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It is at dawn, with the fog still suspended over the valley, when Victorino Garcia arrives at his workshop in Tablado, a tiny town in the council of Degaña with just 12 inhabitants. It smells like cut wood, moist soil . A freshness of the field that sneaks out the window and accompanies the task of chopping the logs, lighting the lathe and molding the mortars, troughs ... and other shells of traditional dishes, one that for a long time gave meaning to a trade of which today there is no trace. Victorino is the last cunqueiro . "This is what we call the wood turner artisans, the most entrenched work in these lands since the Middle Ages, " he clarifies.

We are in Fuentes del Narcea, in the southwest of Asturias , one of the most remote and unpopulated corners of the peninsula. Here the parishes of Sisterna, El Corralín and El Bao make up, along with Tablado, the Cunqueiro territory , a place where all the men, until well in the middle of the 20th century, were masters of the lathe . With blocks of chestnut, birch or banana they made the tixiela or set of household utensils for, after the winter, launched for street sales for fairs and markets.

The town of Cangas del Narcea, capital of the region.

Now Victorino is in charge of preserving the memory of this trade that is at risk of disappearing. An activity so powerful that it even had its own jargon. "It was a language of more than 300 words that was used commercially so that they were not understood," he says. In the 60 would come mining and the death sentence. Not only cunqueiros but all kinds of artisans, including farmers and ranchers, surrendered to this new economic model that disrupted customs.

Back to the roots

Today, when from the urban urgency it turns its gaze to the countryside, this region is in the process of returning to its roots. "It will be a matter of listening to grandparents," Victorino explains. "To integrate their wisdom into new times , but without losing the essence. Because the neorruralism of the city's saturated urbanites has also not worked: we must come with a working model," he adds. Something that, he recognizes, in these lands only happens to promote the coexistence of man with nature.

Strong and typical characteristic stew of the region.

With this idea was born the Ecotourism Festival in Danger of Extinction , an event open to everyone in which, for five days, more than 20 experiences are proposed to get to know in depth the environment, trades, folklore, artisan products and the gastronomy of the region: workshops, photography competitions , showcookings , guided tours, honey tastings, cheese, mushrooms ...

Reason is not lacking. The empty Spain has an example here: only between the councils of Cangas, DeLegaña and Ibias there are more than 100 villages with less than 10 inhabited houses. Ecotourism seems to be the key with which to claim this region. Embedded in the basin of two rivers and in the heart of the natural park of Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias, it houses one of the most extraordinary samples of Iberian nature: the Muniellos Forest , which is not only the largest oak grove in Spain but also the home of the brown bear.

Hiking trails

Because of its uniqueness, this space has been declared a Comprehensive Natural Reserve , which means that it enjoys the highest degree of protection. Outside Muniellos there are up to 300 hiking trails. Including the GR203, a long-distance path that has been given the title of Where the Bear Walks . And although running into the Cantabrian giant is very difficult, the truth is that this entire area meets the ideal conditions for survival. Of course, when launching your search, it is not worth any behavior. In line with the commitment to sustainability, there is a Manual of good practices for the observation of os or, with 10 points on what should and should not be done.

Neighbor Francine with her mare 'Primavera'.

Everything, in order to keep this species in danger of extinction. It is not the only thing that hangs on a thread. Verónica, the only potter who still works black pottery in Llamas del Mouro , knows it well. And Paloma, who hardly keeps alive the elaboration of the so-called transhumance cheese in Genestoso. And Pepe, who continues to crush the flour as before in his old water mill in Vega de Pope. Trades that have the days counted.

As the Second , owner of the last flock of sheep xaldas that is preserved in Fuentes del Narcea. Small and long-haired, genetic studies say they are more primitive than Celts. "Unfortunately, if this species disappears, we will end all this," he concludes sadly.

Pepe in his water mill in Vega de Pope, the only one who performs this work.

Getting a generational relief is the challenge of this region, which works to become a place to get off the world, the last refuge to approach to live at another pace. Perhaps like Francine, who has found her paradise in the abandoned village of Corralín , with about twenty cats, geese, chickens and her mare Primavera . This French woman who was born without ribs and with the heart of the reverse predicted a life attached to a bottle of oxygen . "I found my salvation among these trees, where the purest air in the world is located," he tells from his house, devoured by vegetation, and without more lighting than candles, the moon and the stars.


Drop down

How to get. The best way to get to Fuentes del Narcea is by car on the A-6. You can also fly to Asturias airport, 100 km away, and finish the journey by car.

Where to sleep. In the Parador de Corias (parador.es), in an old monastery known as the Asturian Escorial (from 90 euros). Also in La Cabaña del Cachicán (cachican.es), charming rural apartments (from 76 euros).

More information. In the webs of Tourism of Asturias and the Festival of Ecotourism in Danger of Extinction.

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