Spain’s ‘Green Coast’ is one of the most inviting landscapes I have ever laid my eyes upon. Lush hills and pastureland tumble down to grassy cliffs which frame secluded beaches of virgin sand, sweeping bays and colourful fishing ports. Behind all this lies the Picos de Europa mountain range, wild and remote with its jagged limestone peaks.
Somewhere in between, though, there is a very special mode of transport. The FEVE (Ferrocarril Española Via Estrecha ) – or ‘Slow Train’, as it has become endearingly known – is unmarked on most Spanish railway maps, yet is a real boon for the curious traveller.
The whole line (actually a trio of 1,000mm narrow-gauge lines dating from 1965) dawdles all the way from Bilbao in the Basque Country to Galicia in Spain’s north-west corner, and stops at no fewer than 100 stations along the way. And the section we use for our holiday, passing through the bucolic and astonishingly green landscapes of Asturias, is an undoubted highlight.
In this age of high-speed rail transport, the FEVE might seem like something of an anachronism. After all, its trains feel neither luxurious nor particularly modern. But they chug faithfully along, doggedly resisting ‘progress’ while advancing in their measured and staccato manner, disgorging locals and commuters while connecting one tiny platform to another.
The FEVE, you see, remains integral to Asturian rural life; and behind its refusal to rush lies much of its charm. Its inexorable trundle means that the sumptuous views are admiringly absorbed, rather than merely flashed on the retina. And the sheer number of stops – in what often appears to be the middle of nowhere – makes for some very tempting ways to fill your days. Jumping off and re-boarding opportunities abound, so that a cliff-top coastal walk, time at the beach or a tasty seafood lunch (or even a combination of all three!) are within very easy reach.
So hop on the Slow Train, amble across ‘Green Spain’ by rail, and feel the deceleration of both life and mind!
Casas de Indianos
Characteristic of Spain’s Costa Verde are the magnificent period houses – often decorated in exotic, flamboyant style – which dot the landscape. These are the former homes of returning emigrés, who, having made their fortunes overseas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, returned to incorporate some of the colonial architectural styles they had encountered (in Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay or elsewhere in Latin America) into the new buildings they created. Somewhat ostentatious and highly individual in style, the unifying feature of these casas de Indianos is a palm tree in the grounds – planted in recognition of where their wealth had come from.
The appreciation of sidra
, Asturians’ honeycoloured tipple of choice, is practically an art form
in this corner of Spain. Witness the lively, waterfront sidrerίas
, where skilful escanciadores
(cider pourers) artfully decant local brews from high above, and where the emphasis on communal revelry makes the occasion feel more like a group hug than a mere meeting of friends. As with everything else, the best way to appreciate it is to get involved. ¡Salud