Of Cainos, Cephalopods and Swimming Pools
SCENE: Gatport Airwick
TIME: Ridiculously early AM
Queasyjet to Santiago
The bleary-eyed somnambulistic Pyrennies, shod in regulation flip-flops and shorts, tousled and/or hair-gelled, assembled at north terminal Gatwick for the flight to Santiago. Earlycomers took the opportunity to shovel bacon butties and coffee down their gullets, some worthy dietary souls partook frugally of muesli and fruit salad – but not necessarily in that order. Some like me poured hot coffee onto their groin to cudgel even an atom of wakefulness from a desensitised carcass.
Santiago has an unfathomably huge airport considering that it hosts about six flights a day and most people arrive in the city via Shanks’ Pony (or Shanks’ donkey as it should be in these parts). Santiago is truly the salted lip of the west of the west, a place so moist that moss grows between your toes if you too tarry too long in one place.
We didn’t tarry. We boarded our bus and were driven into the hinterland of Galicia on the kind of peerlessly smooth, traffic-free highways that only huge EU grants can subsidise. This a green region of rolling hills clad in pine forests, one bisected by rivers that gouge spectacular gorges out the rocky land. Tis also a region of octopus fairs. Which may not be fair on the octopus. More on that anon and on. As we penetrated further the maritime influence gave way to a more continental climate, and, by the time we alighted in Ribeiro for our first visit to Adega Sameiras, the heat was definitely on in the single street of village.
DO Ribeiro is located in southern Galicia, in the north-western edge of the province of Ourense, in the confluence of the valleys formed by the rivers Miño, Avia, and Barbantiño Arnoia. The vineyards, located on multiple small parcels, range from 75 to 400 metres above sea level in the valleys and on the hillsides, sometimes on steeply-terraced slopes. We were greeted by Antonio Cajide, owner of Adegas Sameirás, one of the most reputed wineries in the region. Here they uphold the utmost respect for the environment, maintaining the integrity of soil and microbial activity by using only strictly necessary treatments and preventing erosion by the application of organic matter. Due to the variety of soils Adega Sameirás are able to work with several indigenous grapes, matching each variety to its preferred terroir. Antonio explained that they also work traditionally, for example, tying the branches with wicker, raffia and reed materials, which, once they cease to be useful, are ploughed back into the soil for organic matter.
Passing through the vines we discovered numerous variants of Caino Tinto and other assorted oddments. I’d never met a Lado before, but after this I can claim I have: other local denizens include Souson, Brancellao & Mencia for the reds and Treixadura, Albarino, Torrontes, Godello and Caino Blanco for the whites. Having such a broad portfolio of grapes acts as a kind of insurance; different ripening times helps in the event of adverse weather conditions. As we walked Antonio clucked repeatedly, and plucked unripe bunches from the vines with alacrity – at times his arms whirred like an out-of-control helicopter as he seemed almost intent on single-handedly discarding an entire vintage.
Terroir: pink marzipan
The cutest vineyards were back in the village, pocket handkerchiefs of land tucked amongst outhouses and sheds. With greater biodiversity these vineyards were more vibrant, while the grapes looked and tasted more fully ripened.
Black tower is not made here
Mark about to do some sneaky green harvesting
Having flip-flopped through vines on hill and dale we trooped back to the bus which decanted us by Antonio’s idyllically-situated house with its panoramic views over the valley. On the terrace, adjacent to a come-hither swimming pool, was a long table and, to the side of that, something was brewing in a cauldron. An octo-doctor was surgically snipping tentacles and chopping various beasts into bite-sized pieces. Liberally anointed with paprika dust these were tender and spicy cephalopods. If this was a movie it would have been Pulpo Fiction (or Octopussy) with the protagonist’s killer line to “never give a sucker an even break.” These suckers didn’t stand a chance – even those who might normally get pulpotations when confronted with nature red in beak and sucker, pitched into the tentacles with raw abandon, sluiced down with lemon-juicy Sameiras white and drafts of a fair few vintages of the equally cool red. Other goodies piled before us included fish and meat empanadas, platters of chorizo, lomo and ham, and astoundingly good crusty bread.
You gotta pick an octo or two
Performing the snip
The allure of a swimming pool fed by a local spring was too much to resist and it wasn’t long before bodies tumbled into the water (sometimes under their own steam, sometimes protesting vociferously, conveyed by a Praetorian guard consisting of one T Taliban). Once in and you’re in, and we enjoyed muchos malarkeyos, during a beaming afternoon of cavorting, splashing, bombing, bathing, not to mention having a rudimentary, but fiercely contested game of water netball.
Pyrennies hard at work in the office while Senor Broughton ponders how to swallow a giant doughnut.
After a final swift injection of coffee and orujos, we rang the water from our swimming costumes, bade our fond adieus, and departed for Ourense, the capital of the region and city of bridges.
Before that there was time to quickly explore Ribadavia, a small town on the right bank of the Miño. Considered to be the capital of the comarca of the Ribeiro this utterly picturesque town was declared a Historical Artistic Site in 1947. Near the Campo da Feira, one can find the well preserved ruins of the castle of the Sarmientos, the Counts of Ribadavia, dating from the fifteenth century. Parts of the walls that surrounded the town are also still standing. Inside the old quarter (casco vello/Barrio Xudeu), the main square (Praza Maior) has interesting buildings like the sixteenth-century town hall. And even more refreshing buildings like well-stocked bars.
The heat drove us to seek the ultimate vista, the bottom of a cold glass of Galician Estrella lager, which we supped enthusiastically, accompanied by the inevitable platefuls of emps, those fasty pasties of Galicia. Surrounded by the ambient buzz of café culture and promenading families, with our hides gently tanning, it was so tempting to kick back and make this our city of historical beer culture, but the fleshpots of Ourense wait for no man or woman, and so it was time to clamber back on board the Scooby-Bus.
Give Lupo back his beer
The bustling town square
At first glance Ourense is not the most prepossessing of conurbations, but it justifiably lays claim to be the City of Water. Here eight bridges cross the Miño River, which in Roman times was a gold mine. Today there is no gold, but very valuable waters: thermal springs, such as the hot springs of A Chavasqueira by the river’s edge. And if you had to pick one bridge it would be the symbol of the city: The Roman Bridge.
Roman, Roman, Roman, though the streams are swollen…
We dropped our bags at the hotel, downed a swift ale in the lobby, and sauntered forth in search of sustenance. By this stage in the proceedings your narrator was fading faster than the evening light. We found a restaurant with a table that would accommodate our group of twenty-odd (very odd) and ordered food. A succession of dishes crept out of the kitchen at a snail’s pace; padron peppers (swimming in oil and salt), deep fried cuttlefish (salt and oil), more peppers, various other deep fried thingummybits and a heap loads of desperately average sulphur juice masquerading as wine. TT (El Toro) was in fine fettle, semaphoring a hen party and then trying to gate-crash it. After this less than edifying supper we girded our lomos in search of cheese, chance meetings and undifferentiated booze, piling into one joint that had a decent wine selection from the region as well as serving a thin cider-like concoction from a wooden barrel (which transpired to be a white wine) in china bowls. A plate of pigs’ ears – or gristle flaps – materialised at one end of the bar. People poked at them suspiciously, a few ventured a chew, brows furrowed and noses wrinkled accordingly. Then the owner of the bar, having a life, turfed our merry throng back onto the still-heaving streets of Ourense just past midnight, whereupon the wusses, like yours truly, snuffled wearily back to the hotel, whilst the hard core (most everybody else), their respective danders still up, invoked the party spirit and hit some more bars like a Hun army.
El Toro spies a defenceless chiquita