On day three our objective was to leave the northern coast of Asturias and drive into Castilla y León with plans to visit the major cities of the region but first we would be visiting the capital city of Asturias – Oviedo.
After breakfast we settled up with the owner of the hotel, Santiago, and he invited us to return and with what I thought was a very nice touch he said that we should henceforth consider his hotel to be our home in Spain.
We took the direct route this morning on the Autovia Cantabria and although there was promising blue sky there seemed to be the constant threat of bad weather being blown in from the Bay of Biscay as grey clouds scudded in from the north.
The route took us east at first past the industrial town of Aviles where deep quarries and massive steel works sat side by side, rather uncomfortably with green fields and grazing cattle. Asturias was once one of the most affluent regions of Spain based on its mining and steel industries and people flocked here from other regions for employment but as with everywhere else it seems this has now changed and although the steel mills were belching smoke and the foundries looked busy, Asturias is no longer considered to be so industrially wealthy.
After only a few kilometres the road swung south and immediately the weather became more certain as we headed towards the blue skies above Oviedo and when we arrived we headed for the historical centre and quickly found ourselves in an underground car park close to the city and as we walked to the centre we passed the first of over one hundred statues that decorate the city and we started rather appropriately with the traveller.
My immediate assessment of Oviedo was that it seemed confident and relaxed and the honey coloured stone of the Plaza Mayor was welcoming and friendly except that is for the ever-present gipsy beggars with their gnarled and twisted faces like characters from a Goya painting who hang around outside cathedral doors and pester people for money as they go come and go. Personally I find these people to be a downright nuisance and I don’t understand why the authorities don’t simply move them on.
Before visiting the cathedral we spotted the covered market and made our way inside to see what was on offer. It was quite wonderful with meat and fish and vegetables and many stalls selling local produce. While Asturias is especially known for its seafood, the most famous regional dish is fabada asturiana which is a rich stew typically made with large white beans, shoulder of pork, black sausage and spicy chorizo, which it seemed to me is a sort of French Cassoulet and we flirted for a while with purchasing a pre-packed tourist meal to take home but then realised that we could easily do this for ourselves without too much effort, came to our senses and moved on.
Oviedo is only a small city, only just scraping into the top twenty largest cities in Spain and it isn’t even the largest in Asturias so it didn’t take that long to walk around the historical centre and soon there was only one thing left to do – visit the Cathedral. The building was severely damaged during the Spanish Civil War when the conflict more or less started here and there was fierce Nationalist oppression inflicted by General Franco but it has been restored now and has been returned to its former medieval grandeur.
Inside is the mausoleum of the King’s of Asturias and an elaborate alter piece but nothing else really stood out for me. Except the candles! Traditionally a votive candle is lit in memory of someone and I have always thought there is something special about lighting a beeswax candle, or even a tea light and standing back and saying a little prayer or dragging up a memory. Sadly these little candles seem to be increasingly replaced with a box full of flickering bulbs that, having paid your money, remain lit for a while and then after a pre-determined time simply switch off. I expect it is something to do with health and safety! A few years ago I remember going into Florence Cathedral and the heat from the thousands of candles was completely overpowering and I am sure that a little accident could easily have led to a raging inferno!
After leaving the Cathedral and side stepping the beggars at the door we returned to the car, stopping on the way for a coffee where we sat in the pleasant sunshine and plotted the next stage of our journey – one hundred and twenty-five kilometres to the city of León in neighbouring Castilla y León, the largest of the Autonomous Communities of Spain.