Wedged between Cantabria and Galicia, and between the Meseta Central and the sea, this is Green Spain
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Asturias 

On the central northwest coast of Spain


On this page:  Oviedo Aviles Gijon Picos de Europa Other sites
 llanes harbour

  Asturias - Green Spain between mountains and the sea

Rural Asturian coast
Much of the Asturias coastline remains very rural
   In Asturias, rural Spain comes right down to the sea - not just in a couple of short protected areas, but along a good proportion of the Asturian coast. Not everywhere, of course. Asturias, like much of northern Spain, has an industrial heritage - but the surviving vestiges of Asturias's industrial past are not so much on the coast. Asturias' most popular tourist centre, Aviles, was once a major industrial port, but the cranes and gantries have long since fallen silent, and today Aviles is better known as a quaint town beside an estuary, with a fishing port, some good beaches nearby, and a lot of fine countryside all round.
   With its ancient Celtic culture, its rocky shoreline and its more modern industrial heritage, Asturias has much in common with Cornwall  Wales or Scotland .
   There is still some industry in Asturias, but only a shadow of the large mining and steel complexes that existed half a century ago. It is mostly located inland from Aviles and Gijon - the latter being a commerical port city that is the largest city in Asturias. The rest of Asturias - which means by far the major part of the region - is rural to very rural. Asturias's industrial heritage can be explored in two museums in the Nalon valley, near Oviedo - a mining museum with simulated underground trip, and the Iron and steel museum, housed in a former cooling tower.

Santa Maria de Naranco
Santa Maria del Naranco, one of the oldest churches in Europe. Photo Filipao,  Spain

Oviedo and its early mediaeval heritage

     Asturias has Europe's greatest number of pre-mediaeval or Visigothic monuments - monuments dating from the "dark ages" of European civilisation, from the seventh to the tenth centuries. The north  of Spain was the only part of the Iberian peninsula not to have been conquered by the Moors - and consequently the only part to remain Christian at a time when Moorish Spain converted to Islam. This - and the fact that the mountainous area of Asturias lies on the fringe of Western Europe - left the area with an early Christian heritage that is the oldest in Spain. Oviedo's "pre-Romanesque" monuments are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; of particular note are the Visigothic church of Santa María del Naranco which stands on a hill overlooking the city, San Miguel de Lillo, close by, and the Camara Santa, or holy chamber, that is part of the city's cathedral . Oviedo is reputed to be the cleanest city in Europe - which is not altogether surprising for the capital of an area that is sometimetimes nicknamed Switzerland by the sea.

Old Aviles
Street in old quarter of Aviles

Aviles

Aviles is a delightful small city; nothing spectacular here, but a very pleasant old centre, largely pedestrianized,  with some impressive old buildings, such as the Palacio Ferrera, now a hotel. Many of the old houses in this part of Spain are painted in bright colours, making the town distinctively different from most Spanish towns. The fishing port is easily accessible on foot from the old town; but a car or public transport is necessary in order to visit the town's fine sandy beach, located in the suburban area of Salinas. Salinas is a prim old-fashioned seaside suburb, that developed at a time when Aviles offered plenty of good jobs in industry close by; its beach is a broad sandy Atlantic beach, with some good seafood restaurants along the edge. The coast to the west of Aviles is very attractive - a succession of rocky headlands, small sandy coves, and longer beaches, largely unspoilt by the development of holiday homes and seaside apartment complexes.

Gijón

Gijon from San Lorenzo beach
The Gigon peninsula, from San Lorenzo beach.  Photo Corsanet 
Gijón is an active seaport, though no longer the major industrial seaport that it used to be. It is a popular stop for yachtsmen and coastal sailors touring round the Iberian peninsula.
In Roman times Gijón - located at the northern end of the Ruta de la Plata or Via Delapidata, was an important centre on the Atlantic metal trading route. Gijon's town centre is an attractive old town with a fine arcaded Plaza Mayor located on the narrow point of the isthmus on which the old town was built. From the Plaza Mayor there is a view out over Gijon bay and one of the finest sandy beaches on the Spanish Atlantic coast. Beyond the Plaza Mayor lies the barrio of Cimadevilla, the peninsula on which the town first evolved. Little is left of historic Gijon on this peninsula, beyond some archaeological sites; this part of Gijon was mostly redeveloped as a residential area in the twentieth century.
  Other attractions in Gijon include the relatively new Aquarium, with its freshwater and seawater areas; and the Asturias railway museum, which has the best collection of steam locomotives and historic rolling stock in Spain.
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Trujillo Plaza mayor
The dramatic peak of Naranjo de Bulnes - photo J. Lacruz

 Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa were the first area of Spain to be designated as a National Park. Divided between Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y Leon - the Picos are among the finest and most well preserved areas of high mountain in Europe: located barely twenty miles inland from the coast, they are part of the long mountain range that runs from the Pyrenees to the Cordillera Cantabrica, marking the northern edge of Spain. The Picos de Europa are the highest part of the Cantabrian Cordillera, and the greatest peaks are at Torre de Cerredo ( 2,648 m  / 8,688ft)  and Naranjo de Bulnes (2519 m)  in Asturias, bastions of naked rock surging skywards, and much favoured by rock-climbing enthusiasts. Below the peaks, the Picos de Europa and surrounding upland areas offer great opportunities for hiking, mountain-biking and other outdoor activities. Among the most popular parts are the glacial  lakes of Covadonga, the way up to which is also a long and well-known climb for cycle road-racing in Spain.  The Picos de Europa also offer marvellous opportunities for bird-watching, their many precipitous crags being a haven for large birds of prey, both vultures and eagles.

Asturian coast
Wonderful beaches - including many only accessible on foot

Other places, other sites

Along the coast of Asturias, there are a number of small fishing ports that have largely avoided the ravages of coastal development.  Among the most attractive of these are Cudillero - between harbour and hills -  the little fishing village of Tazones, or the small town of Llanes (photo top of page).  But between them, there are mile upon mile of unspoilt coastline, mostly rocky and rugged, but with many beautiful little coves and beaches, often reachable only on foot.
    Right in the east of Asturias, the very pleasant small town of Colombres has an interesting museum of Spanish emigration to the Americas. It is housed in the colonial-style mansion built by one of Asturias's "Indianos", men who emigrated from poverty in Asturias in the 19th century, made their fortune in the New World, then returned home in later life as rich men.
   One other interesting spot is the basilica of Covadonga, a large 19th century pilgrimage church located in the Picos de Europa national park. The shrine marks the spot where the Asturians defeated the Moors in the year 722, starting the long process of the "Reconquest" of spain for Christianity, that was only completed in 1492 with the final expulsion of the Moors from their last fief, the caliphate of Granada. Today, the "Ruta de la Reconquista" is the name given to a 70 km hiking trail through the Picos de Europa, starting in Covadonga.

Asturian bagpipes
 Celtic Spain - Asturian bagpipes. Asturias shares an ancient cultural heritage with other parts of Europe's "Celtic fringe"

Getting to Asturias:
By car via the southwest corner of France, San Sebastian and Santander.
By ferry: Brittany ferries operate direct ferries from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander in neighbouring Cantabria. LD Lines sail from Saint Nazaire (France) to Gijon.
Fly to Asturias: Easyjet fry from London Stansted to Asturias airport, near Aviles.

Pig beneath an oak treeBougainvillia grows profusely in the mild atlantic climate of coastal Asturias
Asturias
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ruta de la Reconquista
The Ruta de la Reconquista hiking trail, through the Picos de Europa

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