A few weeks ago I came home after what had been a completely stressful and overwhelming work week and found my husband staring at the computer. When I walked inside, he turned around and said, ‘I found a vegan inn, in the middle of the woods, we can take the dogs… we’re going!’. This would have been incredible news on any given day, but on that day I couldn’t stop hugging him! A weekend in the middle of nature, with my three love birds and nothing but a fire and a book was exactly what I needed. But of course, our weekend was much more than that. We quickly booked the inn (or bed and breakfast, since the vegan breakfast was clearly the star!), decided Halloween was the time to go, and packed our bags and the doggies into the car and drove off.
The Caserio Da Castiñeira, is this beautiful inn, located in the North of Spain, about 5 and a half hours from our house in Madrid, specifically in the Ribeira Sacra, in the Ourense province of Galicia, Spain. This was our first trip to Galicia, and all I can say is WOW! It is filled with the most luscious green forests, rolling hills, mountains, streams, rivers, and monasteries and castles hidden like little gems inside the forest. I still find it hard to believe that Spain has such varied geography and architecture. It truly has to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world! You never know what’s around the corner.
It was our first road trip with both Nala and Vega, and we weren’t sure how they would behave spending over 5 hours in the car but they absolutely loved it and slept in their beds in the back, for most of the trip. When we got to Castiñeira, the reality was so much better than what we were expecting. The inn is in the middle of beautiful green fields, and the smell of pine trees and wood burning stoves fills the air. It is a beautiful stone house made up of several small houses, all equipped with a fireplace or wood burning stove, a kitchen, bathroom, sofa, one or two sleeping areas or even separate bedrooms, and they also have smaller rooms if you don’t need the kitchen and living room. Our little house, called Sesame (how cute is that? All the cottages have names of spices or cooking goodies), was located in the back of a communal courtyard and right next to the gate that let you out into a garden with picnic tables, hammocks, a swing and an incredible view, all for the guests’ pleasure (of course the doggies’ favorite part of the house). When you went inside you felt the most amazing smell of wood, and the little house made entirely out of stone had a sofa in front of the fire, a bed right behind it, a fully equipped kitchen, and a great bathroom with an even better shower. We didn’t use it, but it also had a little mezzanine with an additional bed.
The inn also has a communal living room and den with a fireplace, magazines, library, board games and the works. The vegan owners, Manolo and his wife Carmen are always there for anything you need and are the perfect tour guides for exploring the area. Every morning after we had our breakfast (more on this later!), Manolo would sit down with us and make us the most elaborate maps showing us where we could spend the day, including hiking trails, distances and sights we wouldn’t want to miss. I’m pretty sure he was a cartographer or a treasure hunter in another lifetime. Take a look!
We spent our days exploring, hiking, walking, and most of the time waiting for our jaws to return to normal, after we saw our little Nala (who is 13 years old), running, climbing, taking a dip in the river, as if she was a puppy, following her sister around without a care in the world. We were in heaven.
I know that in our vegan travel series you’re expecting a lot of talk about all the vegan food we had and whether or not the area is vegan friendly, but because we were planning on spending all our time in nature and the house had a kitchen, I cooked some yummy vegan grub for dinner (with some goodies I had made in advance), and we took a picnic for lunch every day. However, the breakfast at Castiñeira was all vegan, was served by Manolo every morning in our little house, and was the most unbelievable thing on the planet. We honestly had a lot of trouble eating our picnic after that feast every morning. Our breakfast included, coffee (or tea), non dairy milk, cocoa powder for a truly decadent drink, granola and all natural chocolate puffs, oatmeal cookies, their homemade banana cake (Oh my God!), their homemade bread, two types of jam, a bowl of fruit which varied daily and was sprinkled with cinnamon, and the Spanish essentials for those of us who love a traditional savory Spanish breakfast: garlic, olive oil, pureed tomatoes and salt, for a wonderful savory Spanish tomato toast. Words cannot describe, so here’s a photo!
On the day we arrived, which happened to be Halloween, we were starving, so I warmed up some of the goodies we had brought. We had my famous Mediterranean couscous with roasted vegetables and chickpeas, and a side of avocado and fresh tomato. Then we headed out to a nearby forest and hiking trail along a river. It was the spookiest place, and my favorite of the whole trip, especially when I saw my little ones having the time of their lives, running free in the woods and swimming in the river.
