Saturday, April 23, 2011

Asturias “Patria Querida” beloved Asturias, a natural paradise. Along the coast from east to west, from Cuerres to Puerto de Vega

In the port of the picturesque fishing village of Cudillero.

Hello everyone,

I have been very erratic about my blog posts recently and for the last two weeks I have not written on a Sunday as I usually do. That’s because of my travels, first to Sweden and Finland and now nearer home to the north of Spain to Asturias. Well I’m back now from Asturias and from the Balearic Islands too (a separate blog post will be coming on that later) and this is my first day at home for quite a while. It is Good Friday, one of the quietest days of the year in Spain where “Semana Santa” or Easter is still taken very seriously with its famous religious processions. I’m afraid they have been much affected by the torrential rain which has hit the peninsula as it so often does at Easter.

A map of Asturias  
Asturias is often called Asturias Patria Querida (beloved Asturias) from the kingdom’s well known anthem which apparently comes from its mining origins and I have come back absolutely enamoured with the region. The slogan for attracting tourists to this region in central northern Spain is “paraíso natural” which means a natural paradise and I couldn’t agree more heartily.

Beautiful Asturian countryside as seem from Somao

Asturias has certainly got its act together and for me is one of the most beautiful areas of Spain to visit. There is hardly any visual contamination with hated billboards, the towns are clean and pretty with few exceptions, the countryside is breathtaking with its natural beaches, stunning cliffs and views and capes, green fields, characteristic “hórreos” or graneries and pretty houses.

This is a typical Asturian "hórreo" or granery as seen in Somao

The houses I like best are the “Indiana” ones, built in the colonial style of the beginning of the last century. The “indianos” were Spaniards who emigrated to Latin America, mostly Cuba and came back rich. With their riches they built these beautiful houses many of which have been turned into small country hotels. We would buy one to retire there but however much I love the area, this is just not possible as Asturias is the wettest area in Spain. We were however very lucky as for the four days we were there we had glorious sunshine throughout.

One of the many "indiana" colonial houses in the small inland village of Somao

The gastronomy on offer is out of this world too. If you haven’t tried their famous “fabada”, seafood, steak or the characteristic cider that is poured from over the head, then I suggest you don’t leave it as many years as I before you visit Asturias. Also beware the portions are enormous. Often when we saw the first course it was so big we would end up cancelling the second. It is very normal in Asturias for a huge pot to be put on the table for the guests to serve themselves.

Fabada is Asturias' most typical dish and I love it. We had this at Eutimio in Lastres

Pouring cider at Casa Lim in Avilés

Our trip to Asturias was our Easter holiday which we always take a few days before to avoid the crowds. We chose Asturias for two reasons; one I didn’t know it very well and Eladio hadn’t been for many years and also because we wanted to use up our Parador hotel points and make use too of a free night with an NH hotel. Thus we planned our trip to stay one night in the Parador in Gijón, the second night in Avilés and the last two nights at a place that my friend and TV news presenter, Ramón, had highly recommended, La Casona de la Paca in the picturesque fishing village of Cudillero. I had wanted to visit Cudillero ever since some friends commented on pictures of mine of Robin Hood’s Bay on Facebook saying that it reminded them of Cudillero. They were right as it turned out.

The clustered houses around the port in Cudillero, very much like Robin Hood's Bay

We left on Thursday 14th April and drove via León where Eladio’s family are from. True to custom we stopped for lunch at the Parador in Benavente. In the mid afternoon we checked into the best room the Parador in Gijón had to offer with views of the lovely Isabel La Católica park which is just a few minute’s walk from the sea front. As soon as we had unpacked and taken possession of our lovely room we set off to explore the area.

Our room at the Parador in Gijón, the best the hotel had to offer, thanks to an upgrade

We walked through  the lovely Isabel la Católica park and were impressed to see so many ducks, peacocks, geese and swans, both black and white. We tried to take photos of the peacocks which amazingly for me had their feathers on display, something I have never seen but they made it difficult for us as if they knew we wanted to take a photo of their magnificent feathers.

Eladio in the enchanting Isabel la Católica Park in Gijón. 

From the park we walked towards the seafront. There are two other major towns in Spain, San Sebastian and Santander which are on the sea with superb beaches and Gijón is a rival to them both. However Gijón is not quite as beautiful probably because the houses in front of the sea are not as well kept or as pretty. Even so we loved the Playa de San Lorenzo.

By the Playa de Lorenzo in Gijon

We explored the Cerro de Santa Catalina (fortress) with its amazing views out to sea and then walked down towards the port which was vibrant with life and people enjoying a walk or a drink by the sea. From there we walked to the Plaza Mayor (every town in Spain has one and it means “main or major square”). Enticed by a sign in a small restaurant offering octopus, we went in to dinner. The sign said “hay pulpín con patatines” (there is small octopus with potatoes). The Asturians add “in” at the end of many words which is a diminutive and is rather charming. However I did not like the pulpín con patatines and the restaurant turned out not to be a very good choice. It was our only bad choice throughout our stay so it didn’t really matter in the end.

