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Pico Naranjo in the mountains of Picos de Europa, Asturias

Great ways to explore all the facets of Asturias

Principality of Asturias

People say Asturias, in northern Spain and on the shore of the Cantabrian Sea, is a green paradise. Take a moment to imagine it. Start dreaming of wandering on its unspoilt beaches, its seaside towns painted every colour of the rainbow, its mountain villages reached by funicular railway… Picture yourself pouring its famous cider and sampling its cheeses… There are so many ways to enjoy Asturias at its best, and we’ve selected a few for you here:

Route via Cangas de Onís and the Covadonga lakes

This must be the most famous route in Asturias, part of the spectacular Picos de Europa National Park. You can start in the town of Cangas de Onís with a look at its pretty “Roman” bridge. Next, visit the Basilica of Santa María la Real de Covadonga, which rises like a dream in the middle of the valley, and the Santa Cueva (about a 10-kilometre drive), a spectacular natural cave holding the image of the Virgin of Covadonga (known affectionately as “la Santina”). This is just a foretaste of what you’ll find at the end of a beautiful winding mountain road: the stunning Covadonga lakes, originally formed by glaciers at an altitude of more than 1000 metres (in high season and in summer, access is by bus). Nearby the viewing points of La Reina and Ordiales offer panoramic views of the whole area.

The Covadonga lakes in the Picos de Europa mountains

Bulnes and the Cares Trail

A picturesque mountain village like a scene from a fairytale. This is Bulnes. An unusual way to visit this little village is by funicular railway. When you get to the top, breathe deep and enjoy the landscape, the mountaineers’ cemetery, the pretty church and stone houses, and stop for a cider, climb up to Bulnes de Arriba, or catch the views from its lookout point.The nearby village of Poncebos is the start of another well-known route, the Cares Trail, through a spectacular mountain gorge in the Picos de Europa. As soon as you set off, you’ll see the looming peak of Naranjo de Bulnes, and then the crystal-clear waters of the River Cares will accompany you along the way. The walk out and back is about 22 kilometres.

Tunnel on the Cares Trail

A mining experience

Traditional mining is part of the regional identity of Asturias, with plenty of sites preserved from historical periods and the recent past, honouring the hard work of generations of miners. There are several ways to get an idea of the authentic mining experience. For example, you can visit the Mining Museum in Arnao, which was the first underwater coal mine in Spain. You can also see the purpose-built village of Bustiello to see how miners lived.The most adventurous can spend a day in Pozo Sotón (in the area of San Martín del Rey Aurelio), the only coal mine in Europe to offer guided tours of the tunnels. It’s a fascinating experience to venture into the depths of the earth, as far down as 500 metres. Very close to Pozo Sotón, there are also the Museum of Mining and Industry (MUMI) and the Valle de Samuño Mining Ecomuseum, in a beautiful setting of valleys and mountains.

Pozo Sotón coal mine, in San Martín del Rey Aurelio

Unique cuisine

Fabada beans, cachopo, casadielles and other sweets... We can recommend many different local specialities and traditional products. But for now, we’ll focus on two of them: First, cider. Everyone who visits Asturias (and drinks alcohol) really should experience this local drink made from apples and traditionally poured holding the bottle as high and the glass as low as possible to maximise oxygenation, a practice known as escanciar and a symbol of the region. You can try it in sidrerías or cider bars and in llagares where cider is made or kept in barrels, and which often provide espichas, informal meals with, of course, plenty of cider. There is even a Cider District or Comarca de la Sidra in north-east Asturias with plenty of related activities.Second, we also strongly recommend trying the local cheeses. They have 50 varieties! Some of the best-known are Cabrales, Gamonéu, Afuega'l pitu, Casín, and Beyos. Click here to see cheese-producing farms and dairies you can visit.

Cachopo

Asturian Pre-Romanesque

This art and architecture can only be found in Asturias, and dates back as early as the 9th century. Specifically, some of the earliest of these beautiful heritage buildings were constructed during the reign of Ramiro I of Asturias. Six of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Cámara Santa in Oviedo Cathedral; the churches of San Miguel de Lillo, Santa Cristina de Lena, Santa María del Naranco and San Julián de los Prados; and the work of hydraulic engineering known as La Foncalada. You’ll find them all in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, and the surrounding area. Also, on the slopes of the lovely and tranquil Mount Naranco, the site of several of these churches, you can also see the Asturian Pre-Romanesque visitors’ centre. Would you like to take this trip through time?

