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      August 2011 > Andalucia to Iceland part 6: Pigs & Donkeys
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Andalucia to Iceland part 6: Pigs & Donkeys

Family walking holiday with a donkeyThe van makes it to the top, but Linda’s looking a little on the pale side. I think that if anything breaks down, it won’t be the van, but Us.

At the top of this dramatic climb, lie the vast central plains, with tiny, remote villages like staging posts. As well as steeply sloping tiled roofs, for the snow to slide off, the outer houses of each village have even their walls covered with roof tiles. The weather must get rough here. We are heading into the province of Segovia, soon entering a softer landscape of rolling green fields, strewn with bulbous kidney-shaped granite boulders, and draped with strips of juniper forest. A long range of mountains, the Guadarama, stretches alongside like the jagged back of a dinosaur.

This is the location of the only Inntravel holiday in which, apart from getting the accommodation and walking notes, you also have a donkey thrown in. Yes, a donkey! This was the idea of a pair of enterprising Segovian brothers, Javier and Jaime, who, after living and working many years in England and Scotland, returned to their native Segovia with British wives and families to set up a walking and cycling business.

The idea of the donkey was a brainwave. This is a holiday for families with young children. The donkey performs several functions. It has a name, the kids get to know and love it over several days’ walking and feed it at the end of each day with donkey food which is waiting at the next hotel. This way the donkey distracts the children and the parents don’t get so much of the “Are we nearly there yet?” These kids don’t get bored – they can lead the donkey, talk to the donkey. They don’t get tired either because they can take in turns to actually ride the donkey. The benefits are endless – as well as taking the kids off their parents’ backs, the donkey can take the rucksacks off their backs as well.

This is an area of wonderful stone-built, walled medieval villages with cobbled streets, almost empty of people and certainly of traffic, which is always forced to park outside (donkeys excluded). These are set in a soft landscape that is rolling – made for strolling. You share it with sheep, goats and cattle. This is where the madrileños (the people of Madrid) head at the weekends, almost ignoring the landscape with its animal inhabitants – they have come not to look at them, but to eat them. This is the land of whole roasted lambs and suckling pigs, slow-baked in enormous wood-burning ovens in ancient stone wayside inns.

Suckling pigWe ourselves are heading for one such inn, not so much to eat something (though I doubt that we’ll come away hungry), but to visit our friends Toñi and Ángel, and their children, Miriam and (also) Ángel, who help them run the inn. (The Spanish seem to run out of ideas when naming people within the same family – go into a house and shout “Juan” and all the male members come running). We stayed with them when we were writing the notes for the Inntravel holiday, Trails with a Donkey, much of the time snowed in and captive to Toñi’s continuous production of culinary delights.

She (Toñi is a woman’s name) operates out of an extraordinary kitchen, which looks like it was inspired by a combination of Dickens’ novels and Dürer’s etchings, with Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dalí vying for the position of set designer. When you walk into it, you’re not sure whether you’ve walked into a kitchen, a butcher’s shop or a smithy. Rafa, the ever-smiling and indefatigable help from Mexico, slight, wiry, strong, and stripped to the waist, is heaving logs into the blazing cavity of a roaring brick-built oven. Ángel, also slight, with a crazed grin on his face, is wielding a variety of large gleaming knives. Tiny Toñi (everyone here is small), with frowning concentration, her face almost melting from the blaze of the oven, her hair spiked up like some 50-year-old punk, is stirring frantically at several blackened, food-encrusted cauldrons like a witch brewing up trouble. And everywhere are pots, pans, impossibly tall piles of teetering plates, and every type of animal or vegetable culinary ingredient, from octopus to boiled spinach draped over every surface, like Dalí’s melting clocks. Over the years no one has thought of a better method of supporting the end of a 3-metre-long paddle for scooping whole pigs out of the oven than by propping it up on one of the precariously balanced piles of plates – it looks like a Heath Robinson contraption for catapulting the food directly out of the oven and into the dining room next door. Pigs might fly.

There is no way this kitchen would pass Health & Safety (I hasten to add that we do not use it on any Inntravel holiday), but amazingly tasty meals appear out of it. Linda and I stayed and ate here for a month, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Toñi never let us see a menu, each night surprising us with dishes, and also surprising us with their quality and quantity. Good job we were walking most days.

Typical Segovian village
Posted: 18/08/2011 10:39:52 by | with 1 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, journey, Spain


Comments
Steve J
Holidays with a donkey - whatever next?! Toni's kitchen sounds amazing...
19/08/2011 11:20:56

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