I love bagpipes. I really, really love bagpipes and the way they echo off the cliffs and such (well, at least on the Cds and youtube)! And of course the violins and singing that accompanies it all, and castanets too – it is all so magical! Shut your eyes, breathe in the cool air brimming with the raw freshness of green forests and hills, lined with the saltiness of splashing waves, the wind through your hair... maybe you’ll catch the flutter of a fairy wing from the corner of your eye, or see a wizard brush passed, magical staff in tow, or the trees might just bend down and whisper into your ear- sigh... magic; if you don’t believe in it, Galicia will make you.
So, on that month-long sojourn in Spain, back in ’13 with the husband and kiddo, we decided to attend the International Celtic Festival in Ortigueira, in a little corner of Galicia.
We had already spent a good number of days in Madrid, Segovia, Cuenca, Sevilla, Ronda, Granada and San Sebastian. Now we had to head west. And it was a long journey. The first leg was from San Sebastian to Oviedo by bus. I must mention here that the bus system in Spain is very good and I would recommend the bus as opposed to the train if you need to get someplace quicker. We reached Oviedo before sunrise (we left San Sebastian at about 11:30pm I think). Then we had to walk, sleepy child and bags in tow, slightly up hill and in a hurry, to the train station to get tickets and catch the Feve train to Ortigueira in Galicia. The Feve train is slower and more basic. Unlike other trains you cannot book tickets for these in advance and online. Also, Oviedo station is something of a must-see site in my opinion. Lovely retro-ads tiling and the like. Our wait for the train therefore, wasn’t a boring one.
Once on the train and settled, we weren’t ready for what we saw on this ride. At first, we passed your regular villages on the outskirts of town, and then as the day dawned, and the sun crept in through the crevices in the mist, it was as if we were transported into a world of yore, as though we had come through platform 9 and 3/4. All at once, it felt like I had opened one of my Enid Blyton books and it was all playing out in front of my eyes. I couldn’t believe the simple beauty that passed by my window.
And then we entered Galicia. Gasp! Hold me baby, I think the lack of sleep is making me delusional!
I see farms, wait there’re the forests, no wait, look, look at the cliffs, oh no no, there are beaches...! It was all there together, rolling out in front of us as the Feve trundled on. The little stations that it stopped at were quaint and mystical too, right out of a book, and some of the people that got on definitely had at least one book of spells under their leather jackets.
“Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches; And charging along like troops in a battle All through the meadows the horses and cattle: All of the sights of the hill and the plain Fly as thick as driving rain; And ever again, in the wink of an eye, Painted stations whistle by. Here is a child who clambers and scrambles, All by himself and gathering brambles; Here is a tramp who stands and gazes; And here is the green for stringing the daisies! Here is a cart runaway in the road Lumping along with man and load; And here is a mill, and there is a river: Each a glimpse and gone forever!”-Robert Louis Stevenson
Except it’s all there, lush and green, probably very cold right now, but it’s all there for us to see, there forever. And this is only the train journey to Ortigueira!
Once in Ortigueira, after a 4.5 hour journey, we got out of the station and were a little taken aback. The town seemed deserted, but then again it was still early. So we went up to a bus stop and like obedient children, waited in queue. Although, we don’t know what the queue was for. I think it was just people hanging out in the morning. But they were helpful and we finally found Juan the taxi man who took us to El Castano Dormilon, our home for the next 5 days. In the course of our visit we also met Juan’s wife (no, not Juanita, I do not remember her name), who is also a taxi driver (It’s more like private cars used as taxis). Now, the towns-folk of Ortigueira are all part of the town band or students of the Gaita Escola – bagpipe school to put it in the simplest terms. Although there is a lot more to Galician and Asturian music and dance than just bagpipes! So Juan and his wife are also band members! One of them plays the drums and the other bagpipes!
El Castano Dormilon is on the outskirts of Ortigueira. In fact it is between Ortigueira (Port town mainly) and the hamlet of Espasante which has a lovely beach. And there are only farms and farm houses and farm stays all around and there is a whole patch of eucalyptus trees too. At first I wasn’t too happy to see that we were well, isolated so to speak. But as I settled in my affair with this part of the world began.
El Castano Dormilon is a traditional stone building that was once a school that has been converted in to this lovely property owned by Galician, Monica and her husband Alex, who I think is Swedish. The property uses renewable energy, biomass and solar energy. And breakfast includes several fresh fruits from the nearby farms! In fact the farm next door had sheep grazing there every now and again, and the kiddo had a blast counting their wee pebble poop!
Alex and Monica are a lovely couple who make you feel right at home and will help you in whichever way they can with information about areas around and the festival. They have only two or maybe three other people on their staff, that takes care of house-keeping. It’s a small property with I think not more than 8-10 rooms, but you should check. There is no need of a fan even in July. It is quite pleasant. If you want to eat lunch or dinner at the property Alex or Monica need to be informed in advance. However, we preferred the 10-15 minute walk to the end of the road and near the eucalyptus stretch to a small family-run cafe (looks like a bungalow turned into a cafe), that serves delicious pizzas amongst other things. In fact if you walk passed you definitely won’t be able to resist the whiff of fresh pizza smells that waft into the air and find their way into your nostrils, putting you into a trance of warm crispy dough, meat and sauces (kind of like the finger-shaped whiffs that would tempt Tom or Jerry to the kitchen).
Now, most people that visit this area are from other parts of Spain or those that have driven down from other places in Europe, mainly Germany and France or at least, via there. So having your own car is definitely a good thing. We, however had no such luck, but it turned out alright. We learned that although there might be a bus stop, one is never sure...