and asked for instructions!

At this point neither my beloved nor I were in the best of humours. The hotel’s situation, right behind a working farm left much to be desired and bore no relation to the photos I’d seen or the glowing references I’d read. Its scruffy garden and terrace, where the owner was stubbing out a cigarette, didn’t inspire confidence. We checked in and then almost immediately checked out again. Our room, right next to the creaking front door, had a sea view only if you craned your neck out of the tiny bedroom window at an absurd angle. There was no air conditioning and the bathroom was another contender for my book of the world’s smallest bathrooms. Plus, it was at least 2 km from the sea and overlooked the main road. My beloved will not easily let me forget this booking disaster.

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Relieved to get out of there, we drove straight back to the centre of Gijon and the soothing presence of a traditional Spanish hotel for a couple of nights. We’d previously visited the town in 2014 and had fallen in love with its charms and lovely sandy beaches. Two further days of exploration unearthed a number of fantastic local shops, bars and restaurants where I launched yet another assault on the Spanish population of cephalopods (octopuses). Spending two days right in the centre of town made us aware of how much of the town we’d missed on our earlier trip. There’s a wealth of architecture across the ages, including Roman remains near the port. The town’s been around since 5000 BC and on the outskirts of town, to the south and west, and its the main port, you can clearly see its heavy industrial legacy.

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Our sanctuary for the following week was the same small, family run hotel we’d stayed in back in 2014. The house, once home to one of Spain’s steel barons, has been in the same family for five generations. The family now lives in its lodge while its guests enjoy the splendours of the beautifully maintained house and grounds, with a magnificent arboretum and a trampoline – a new attraction. I had to give the latter a go since I’d done a lot of trampolining in my dim and distant youth. I think it’s fair to say the hotel’s guest were somewhat taken aback by my skills while the owner’s grand-children were seriously impressed.

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Having visited Oviedo on both Sunday for the stage finish and Monday for the stage start, we rode there on the Vuelta’s rest day, ostensibly to find its statue of Samu Sanchez but we fell short. We should have asked Samu’s family where it was when we saw them on Monday’s stage start. However, his ream, BMC Racing, had no such trouble.

I will attest that there’s very little flat in any part of northern Spain and I was thankful for the granny gears on my Orbea as I churned up yet another incline, trailing in my beloved’s wake. It was a relief to join up with the Vuelta again and watch lots of fit young guys suffer on its inclines, particularly the one to Lagos de Covadonga. Of course, their suffering only starts on the really serious gradients, which I tend to avoid for fear of having to get off and push – so embarrassing!

Nine days in Gijon allowed us to fully explore its countryside and the surrounding area, with its many hills, beautiful sandy beaches, lively bar and restaurant scene plus any number of local watering holes. One of the advantages of cycling is that you find so many more places. We spent many an evening in a local restaurant which served inexpensive but fantastic food where many of the locals were sitting in its garden playing cards and ludo. Now, that’s a game I haven’t seen played for years but it’s obviously popular in Spain as a bar we went into in Ourense had three grannies playing a highly competitive game over what I assume were some G&Ts. It was also lovely just lazing in the hotel’s grounds and enjoying myself on that trampoline. It was a really restful break. Next stop the Basque country, Bilbao to be precise, for the arrival of the Vuelta a Espana.

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