Mother's Day along the three rivers
It was Mother’s Day in Spain last weekend, and sunny, so we needed no more excuse to indulge in one of our day trips – with lunch, of course. I had been pondering where to go when a chance encounter online brought the town of Os Peares to mind.
Os Peares is a small town around an hour southeast, and a whole world away from our own market town of Taboada. Whereas our village sits at 500 metres above sea level, Os Peares nestles in a deep valley, merely 200 metres above sea level at the conjunction of three rivers. At home, that morning had been bright and sunny after an annoying late frost. My runner beans, the six tomatoes I had sacrificed to test the weather, my early potatoes and the tips of the walnut leaves were looking rather blackened. In Os Peares the bright lemons, huge oranges and half-grown figs mocked me, while the grape vines are already fully two feet long. The influence of the three rivers, the Miño, the Sil, and the smaller Búbal, on the climate of the town is obvious and frosts are rare in this valley.
The road to Os Peares is one of my favourite drives. The narrow road winds through woodland of chestnut, oak and walnut. The oaks were already cloaked in Lincoln green, the walnuts showing bronzed new growth, beautifully backlit by the sunshine, whilst the chestnuts were still bare as winter. The road winds below the canopy, shaded and damp in the morning air and we criss-crossed narrow rivers on even narrower bridges, back and forth, ever downhill. We passed through tiny hamlets of a couple or three houses and larger villages boasting a shop, bar, or tabac. These are often the same place.
We were following the course of the river Búbal which arises a little to the west of the main N540, Lugo to Ourense road and heads eastwards to its end in Os Peares. Although a relatively short and small river, the Búbal has carved a deep valley. The scenery is dramatic and has been likened to Switzerland or Austria with its steep, abundantly green slopes and tiny villages.
Heading into the Os Peares valley through eucalypt forests rather than broadleaved woodland, the trees block the views until we reach the first houses above the town. Some 200 metres below us is the river Búbal. Beyond is the distinctive blue, wrought iron railway bridge crossing the river Miño and, almost on a level with our viewpoint, at the far end of the valley, the huge concrete structure of the main N120 road bridge which spans the valley high above the town.
The river Búbal, alongside which we park in the shade of some trees, is fast-flowing, perfectly clear and quite shallow here. We follow a walkway alongside the river and below the canopy of the riverside trees. To our right, the Búbal dives over a waterfall, the spray splashing us with droplets and the noise drowning out conversation. To our left, chickens peck happily below a set of grape vines, no doubt eating bugs for the grateful owner. Above, a Muscovy duck sits on the topmost vines, eyeing the hens below.
Our short walk brings us to our lunch stop, the Acea do Búbal, a restaurant and hotel set on the banks of the river in an old chocolate factory. There is a sunny patio at the front of the property and to the rear, a shady terrace set out just for us. The table is on its own open deck just a few metres above the river directly below. The setting is perfect.
A menú del día is presented to us whilst the waitress goes in search of essentials – vino, water and bread. She returns without the bread but we fail to notice until our starters are consumed, leaving tasty juices which cry out for our elusive bread. I hang on to my empty plate until our waitress returns, apologetic, with delicious crusty slow-risen Galician bread to mop up the garlicky juices from my chipirones (baby squid).
We opt for coffee in the sunshine as its getting a bit cool in the shade out there over the water, and Mum’s fingers are turning blue!
After lunch, a stroll is called for to walk off the three courses and the vino. We head underneath the railway, doubling back towards the station with its one stopping train a day. This is my favourite part of the town where I can let my imagination run wild.
and fascinating ruins
On our right is the railway line, on our left a row of beautiful, abandoned two-storey houses with square walls, high ornate, wooden doors and wrought iron balconies above. Many of the double or triple fronted buildings have faded painted signs. There is a jewellers, and others, too faded to read. A car service centre has its metal concertina doors standing wide open onto a vast open space overlooking the river at the rear.
A double and a triple fronted property together are for sale and my mind whirls with possibilities. I can see Victorian ladies strolling genteelly along this parade, dripping with jewels and furs, maybe choosing a new brooch from the jewellers as they promenade past. I would love to go back in time and see this area as it was in its hey-day, bustling with life; the steam from the trains mingling with the mist from the river below.
It seems such a special spot, with the fronts of the buildings overlooking the railway and the rear steeply dropping away to the Miño. Most of these properties have four or even five stories at the rear as the land slopes away. Some have a finca below that. In the gardens which still exist there are oranges trees, the fruits bigger than my fist. Those views are stunning but more than fifty percent of these properties seem abandoned. Why doesn’t the council do something to renovate the area? It is a mystery to me.
I’m happy to see a bar-restaurant, the Barra Miño, has reopened since we were last here. They used to do lovely tapas but we are way too full to contemplate any food so continue to walk toward the station. As the only train is not due for hours yet, we simply turn and wander back along my dream parade and through the streets of the town, past the pharmacy and the old-fashioned grocery shop to our car, waiting happily and patiently in the shade.
As I look over at the river Búbal once more, I ponder the mix that is Os Peares, a testament to both nature and to man, with its three rivers, its four bridges and its hydroelectric dam. And Os Peares is so much more interesting for that.