Los Ancares, beyond “As bestas”

If there is a common element in the whole area of Ancares (Los, in the Leonese part, Os in the Lugo part), it is peace and silence. Being a very rugged and difficult to access area, its inhabitants are used to surviving by their own means. And there are not many of them. A magnificent portrait of this way of life has surprised audiences in half of Spain, dazzled by “As bestas” (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2022), winner of nine Goyas. 

Another great film shot in the Galician part of Os Ancares is “Lo que arde” (Óliver Laxe, 2019). In this case, the disappearance of the rural environment is joined by the scourge of forest fires. With a cast of non-professional actors and local residents, Laxe won the Jury Prize in the Un certain regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, two Goya Awards and the Spain Film Commission Award at the San Sebastian Festival.

The landscape as a character in films

Beyond the plots of both films, which are interesting and moving in equal measure, what has won over the public are their spectacular locations, situated in the regions of El Bierzo and Los Ancares (León).

Rodrigo Sorogoyen, director of “As bestas”, has commented in numerous interviews that during the shooting of the film “we lived an experience as beautiful as it was beastly, as it should be when you work in the middle of nature. We lived as one lives in Los Ancares: with cold, radical changes in the weather; a torrential storm and then it opened up and it was a beautiful day”.

Denis Ménochet in a scene from “As bestas” / Arcadia Motion Pictures

In fact, the producers matched the dates of filming to the change of seasons in the film. They began in late summer, in a green and welcoming setting, perfect for retirement with its lush forests, and also shot in the middle of winter to show how this overwhelming landscape can become dark, cold, overwhelming, inhospitable.

It was easier to shoot in the other location of the film, the town of Sabucedo (Pontevedra), where the scenes of “a rapa das bestas”, which gives the film its title, were filmed.

Curro de Sabucedo, Pontevedra / Pontevedra Film Commission

Returning to Los Ancares, this mountainous region extends over an area that spans several provinces: León, Lugo and Asturias.  It is perhaps one of the most unknown places in our geography, except for the locals or the occasional travellers going to or returning from Galicia on the A6, who see from the motorway the signs marking the entrance to this Biosphere Reserve. 

Although it is not easy to establish a boundary between provinces, because nature does not understand artificial divisions, today we propose you to get to know the Leonese part of this ancestral place, where tradition is still alive in houses, language and food. Let’s begin.

Pure nature and wilderness

Any route through its deep valleys is steep and difficult. Almost every village can be reached by car, but sometimes on unpaved dirt tracks. It is therefore a paradise for hikers, canyoners and cyclists, who can cover long stretches without encountering anyone. A luxury that is no longer possible in many other tourist destinations. The number and variety of trails is such that you will need several trips to cover them all. Plan your trip with this Guide.

“Thinking about what I would highlight the most about this filming, I would say that it is the immersion in the environment”

Rodrigo Sorogoyen, director of “As bestas”
Busmayor beech forest, Los Ancares / Castilla y León Film Commission

The Ancares change with each season and each one offers something different and spectacular. Its forests of oak, holly and chestnut trees are dyed with snow in winter and spring, become a fresh orchard in summer and a glorious spectacle of colours in autumn. Bears, capercaillies, roe deer and wolves still live here in the wild. A luxury. There are also streams and rivers of pure water, from which you can still drink without fear. Nature without end and without filters.

Pallozas, traditions and cultural heritage

The Ancares Leoneses are surprising for their natural beauty and rich cultural heritage: from cave paintings from the Bronze Age, such as the Peña Piñera complex (Sésamo), to others from Roman times, such as the impressive gold mining site of Leitosa (Paradaseca), to the more recent coal mines of the Valle de Fornela, dating from the mid-20th century. It also treasures signs of an extensive castreña culture, appreciable in places such as Campo del Agua or Balouta, and medieval, such as the imposing buildings of the Monastery of San Andrés de Vega de Espinareda or the Collegiate Church and Castle in Villafranca del Bierzo in the middle of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela.

If you are looking for the main setting for the filming of “As bestas” you will find it in the village of Quintela de Barjas, 50 kilometres from Ponferrada. Only one neighbour lives in this village, so it was easy to turn it into the village where the action of the film takes place. Here you can enjoy the wild and little explored nature that is one of the main attractions of the area.

Many scenes were filmed in Barjas (León)/Turismo de El Bierzo

Another of the filming locations for “As bestas”, less inhospitable than the Barjas area, is Vega de Valcarce. This village, close to Piedrafita and part of the Camino de Santiago, has a great atmosphere in summer, thanks to the pilgrims’ hostels and its river beach.

But Los Ancares offers much more. Its intangible heritage is extensive and unites us with almost extinct traditions such as the entroidos (ancient carnival celebrations); the magostos (tradition of eating chestnuts in front of the fire telling stories) or the dances of the Fornela Valley. 

One of the main tourist attractions in the area is to be able to visit a palloza, the most emblematic construction in the area. Its origin is pre-Roman and it has continued to be used until the last century. With a circular floor plan, stone walls (slate slabs) and topped by a cone-shaped thatched roof made of rye straw – known as the “teito” – these houses were used as accommodation for people and livestock and can still be visited in villages such as Balouta, Pereda de Ancares or Campo del Agua.

For architecture lovers, the entire landscape of Los Ancares is dotted with mills, monasteries, forts and even river beaches. 

Where do i start?

The complex geography of the area, marked by peaks and valleys, makes it advisable to plan a short getaway to optimise time. Time stops here, but in the rest of our lives, it runs too fast.  We suggest that you choose one of the three valleys of the Leonese part and that you choose a starting point among these four municipalities: Peranzanes, Candín, Vega de Espinareda and Villafranca del Bierzo

From any of them you will reach the smallest and most hidden villages. Some of the villages you must pass through are Burbia, Sésamo, Villasumil, Pereda, Balouta, Puerto de Ancares (which separates León from Lugo), Suárbol and Piornedo.

Las Médulas / Castilla y León Film Commission

And if your getaway turns into a long holiday, El Bierzo is full of wonderful places that you should not miss at least once in your life. Las Médulas tops this long list. The ancient Roman gold mines, now one of the most unique landscapes in Europe, are a favourite destination for National Geographic documentary makers. Ponferrada, the capital of the area, with its Templar castle and its great wine scene; Molinaseca, with its busy river beach; Cacabelos, a wine-growing area with famous rural accommodation; the Valley of Silence and Santiago de Peñalba, home to one of the few remaining Mozarabic churches.

This beautiful region is almost infinite in its possibilities. And, thanks to the work of the Castilla y León Film Commission, we will see it in more and more international productions. So make the most of it and get to know it now. Because this is really living what you see.

By María Parcero

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