Oviedo is like a fairy tale: Woody Allen
"Pheasants live in the trees," our guide tells us as we amble through squares lined with baroque palaces. On a poster outside the Compoamor Theatre, we notice that the Prime Minister's wife was singing the lead role in an opera. No wonder Woody Allen sent his characters from Vicky Cristina Barcelona to Oviedo for a weekend and visits himself
This wealthy and sophisticated city, founded in 761 by two monks, has been the capital of the ancient kingdom of Asturias since 808. Oviedo offers the usual banquet of history and architecture: convents, churches and museums - and a lively nightlife.
The 1,000 year-old Cathedral of San Salvador, a noble mixture of Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque was an important stop for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostella. There's a medieval saying: "Who visits Santiago and not El Salvador, worships the servant and not the master."
Woody Allen and his cast stayed in a national monument. The Hotel de la Reconquista, built in the eighteenth-century, was once a hospital and orphanage. The shield of the Royal Coat of Arms adorns a harmonious façade with arches and wrought iron balconies. Inside, one enters a vast, glass-roofed courtyard with wooden galleries, and "an atmosphere of peace, colours and noble materials." There is a red rug, the size of a football field, blue velvet furniture sprinkled about and a grand piano standing casually in a corner like a dollhouse miniature. The walls are lined with paintings, maps, carvings. There are grandfather clocks, mirrors, chandeliers and ancient chests. The portrait of Queen Isabel II, who visited in 1858, gazes down as you climb the stairs.
The Judges for the eighth Prince of Asturias Awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Nobel Prize) make their final decision in the Meeting Room in the Royal Suite. Woody Allen fell in love with the city when given a prize for the Arts in 2002. In 2008, Margaret Atwood won for Letters, Rafael Nadal - big surprise - for Sports.
Cider-houses are an Oviedo specialty. A whole street of them! The Restaurant Sidreria Tierra Astur is a jolly, noisy place with a small store at the front offering local specialties. Giant hams dangle above succulent chunks and circles of cheese. Tempting, but not suitable for carting about in a carry-on suitcase.
We sat on long benches, awaiting trays of appetizers: boar pate, anchovies, olives, chorizo. Great bowls of lethally smooth sangria were on offer, but I saved myself for the several varieties of sidra naturale, made from naturally-fermented apples and 5% alcohol.
In a bravura performance, the servers hold a glass at arm's length in the air, pour into it from on high in a sparkling stream such that it splashes on the side of the glass and then hand it to you with a flourish. The technique of escanciada oxygenates the 'still' cider, but only for a few seconds; you are meant to down it fast.
A modern destination is the Princess Letizia Congress Hall, designed by the great Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, who won for Arts in 1999. It took seven years to build and when open next year, will be the biggest in Europe.
Oviedo's citizens are proud that Princess Letizia (wife of the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne) is a local girl. They are not so pleased that Franco's wife, Carmen Palo, was too.
Three km. from town is the most unassuming yet satisfying of World Heritage sites. Jan Morris said it best: "two robust little churches, all on their own on a hillside, which stand so silent and deserted on the road above Oviedo, looking down like cowled monks themselves upon the industrial tumult of the city below."
Santa Maria del Naranco is the only remaining pavilion of a country palace built by Ramiro I in the first half of the 9th century. (In the twelfth-century it was converted into a church.) Close by is San Miguel de Lillo, which was dedicated in 848. Young couples picnic, dogs frisk beside the only Visigothic church and Carolingian palace standing in Spain
Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines as well as a food blog, 'Edible Souvenirs' on the website
www.kingstonlife.com. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
(Air France flies into Oviedo twice a day, via the new 2G Terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. Think extra space, champagne and meals that you look forward to rather than dreading in their Tempo (Economy) Class from Toronto or Montreal.)
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