Travel Break: Exploring the Marvels of Asturias
Intense emotions can arise in us wanderlusters whilst planning travel. It’s an exhilarating high, tempered by a fair number of stressful lows. Usually that stress is related to money and choosing cities that give you the most bang for your buck and aren’t just all hype. After all, there are so many beautiful places to choose from in Europe and if you’re relatively new to the continent, how do you choose? If you live in Spain, it’s easy to put off seeing much of Spain because you can always see Spain right? For a long time, this was my approach to travel and I made no qualms about the fact that anytime I had more than 5 euros in my pocket I’d be racing as far from Spain as possible to get a break. It’s beautiful here but can be a bit homogenous at times. Alas came the day earlier this year when I had problems rationalizing to myself and others that I’d been to roughly every country in middle and southern Europe but had never seen any part of northern Spain.
So, when my partner and I were trying to decide where we would vacation to last fall, this realization along with my limited funds meant that choosing the destination would be simple, we'd be staying in the country. We had both been regaled with many a tale of the natural wonders of Asturias, so Asturias it was. The beauty of going to this region is that its small and we had plenty of time, so we didn’t have to deal with the sacrificial decisions that are common when choosing which cities to visit. We had a week and you can comfortably see the entire region in 5 days. Plus where else can you experience gorgeous weather in Spain in September? Well certainly not Seville, which is the reason we were aching to get out.
When and how to go
Most Asturians say July is the best time of year to visit. I however, am going to say September. When it’s boiling practically everywhere else in Spain in July, it’s a gorgeous 75 degrees Fahrenheit in Asturias, this is true. Also, a case could be made for the obvious August, but given the fact that it’s the peak travel season, you’ll be paying a pretty penny and fighting crowds in both of these months. For me, September was the perfect month; the lines were manageable in those places which had them and we found a 70 euro fare with Iberia direct from Seville to Asturias. That brings me to the mode of transportation. Certainly if you’re traveling from the South of Spain going to the North, air is a good way to go if you can find a good fare. Car would be both time consuming and tiresome, however, if sacrificing a day or sightseeing for a day in the car each way isn't a big deal for you, go for it. We found the train to be the worst of both worlds, as it takes just as long driving and was considerably more expensive than our airfare.
Not to mention when you arrive you still have to rent a car. Why do you have to rent a car? Because you need a car to travel in Asturias. Is that an actual indisputable fact, no, but pretty close. All of the guides I read said you should rent a car for this trip and it was certainly our experience while traveling. It’s a really small region and many of the towns you’ll want to visit are only 30 km away from one another. You’ll definitely want the freedom of a car in order to plan this vacation.
If you hire Gold car, be aware of the hidden fees, they’re the Ryanair of car rental companies. It might seem by far the cheapest option when comparing rental prices online, but buyers beware. The hidden fees for drivers who have had a license for less than a specified period of time (among many others) mean you end up paying the same price as any of the other recognizable international brands such as Avis. They literally charge you a fee for providing you a car with gas. Yes you heard me correctly, not the gas itself, of course they charge you a marked up fee on that (as most would expect) but they also charge you for the “convenience” of giving you a car with gas. Who does that??!!In the end we had no major problems with them, but it was an extra expense that we hadn’t factored into the budget.
Where to go
A trip to Asturias should be a trip for relaxation and/or adventure, it’s main offering is la naturaleza. The bigger cities, Gijon, Aviles and Oviedo are more or less a distraction from that, and really don’t offer anything special from any other mid-size city in Spain. Spend a couple of hours or at most half a day in these cities and you can move on comfortably knowing that you’re not missing much. Most of the towns worth a visit in Asturias are to the East of Aviles. If you fly into the Asturias airport, about 20 km from Aviles in the West you can start your sightseeing there and make your way along the coast towards Cantabria and Santander.
