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Diary of a travel writer

MONDAY: Asturias is a part of Spain NOBODY goes to. More Irish people go to Santa Ponsa in a week than go to Asturias in a year. It has tourists of course, lots of them, but 92pc of them are Spaniards, understandably slow to tell the rest of the world about their country's hidden treasure, tucked away in the north west, like Galicia next door but with real mountains.

The journey starts well, a lunch stop at ancient converted convent Hotel Don Paco, swarthy hams and Beronia wine topped off with a blast of Aguardiente de Orujo that would put hairs on a bear's chest (Asturias is one of the last refuges for bears on the continent).

The night stop is in Casa Chema where dinner consists of what may have been the most delicious monkfish I have ever tasted.

TUESDAY: Lorena Diaz shows us round the Talasatoerapia centre in Gijon, offering dark relaxation pools, hot and cold running treatments, and basins of hungry garra rufa fish to nibble dead flesh from your toes.

At lunch in Sidrearia Teirra Astur restaurant in Gijon we sample 35 of the 40 different types of cheeses found in Asturias. The signature cheese, Cabrales, is matured in a natural cave for three months. Two bites and you KNOW it is worth the trouble.

WEDNESDAY: Las Caldas Villa Termal, eight kilometres from Oviedo, is an epic five star with huge rooms, stunning plaster work and gilded mirrors. Evening ends with a massage, as these things do.

Asturias is as far from the laminated menus flaunting €6.99 egg and chips meals as you could dream. Asturias offers the same great wine, frothy local cider, astonishing hams, angula (baby eels plucked from where the river meets the ocean), eccentric spicy sausages and cheese, all at two thirds of the prices you pay a couple of hours down the motorway.

THURSDAY: A round of drinks at the little bar down the road costs €6, Bar Jardin Las Caldas. The five star is okay but if you want atmosphere, a generous vino tinto and a snack and a chat about local soccer star Juan Mata or Kevin Moran's days at Sporting Gijon head 50 metres down the road to the corner ristorante.

FRIDAY: Asturias turned up at this year's Festival Interceltique as the seventh Celtic nation (Galicia as the eighth). They have their own pipes, and judging by the museum in Teverga, Manuel Fernandez Delgado is their version of Willie Clancy and Diamantina Rodríguez is their Mary O'Hara.

We are indoors today because the rain in Spain falls mainly on the mountains, apparently, rather than the plain. Our cycle trip along a disused colliery railway is cancelled, although Mirte Saskia, a Dutch travel consultant, cycles through a protected bear area.

SATURDAY: Flight FR1262 from Oviedo/Asturias airport to Madrid departs on time and I have an exit row again without paying the extra charge.

We have four hours in Madrid before the next flight. I love using the Metro into the city centre from Barajas Airport. But beware €4.95 per bag charge for left luggage.

SUNDAY: It is as sunny in Ireland as Asturias, but I miss my cheese, wine and Aguardiente de Orujo.


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