My palate is flooded with a swell of tart fizz causing my taste buds to fire on all cylinders.
It overwhelms me because it’s not at all what I anticipated as I first raised a wide-mouth glass of frothy Asturian sidra to my lips. Sidra - that’s cider to English speakers - tastes something like an acerbic, spiked lemonade. Back at home, the cider I know is a sweet, summery beverage - often far too sweet for my liking.
Asturias, a region in northwestern Spain, is famous for its sidra. It’s a regional specialty, produced and consumed in equal measure.
On this early November evening in Villaviciosa, I’m touring Castañón Cider Mill. Despite the mill's sleek modern design, Castañón's roots run deep in Asturias. It was founded in 1938 by Alfredo García Menéndez and remains family-owned and operated to this day. Our tour is led by owner Julian Castañón Jr. and his niece Marta. Together, we follow the sidra’s journey from humble apple to bottled beverage.
Castañón Cider Mill hosts public sidra tastings but doesn’t regularly host dinner tours, which, as special guests, we’ve been invited to. Our invitation is reserved for Trafalgar’s Be My Guest program, a signature inclusion on our 11-day Northern Spain itinerary. In fact, Be My Guest features on almost all Trafalgar trips and 2019 marks the program's 10th anniversary.
It’d be easy to write off my visit to Castañón as just a cidery tour, but the experience is proving so much more. At it’s simplest, we’re imbibing the beverage that Asturians love. It’s the liquid libation friends share at dinner parties; the drink that’s served in local watering holes; and the beverage that’s casually uncorked in Asturian living rooms at the end of a long day. During the experience, I learn about the complexities of producing sidra (mixing bitter crab apples with sweeter varietals to yield the perfect flavour profile) and how it serves as the financial livelihood for many in the region, from bookkeepers to bartenders.
When it’s my turn to receive a sample of sidra, it’s delivered in dramatic fashion. Julian holds the glass at a forty-five-degree angle, extended far from his body. Next, he raises his hand to grasp a lever on a large stainless-steel tank. He slowly twists it, releasing a stream of sidra which shoots into the glass. “Into” is relative. At a distance that measures more than a metre from tank to glass, not all of the sidra arrives at its intended destination. As the liquid hits the cup, it splatters and froths. The dramatics serve as more than entertainment value; the aeration process releases the flavours.
He hands me a glass which I pinch between my index finger and thumb, trying to avoid palming the wet, sticky vessel. I raise my glass and clink “salut” with a fellow traveller.
Once everyone in our group has sampled some sidra we move into a cellar. The cavernous space is lined by 14 or so hulking chestnut vats (much taller than me) that line two of the four walls. Here, up to 1.5 million litres of sidra ferments under natural low-temperature control for roughly four months.
Flanked by vats and seated beneath an elaborate exposed beam ceiling, our group tucks into a traditional Espicha of local and regional specialties. There’s sidra – of course – and wine, Ibérico jamón and cave-aged Cabrales cheese. We toast to Julian and Marta, thanking them for welcoming us into their multi-generational cider mill. The feast satiates and bellies are full, but it’s Asturian hospitality that nourishes the heart.
Why we love Trafalgar's Be My Guest experiences
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✔ The original: Trafalgar was the first brand in travel to create these types of local travel experiences.
✔ 100+ one-of-a-kind local experiences across seven continents
✔ Unique interactions, connecting with locals and their culture and giving back to the communities
✔ Celebrating 10 years of Be My Guest in 2019
Trafalgar is the world’s leading and most awarded travel brand, spanning all seven continents of the globe. From the iconic to the unexpected, we craft unique Trafalgar Highlights that connect guests to the real depth of the places we go, without them needing to worry about a thing. It’s 73 years of destination expertise and feedback from over five million happy guests that fuels our innovation to continually deliver Simply the Best holidays.