After you’ve spent a moment in Aviles and Gijon a few of the towns to stop in on are Villaviciosa, the cider capital, Lastre, and Ribadesella. Ribadesella is a must see, its Bay of Biscay views are amazing and well worth climbing the hills in the town’s centers to the look out points. Later a combination of all or some of these cities along the coast while partaking in cider and seafood is a good plan: Llanes, San Vicente Barquera, and Santander. You’ll find most of these coastal towns tend to blend together a little, but the lush landscapes each offer a unique cliff or castle that’s impressive and certainly worth a stroll, if you've got time. Santander is of course a bigger city and falls in the same category as Gijon and Oviedo. A half day’s visit to the center to see the Cathedral de Santander and Plaza Porticada and you’ve caught the main sites.
In order to make your way back West, you’ll want to go south towards the mainland for a visit to the Picos de Europa. You can start in Lebeña, later Potes, Cosgaya and Fuente De. Then make your way to the heart of the Picos in Covadonga, Cangas de Onis and Lagos.
Lagos is pretty special; we brought sandwiches and literally ate amongst the cows alongside the lakes. For this second portion of the trip, hiking gear isn’t necessary, but you’ll want comfortable walking shoes, after all you’re in the mountains. If you’re like me and get motion sickness, come prepared to take frequent pit stops for fresh air, sips of coke and chewing gum is your friend. The winding mountain side ascent with many one lane roads (that carry two way traffic) periodically blocked by cows are beautiful, but will have your head spinning and stomach churning. After a day or two my body became more accustomed, but the first couple of days were difficult. After you’ve seen the Picos you can finish things up as we did in Oviedo and head back to Aviles for your return flight if traveling by air.
Where to stay
During the September low season, you can find 3 star hostels for around 30 euros a night. I always enjoy a combination of hostel and hotel accommodations. I figure if I only go on vacation a couple times a year I’d like to be pampered, at least a little. You can find deals on Groupon for 4 star hotels at 50-75 euros a night, some including breakfast. Split between two people, we found these accommodations very affordable, particularly on weekdays.
Per person, we each ended up spending less than 500 euros for this week long vacation. Including flight, accommodations, food and small keepsakes, that’s a good deal! It was probably one of the most affordable vacations (not including weekend getaways) I’ve ever had in Europe and it was partially due to the location. One of the benefits of vacationing in Spain as opposed to the rest of Europe, is that Spain is cheap. Also the timeframe played into that as well, September is just an awesome month for travel from the perspective of not only money, but also weather and crowds. Not sure if we were just lucky, but we didn't even have many problems with the infamous rain this reason is known for... I probably used my umbrella once. And wow, it’s just so clean and green in Asturias. We saw a guy walking in downtown Aviles eating sunflower seeds and spitting them as he walked into a paper bag. A far cry from Madrid and Seville which are pretty much constantly littered with dog defecation, cigarette butts and other waste. I told my boyfriend and friends, Asturias is like visiting a fairy tale land... it doesn’t even look real, like something from a Disney movie. Sure you’ve got all the typical European castles and cathedrals which are cool artistically, but they are set in this backdrop that just makes it a completely different experience.
If you're looking for anything that resembles a party destination, this isn't the vacation for you. We went to Asturias to eat well and relax in the fresh air while taking in some light weight senderismo and it was perfect for that. Perhaps Asturias doesn't make the top 10 European vacation lists, but remember this. As a wanderluster, charting your own path can be so rewarding. Sometimes, the best place to start is in your own backyard.
Have you even been to Asturias? What was your favorite part of the trip?
Ayan lives in Sevilla, Spain and her least favorite question is ¿de que parte de EEUU eres? She's basically a Southerner, equal parts Louisiana and Tennessee, with some Oklahoma and Texas mixed in. She looks at the world in big picture terms and enjoys learning about psychology and history. Even though her default facial expression is serious, she's actually equal parts serious and funny, but always blunt. She loves DIY anything, playing and watching tennis and adding new music to her Spotify playlists. She's currently working on developing a way to make a career out of all these unrelated interests, until then she teaches English.