National Geographic Traveller (UK)
ON THE ROAD IN Asturias
The northern Spanish region of Asturias feels like a land of its own. Its wild coastline, home to more than 200 beaches, is lined with pastelcoloured fishing villages, while inland there’s a world of limestone peaks and architectural marvels. It makes for a road trip like no other
Start in Oviedo, the region’s capital and one of its cultural hearts. Spend the day exploring the medieval old town, where beautiful buildings like the gothic Oviedo Cathedral and the 17th-century Town Hall are all within walking distance. The Fine Arts Museum of Asturias, housed in two 18th-century palaces, is also worth a visit, featuring works by Goya, Dali and Picasso. After art and architecture, Oviedo is well known for its sidrerías (cider houses) along Calle Gascona, a street lined with waistcoat-wearing waiters pouring cider from impossible heights — a centuries-old tradition that helps oxygenate the drink — as customers feast on meaty stews and fried fish. Stay put for enormous portions of fabada asturiana (a local staple made with white beans, smoked chorizo and blood sausage) at one of the city’s traditional restaurants.
The sea is calling. Take the A-64 out of Oviedo to Tazones, a fishing village hugging an emerald cove, which is said to be where King Charles V first landed in Spain in 1517. The seafood here, as expected, is excellent. Don’t leave without trying fritos de pixín (deep-fried monkfish) and fresh-offthe-boat crab. Then, continue south along the coast, passing wild sandy beaches and clifftop fishing villages (Playa Arenal de Morís and Llastres are two worthy pit stops), until you
hit Ribadesella. Cueva de Tito Bustillo, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed cave, is just south of town and a must for experiencing Asturian heritage. Finish the day by trying lobster bisque, steamed cockles or any of the 40 varieties of artisanal Asturian cheese, including the famous Cabrales or Gamonéu, both matured in natural caves.
Spend the next day travelling between the many stretches of sand on the 17-mile road between Ribadesella and Llanes (one of the area’s most iconic villages), including Playa de Torimbia, a spectacular cove accessible only by foot, and Playa de Poo, where the rising tide turns the sea into a lagoon perfect for swimming. Later, continue to Llanes for one final seafood meal before heading inland to Picos de Europa National Park for high-altitude hiking, meat stews and unlimited Cabrales cheese. Spain’s first national park is home to 260sq miles of turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and the Sanctuary of Covadonga, where the Kingdom of Asturias was born in the eighth century.
Head west to Gijón, Asturias’ largest city. Also spelt Xixón, this city has a reputation for being an industrial hub, but its brilliant seafood restaurants, colourful old town and cider-fuelled nightlife make this seaside hangout a worthy stop. Start with a seafront walk to Gijón’s old fishing quarter, Cimavilla, for a close-up of the Elogio del Horizonte, an enormous concrete sculpture by Eduardo Chillida, and a leisurely stroll past the neighbourhood’s Roman walls, cobbled plazas and colourful cider houses. Then, continue west to the Puerto Deportivo (marina) for fresh-off-the-boat scallops or a whole baked bonito paired with local cider. For a slower pace, head to the old steel-making town of Aviles and its medieval heart, just 18 miles west of Gijón, where you’ll find art exhibitions and Spanish theatre performances at the Centro Cultural Internacional Oscar Niemeyer. Make the short drive west to the picture-perfect fishing village of Cudillero, home to a pristine harbour and a handful of beautiful vantage points.
Spend your final day exploring the lesser-visited Oscos-Eo, Asturias’ westernmost region. The only Biosphere Reserve in Asturias that sits right on the coastline, Oscos-Eo is a beautiful blend of woodland, rolling green hills and whitewashed harbours overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Stop by fishing villages Castropol and Figueras for a boat trip along the river Eo and a taste of their famous oysters, grown in the estuary’s bateas (floating oyster farms). Then, head inland to the stone and slate-built villages of Taramundi and Santa Eulalia (known locally as ‘Santalla’), where you’ll find Asturian crafts like loom weaving and knife-making still being practised using age-old methods. Nearby Os Teixois, a village that still uses the river to power its homes, is definitely worth a stop too. Finish your Asturian adventure spotting boar and deer along two of the oldest Camino de Santiago inland routes, the Eo Riverside Path in San Tirso and the Twelve Bridges Route in Vegadeo.