Next time you feel the need to get back to nature and immerse yourself in rural life, head to the mountains and villages of Asturias in northern Spain.
I was an odd child/teenager who watched too many films about escaping to the country.
I used to dream of moving to the middle of nowhere and immersing myself in a new culture, becoming someone else…
These dreams were usually set somewhere in rural Italy or France. A dusty old village of sand-stone farmhouses and olive groves, of lazy meals in the haze of late afternoon. Endless jugs of local wine and giant loaves of crusty bread.
I’d marry a farmer’s wife and learn how to make wine, work at the local château. We’d zip around the countryside on my orange Vespa and stop for picnics in golden fields of wheat. I’d write novels just for fun, build a wooden sailboat.
Like I say, too many movies.
And then, aged 25, I moved to Barcelona. It wasn’t quite the ‘rural retreat’ I had fantasised about for so long, but it was my first taste of escapism and, more importantly, reinvention.
If you ever feel lost or out of touch with yourself, if you suspect you have not yet had the chance to unearth your true inner self, I would highly recommend uprooting yourself and planting yourself somewhere new, somewhere… elsewhere.
It’s not so much about inventing yourself, but about liberating yourself from yourself, from the expectations of your friends and family, from what your society expects of you.
It wasn’t until recently, when I moved to Asturias with my girlfriend Rosana, that I realised I had gone all in and actually moved to the middle of nowhere.
We live in Gijón, the largest city in Asturias, but most of her family still live in the tiny town of Pola de Lena.
We visit every now and then and it feels like traveling to a different world, or at least to a different point in time.
It’s not France or Italy, and it’s not even the Spain most of us envisage when we think of Spain. There are bagpipes instead of flamenco guitars, sidrerias (cider bars) instead of bodegas, mountains of lush green grass instead of fields of wheat, apple orchards instead of olive groves.
But it is very much the ‘middle of nowhere’ I always dreamed of.
Everyone knows everyone in Pola de Lena. Even I know everyone in Pola de Lena. And they know me. I’m the foreigner, the alien, ‘el novio de la hija de Rosa y Alejandro’.
I’m the novelty act people don’t want to get stuck in conversation with, the one with an almost incomprehensible accent.
I struggle along in my childlike Spanish, frantically trying to express myself. And they look at me with their befuddled expressions, trying to work out if I’m speaking Spanish or English, waiting to make an escape of their own.
The original pueblo (village) was originally established in the 13th century as a passage between Oviedo and León.
Later in life, its thriving coal industry saw the population increase. Today this little butterknife of a town hugs the contours of the Río Lena and is home to around 9,000 people.
People visit to enjoy the laid-back way of life, as well as the excellent hiking and skiing (apparently it’s home to some world-class slopes).
What really strikes me most is just how passionate the locals in Pola de Lena are about their little rural paradise.
Nobody really leaves Pola unless they have to. Rosana is one of few. And if they do, they return as frequently as possible.
People seem to live forever here.
It must be the mountain air and the zesty cider. The slow and deliberate pace of life.
Make it Happen
Get there: Pola de Lena is located about 30-40 minutes away from Gijón and/or Oviedo by car (and about the same by train). There’s also a direct train from Madrid to Pola de Lena – it takes a good 4 or 5 hours but it’s a scenic and relatively cheap journey.
How to get around: Asturias, and the rest of northern Spain, is quite a vast and rural area and personally I think you need a car to see the best of it. Rent a car here.