During my quest to visit all 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autonomas) of Spain, I sort of saved one of the best for last. Everyone always told me Asturias was a beautiful place, albeit rainy like the entire north coast, and even in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Juan Antonio whisks the American girl off to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias.
Like so many of my favourite places, Asturias is home to mountains and sea. It is a place full of history and tradition, a place of good food (like fabada) and good sidra (hard cider). It’s a bit off the beaten path (a five-hour bus ride from Madrid to a rainy climate deters a lot of tourists), but it is one of the most enchanting places I have ever visited.
My first visit was in 2011 during the Puente de Noviembre, and my second visit was one year later during the same long weekend. I coincidentally stayed at the same pensión across from the train station. My first time was one of the few times I treated myself to a taxi as I was so lost. The taxi driver laughing, as it ended up being two minutes from the bus station. Rookie mistake, but it was better than walking around lost with all my luggage!
That first visit, I explored Oviedo and Gijón, and I went to Cangas de Onis (more later on Cangas). Gijón is one of the rare cities on the sea that I didn’t like. People complain about my current home Bilbao as being grey, ugly and industrial, but I found Gijón to be much more grey and “ugly” than Bilbao, the city of rejuvenation. Oviedo is beautiful, although it’s quite far from the sea. It may have been as I went in the autumn and not summer, but I found it a livelier city than Gijón too.
Both cities are about 200,000 people. The impressive places in Asturias are the small villages. Asturias is a rural community with incredible landscapes. It shares with Cantabria and León the Picos de Europa, some of the most spectacular mountains in the entire peninsula. It has the rugged northern coast. It was my second trip in which I discovered the smaller villages. A return trip to Cangas, of course, taking off on a random hiking route along the river the famous Roman bridge crosses, then racing to catch a bus to Ribadasella made for the sunny day on that trip. I visited Cudillera, an incredible village built into the mountains, on one of the rainiest days ever. The sun came out at the end of the visit, at least, giving me a much more cooperative time to visit this village. Every place I’ve visited in Asturias I want to revisit.
Asturias has many more than seven wonders, making it hard to settle on just seven.
1. Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), Cangas de Onís
The cross hanging from this Roman bridge (which is actually medieval) is the symbol of the comunidad autonoma of Asturias. The Christian reconquest of Spain began nearby in Covadonga, and the cross is an important symbol for Asturias (and for Spain) as a result. The bridge is breathtaking, and there is an odd feeling of peace just being near it. The River Sella is also quite beautiful.
2. Cangas de Onís
The village attracts tourists for the bridge, but the actual village is worth seeing. There are nearly 7,000 habitants, and the breathtaking scenery from Oviedo makes it well worth the drive. You’re in mountains (at the very beginning of the Picos de Europa), and the village and mountain landscape make Cangas de Onís well worth the effort to check out.
3. Basilica de Covadonga
Not far from Cangas de Onís is Basilica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga. It reminds me of a Disney palace, and I felt much more like I was in Germany or France than Spain when I visited the Basilicia. As if it weren’t beautiful enough, next door is a small church (Santa Cueva de Covadonga). I found it much more fascinating and impressive. I can’t wait to go back, as I have yet to discover the Lagos de Covadonga nearby.
4. Lagos de Covadonga
The two glacial lakes, the original centre of the Picos de Europa National Park, are said to be some of the most beautiful in all of Spain and are often an important part of Spain’s cycling competition, La vuelta de España.
Cudillero is a small village of around 6000 people built into the side of a hill right on the sea. It is said to be founded by vikings. It’s notable for the brightly coloured houses and its seafood restaurants. I enjoyed getting lost in the rain trying to find a shortcut back to the FEVE train station. I found another one just as the sun came out. It’s on the Camino de Santiago, so I’ll be able to return as soon as I get the chance to hit the Camino for real. It’s located between Gijón and Galicia.
Located between Gijón and Cantabria close to Llanes, Ribadasella is another small town of around 6000 people located on the sea. It offered a great view of the sunset and is home to a famous rowing race on the River Sella every August. For me, it just had stunning views of the sea.
7. Santa María del Naranco (Oviedo)
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a short 3 km (1.9 mile) hike from Oviedo city, but there are buses every hour for the less adventurous. It was originally a palace before being converted into a church in the 13th century and is unique among architecture of its time. It also has some awesome views of Oviedo on those few precious sunny days.
Also of note, famed football (soccer) player David Villa is from Asturias, and every day the dialect of “bable” gets more respect. Puxa Asturies!