“Doctor Mateo”: the forerunner of screen tourism in Spain

If there is a rule in the audiovisual world, it is that if you find a successful formula, you just have to change the setting to keep it working. Hence the sequels, prequels, spinoffs and other terminology typical of the fictions of the last 30 years. 

Among the cult series that form part of these successful formulas, there are three that have worked in a big way in three countries and two continents. “Doctor in Alaska” (an American series produced by CBS between 1990 and 1995) was the first of these. The adventures of a New York doctor who is forced to practice his profession in a remote Alaskan village where his rational and scientific vision of life clashes with the simpler mentalities of the villagers kept audiences around the world enthralled during its five years of broadcasting. 

Joel Fleishman (that was the doctor’s name) was soon mirrored in the UK. “Doc Martin” (ITV, 2004-2019), became Martin Clunes, a prominent London doctor who decides to change his life and moves to Cornish, a peaceful seaside town. Despite his medical brilliance he finds it difficult to relate and his particular style soon provokes the anger of his new patients. Doc Martin finds the practice a shambles, the medical staff disastrous and the receptionist incompetent. The neighbours are appalled by the new doctor’s manic nature.

Need I say more or have you already come to the conclusion that Spain also had its own grumpy, asocial, brilliant and sometimes adorable doctor? Dr Mateo Sancristóbal, an Asturian by birth and a New Yorker by practice. 

 

“Doctor Mateo”, our particular doctor in Asturias

Although the series was broadcast between 2009 and 2011, that is, not so long ago, today it is considered a classic of Spanish television for many reasons. The first was that it marked the beginning of off-set filming, choosing a highly attractive natural destination as the active protagonist of the plot. To say “Doctor Mateo” is to say San Martín del Sella, something that was clear from its unforgettable credits with that cliff facing the sea. 

Gonzalo de Castro, in his role as Mateo Sancristóbal / Marino Scandurra / Antena 3

“Doctor Mateo” was a revelation in the field of fiction in its first season and was distinguished as the best comedy on the small screen by the television critics gathered by FesTVal, the first Television and Radio Festival of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

After its huge impact, other series with brilliant exterior shots followed, such as “Gran Hotel” (Bambú Producciones 2011-2013), filmed in nearby Cantabria; “Gran Reserva” (Bambú Producciones 2010-2013) set in the countryside of La Rioja and the huge historical production “Isabel” (TVE 2012-2014), which travelled halfway across Spain to recreate the life of the Catholic Queen.

For the Principality, of course, “Doctor Mateo” was also a turning point. As the Asturias Film Commission is well aware, requests from productions of all kinds to shoot in its territory have been steadily increasing since the series aired. 

As far as tourism is concerned, the data support the impact that the series had on the region. Miguel A. Naredo, Head of the Tourism Promotion Service of the Mancomunidad de la Comarca de la Sidra, provides us with two data; the number of people attended in the tourist offices of the municipality (Colunga and Lastres) went from 18,000 in 2019 to almost 59.The success of these figures was due to the work of the Mancomunidad itself, which developed the tourist product “Route of Doctor Mateo”, which produced a map of which 100,000 units were distributed on paper alone, in addition to the countless guided tours that took place in Lastres.

One of the many guided tours of the Route of Doctor Mateo in Lastres / Mancomunidad de la Comarca de la Sidra

For us fans of screen tourism, “Doctor Mateo” was also the series (with the permission of “Verano azul“) that encouraged us to get out of the house and look for the real places where those funny, exciting and everyday plots took place. 

 

San Martín del Sella: the village where everybody wanted to live

Those places with endless views, steep streets and eternal sunsets were (and are) in Asturias. Right in the middle of the Comarca de la Sidra, one of the most atmospheric areas of the Principality, is Lastres, an exemplary village and filming location for the series between February 2009 and July 2011.

Filming of the series in one of the streets of Lastres / Marino Scandurra / Antena 3

This beautiful fishing village is similar to others on the Cantabrian coast in that it is a natural harbour perched on a cliff that breaks off at the foot of the beach. Tazones, Luarca and Cudillero are other good examples of this somewhat “heroic” layout.

San Martín del Sella, sorry, Lastres, descends to the port through narrow, steep streets. Its houses are two or three-storey buildings, with exposed stone and white rendering. Many façades have corridors on wooden braces, balconies and glazed galleries where seasonal flowers add just the right touch of colour to the changing Asturian climate. 

