Tag Archives: Asturias

Northern Spain, Asturian Coast and Ribadesella

Cantabria Coastline Beach

The Beaches of Asturias…

This was the final stage of the long journey and we kept stubbornly to the coast road and took our time as we stopped off regularly at beaches along the way.

The first that we came to was just outside of the town of Llanes and we took the road which swooped down to Playa de Toro which translates as the beach of bulls and although I can find no explanation for this  I assumed that it was on account of the natural sculptures, little pronounced pinnacles – rocky outcroppings leaping up out of the caramel sand, skeletal survivors of the erosion action of the sea on calcareous rock and which, with a little imagination could be said to resemble a herd of black bulls charging into the surf.

At the back of the beach only a few kilometres away the Cantabrian mountains soared into the sky and as they did they collected all of the clouds that were sweeping in from the sea and here their progress was stalled like traffic at a motorway incident and they joined together in a sort of cloud congestion that grew darker and darker and obscured the peaks of the natural barrier between land and sea.

By contrast it was very sunny down on the beach and we wandered along the shoreline and watched the incoming tide before resting a while at a beach side restaurant and sat outside with diners who were tucking into the menu del dia.  We were tempted to join them but our plan was to eat in mid afternoon in preparation for the journey home so we resisted and carried on.

Lets Go Fly A Kite…

As we drove west the beaches on the Cantabrian coast come thick and fast and we stopped to admire the Playa de San Antonin where Atlantic breakers rolled in one after another and where surfers were practising the moves and then came across a beach, the name of which I carelessly forgot to find out where there was a gathering and an event and what looked like a thousand kites being flown in the sky.

We turned into the car park and walked along the sand and the grassy headland and admired the range of kites on display from the simple things that I remember from my boyhood holidays (two bits of wood, some plastic and string) to some very complex exhibits which I assume required great skill to keep up in the air.  I was glad that we had stumbled upon this because it was one of those Spanish festivals/events which includes all of the family and is quite unlike anything in the UK.

Cantabria Kite Flying Beach

All of a sudden time was ticking by quite quickly and it was getting close to our intended lunch stop so we left the hobby kite fliers and continued on to the seaside town of Ribadesella and found a parking spot in a strangely solumbulant Saturday afternoon town where boats rested in the water and the seafood restaurants were serving unhurried food to relaxed diners and there was a lazy ambiance as we strolled along the harbour street looking for a restaurant.

There were a number to select from but as the sun was shining and this might well have been the best weather of the entire week we wanted to find a table in the sun and we had to walk practically the entire length of the harbour to find one.  Tables in the sun are generally free because local diners prefer the shade and this was no exception as we settled ourselves down for lunch.

We choose the four course menu del dia which turned out to be wonderful and we sat and ate and shared the bottle of red wine and reflected on our journey.  It had been an excellent week and we had enjoyed every place that we had visited.  Castilla y León is not the most attractive region in Spain but it is encrusted with the jewels of the cities that stand out like diamonds and more than compensate for the dreary landscape and we had enjoyed our itinerary which took us through most of Spain’s largest Autonomous Community.

After lunch we walked through the streets of the town but our visit had clearly coincided with the afternoon siesta and many places were closed and those that were open were not very enthusiastic about receiving customers so after a walk through the town and a last look at the harbour we returned to the car and headed for the Autovia del Cantabria for the very final stretch of our drive.

The road took us south of the industrial towns of Gijón and Avilés we sped past without stopping, filled the hire car with fuel and then made our way back to the airport and the late evening flight home to London Stansted.

Ribadasella Cantabria SpainAsturias Postcard

 

 

Northern Spain – Mountain Drive from Oviedo to León

Mountain Drive from Oviedo

Leaving Oviedo was very straight forward as we made our way out of the city and towards the Autovia that would take us almost directly south – only almost directly because first we had to pass through the mountains, or more specifically the Montes de León which are a western section of the Cantabrian mountains that form a natural geographical border between Asturias and Castilla y León.

Even as we started to climb it was effortless motoring on a wide fast road without traffic and we made steady progress towards our destination.  All the time we were climbing, climbing, climbing as though into the sky and into the blue and the grey of the clouds through saw edged, snow capped mountains that just kept on soaring into the sky.  The climb was endless, swift and dramatic as we climbed to over one thousand five-hundred metres and passed heavy goods vehicles with ease as they laboured and snorted along the constant incline.

