Unique Small-Group Adventures featuring Food, History and Spanish Culture
We pile out of the SpainOurWay van at a small footbridge somewhere in the northwest Spanish countryside. The morning’s rain has ceased, and the sun shimmers on the wet planks and ancient stones as we cross the bridge and follow the path along the millrace to meet our host, Vicente. Along the way, a handsome black and white goat stops his ruminations long enough to inspect the new arrivals, and then resumes nibbling the lush grass under the dripping trees. A whiff of wood smoke promises a warm welcome on this cool April afternoon.
Six of us are in the Ortegal region of Galicia, near the little village of Cariño, half way through a 12-day adventure with Spain our Way. This rural casa, Muiño das Cañotas – a 700-year old gristmill – will be our home for the next three days. Low, stone buildings with red-tiled roofs surround a courtyard full of potted flowers and herbs. An ancient olive tree grows in the center. I can imagine a ruddy-faced miller in a floury apron, hoisting sacks of ground wheat or rye onto a rough farm cart by the front door, oxen standing patiently swishing at flies. I can almost hear the sound of the millstones grinding, and the stream rushing underneath the floorboards of the mill itself.
After being shown to our rooms in the nearby outbuildings – each one unique with low ceilings of chestnut beams, antique furnishings, colorful tiled bathrooms, fine linens and tasteful flower arrangements – we sit around a well-worn tavern table in front of a cozy fire and sample the local wines. No, not at all hard to imagine Vicente as that miller of old, and his helpers, Margarita and Azucena – the sturdy women of the family – busy in the kitchen with dinner preparations. Time travel, anyone?
Dinner is superb. The table is carefully set with sparkling glassware and cutlery, thick linen napkins, baskets of fresh homemade bread and plates of creamy butter. The loft’s deep windowsills hold vases of white calla lilies and we look out over the millstream and the wide stone pathway and well-tended perennial borders. The little goat – affectionately dubbed Albondiga (meatball, for his girth) – shows up, trotting jauntily up the path to the door as if to say, “Hey, sorry I’m late!” – just as we begin our dinner.
The salty aroma of the sea precedes Vicente up the stairs with our first course: plump, tender sea scallops, sautéed onions, leeks and melted queso de la capela on a bed of seaweed, lightly broiled in a large scallop shell. I could have stopped right there – with the crusty bread and a bottle of the local Crego e Monaguillo from Monterrei, I was all set. But of course there is more. A heavy ironstone plate flaunts a thick portion of hake, baked until golden in a small ocean of butter and cream, served with boiled new potatoes and tiny green peas. Others choose the veal, delicately sautéed in butter and herbs alongside crispy baked potatoes. And then more wine and more conversation before dessert magically appears: a creamy, ice cold, melt-in-your-mouth pineapple pudding in a shortbread crust. And a tray of tiny goblets and two carafes of locally produced digestives: Licor Café and Crema de Orujo, (coffee liqueur and a homemade Bailey’s made with condensed milk, both beginning with a grappa-like base).
After lengthy goodnights and plans for tomorrow, with bellies full to rival that of the goat, we drift off into the night to our rooms.
Earlier, I learned from Vicente that my accommodation had been the stable hundreds of years ago. Now, I take in the thoughtful touches of this meticulously restored stone building – the tiny cast iron wood stove downstairs, and the loft above with lace at the windows and flowers by the bedside. Thick white bath towels and bed linens smelling of sunshine. I pause at the window to gaze out at the night. The camellias are glowing in the moonlight, and the mist is settling into the valley. And out in the garden, beside a cypress tree, is Albondiga, bedded down under the stars.
Author: Nancy Shaw