If Spain conjures up images of plastic donkeys and sunburned foreigners on crowded beaches, Asturias will change your mind completely. This northern province is an undiscovered paradise of rolling meadows, rugged coastline, mouth-watering regional cuisine, and fascinating historic cities.
Ode to Oviedo
is the ancient capital of Asturias and a treasure trove of cultural and architectural gems. Its pedestrianised, cobbled, and beautifully refurbished old town is clustered in a compact area around the Cathedral of San Salvador, whose gothic spire looms over the city’s skyline. Just a stroll away are the graceful, tree-lined avenues of the Campo de San Francisco, the grand central park with its remarkable collection of exotic trees, statues, bronzes, and fountains. A multiple winner of Spain’s cleanest city, Oviedo has been the focus of Asturian life for more than a millennium, representing the heartland of an area that the Moors never managed to conquer.
Colour is something you just cannot miss in Avilés
. Everywhere you look, you’ll find houses painted in vivid shades of yellow, pink, red, and blue. Many of these were built by “Los Indianos,” a whole generation of locals who set out for the New World and came back with their newfound riches to build opulent colonial-style houses. Everything in the town centres on Plaza de España, an architectural melting pot anchored by the graceful Palacio Municipal and scattered with wrought-iron balconies, shuttered windows, arches, pillars, porticoes, and ornate stone carvings.
One of the most famous dishes in the entire country is Fabada Asturiana (Asturian sausage and bean casserole), and, indeed it is so popular that Spaniards have canned it and exported it around the world. Seafood is also particularly good in this coastal province. Calderata is a traditional fish stew featuring lobster and crab, as well as white wine and cognac. Asturias produces excellent hake, and Merluza a la Sidra (hake in cider) appears on menus in most local restaurants. Asturias is also Spain’s leading salmon-producing region, predominantly around the rivers Nalon and Della. Salmón a la Ribereña (salmon with cider Asturian style) combines salmon, bacon, ham, and cider or white wine. The most famous Asturian cheese is queso de cabrales
, a wonderfully pungent blue cheese made from goat’s milk.
In the valleys southwest of Oviedo, where the rivers Trubia, Teverga, and Quiros flow down from the peaks toward the coast, lives one of Spain’s only remaining populations of bears. A hiking and cycling route called Senda del Oso (Way of the Bear) runs through these valleys along the track of a disused railway line. Inspired by a conservation project run by the Bear Foundation of Asturias (FOA) in the mountain village of Proaza, the 13-mile track runs north/south between the villages of Tuñon and Entrago through some magnificent scenery of forest, mountain gorges, and tunnels. Your chances of spotting wild bears are remote, but a bear sanctuary in Proaza houses some rescued bears.