 San Miguel de Lillo, Oviedo

Unspoilt beaches and fishing villages

Two lovely Asturian towns are part of the Spanish Association of Fishing Villages: Ribadesella, where on the first Saturday in August canoeists from all over the world take part in the Descent of the River Sella; and Llanes, home of the magical little Gulpiyuri beach, cut off from the sea by a cliff, and the Pría blowholes, rock chimneys where water is blasted out like geysers.But there are many more fishing villages along this coast, with brightly coloured little houses crowded between the sea and the mountains, like Cudillero (you’ll want to see the sunset from its crescent-shaped beach, Playa del Silencio, or from the lighthouse on Cabo Vidio), Lastres, and Luarca, the “white town of the Costa Verde”. Its hilltop cemetery is one of the most picturesque in Spain, with uniquely spectacular views of the sea.Looking for even more amazing beaches and seaside villages? Try Rodiles beach in Villaviciosa, Verdicio beach in Gozón (next to Cabo Peñas), or the towns of Puerto de Vega and Castropol.

View of Ribadesella

An inland village to get away from it all

We don’t want to forget a very special inland town, nestling among mountains: Taramundi and the little villages surrounding it. In this beautiful area you’ll see stone houses with slate roofs, old watermills, and museums of traditional trades, such as knife-making or weaving - it’s like a journey to a simpler time. Ideal if you want to get away from it all.

Taramundi and its mills

Three cities

If you fancy spending a day in a more urban setting, in Asturias you’ll find three very different cities. The capital, Oviedo, is inland, away from the coast. It’s a lovely place to stroll around, with an elegant historic quarter full of squares and palaces, a cathedral, the Fontán market and the Campoamor Theatre. Naturally, you’ll want to drop into its traditional cake shops to try moscovitas and other pastries, and of course, have a cider in its sidrerías. You can get a great view over the city from Mount Naranco, where as we mentioned earlier, you can enjoy the Asturian Pre-Romanesque architecture of several little churches.Back on the coast, there’s Gijón. With splendid beaches and views of the Cantabrian, you’ll love some of its magical spots, like the sculpture Elogio del Horizonte by Eduardo Chillida. It’s also worth visiting the Cimavilla neighbourhood where fishermen used to live, the park Jardines de la Reina, and the marina.This trio of small cities ends with Avilés. Next to an estuary, its historic city centre is full of houses with porticoes, gardens and palaces - it’s delightful. But since 2011 its symbol has been the Niemeyer Cultural Centre, designed by the Brazilian architect, with stunning futuristic forms.

From left to right: Plaza Carballo in Avilés, Oviedo Cathedral, and the Universidad Laboral in Gijón.

Asturias with the family

If you’re travelling with children you’ll love Asturias. First, you can fire their imaginations with a visit to the Jurassic Museum, with over 20 life-size replica dinosaurs (in Colunga) or the Prehistory Park (in Teverga). Second, take them to the Gijón Aquarium, with over 4000 creatures from 400 species. Third: how about an outdoor adventure? For example, the beautiful Bear Trail (Senda del Oso) for walkers and cyclists starts in Santo Adriano. In the area around Fuentes del Narcea there are guides to help you track the local bears. Don’t forget that Asturias is full of amazing natural spaces to explore with kids, like the Natural Parks of Somiedo, Ubiñas-La Mesa, or Redes, and viewing points everyone will love, such as Mirador del Fitu (Caravia). It’s a great way to experience nature.

Prehistory Park in Teverga

Surprising places

As well as the most famous destinations in Asturias, there are other more unusual, less-known spots which are also worth a visit. For example, have you heard of La Cuevona? This is one of very few caves you can drive through, and forms the natural entrance to the village of Cuevas del Agua, which appears through this rock tunnel like a mirage. Incidentally, did you know Asturias has dozens of caves with cave paintings more than 35,000 years old? Some of them, such as Cueva del Conde, El Pindal, La Loja, Candamo, La Lluera, and Tito Bustillo, are open to the public.You can also visit several film locations, such as settings from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. This film brought Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson to the San Juan lighthouse in Avilés and Mount Naranco near Oviedo. The movie “Marrowbone” was shot in Pravia, on Frexulfe beach in Navia, and in the former munitions factory in Oviedo; and “Begin the Beguine” features Gijón and the charming fishing village Cudillero.

Main panel of the Tito Bustillo cave

The Roman past

There is so much to see in Asturias that many travellers never notice its interesting Roman heritage, but the Roman Empire was present here for five centuries, not least to exploit its gold mines. If you want to explore this period, you might like to follow the Gold Route, or visit the Asturias Gold Museum in Tineo.You can also visit Roman camps like the spectacular Castro de Coaña (5th century BCE), visit the Roman baths at Campo Valdés and the Roman villa of Veranes in Gijón, or the Via Carisa visitors’ centre in Aller to learn about this Roman road which linked Asturias to the rest of the Empire.

Castro de Coaña