Asturias – An Introduction

Asturias, for me, is a little slice of heaven on earth. To the Spanish it is known simply as ‘el paraíso natural’ – the natural paradise. Outside of Spain it is barely known at all.

Located on the rugged north coast of Spain at the base of the Bay of Biscay and bordered to the south by the mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica, the Principality of Asturias is a dramatically beautiful region. Its coastline is spectacular and gloriously unspoilt by the ravages of mass tourism or uncontrolled development. Much of the mountainous interior is truly wild and it boasts a vast array of flora and fauna to prove it, with some of the last populations of brown bears and wolves in Europe, as well as plentiful wild boars, deer, birds, and many species of wild flowers that are in danger of extinction elsewhere.

Asturias, marked in red, on the north coast of Spain.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Asturias from space in January 2003. Image from NASA
It is the most mountainous region in Spain and one of the very greenest.

Protected throughout history by her high mountain borders, Asturias has retained a fierce sense of place and self. This is a place where tradition and culture are highly valued and are evident at every turn. Top tip for the visitor: bring a phrasebook, English is NOT widely spoken.

Asturias has a proud Celtic tradition, with ‘gaita’ (bagpipe) bands being a prominent feature of local fiestas.

Traditional arts and crafts live on in Asturias. Artesans perform demonstrations as well as selling their wares at local markets.

Cider is the local tipple – with a ritual so distinctive and important that it merits its own dedicated blogpost. Seen here one of the many festivals devoted to Asturian cider, with a pouring competition (yes, really!) in progress.

Today Asturias is protected via a range of official designations – there are 5 Natural Parks, 1 National Park, 10 Nature Reserves, 11 Protected Landscapes and 40 Natural Monuments within her borders.

Another key factor in the continued preservation of this natural paradise is her mild, oceanic climate. Higher levels of precipitation prevent the desertification that is apparent throughout much of the rest of Spain, as well as preventing invasion by hordes of sun-seeking package holidaymakers. Top tip #2 for the visitor – always pack both suncream AND rain gear, whatever the time of year.

As well as shaping the climate and the culture here, the proximity of the mountains to the sea affords the active traveller many opportunities for adventure. In the winter you can ski and surf in the same day (providing you have the energy!) In the summer you might prefer a restful and cooling dip in the Atlantic after a long day’s hiking in the mountains or trekking the extensive coastal paths. In addition to traditional mountain, alpine and big wall climbs there are also over 40 excellent and easily accessible sports climbing crags in the region with routes of every grade. Kayaking, canyoning, horse-riding, quad-biking, bird-watching, river and sea fishing are all popular here and well catered for the tourist market.

The iconic Picu Uriellu (or Naranjo de Bulnes) in the Picos de Europa National Park. Home to ‘Orbayu’, one of the world’s hardest big-wall free climbs.

Us on our way to climb Picu Uriellu (definitely not via Orbayu!)

Accessible sports cragging, 10 minutes walk from the car

The Cares Gorge is one of the most famous walks in the Picos de Europa. There are countless others, equally spectacular.

Views from the Cares Gorge walk

The coastal walks meander atop impressive limestone cliffs

Asturias has some world class surf breaks and uncrowded waters.

Villaviciosa estuary and nature reserve at low tide.  Perfect for bird-watching from the sandy beaches or in kayaks.

Rodiles beach, the busiest in Asturias, in peak season. There are hundreds of other beaches to choose from on over 200km of coastline – from rocky coves to vast, sandy tracts; from city centre to wild and isolated.

Those in search of more sedate pursuits are also well served. Oviedo, the region’s capital, is a beautiful, immaculately kept city with a fascinating historic centre – a designated UNESCO world heritage site with a plethora of pre-romanic buildings (a feature throughout Asturias.) The other major city of the area is Gijon, a vibrant coastal city with good surfing beaches in the centre of town and a buzzing night life.

There are several worthwhile museums to visit in the area and some excellent cultural festivals. My pick would be the Laboral in Gijon, a fantastic modern art space plus theatre, often host to internationally renowned artists in festivals such as Palabra y Musica (spoken word and music); the Centro Niemeyer in Aviles – a stunning building, in itself worth a visit, and with an exciting and avant garde programme of events and theatre including many international co-productions such as the Sam Mendes directed Richard III starring Kevin Spacey which played there last September; Gijon International Film Festival every October, at venues throughout the city, the Teatros Campoamor and Filarmonica in Oviedo…. I could go on (and surely will in many another post!), but I think you probably get the picture by now. Asturias – it rocks!

