A few days ago, Phil and I decided to take a train to the coastal town of Candás and walk the 11 miles/18 kilometres back to Gijon. We’ve visited Candás before a couple of times (Phil wrote about it here) and discovered the last time that there is a scenic beachfront path one can take all the way to the village of Xivares, 5k/3miles to the east. On our previous visit, we hopped on a returning train in Xivares but we knew there was a path to continue walking along the coast all the way back to Gijon.
When we have visited Campa Torres in Gijon (I wrote about one visit here), we noticed the picturesque little beach towns dotting the coast to the west. Last time we were there I said, “I want to go there” and pointed westward. Well, Candás, Xivares, and Perlora are all “there”. We figured if we kept on walking along the coast from “there”,we would eventually reach Campa Torres or at least the restaurant near there that we like, Les Cabañes*.
We packed a couple of bocadillos (sandwiches on baguette) and walked toward the train station around noon. Due to a malfunction with the ticket machine, we missed the first train, so we had time to enjoy a beer at a nearby cafe that also provided a generous spread of gratis pinchos (score!) to wait for the next one. We boarded our train a little after 1pm and were off to Candás.
As we disembarked the train at Candás it was misting lightly. We grabbed a coffee at a small cafe on the way down to the water front and by the time we were finished, the sky was blue and sun shining. We walked the now familiar path along the harbor toward one of two large RV parks that overlook the coast. A couple of kilometres later, we climbed the small hill that curves off the main road toward Perlora. A sprawling parking lot and guard’s post are the first remnants of the town that greet you. The guard’s post is still manned and we waved to the guard inside as we walked by, through the parking lot and down the street toward the water.
Our first time in Perlora we had no idea what it was or had been and it was so strange to see so many boarded up homes over looking the beautiful Asturian coast. Coming from Southern California, I could not believe such a huge piece of land overlooking the ocean was sitting empty, abandoned.
While the houses are abandoned, the streets are still being maintained. We saw town trash cans that were obviously being tended to regularly and fresh paint on the streets. Someone trims the grass to a reasonable height. We also saw people enjoying the beach front path and overlooks as well as public picnic areas and grills. There are two gorgeous public beaches in Perlora. So what the heck is Perlora and why doesn’t anyone live there?
Well, Perlora Holiday Village was developed in the 1950’s during the height of the Franco dictatorship as a high quality vacation complex for workers all over the country. It offered public company workers who might not otherwise be able to afford a summer vacation, the opportunity to enjoy a luxury get away for a very low cost. According to an article I found on livingasturias.com, “The basic idea was to allow employees of various companies who could not afford a summer vacation, to enjoy them thanks to the help of their companies. Perlora arises from the need to encourage the worker through the “access and enjoyment of all the goods of culture, joy, health and sport”, but also intended to maintain social peace.”
Perlora was a booming vacation spot through the 1980’s, relying on state funds to operate. In the 1990’s, Perlora was handed over to the Autonomous Community of Asturias (from the federal government). As the coal industry started to decline in Spain in the 1990’s, the region was effected economically and eventually closed the city in 2006 as they could no longer afford to maintain it as a holiday complex.
Perlora had 270 chalets on over 20 hectacres, could accommodate 1,500 vacationers, and employed around 200 workers. There was a church, soccer fields, mini golf course, tennis courts (still in very good shape), restaurants, and various shops in addition to access to the beautiful beaches. Now though, the future of Perlora is unknown. I found little information about the current situations and plans. From what I gleaned, some sort of private/public arrangement is trying to be worked out but remains in a state of flux.
On this day in Perlora, we sat on a bench and watched the large waves crashing against the rocks and beach as we split one of the bocadillos we brought. Leaving Perlora behind, we walked on toward Xivares, along the coastal path we went.
While last time we caught the train in Xivares, this time, we weren’t exactly sure how we should continue on as the path we had taken ended at the edge of town. Phil, our great navigator, lead us through the streets of Xivares and as we stopped to catch our breath at a scenic overlook, we noticed a small path leading down toward the water. “It looks like we can go that way”, he said, so on we went, dodging mud as best we could.
Up and down we walked along the sometimes paved, sometimes dirt (or mud as it were) roads and paths, bidding a buenas tardes to a few horses we passed, having their afternoon snack on a hill. We saw some road signs along the way indicating access prohibited to the finca (property), though we weren’t driving so on we walked. At one point, we saw two large dogs up ahead. They saw us too and proceeded to bark and approach. They didn’t appear to be aggressive but Phil grabbed the small umbrella from the side of our backpack and held it in his hand just in case and told the dogs to go on, in an firm voice. As we got closer we could tell the dogs were a couple of old guys, wagging their tails. It is very unusual to see dogs without owners nearby so we were still cautious but proceeded on our way as the dogs followed leisurely behind us and eventually turned around.
We could sense we were nearing Campa Torres and I kept expecting to come upon the main road any moment. From Campa Torres one can see Aboño thermal power plant, the last coal powered thermal power plan in Spain. It is nestled in the Valley, next to the sea. Like many industrial scenes in Asturias, it seems strange to see a smoke spewing, coal fired complex in juxtaposition to the rolling green hills and blue of the Cantabrian Sea. The road we encountered and were to take was not the main road but one that lead us directly through the power plant.
As we descended the hill into an area that felt like surly we should not be in, we put our face masks back on due to the smell. We walked past train cars making their way down the line, full to the brim of coal. We saw another huge pile of coal with a machine that looked like a mini Ferris wheel shoveling it. Trucks full of coal drove past us. I kept imagining a guy in a golf cart wearing a hard hat driving up to us asking what the heck we were doing there and to get the hell out but no on seemed to care and on we went.
Eventually our path split and I knew the one leading straight up the mountain was ours. Escalar escalar. The path zig-zagged a bit but continued up. We stopped to catch our breath and Phil, consulting his phone, announced that Les Cabañes was at the top of the hill, only a few minutes away. The promise of a seat, some snacks, and a cold beer put some pep in my step as we climbed on. Dogs on either side of the road, behind fences barked as we passed. Barking dogs are the soundtrack to pretty much any walk we take in a residential area. Up ahead of us, another large, loose dog barked down at us. Phil, again, in a firm voice told him to go on, and he did. As we climbed the last leg toward the Les Cabañes parking lot, I remembered the second bocadillo in the backpack I was wearing and the loose dog we just past and I tell you, I’ve never climbed so quickly.
We arrived at Les Cabañes just before sunset and ordered two beers which came with a large plate of pinchos. The sunset was breath taking, in hues of pinks and purples. The power plant even appeared beautiful, awash in the bright colors.
We finished our beers and walked another 45 minutes (all downhill thank goodness) and caught the bus home from the Natahoyo neighborhood. Another wonderful Asturian adventure in the books.
*When I wrote about Campa Torres, I talked about our first trip to Les Cabañes and mentioned they are known for their Lamb on a steak or cordero a la estaca. I also mentioned that we would go back for a proper meal and I would tell you all about it. We did for for a proper meal just before Christmas. The lamb and the rest of the food was delicious and the service excellent. Photos from our feast below.