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Cooking in Asturias, Spain

Javier Salas

Photo: Javier Salas

I didn't particularly like the idea of driving 100 miles to the Galician border for lunch. On second thought, a slow trip to nowhere would be an excuse to explore Asturias's little-visited northwestern coast, gorge on fresh-off-the-boat seafood, and sleep at a casona de indianos, one of the extravagant turn-of-the-century mansions that appear like fantastic white elephants all over the region. Built by indianos—Asturians who returned home with fortunes made in Latin America—some are being converted into inns.

I found such a casona, Villa La Argentina, in the old whaling town of Luarca, and ate pristine shellfish at the restaurant Sport. The following day I went on to Viavélez for lunch at Taberna Viavélez Puerto (where our story began). I was the only guest. Paco Ron, the chef-owner, greeted me on a terrace tented in billowy fabric. Ron has lived and cooked in Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastián. He appeared disheveled and disillusioned. His food was quietly dazzling.

First came a martini glass filled with frozen goat cheese foam that melted into the warm ethereal sweetness of beet mousse underneath. An egg yolk stuffed with smoky salt cod peeped from a bowl of asparagus soup. A cardamom-scented sauce of sweet corn and a reduction of blackberries flirted with the dark, chocolate notes of squab. Once a year Ron prepares a banquet for the town's fishermen; they reward him year-round with their prize catch, such as the hake that he served with a silky potato emulsion and peppery young turnip greens sprinkled with sea salt. The dish was the essence of purity and refinement.

That night, in the Art Nouveau guest room of Palacete Peñalba (designed by a disciple of Gaud’), I tossed and turned in my bed, dissecting Ron's lunch. How can one actually stuff a poached egg yolk?Or produce ravioli out of cabbage—each the size of a bean!—that burst with a complex bacony reduction?And above all, how can anyone make a living cooking virtuoso Michelin-starred food in a windswept fishing village in the middle of nowhere?

THE FACTS

PICOS DE EUROPA
Base yourself at the Parador de Cangas de On’s (Villanueva; 34-98/584-9402, fax 34-98/584-9520; doubles from $93). Taste sidra, chorizos, and cheeses at the bucolic El Bodegón del Dobra (Carretera Cangas de On’s, Punto Pontón, Km 150; 34-98/584-9195). Have lunch at El Casín (Lake Enol; 34-98/592-2927; $25 for two) and dinner at El Corral del Indianu (14 Avda. de Europa, Arriondas; 34-98/584-1072; tasting menu for two $72) and Casa Marcial (La Salgar; 34-98/584-0991; tasting menu for two $69).

OVIEDO
Stay at the lavish Hotel de la Reconquista (Calle Gil de Jaz; 34-98/524-1100, fax 34-98/526-6380; doubles from $168). Dine at El Cabroncín (Carretera Paredes N1, Lugones; 34-98/526-6380; tasting menu for two $42). Consider visiting Gijón, the world's greatest repository of faded Art Nouveau architecture.

NORTHWESTERN COAST
Drive to Luarca for dinner at Sport (8 Calle Rivero; 34-98/564-1078; $45 for two) and overnight at Villa La Argentina (Villar de Luarca; 34-98/564-0102, fax 34-98/564-0973; doubles from $45). Drive west for lunch at Taberna Viavélez Puerto (Viavélez; 34-98/547-8095; tasting menu for two $69), and end the day with seafood paella at Marisquer’a Peñalba (Figueras del Mar; 34-98/563-6166; dinner for two $40). Sleep at Palacete Peñalba (Figueras del Mar; 34-98/563-6125, fax 34-98/563-6247; doubles from $56).

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