Asturias is the autonomous region on the north coast of Spain, bordered by Galicia to the west and Cantabria to the east. Its coastline is on the Bay of Biscay and its southern boundary is part of the mountain chain often referred to as the ‘Cordillera Cantábrica’, the Cantabrian Mountains. Its geography can be summarized by the rugged cliffs and clean, sandy beaches of the coast and the mountainous interior, culminating in the Picos de Europa. The coastline is extensive – some 190 miles of it – offering over 100 different beaches and protected harbours, many of them bordered by imposing cliffs. The predominantly limestone Picos de Europa, rising to 2648m at Torrecerredo, is an area of spectacular mountain scenery with deep ravines and beautiful river valleys.
Asturias Airport lies near the town of Avilés some 47km from Oviedo. It deals with plenty domestic traffic including regular connections with Madrid and Barcelona but only easyJet offer an international service from the UK via London Stansted. An alternative for UK visitors is to take Brittany Ferries to Santander or Bilbao from Portsmouth or Plymouth and then drive along the north coast to the region. Alternatively you can take a ferry across the Channel to the lovely town of Saint-Nazaire in Brittany then catch a ferry with LD Lines to the Asturian port of Gijón.
If you’re relying on public transport once you arrive then have no fear as the RENFE rail network links both Oviedo and Gijón with the rest of Spain whilst the ALSA bus company provides thorough coverage of the whole region and links Asturias with other parts of Spain.
Where to Visit
The two main cities of the region are Oviedo, the capital, and Gijón, the largest city. Oviedo is a clean and attractive city with some fine pre-Roman architecture and a fascinating old quarter. Gijón, altogether bigger and livelier, has a lovely area, Cimadevilla, near the port but it can get very crowded when there’s a cruise ship in town.
The Asturian coast has an abundance of unspoilt, picturesque fishing towns and hidden beaches. Places like Cudillero, Luarca and the Senda Costa (the coastal way between Llanes and Pendueles) are a revelation to first time visitors whose perception of Spain is based on the typical package holiday ‘costas’. A personal favourite is Ribadesella which is surrounded by amazing scenery and is a recommended stop on our driving tour of Northern Spain. It has some great little bars and restaurants and is a great base from which to discover the region provided you have your own transport.
Visitors to Asturias, however, tend not to come for the beaches – wonderful though many of them might be. The Picos de Europa National Park offers some of the very best walking and climbing country in the whole of Spain. Try to get a glimpse of Picu Urriellu at sunset – and then you’ll appreciate why it’s locally known as ‘El Naranjo de Bulnes’ as it glows orange in the evening sky. There’s also the idyllic area around the little town of Covadonga, right in the heart of the mountains and site of King Pelayo’s Virgin Mary inspired victory over the Moors that sparked the whole Reconquest. The lakes above the town, often cycled around during the Vuelta a España, are very popular walking areas.
Other attractive mountain towns or villages include Soto de Sajambre, Lebeña, Arenas de Cabrales and Arriondas but, as you drive along the spectacular mountain passes or walk along the many trails, you will discover many delightful gems of your own.
When to Visit
Rest assured that by visiting Asturias you’re going to see some stunning scenery but bear in mind that this is one of the wettest regions in Spain with some parts having as much as 2000mm annually. Summer in Asturias is generally warm and sunny although not without rain. The winter weather varies significantly between the coast and the interior mountains. Along the coastal strip the winters are generally mild and wet but in the mountain areas they can be very cold and snow is likely between November and May.
The biggest annual festival of the Asturian calendar is the International Descent of the River Sella (‘Fiesta de las Piraguas’) which takes place on the first Saturday in August. This is an exciting canoe and kayak race that goes from Arriondas to Ribasdella attracting competitors from all over the world. Another good time to be in the region is on the 2nd weekend of July when the village of Nava celebrates its annual cider festival.
Things to Do
Obviously walking is extremely popular in this part of Spain which offers a first class mix of forest, mountain and valley trails. Included amongst these is the French route of the Camino de Santiago, which passes through the length of Asturias on its way to Galicia. There are many trails of differing degrees of difficulty. During the winter there are two areas which can provide excellent conditions in which to ski: Valgrande near Pajares, and Asturleonés in Aller. Both areas are well resourced with ski lodges and other facilities.
With its rugged and varied terrain Asturias has developed a reputation as a centre for adventure sport enthusiasts which attracts mountain climbers, mountain bikers, snowboarders, hang gliders and pothlers to the challenging slopes of the Picos de Europa mountains. And whilst the Rio Sella has developed an international reputation amongst canoeists it also offers something a little less dangerous in the form of excellent salmon fishing.
Food and Drink of Asturias
In an area with so many fishing harbours, fish is a large part of the diet but probably the most renown Asturian dish is the enormously tasty ‘Fabada Asturiana‘ which is a wholesome mountain stew made with several varieties of beans, chorizo, pork and anything else the cook decides to use up. Also popular is ‘Carne Gobernada’, a dish of beef and onions often cooked in white wine and served with fried potatoes. Asturian cheese is famous throughout Spain because of its quality and diversity.
The climate of Asturias is better suited for the production of apples rather than grapes and consequently cider is considered as the region’s ‘wine’. Don’t try and pour it out like a local waiter, though; they hold the bottle well above head height and pour the drink into a glass held near ground level. This is not just for show but because the cider is produced without gas and this puts some ‘fizz’ into it.