Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-11-23
Located on the Atlantic Coast, between Galicia and Cantabria, Asturias is a unique mix of verdant scenery, sandy beaches and high mountains. Still rather unknown, this province that looks like a Switzerland by the sea has escaped mass tourism development. See the map of Asturias
Asturias is perhaps the best preserved and most refreshing part of 21st century Spain! After touring the austere and burning hot Castile, how pleasant, all of a sudden, to travel along these sparkling coastlines with pines and eucalyptuses! Spain here resembles a miniature Switzerland, with summits exceeding 2,000 metres altitude and traditional hamlets perched high above the ocean 12 miles inland… But the most fascinating point is the impression of peacefulness and calm conveyed by a province that has never been invaded.
In the 8th century, the Kingdom of Asturias, protected from the Moors by its chain of mountains, was the last bastion of Christian Visigothic Spain; the famous Reconquista moreover started out from here in 762 (to be completed only in 1492 with the capture of Granada). Today, in the face of the dangers of mass tourism and real estate speculation on the entire coast, Asturias still has the audacity to 'resist' by playing the card, in particular, of sustainable development, as evidenced by the 215 miles of almost intact coastline and the various protected sites (classified as a 'National Park', 'Nature Parks', 'Nature Reserves' and 'Protected Scenery'), which cover 30% of its territory. May Spain, following this marginal example, very quickly commence the Reconquista of its scenery, villages and coasts!
Act I: The coast
The Asturian Coast (also dubbed 'Costa Verde' owing to the verdant colour of the ocean and the fertility of its pasture and woodland scenery) is a succession of creeks, cliffs (often suitable for golfcourses) and fine sandy beaches like those at Tina Mayor, Ribadesella, Villaviciosa, Pravia and Ria del Eo. The eastern coast from Villaciosa to Llanes (41 miles) no doubt offers the most spectacular coastal scenery in Asturias, but the protected cape of Cabo Peñas, to the west of Gijón, is also fantastic, with its lighthouse erected in 1852,100 m above the ocean.
Located at the rear of a ria, 29 miles from the regional capital Oviedo, Villaviciosa received in 1517 the visit of the future Charles V, aged 17, who had come from Flanders to take possession of his kingdom... Apart from its beach and nature reserve, you should visit the pretty fishing port of Tazones, renowned for its historic districts of San Roque and San Miguel and for its delicious seafood.
The road leading toLastres, 12 miles to the east of Villaviciosa, crosses a fragrant forest of eucalyptus... Breath in as you drive through. Featuring majestic lemon trees, the village of Lastres hangs on the side of a steep cliff between the beach and port. As lunch is eaten late in Spain (not before 2 pm), you'll have plenty of time to find a terrace with a view over the ocean, where you can enjoy excellent clams slow-cooked with broad beans, a typically Asturian fisherman's dish served with cider.
Eighteen miles from Lastres, this charming seaside resort has a beautiful concave promenade overlooking the beach and ocean. Ribadesella also features a pretty pleasure port on the right bank of the Sella estuary (a river you can kayak down from Arriondas). After swimming, don't fail to visit the Tito Bustillo cave famous for its paintings executed by paleolithic men 20,000 years BC: you can admire two horses, three stags and a reindeer as well as the silhouettes of imaginary animals 2 metres long.
The coast road from Ribadesella to the town of Llanes (19 miles) borders thirty or so sandy beaches nestling between rocky headlands, like the beaches at Villanueva (with a campsite), Cuevas, Celorio and Barro. Llanes is a spiny lobster port with a very beautiful historic district in its higher part (Gastañaga Palace, Santa María Basilica, Duque de Estrada Palace) still surrounded by the remains of its Medieval fortifications. On 16 August, Saint-Roch's day, there is a show of which the star attraction is the Prima dance by children wearing local dress. The port of Llanes also has a fine promenade above the 'Memory Cubes', a set of gigantic painted sculptures executed by Agustín Ibarrola (born in Bilbao in 1930).
Act II: The mountains
From Llanes, head 18 miles inland towards the Picos de Europa chain where Torrecerredo rises to an altitude of 2,648 m… This exceptional site, where mountaineers come to train before ascending Annapurna, is home to flora and fauna that have been totally protected since the creation of the National Park in 1995. To reach this dream scenery comprising gorges hollowed by torrents and jaggedly eroded summits, we advise you to catch the Bulnes funicular railway at 1,611 metres. This mountain hamlet inaccessible by car is the departure point of spectacular hikes. You can find accommodation on the spot in rural guesthouses like El Caleyon.
Before aiming for the summits, don't fail to spend a day or two around the village of Las Arenas de Cabrales where the famous Cabrales blue-veined cheese is produced. A few miles higher up, the hamlet of Pandiello offers a magnificent panorama over the Picos de Europa (especially the fang-shaped summit of Naranjo de Bulnes culminating at 2,519 m) and proposes very tasteful B&B rooms. On foot, by car, on a mountain bike or on horse back, you should also discover the region's picturesque hamlets with their granaries on piles (like that at La Salce), their humpback Medieval bridges (like those at Carreña and at Poo) and their highly poetic Romanesque churches (Maddalena church at Poo and Santa María de Llás church at Arenas).