Asturias, for me, is a little slice of heaven on earth. To the Spanish it is known simply as ‘el paraíso natural’ – the natural paradise. Outside of Spain it is barely known at all.
Located on the rugged north coast of Spain at the base of the Bay of Biscay and bordered to the south by the mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica, the Principality of Asturias is a dramatically beautiful region. Its coastline is spectacular and gloriously unspoilt by the ravages of mass tourism or uncontrolled development. Much of the mountainous interior is truly wild and it boasts a vast array of flora and fauna to prove it, with some of the last populations of brown bears and wolves in Europe, as well as plentiful wild boars, deer, birds, and many species of wild flowers that are in danger of extinction elsewhere.
Protected throughout history by her high mountain borders, Asturias has retained a fierce sense of place and self. This is a place where tradition and culture are highly valued and are evident at every turn. Top tip for the visitor: bring a phrasebook, English is NOT widely spoken.
Today Asturias is protected via a range of official designations – there are 5 Natural Parks, 1 National Park, 10 Nature Reserves, 11 Protected Landscapes and 40 Natural Monuments within her borders.
Another key factor in the continued preservation of this natural paradise is her mild, oceanic climate. Higher levels of precipitation prevent the desertification that is apparent throughout much of the rest of Spain, as well as preventing invasion by hordes of sun-seeking package holidaymakers. Top tip #2 for the visitor – always pack both suncream AND rain gear, whatever the time of year.
As well as shaping the climate and the culture here, the proximity of the mountains to the sea affords the active traveller many opportunities for adventure. In the winter you can ski and surf in the same day (providing you have the energy!) In the summer you might prefer a restful and cooling dip in the Atlantic after a long day’s hiking in the mountains or trekking the extensive coastal paths. In addition to traditional mountain, alpine and big wall climbs there are also over 40 excellent and easily accessible sports climbing crags in the region with routes of every grade. Kayaking, canyoning, horse-riding, quad-biking, bird-watching, river and sea fishing are all popular here and well catered for the tourist market.
Those in search of more sedate pursuits are also well served. Oviedo, the region’s capital, is a beautiful, immaculately kept city with a fascinating historic centre – a designated UNESCO world heritage site with a plethora of pre-romanic buildings (a feature throughout Asturias.) The other major city of the area is Gijon, a vibrant coastal city with good surfing beaches in the centre of town and a buzzing night life.
There are several worthwhile museums to visit in the area and some excellent cultural festivals. My pick would be the Laboral in Gijon, a fantastic modern art space plus theatre, often host to internationally renowned artists in festivals such as Palabra y Musica (spoken word and music); the Centro Niemeyer in Aviles – a stunning building, in itself worth a visit, and with an exciting and avant garde programme of events and theatre including many international co-productions such as the Sam Mendes directed Richard III starring Kevin Spacey which played there last September; Gijon International Film Festival every October, at venues throughout the city, the Teatros Campoamor and Filarmonica in Oviedo…. I could go on (and surely will in many another post!), but I think you probably get the picture by now. Asturias – it rocks!
Airports: Asturias, Santander (approx 2 hrs drivin), Bilbao (3 hrs), Madrid (5 hrs)
Easyjet fly daily from London Stansted to Asturias.
Ryanair fly into Santander from a variety of European destinations, including London Stansted and Dublin.
Long haul international flights via Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona or London.
Ferries: Portsmouth/Plymouth to Santander and Bilbao, St Nazaire to Gijon