A Descendant’s Guide to Asturias: Spain’s Natural Paradise
Asturias is an underrated part of Spain, especially if you love nature, enjoy eating well and long to discover surprising aspects of Spanish culture beyond the typical tourist crowds. Known as a “paraíso natural” (natural paradise), this northern region is verdant and green with stunning mountains and breathtaking coastline. Yet many visitors to Spain are unaware of its hidden gems and the importance of Asturias in the country’s origins as a nation. From its celtic culture to Visigoth kings, it has a fascinating history that goes beyond the renown Camino de Santiago. Today, the classy locals are sophisticated yet down to earth, taking great pride in their part in Spain’s history and with a deep appreciation for the land’s natural beauty. Asturias is particularly special to me because my “abuelo” (grandfather) was from there. Born and raised in the US, I now live full time in Spain and frequently visit Asturias. In this guide to Asturias, my insider knowledge and firsthand experience will take you beyond a stereotypical visit to Spain.
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Where to stay in Asturias, Spain
Eurostars Hotel de La Reconquista
Luxury hotel in Oviedo's historic center near San Francisco Park with two restaurants, a business center and a chapel.
Palacio de Meras Hotel y Restaurante
Warm hotel with charming rooms set in a 16th-century palace in Tineo.
Parador de Gijón El Molino Viejo
A charming and historic seaside hotel nestled in a beautifully restored old mill, offering guests a unique blend of rustic elegance and coastal tranquility on the stunning Asturian coast of Spain
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Things to do in Asturias, Spain
Sites In Oviedo
At the heart of Oviedo is the Park San Francisco, a magical green area that is home to over 950 types of trees from around the world. Stroll along the various winding paths to admire the arch ruins that remain of the 14th-century San Francisco convent. Then grab a wine or fresh cocktail at the park cafe next to the lovely pond housing ducks and turtles. You may even see the resident peacocks strutting about or hear their cries.
Make sure to also tour the majestic Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador of Oviedo, founded in 781 AD. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Admire splendid art from across the ages at the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias, which is a wonderful blend of modern and old world Asturian architecture in the historic center.
Enjoy Monte Naranco, a gently rising small mountain which overlooks Oviedo. Here you can walk the Pista Finlandesa, an easy, level paved walking path that hugs the lower side of the mountain. It provides great views of Oviedo and on a clear day, mountain ranges in the distance. For even more amazing views, hike or drive to the top of Monte Naranco to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Monument. On the way up, make sure to visit the Pre-Romanesque churches of Santa Maria del Naranco and the Iglesia de San Miguel de Lillo.
Beaches to Visit in Asturias
Enjoy the combination of city and beach in Gijon. Or go for more of a small beach vibe at the coves of El Silencio or Gulpiyuri, known as one of the smallest beaches in the world.
For a soaking up sun and waves in a charming fisherman village, visit the beautiful Ribadesella or Llanes.
If you want to enjoy surfing and beautiful sand dunes, try the long sandy stretch of Playa de Xagó which also has a hip surfer’s restaurant and bar called, you guessed it, Xagó Surf, Co. They have delicious food, great local craft beers, and a great relaxed environment. One of my brothers who lives in Oviedo loves to surf here and says the waves can be pretty good.
Sites in Tineo
Make sure to admire the plaque of General Rafael del Riego, who was born in the nearby parish of Tuña and lived in Tineo for a time. He was a historic figure in Spain's first republic who lived in this area, and one of my Spanish ancestors!
Walk along part of the “Camino Primitivo”, the original way of the Camino de Santiago, which passes through Tineo.
Visiting the Sacred Site of Covadonga
Covadonga is a very special and sacred site in Spain, known as where the first battle of the Spanish Reconquista took place. It is located at the start of the Picos de Europa, a national park in both Asturias and the neighboring region of Cantabria.
Here you can visit the Hogwart’s-like Basilica de Santa Maria la Real de Covadonga, which is where King Pelayo fought and drove back the invading Moors in 718. Because of this, Asturias is the only part of Spain that was never conquered by the Moors.
In addition to the basilica and its mountain spring of water known to be sacred, the Lakes of Covadonga are a must see. From the basilica, it is about a 35 - 45 minute drive up windy, mountain roads to the three alpine lakes.
Ride Bikes on the Senda del Oso
This easy trail through the mountains of southern Asturias, is perfect for a moderate bike ride with friends and family. There are a couple of bike rental companies here that you can rent from and it includes a shuttle pick-up of you and your bike at the end of the trail.
The route from the typical starting point is primarily level and gradually downhill for the majority of the way on a well-maintained, wide path that is paved. All along the way you follow the pristine River Trubia that cascades through the mountain ravines lined with verdant green forests. Thanks to the old mining railroad lines that much of the trail is on, there are even natural rock tunnels that you pass through.
There is a quaint village that you can stop in for a typical Spanish lunch before continuing on your way. Near the end, is an actual bear habitat where you may spot some of the Asturian Brown Bears that were rehabilitated here, hence the name of the trail, since the word “oso” is Spanish for bear. The bike ride can take anywhere from three to four hours to complete one way at a leisurely pace.