We passed through long sinuous tunnels and crossed expansive viaducts and bridges and soon we were at two thousand metres and above the snow line and into a national park high into the mountains where road signs warned of chamois deer and the ambient temperature warning in the car dropped to just four degrees centigrade. For a moment or two I wondered if I had strayed off course and unrestrained by the limitations of time if I was somewhere deep in the Swiss Alps?  As we approached the summit, past the emergency parking areas for overheating vehicles I was happy to declare this to be my most memorable motorway journey ever – the Autovia equivalent of the Amalfi drive!

Montes de León Spain

Finally the road levelled out as we reached the summit and we were transported to a most Alpine scene with little red roofed villages, that must spend weeks cut off during the winter, snow clinging stubbornly in the sun-starved crevices and then a mountain lake, the Embalse de los Barrios de Luna, the waters of the moon, as blue as the sky and sparkling in the sunshine as it spread out on either side of the highway as we crossed it on a high level six hundred and fifty metre long suspension bridge – currently the longest in Spain.

A motorway through the mountains such as this is obviously very expensive to build in the first place and then to annually maintain so inevitably we eventually came to a toll booth which charged us €12.80 to pass through but I soon came to terms with this when I realised that €6.40 each for this sort of entertainment was very good value indeed and soon after passing through we stopped at the very top and enjoyed the views back towards Asturias, east and west along the valleys of the National Park and south towards Castilla y León where we passed into soon after resuming our journey.

On the southern side of the mountain range there was a straight, less dramatic road and a more gradual descent towards the high plain of Castilla y León, the spiritual heartland of Christian Spain and as we drove I began to contemplate the prospect of our next city stopover in León.

Leon Spain postcard

Northern Spain – Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias

Oviedo Spain

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.

Oviedo Spain

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.

Asturias Cathedral

 

Northern Spain – The Costa Verde, Beaches and Fishing

Luarca Northern Spain

On the first morning the weather was cold and grey but crucially it wasn’t raining and as I inspected the sky from the window of the room I could see that the cool conditions clearly suited the pilgrim walkers who were setting out one by one along the Comino de la Costa, a northern route of the Way of St. James, on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

After breakfast we put on our warmest clothing combinations and set off for a drive along the northern coast of Asturias, the Costa Verde.

First we drove town into the Cudillero and past the seafood restaurants that were taking their daily deliveries of fresh produce and then out through the port area and out of the other side where we ignored the direct route along the Autovía del Cantábrico, the motorway that runs the entire length of the northern coast, and in preference selected the old coast road.  It didn’t matter that this route would take us much longer because we wanted to enjoy the scenery and we weren’t absolutely sure where we were going anyway.

As we twisted and turned around winding bends we suddenly found ourselves below one of the many concrete motorway viaducts that span the estuaries and gorges and we stopped to admire the twisting, voluptuous structure high above us, a magnificent and expensive feat of engineering, sinuous and wriggling like a plate of live eels and with more curves than Marilyn Monroe and from where we stood way below like a futuristic highway in the sky.

Posada La Torre de la Quintana Liendo Cantabria

As we progressed slowly westwards we stopped frequently to admire the views and whenever we could to go down the caramel sand beaches pounded by the Atlantic surf and where the salty sea air filled our senses.  It reminded me of Cornwall, a succession of beaches and coves linked by a lonely narrow lane with few passing opportunities so we were glad that the road was quiet today.  We followed the twists through the hairpin bends through mossy dells decorated with wild flowers and deep in shadow where waterfalls plunged down narrow gullies and ferns waved to us as we went by and everywhere an unexpected verdant green.

Although there was very little traffic there were plenty of walkers, pilgrims with their scallop shells and wooden staffs, solitary hikers enjoying the day and ‘finding themselves’ as they went along the route towards their next evening hostel.  It seemed to me that some were likely to get there ahead of schedule because, and I don’t want to accuse anyone of cheating here, I was slightly surprised to spot one or two of them waiting in bus stops all along the way.  Kim was more charitable than me and said that they were probably only resting and on reflection I like to think that her assessment was more accurate than mine.

Spain Wall Tiles 02

As the morning passed by the weather improved and by the time we reached the fishing port of Luarca which, according to local legend, was founded originally by Vikings, there was blue sky and sunshine as we followed the road down to the harbour and parked the car.  It was midday now and busy and the fish restaurants were beginning to fill with local residents who were out for family lunches and we set about finding somewhere suitable for ourselves.

Walking past the port I was struck by just how many fishing boats and trawlers there were in the harbour, all in immaculate livery and all clearly working for a living.  Spain is one of the major European fishing nations and has been generously funded by EU subsidies but even in spite of over fishing and catch quotas there must still be a lot of fish to scoop up to keep this fleet and many others like it fully employed. As we watched the boats at rest I compared this to the industry in the UK where fishermen are always complaining about how difficult it is to make a living on the sea and to emphasise the point the rod and line anglers all around the port were all effortlessly dragging out more fish than an average Padstow fishing trawler.

