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Spanish Secrets: Lord Of The Manor

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie dine with the lord of the manor on a special feast day – a day of generous hospitality and high delight.

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Last week’s Keeper of the Keys, Don Antonio Fernandez, has become this week’s, Lord of the Manor. We’d kindly accepted his warm and generous invitation to join him and his family for this year’s fiesta at San Fiz de Cangas.

Our arrival at the manor house coincided with a battery of aerial explosions. Festive fireworks alert all within earshot to the commencement of festivities. To unfamiliar visitors, the entrance to the manor could easily be missed. From the country lane outside there’s neither sight nor sign of either the manor or the adjacent church.

The approach is through a narrow, unmarked opening and along a dusty, well-trodden track. The once grand manor is now in a state of decay but the church has recently undergone significant restoration.

Both properties have an unrivalled elevated location. There’s a 180 degree unrestricted view, stretching as far as the eye can see. The panorama is hemmed in on all sides by the distant mountains. Vivid shades of green undulate into the distance, merging with the overlapping mountainous canvas of pastel blues and greys, all topped with a seemingly endless azure sky.

A nearby field had been commandeered as a temporary car park. We parked and headed off towards the manor. A small crowd of exquisitely dressed people milled around the entrance to the church.

“Do you think it’s a wedding? Or are we underdressed?” asked Melanie.

I hadn’t a clue, but it was too late to turn back now.

The gates to the manor’s covered courtyard were ajar. With no one in sight we cautiously climbed the worn stone steps leading to an antiquated wooden door. This too was wedged open to allow visitors to enter. Our feeling of apprehension was quickly quashed when we caught sight of Jose, Don Antonio’s son, sitting in his wheelchair in the kitchen. He caught our eye and with a welcoming smile beckoned us in.

His current condition is due to a minor motorcycle accident. The flimsy sandals he was wearing at the time afforded his feet little protection. As a consequence he now wears two plaster casts; fortunately a temporary measure.

Almost all the guests were attending mass at the church next door. It’s traditional to give thanks to the Almighty before the festivities commence. We waited with Jose in the kitchen. His sisters and two of Don Antonio’s granddaughters made preparations for lunch. Before long the faithful returned.

A fashion parade of immaculately dressed and perfectly presented people strolled through the corridors of the manor. Excited children laughed and played, running noisily between designer-clad guests. Midway through this elegant catwalk appeared the tiny figure of Don Antonio.

On seeing us, his face lit up. Barging past family members he warmly greeted me with a firm handshake. Melanie stooped to kiss his cheeks. First right then left, a traditional Spanish greeting.

Before long all the guests had congregated in the dining room. Two large dressers housed framed family photographs. Fading wedding prints in black and white stood alongside more recent colour photos. Angelic images of children, appropriately dressed for their first communion, nestled on dusted shelves.

Bright sunshine angled into the room through two doorways. These led onto a narrow, iron-railed balcony at the front of the house. Ripening grapes hung tantalisingly overhead and the laden branches of a peach tree swayed gently within arm's reach.

Carefully arranged hors d’oeuvres were brought to the table, accompanied with a traditional aperitif of iced vermouth. With all twenty guests seated around the large dining table our feasting began.

Two large oval platters overflowing with delicious fresh prawns were placed between us, once emptied a third was brought. This was followed by ensaladia, a mixed salad of diced vegetables and tuna served with lashings of mayonnaise. Platter after platter arrived at the table.

As the afternoon progressed a chorus of chatter and merriment ensued. Over this melee came a high-pitched tonal whistle. In an attempt to improve his hearing, Don Antonio was fiddling with his hearing-aid. As the whistling faded in and out his family cheekily broke into song; the catchy jingle of the national radio station.

With the starters complete we moved on to the main courses; carved leg of roast pork, roast potatoes and tomato salad. After the pork came two huge silver platters loaded with joints of oven baked lamb. The deserts were equally bountiful. Home made apple tart set in creamy jellied custard, his daughter’s coffee mousse flan, anis-flavoured roscas (king’s cake) and wedged slabs of traditional sponge. No Spanish meal would be complete without a tiny cup of thick black coffee and after dinner liqueurs.

During the meal Don Antonio had insisted we stay for dinner, an invitation we were happy to accept. With a patient dog needing feeding at home, we left around 7:00pm and returned just after 10:00pm.

By the time we arrived back at the manor most of the family had strolled the short distance to the village green. Here they were enjoying the music from a touring pop group and the atmosphere of a busy village fiesta. An hour-long intermission between eleven and midnight gives revellers the opportunity to dine. Once back at the manor another feast began.

Our day of festive fun and feasting eventually ended at 3 am with the Lord of the Manor having wearily taken to his bed.

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