If you’re British and you’re looking for a holiday destination that’s a bit like a home from home, look no further: Asturias in northern Spain has the same rubbish weather, but on the upside the rain is probably a few degrees warmer than in the UK. Unsurprisingly, the lush green region of Asturias is a popular holiday destinations for Spanish people, from Valencia and further south, who like to come here in the Summer to escape the heat. In addition, the rich history – pre-history, even – and the stunning landscape makes it the perfect holiday destination for the whole family.
1 Hiking in the Picos de Europa
The Picos are a mountain range that runs along the northern coastline of the Spanish peninsula, reaching up to 2,600m above sea level. Endless well-maintained walking routes make this an ideal destination for hikers, even younger ones.
It took us two days to make the 17 kms up from Lake Enol to the Mirador the Ordiales, from where you have a stunning view of the Angon valley which lies almost 1000m below you:
Fortunately, small mountain refuges like the Refugio de Vegarredonda on the way to the Mirador help you to organise your trip around your abilities. They offer food (often transported uphill on horseback) and simple accommodation.
Another – shorter – hike is up to the 1160m high Pico Pienzu, which is only a few miles inland from the coast, offering you amazing views of the Cantabrian coastline:
Although 1160m doesn’t sound a lot, you have to remember it is 1160m almost from the sea level up as the sea is only a few miles away! It’s a beautiful and relatively easy climb, with rewarding views along the way.
Until the clouds catch up with you, which they invariably will.
2. Walking with Dinosaurs at the Playa de la Griega
If mountains are not your thing, or if the weather is refusing to play ball, there’s plenty more to explore. The pretty little beach of la Griega, for example, just a few miles north from Pico Pienzu, has a very special attraction in the form of fossilised dinosaur footprints.
Yes, those large circles are indeed 150 million years old and over a meter in diameter, left there by passing dinosaurs. A little footpath takes you along the coastline to a viewing platform, and from there to the rocks and the beach. And what a beach it is:
The footprints (huellas de dinosaurs) are are the left end of the beach, a mere 600m walk from the car park. The middle peak in the background is Pico Pienzu, by the way, and the picturesque little village in the foreground, Llastres, has excellent little bars and restaurants.
Should you want to find out more about the dinosaurs, however, the architecturally pleasing Museum of the Jurassic (Museo del Jurásico MUJA) is only a few kilometres along the coast.
Built to resemble the shape of the nearby footprints, it houses a comprehensive collection of fossils, including a rather disturbing display of a pair of tyrannosaurus rexes (reges?) in what could be termed a ‘romantic embrace.’
3. Altamira Caves
Technically it’s cheating when we cross into a neighbouring county, Cantabria, but you’d be silly not to. Altamira cave with its amazing paleolithic paintings was discovered in the 19th century and has since been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. In order to preserve the original paintings, a life-size copy of it was built which is accessible as part of the museum.
“Fake cave? SAD” you might think, but think again: the painters, 35,000 or so years ago, made use of the bumps of the cave ceiling so that in the flickering light of a fire the animals seem to move, making it a real paleolithic 3D movie. You have to see it to believe it. But if everybody really went to see it, in the original cave, there wouldn’t be much of the painting left. Hence the alternative cave, with its breathtaking images of bisons, horses, doe and boars.
4. Playa as Catedrais (Playa de las Cathedrales)
Technically Asturias has enough pretty or stunning beaches to last you a lifetime, but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t take a look at the neighbouring provinces, too. Located a few miles to the western border of Asturias, in Galicia, lies the incredibly beautiful beach of As Catedrals, a beach that comes with a health warning: do not even attempt to visit it during high tide or the high season.
The strange rock formations are only visible when the tide is out, allowing you to explore the strange arches and caves that would not look out of place in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
At high tide, most of the structures are hidden in the water, leaving you with a tiny stretch of beach. If you try to visit in the summer holidays you’ll have take a number and wait your turn…
On the other hand, while you are in Galicia you should definitely try the local delicacy “pulpo a la gallega,” octopus Galician style:
A great place to try them is the excellent Casa Villaronta in nearby Ribadeo, although here, too, you might have to queue and wait your turn…
5. Asturian Food and Drink
Although relatively unknown outside of Spain, Asturias is home to several delicacies. Therefore, when in Asturias, do as the Asturians do and have some Fabada.
As this Valentine’s Day-themed window display (I am not kidding you!) shows, Asturians love their meat-filled fava bean stew and you will find it on every menu. It is delicious, if somewhat on the heavy side. And no, I could not find any reliable sources discussing its qualities as an aphrodisiac.
Should it prove too much for you, you can wash it down with a glass of the local cider. Unlike English or French cidre, Asturian sidra has very little fizz of its own, but instead is poured from a great height to make up for it:
The escanciador will only pour a mouthful into the glass and you’ll need to drink it quickly to experience the sidra at its effervescent best. Traditionally, the glass is shared and everyone will leave a little bit of sidra to enable the escanciador to give it a quick rinse before pouring for the next person. We were assured that this was as hygienic as it gets, but the next day an article in the local paper praised the benefits of sharing the glass for the immune system, which kind of proved our argument that a tiny little swigger of sidra will not disinfect the entire glass.
The drying fishing nets in the pitoresque fishing village of Cudillero, however, pay tribute to the abundance of fish and seafood that can be found along the rugged coastline of Asturias. Local fishermen will sell their catch twice daily in larger ports like Avilés to the highest bidder, often to fancy restaurants in the capital or further afield. If you don’t fancy a big meal, check out the smaller bars, too, as they will serve you small tapas or pinchos with your caña of beer. Perfect to sample the local food! You might even come across some local musicians playing the traditional Asturian bagpipes, the Asturian music. The Celtic heritage is alive and well.
Desserts, too, are quite special: have a look at these walnut-and-anisette-filled donuts! You can find casadielles all year round in the bakeries here but they are particularly popular during carnival season.
So, whenever you’re looking for something windswept and potentially rainy, look no further and head to Asturias!