Did you catch that ‘dog’bunny’? Here’s a close-up. None other than our little Vega of course.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Halloween and all of life’s mysteries…
It got dark pretty quickly so we headed into town to take a look at the historical town center, where I took this incredibly spooky photo of the Medieval castle of Castro Caldelas.
We then headed back to Castiñeira to feed two hungry doggies and humans, and we settled in for the night, by the fire. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be all cozied up together after an afternoon in the woods. For dinner I made my mean green ‘grinch’ pesto pasta with shitake mushrooms and almond parm, and we had a decadent brownie I had made at home earlier that week and brought along with us. Fear not. If you don’t want to cook at all during your stay at Castiñeira, Manolo will gladly give you directions to local restaurants that he himself has asked to carry vegan dishes for his guests. On some times of the year they also serve lunch and dinner at the house, but you need to make sure in advance. We however, wanted to spend as much time as possible in nature and away from civilization, so we opted for some good ol’ home cookin’. We gobbled our brownies, watched a film, and then dozed off to the sound of the crackling fire. What could be better?!
The next morning we had the first of the massive breakfasts and headed out. Manolo had mapped out a whole day’s worth of hikes, walks and places to visit. We were not expecting what was in store for us! The Sil river, wooden boardwalks that traced the mountains and took you deep in the forest, breathtaking views, hundred year-old chestnut trees (yes, I brought back some chestnuts to roast with you guys soon), the Santa Cristina Monastery (literally hidden inside a forest), foggy cliffs, and more.
The doggies were happy because the sweet sweet guard in the monastery let them in with us, saying that one of the main Saints in the chapel was the patron saint of animals.
Some things simply can’t be captured with a camera, but I tried my best. Get ready…
Next to this statue of a little man and his dog, sat this very tall man with ours, the sun came out and the skies cleared up.
We had completely forgotten about lunch with all the amazing places we were seeing, so we ended up looking for a field in the countryside at sunset. We whipped out our tomato, cheese and chorizo sandwiches (all vegan of course!), doggie treats, and watched the dogs run, jump and roll in the grass while we watched the sun go down. Hubby managed to capture this moment with our camera. It soon became my favorite photo of us. I can still smell the wet grass when I see it!
We got lost that night coming back to the house (what’s a good nature expedition without getting lost at least once right?), and ran into several cuties on the way. Sadly, as always happens when I see farmed animals walking outside and I think these don’t have it as bad as the others, we soon saw the other side of this seemingly harmless sight. A tiny cement room with cows crowded inside all trying to peek through the tiny window and desperate to get out.
We finally found our way, and had another amazing meal and movie night waiting for us by the fire. I had brought my picnic potato salad and some chucrut (sauerkraut), and I grilled some vegan sausages in a pan. Another brownie for dessert of course. The doggies were really tired that day, and they cuddled up next to each other in front of the fire. I almost cried out of sheer cuteness! Remember, they have only been sisters for 4 months, after we adopted Vega from the pound.
That was sadly our last night at Castiñeira, but before we left we had another incredible breakfast, a walk along the country road that led to the house, and then went on an amazing car ride through the mountains and vineyards. The Ribeira Sacra is becoming a growing wine area, and it was my first time seeing fields and fields of grape vines. So beautiful.
Another reason for loving Galicia? Every single little house has its own veggie patch filled and I mean filled with kale and collard greens. In Madrid they’re almost impossible to find, but in Galicia they grow like weeds. Manolo told us that some plants are so old the stems reach the second floors of some houses and people take their kale right from the upstairs’ windows! I just had to take a picture.
We saw so much of the forests and countryside, but we didn’t even scratch the surface. The Ourense province has countless vineyards, forests, mountains, streams, rivers, and even the famous thermal waters in which you can take a dip under the stars. This means of course that we’ll be back before you know it, if only for the incredible breakfast and superb service at the Caserio Da Castiñeira. Thank you, thank you, thank you Manolo and Carmen! We’ll be back!
Don’t forget to visit their website and follow them on Instagram @acastineira, to book your holiday, look at the amazing photos of the places you’ll get to see, and enjoy many of their other services including yoga classes, cooking classes, detox holidays and so much more. ‘Til next time!