Getting Here:
Airports: Asturias, Santander (approx 2 hrs drivin), Bilbao (3 hrs), Madrid (5 hrs)
Easyjet fly daily from London Stansted to Asturias.
Ryanair fly into Santander from a variety of European destinations, including London Stansted and Dublin.
Long haul international flights via Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona or London.
Ferries: Portsmouth/Plymouth to Santander and Bilbao, St Nazaire to Gijon

Comments

  1. Beautiful post! Admittedly, my knowledge of Asturias ends with the Asturian bar I visited in Madrid (I enjoyed the cider and every minute of my time there!), but it looks so lovely and peaceful.

  2. We loved our visit to Asturias. One of the highlights was hiking the Cares Gorge which we wrote about on our blog. It really was a delightful place for a vacation. Two weeks was not long enough,

    • You’ll just have to make a return visit! Two weeks flies by, especially in somewhere with so much to see. I’ll definitely have a read of your blog on the Cares Gorge.

  3. Gosh it looks beautiful! Would love to visit one day! :)

  4. The waves are perfect (or can be) in Basque country! Gorgeous photos.

    http://breakinginmyshoes.wordpress.com/

    • Thanks! Have you surfed in the Basque country? They call our local break (Rodiles) the little sister to Mundaka as it’s a rivermouth which barrels similarly. A bit hardcore for me, tbh,….I tend to stick to the other end of the beach which is somewhat gentler!

      • I wish! I am a goofy footer so the worlds best left appeals to me that is for sure. My wife and I were in Spain a year ago but did not have enough time to get up north. Although I looked into every possible way to get up there. The localismo sounds pretty gnarly though so I do not know how I feel about getting into a lineup with a crew.

        • Well if you guys ever make it back to Spain you’ll have to check out the rivermouth at Rodiles. It’s a pretty awesome left too and while it is the most localized spot around these parts it’s nothing like as gnarly as Mundaka, pretty tame by comparison – more along the lines of hard stares and the occasional drop-in on days when it’s really off the map.

  5. I want to go on holiday to Asturias again…..

  6. So very wonderful to have such an upclose and personal education about Asturia, the province in Spain where you live now with your family. Very green, indeed! And closer to the rest of Europe than I had thought–and the Atlantic! I will come back here and study more later this week, I am sure!

  7. WOW the mountains look amazing! We have seen so little of Spain since we moved here – pregnancy, childbirth, young baby, toddler, nuff said – but this makes me want to get out and explore.

    Oh, and I tagged you in a very silly Q & A meme here if you would like to join in. x

  8. So green! Love the Celtic link – like the Bretons in France with the Welsh – wonderful Euroepan cultural connections. A mate of mine used to lead mountain biking groups in the Picos (he’s also a keen climber), absolutely loved it. Those rocky mountains remind me a bit like the Sierra Ronda/Alcornoques Park down this neck of the woods, and that coast with the cliffs looks stunning. Amazing pic of Picu Uriellu. I’m very lazy about leaving Andalucia (I wrote about it for a living), but would love to visit Asturias and Galicia one day.

    • Hi Fiona – thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. It really is worth a visit up here to the green north west – I hope you make it some day soon. Mind you, I can’t say I blame you for your laziness about leaving Andalucia – such a beautiful and vibrant place, which you capture so well in your blog!

  9. I love ur words about Asturias!! Nice to see impression of a foreigner about my region. :D

  10. This looks amazing!!! I love learning about new places to visit that I haven’t heard about before. You describe an amazing place–I love beautiful countryside and doing things outdoors (hiking, etc). Your photos really sell it as well. What a place to be an expat! Great post.

Trackbacks

  1. […] love living somewhere with abundant wildlife. I cherish the fact that Asturias has healthy populations of animals and birds that are in danger of extinction elsewhere. But […]

  2. […] was one of those perfect days that yet again reminded me how lucky we are to live in ‘el paraíso natural’. We spent the morning exploring Seguencu, in the concejo of Onís. It´s a west-facing crag and […]

  3. […] is one of the many great things about living in Asturias – we have the best of both worlds. While Asturias has a mild maritime climate, across the Cordillera […]

  4. […] We are currently on our fifth (and already increasingly tattered) copy of the Michelin road map of Asturias, on which we have labelled up an array of attractions across the region, complete with driving […]

  5. […] is one of the many great things about living in Asturias – we have the best of both worlds. While Asturias has a mild maritime climate, across the […]

  6. […] We are currently on our fifth (and already increasingly tattered) copy of the Michelin road map of Asturias, on which we have labelled up an array of attractions across the region, complete with driving […]

  7. […] was one of those perfect days that yet again reminded me how lucky we are to live in ‘el paraíso natural‘. We spent the morning exploring Seguencu, in the concejo of Onís. It´s a west-facing crag […]

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