Enchanting Asturias: Spain’s Hidden Atlantic Gem

Asturias is a region at the north west of Spain consisting of 400 km of dramatic and wild Atlantic coastline to the north and rugged and impressive mountains to the south.

As the world had started to tentatively re-open to travel and tourism* Chris and I had a fantastic week exploring this lesser known but delightful region, our first trip abroad since February 2020.

*This is now looking less promising… on the day we began our return journey and in response to the Omicron variant, Boris Johnson resumed more stringent measures on foreign travel again.

We stayed in a complex which is being managed by Efren and Carmen, the lovely Spanish couple we met in South America 5 years ago where we had a brilliant 3 day trip across the Bolivian Salt Flats.

Piedras Blancas

November is the rainiest month in Asturias and in general the weather and climate are similar to that of the United Kingdom. We did encounter a fair amount of rain but nevertheless we ventured out each day in layers and coats, ducking into a cafe or bar when necessary. Weather in Asturias can be unpredictable and, similar to the UK, it can often rain for a week in August.

While the weather wasn’t the best, there are advantages in visiting Asturias at this time of the year one being that you get to see the amazing autumnal colours and also there are even less crowds than you may find in the summer.

The capital of Asturias is Oviedo and is known for its mediaeval architecture, impressive cathedral and art galleries. Unfortunately our trip was cut short by a day and a half and we didn’t get to visit.

With its lush valleys this area is also known as ‘Green Spain’. We hired a car for our entire stay in Asturias and it was a pleasure to drive through beautiful scenery along the well maintained highways and also the smaller roads. The roads are not busy as they are in the UK which enhanced our enjoyment of driving in the region.

We were also pleased that, unlike our recent UK trips to Cornwall and Wales, we only paid for car parking a couple of times when we parked in a town centre underground car park. It felt odd to park the car in a seaside car park but without having to pay anything!

Somao

While out and about we visited Somao a small village of colourful houses which is set on a hill overlooking the surrounding green countryside, the estuary of the River Nalón and the shimmering blue sea in the distance.

Aviles

The town of Aviles (pronounced A-vee-les) was a 20 minute drive from our accommodation and we visited it several times during our stay. After Gijon and Oviedo, with a population of around 77,000 Aviles is the third largest town of Asturias.

San Francisco Fountain in Aviles

The 17th century stone faces that form the San Francisco Fountain can be found in the main square, the Plaza de España in Aviles.

Coastal path to Playa del Silencio

Efren explained the traditional route of the Camino de Santiago, the Camino del Norte follows the coastline of Cantabria and Asturias before heading inland towards Santiago de Compostela. This scenic 520 mile route takes you along hidden coves, dramatic coastline and sandy beaches.

Grain storage hut

There are around 30,000 grain storage huts (called hórreo’s) which are dotted in the front gardens of many homes across Asturias. Corn, root vegetables and grains were stored in them to keep them safe from mice and rats.

Casa Demetrio local store

Our local convenience store sold fresh crusty bread, cheese and wine. There was also a small bar and coffee area where we started our day with a couple of cups of fresh coffee each morning. This was a cash only place but with very low prices. A coffee for example was just 1.40 euros.

FOOD AND DRINKS

Grilled hake with roasted vegetables

Asturias has wonderful locally produced cuisine and we enjoyed an abundance of freshly caught fish and seafood while in Asturias. Most restaurants also have several meat dishes on the menu however there were limitations for vegetarians and even more so for vegans.

Many restaurants don’t start to serve evening meals until at least 8 pm however in the meantime one of the staff often walks around the bar with a large platter of canapes such as small chunks of Spanish omelette or little rolls filled with tuna or sausage.

Garlic king prawns

The menu’s are mostly in Spanish however we were able to cheat and use Google Translate to hover our phone cameras over them and convert them into English! The above menu item was Langostinos al ajillo a la plancha (or grilled garlic king prawns).

We enjoyed this meal in the atmospheric Sidrería Arcea restaurant in Piedras Blancas on our first night and were delighted to appreciate the most fabulous tasting Rioja for only 2.40 euros a glass 🙂

Spain is often associated with sangria or maybe Rioja or San Miguel but in Asturias, the traditional drink is cider or sidra as it is known locally. The sidra is poured from high above the head of the sidra pourer (the escanciador) and is aimed into a cup held below. The purpose is to obtain lots of bubbles into your drink and it doesn’t matter if some is spilt (as it usually is) as the sawdust is on the floor to soak it all up! Only a small amount is poured each time and you need to drink it all down in one. The escanciadors circulate around the bar or restaurant and give you your next shot of sidra when you are ready.

The alcohol driving policy is stricter than the UK however we took turns in driving each day.

Asturian speciality cheeses

Cheese is another speciality of Asturias and there are over 50 hand made local varieties. We enjoyed the above cheese board in the Sidreria Tierra Astur.

For our final evening, we had a fabulous night out in Aviles with Efren and Carmen. We sampled local Asturias craft beer in the lively Cerveceria Cabanon bar then went back to the Sidreria Tierra Astur for a few bottles of cider and finished up at 9 pm in the Restaurante Alkasbah for a delicious Middle Eastern meal complete with hummus, falafels, a main course each, a mix of Middle Eastern desserts and Turkish tea!

Accommodation

We stayed at the Naveces Rural Accommodation, as managed by Efren and Carmen. The location is ideal as it is just a 10 minute drive from Asturias (OVD) airport and about 900 metres from the beach. You really do need to hire a car for the duration of your stay as other than the small convenience store mentioned above, there are no restaurants nearby. This is the perfect spot for an uncommercialised and rural stay.

La Mar

We stayed in ‘La Mar’ (The Sea), a unique duplex apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, a shower room and a bathroom.

Our bedroom

Summary

Wow! What a cracking place to visit! Asturias has everything – stunning beaches and coastline and nestled in a green valley with a backdrop of jagged mountains. Local traditions such as the sidra drinking and the local cheeses are still maintained and the restaurants serve high quality food and wine with reasonable prices.

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