Seafood Dining

In this town, sometimes called ‘Villa Blanca de la Costa Verde’ it seemed only right to have a fish lunch so we ordered octopus, squid and paella and as usual made our first day mistake of over ordering at the first meal and ending up with a pile of food, far more than we really needed, to wade through.

The plan now was to return to Cudillero but instead of the coast road we now took the elevated Autovia which took us way above trees and fields with magnificent views inland towards the mountains and in the other direction the warm blue of the Bay of Biscay and in contrast to the outward journey which had taken a couple of hours we seemed to be back in just a matter of minutes.

Cantabria 008

Northern Spain – Asturias and the Green Coast

Asturias Postcard

After the visit to Siguenza in Castilla-la Mancha in March our second journey to Spain in 2013 took us to the far north with a good value flight to Asturias.  This is an area that we hadn’t previously visited and a good starting point for visiting the cities of Castilla y Leon.

The weather was quite awful as the Easyjet plane dropped from its high altitude cruising height in the last of the daylight and down towards the stormy waters of the Bay of Biscay and the rugged coastline of Asturias.  When we landed the rain was lashing down and bouncing off the tarmac and adding to the ever spreading puddles – this didn’t look promising and we certainly hadn’t packed appropriately for this.

After we had completed the formalities and collected the car hire we drove out of the airport in grey, dismal conditions and persistent rain and hoped that the satnav would guide us to our destination in nearby Cudillero.  Sadly it defiantly refused to find the satellites and so we had to resort to instinct and inspired guesswork in roughly equal measures as we drove west along the motorway.

To be perfectly honest we weren’t completely surprised by the rain because Asturias is part of the ‘Costa Verde’ and the climate of the region, as with the rest of northwest Spain, is more varied than that of southern parts of the country. The Asturias climate is unreliable and changeable and the region is often referred to in Spain as the wet or rainy region. Summers are generally humid and warm with considerable sunshine but also considerable amounts of rain. Winters are cold with some very cold snaps and it is especially cold in the high mountains where snow is present from October till May.

Ranked at tenth in size, Asturias is one of the smallest of the mainland Autonomous Communities and is squeezed into Spain’s northern coastal strip between Galicia to the west, Cantabria to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and in the south the magnificent peaks of the Picos de Europa, rising at their highest point to over two and half thousand meters high.

Asturias is a popular holiday choice with Spanish people living in the south and central cities of the country because they like to holiday in the north to escape the oppressive heat and enjoy the famous seafood.  In August alone, eight million Spaniards travel north from cities like Madrid and Barcelona to the more temperate climate of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria with their green scenery and spectacular beaches.

The local geography is also dramatically different from that of the central and southern regions with meadows, hills and mountains and is known affectionately in Iberia as ‘Green Spain’. The Asturian coastline is extensive, with hundreds of beaches, coves and natural sea caves and it is punctuated with river estuaries flowing down from the Cantabrian mountains which form the natural boundary with the Province of León in the south where we would be heading in a couple of day’s time.

We missed a turning which I was fairly certain was the correct one and carried on an extra few kilometres to the next exit which signposted us to Cudillero and we followed a road through emerald fields, stone walls and remote farmhouses that were given away by lights twinkling in the fields through the rain.  Suddenly without warning the road plunged down and we began a quick descent through a succession of tricky hairpin bends until we reached the port where a turbulent sea was sending breakers crashing against the rocks and the sturdy harbour wall where the fishing fleet was laid up and safe.

The road continued through the town where a few restaurants were still doing business and late diners were walking home under umbrellas and we thought maybe we wouldn’t walk back down this evening after all.  The road then climbed equally as dramatically as it had fallen and the car growled in low gear through narrow streets that took us back out f the town on the other side and to the road that I should have followed in the first place.

Luckily I remembered that the hotel Casona Selgas was a distinctive looking building with a bright blue facade and it wasn’t long before we found it, parked, took our bags from the car and hurried inside out of the rain where despite the late hour the owners were waiting to greet us.

The room that we were allocated was excellent and in eclectic style – warm, decorated in bright colours and with traditional furniture and as soon as were settled in we decided that that was where we were staying for the rest of the evening so instead of a meal we purchased a bottle of local wine and sat and enjoyed the room and congratulated ourselves on a good choice of hotel.

hotel Casona Selgas Cudillero