As a good Spanish town, it is not lacking in churches and other monuments from different centuries, as well as its port and fish market, which is considered to be seafaring for a reason. But for the on-screen tourist, what is really important is where to find landmarks from the series, such as Mateo and Adriana’s houses, Tom’s tavern, Carol’s radio station, Elena’s bakery and Alfredo’s police station. 

 

Doctor Mateo” route in Lastres

The importance that “Doctor Mateo” had for this area of Asturias is attested to by the Gold Medal of Tourism – awarded by the Hotel Union of the Principality of Asturias – which was awarded to the series “for being a quality product that spreads the image of Asturias”. Nowadays, it is possible to follow guided routes around Lastres. A good starting point is this map of the “Doctor Mateo” route offered by the Comarca de la Sidra. 

You can start by leaving your car in one of the car parks at the port and walk up the slope of the quay towards the village. Here is the building that once housed the local radio station of San Martín del Sella. You are now in the Los Balleneros neighbourhood, the oldest part of Lastres and the origin of the present-day town. Here you will find what was once the pharmacy of San Martín del Sella. Continue along Calle Real to the Buen Suceso chapel and the Clock Tower. This is where the house of the teacher of San Martín del Sella used to be. Next, you can walk through the Nansa neighbourhood, which is the fishermen’s neighbourhood, and reach Penayín, where Elena’s bakery was located. From here, walk to the Atalaya or Penayu, where Tom’s tavern was. And going up a little further, to the Fontana, you will end up at the house of Mateo himself.

Scene of the series filmed on the terrace of “la taberna de Tom” / Marino Scandurra / Antena 3

Some tips to make your visit even more enjoyable. 

Mateo’s house is in the Atalaya, a high area located to the west and on high ground. Incidentally, it was also the house of the doctor of Lastres.  

Adriana’s house is known as the “teacher’s house” and is easy to find because it is opposite the Clock Tower. Its peculiar glazed gallery and its pink colour make it unmistakable.

Natalia Verbeke and María Esteve during filming / Marino Scandurra / Antena 3

Tom’s tavern, the nerve centre of San Martín and one of those places where we would all like to go every day, is also in the Atalaya area and can be distinguished by its terrace facing the sea. Guaranteed views. 

Another easily recognisable place is the radio station, located on the way down to the harbour and overlooking the beach. It may not retain its characteristic geranium pots, but it does have an excellent location. 

And, of course, that lighthouse that becomes a recurring meeting place for the characters at different points in the plot. It is not exactly in Lastres, but it is very close, in the nearby village of Luces. It was the last lighthouse to be built in Asturias in 1994, but the best thing about it, obviously, is the superb natural setting it offers: the panoramic views over the Cantabrian coast, the well-known Rodiles beach and Punta Tazones. 

If your screen visit coincides with a period of good weather, we encourage you to take the 3-kilometre route that starts at the San Roque viewpoint in Lastres and ends here. At this viewpoint there is a recreational area from which you can see one of the best views of Lastres (the best known), the Sierra del Sueve and the Picos de Europa. There is the chapel of San Roque, surrounded by centenary trees, a good place to have a bite to eat and enjoy a one hundred percent Cantabrian environment.

The Luces lighthouse during the filming of the series / Marino Scandurra / Antena 3

The “Doctor Mateo” route also takes us to other nearby places. For example, the Hotel Palacio de Luces, a beautiful Renaissance building where we were able to see some of our protagonists sharing candlelit dinners. 

And, although it does not appear in any episode of the series, we cannot fail to recommend a visit to the nearby Jurassic Museum of Asturias, located in this area because on the beach of La Griega (which does appear on screen) is one of the most important deposits of ichnites (dinosaur footprints) of the so-called Costa de los Dinosaurios (Dinosaur Coast) that stretches between Gijón and Ribadesella. An educational and fun experience, especially with children. 

At Spain Screen Grand Tour we don’t know if any time in the past was better, but what we are sure of is that screen tourism lifts the soul. That’s why, as always, we invite you to live what you see and enjoy again with “Doctor Mateo” and his route through the beautiful Asturias, Natural Paradise. See you there!

By María Parcero

Spain Screen Grand Tour would like to thank the Asturias Film Commission and the Mancomunidad de la Comarca de la Sidra for their invaluable collaboration in the production of this article.

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