Cities in Asturias
For a city that is more like a large town, base yourself in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. Located in a gentle valley only a 40-minute drive from the coast, Oviedo has a delightful old town with historic university buildings, ancient chapels, and old world cobblestone streets. The best hotel for a stay in Oviedo is Eurostar’s Hotel la Reconquista, an international symbol of Asturias that was originally founded as a hospice in 1752. Today it is an elegant luxury stay in the heart of Oviedo and only steps to the city’s major sites. To truly experience Asturias, make sure to spend time in Oviedo.
The largest city in Asturias is Gijon, which is located on the coast. A major shipping port, Gijon also has two main beaches, including its popular Playa de San Lorenzo that is lined by a classy promenade for strolling along the half moon-shaped bay. The delightful historic center borders the beaches and the small peninsula of San Catalina, which juts into the ocean and is topped with the remains of an old military base and roman wall. For a luxury stay in Gijon, stay in the Parador de Gijon, a century-old millhouse of stone walls and beautiful gardens.
Villages in Asturias
To visit Asturias and not stay in one of its villages, would be such a shame. For an inland, rural experience that very few tourists know of, stay in Tineo at the Palacio Meras Hotel y Restaurante.
Asturias is especially known for its beautiful fisherman villages along its coast. Some have been named among the most beautiful villages in Spain. Stay a night or two in Cudillero, tucked into a tiny embracing bay that is lined with colorful houses and terraced walkways hugging the cliffside with beautiful views of the ocean. Other great beach towns in Asturias include Ribadesella, Lastres and Llanes.
Getting Around Asturias
Oviedo and Gijon are cities that are great for walking and where you do not need a car if you are based in their center.
There is a local train between Oviedo and Gijon that is nice to take and is only around half an hour each way.
For getting around the region of Asturias and especially to the villages, a car is recommended, although there are public busses, but these tend to take longer with frequent stops.
So notes from me - I hope it's okay that I put places to stay and how to get around in the day trips optional section. Is that okay?
Places to eat & drink in Asturias, Spain
What to Eat in Asturias
Cachopo - Two large filets of beef with ham and cheese that are breaded and fried. Served hot and usually with a side of french fries, they tend to be pretty big so are perfect for sharing.
Fabada Asturiana - Probably the most iconic, Asturian dish, the Fabada is a hearty stew made of local Asturian products such as fabe beans, meats like blood sausage, bacon or pancetta, pork shoulder, chorizo and paprika and olive oil. Believe it or not, some Asturians eat this year-round, even in the warmer months of summer.
Sidra Asturiana - This amazing apple cider drink is great for your digestive system and instead of being sweet like hard ciders elsewhere in the world, it is dryer with a more fermented taste. What is most fun is that the drink is served in a unique way pouring it from high above one’s head to splash it into a cup held below your waist. In this way, the drink is aerated which is essential for enjoying the drink. There are people who are professionals at this and you can see it served authentically in most restaurants throughout Asturias.
Queso de Cabrales - Asturias is famous for its cheeses with over 50 varieties. The most well known and traditional cheese in Asturias is the Cabrales cheese, which is a type of blue cheese that is typically cave aged and made from unpasteurized cow’s milk or a blend with goat or sheep’s milk.
Requeson - One of my favorite Asturian desserts (besides their cheesecake), Requeson is served like a yogurt and can have a somewhat tart, fermented taste like natural yogurt. The Asturian style is to mix it with honey instead of sugar and to sprinkle some crushed walnuts or fruit on top.
Solera - An artisan vermouth drink that is aged in oak barrels. It’s served over a large cube of ice and sometimes with an olive. It’s popular before dinner, like a happy hour drink and is known for being good for the digestive system, thus having it before a meal.
Asturias is known for their agriculture, particularly apples, cheese and other dairy products. Beef and seafood from the Atlantic coastline are also well known here.
Where to Eat in Asturias
Make sure to eat at Tasca Eulalia in Oviedo, just across from the Park San Francisco. A long-time favorite among locals and visitors alike, they feature traditional Asturian dishes like their award-winning Cachopo, Fabada and their artisan Solera drink. For a casual setting, eat on their terrace or first floor and for a more upscale experience, ask to be seated upstairs.
Rub shoulders with the Asturian locals (literally) at La Paloma. This long-time standing restaurant is a landmark in Oviedo and it gets packed. Most famous for their housemade Solera, they also serve up an amazing Fabada and Pote, a stew similar to Fabada but with collard greens, potatoes and no paprika. They have a large bar that gets happily crowded with people sitting and standing to enjoy the drinks and tapas. To really sound like a local (and practice your Spanish), tell them “pon me uno y uno” which means give me one and one, or in this case is code for their Solera (vermouth) and one of their most famous tapas, a thickly breaded, fried prawn that’s like a shrimp hush puppy but even better! La Paloma was the first place I ever had Solera and Fabada in Asturias over ten years ago, so it’s always a favorite to visit and the local owners are amazing people.
For a typical Asturian lunch in the gorgeous countryside, visit Asador Los Manjares, located about a half hour drive north of Oviedo. The charming, brick house is a typical old world style with a cozy interior and verdant yard with shady willow trees to sit under. Sitting inside is best, though, for experiencing the homey, traditional atmosphere. They’re also known for amazing Cachopo and other traditional Asturian cuisine. Make sure to make reservations since they book up year-round.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Yahnny Adolfo San Luis guide, The Perfect 7-Day Itinerary for Asturias, Spain.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Spain.