Octopus and potatoes served here.  I love the "in" at the end of the words, so typical in Asturias

The next day after a scrumptious Parador breakfast (they really are the best) we set off east of our route before heading to Avilés in the west later on in the day. Thanks to Miguel at reception, the same man who had given us the best room in the hotel, we left the Parador map in hand with a great schedule ahead for our first day.

Eladio enjoying breakfast at the Parador in Gijón.

I was desperate to visit the cliffs from the Spanish TVE series called La Señora. They are where Victoria, the rich daughter of a mine owner would meet her forbidden love, Angel, the village priest and the backdrop of these cliffs is paramount to the series. They are called Castro Arenes and are a kilometre or so away from the small village of Cuerres to the right of Ribadasella in my map above in the eastern part of Asturias. When we found the cliffs I was ecstatic. We had them almost to ourselves and were able to explore and photograph them to our hearts content. I loved them and will carry their image forever in my heart.

Eladio and I on the Castro Arenes cliffs near Cuerres  made famous by the TV Series La Señora which we so love

From Cuerres we drove west towards Lastres, recommended to us by Miguel. Lastres is a pretty fishing village made famous in Spain through another TV series called Doctor Mateo which I have never watched but will be doing from now on.

Eladio in the port of Lastres, another pretty little fishing village we visited in Asturias

We parked by the port and took photos of the houses clustered around it and then made our way up to the centre of the village where we spied Eutimio, a restaurant recommended to us by Miguel. Here we tasted the typical Asturian bean stew called Fabada which is posted at the beginning of this entry. Eutimio and Lastres were a great find during our visit to Asturias.

The Eutimio restaurant in Lastres, a great little find

Our next port of call was to Luanco via the pretty village of Ribadasella and Candas where Andrés and Pili have often been on holiday. Luanco, a small sea side town is where Eladio used to go as a priest in the summer to fill in for his friend the village priest, Luis, when he went on holiday. The church is very beautiful with stunning views of the sea. Here we enjoyed a coffee and a cup of tea whilst contemplating this peaceful sleepy but very pretty little town.


From Luanco we drove to our next destination which was Cabo Peñas (Cape Peñas), the most northerly point in Asturias. It was windy and the air was cold but the views were stunning. I just love capes and cliffs and this cape was well worth visiting.

Me at Cabo Peñas (Cape Peñas) the most northerly point in Asturias

From Cabo Peñas we drove to Avilés where we were going to be staying the night at the very promising sounding hotel NH Palacio de Ferrera. Avilés, also on the sea and to the west of Cabo Peñas is an industrial town in Asturias and not very famous for its beauty. However it surprised me pleasantly. We were staying in the centre of the town, in the Plaza Mayor and I must say the historic centre of Avilés is really very beautiful. The hotel was fine as hotels go but I was disappointed when I went in because the outside is a wonderful old palace but the inside is nearly all modern and very characterless. We paid for an upgrade and got an enormous room but it was completely soulless.

We walked along timeless streets with lovely names like “la cámara”, “galiana”, “la fruta” and had a great if noisy dinner at Casa Lin, an old cider house, so typical in Asturias.

Calle La Cámara in Avilés, a pleasantly surprising old town

The next day we were up early and eager to get to our next destination, some 20km away to Cudillero, the picturesque fishing village I mentioned earlier. Here we were bowled over by our hotel, the charming “Indiana” style house called “La Casona de la Paca”.

The splendid Casona de la Paca where we stayed in Cudillero.

It was much more our style, a rustic charming country house with exquisite decor, wooden floors, thick white linen on the beds, wonderful old furniture, and lots of light thanks to the glass in the walls on the ground floor and flowers, lovely flowers everywhere.

The ground floor at Casona de la Paca, elegant and lots of light coming from the glassed walls

The garden was equally delightful. La Casona de la Paca has just 19 rooms and I had booked ours on internet. It turned out that the two best rooms can only be booked direct so the owner, Montse, offered to change our room on our second night to try out the “special” room overlooking the front lawn. Both rooms turned out to be absolutely delightful.
The gardens at the Casona de la Paca hotel were very pleasing too

The hotel is not actually in Cudillero but in nearby El Pito and is a steep 15 minute walk down the hill before you reach the clustered houses of this curious little fishing village. We didn’t mind though as we are great walkers. As I walked down I wondered how we would ever get up again!

Eladio in Cudillero after our walk down through the clustered houses to the port

The houses are in need of repair if you look closely but from a distance they are very unique. Later I heard only the oldest inhabitants live in them.  Noone would want  to now explained Montse  as what would you do if you suddenly realised you had run out of bread?   Walk all the way down and up again?   I suppose she is right. We walked around the steep streets and came to the square by the port, the heart of Cudillero which is full of seafood restaurants. It was too early to eat so we walked to the port and all around it which was a good hour’s walk with wonderful views just everywhere. The picture illustrating this blog is of me by the port and in front of the village houses, a very typical picture to take in Cudillero.

Resting at the end of the very long pier in the port of Cudillero

Such a long and hearty walk deserved a good lunch and there was a host of places to choose from in the square by the port. It was difficult to decide but lured by a menu of “mariscada” (seafood platter) at 60 euros for two, we decided upon a pretty little place called Isabel. We couldn’t have made a better choice. It was funny to see later during our meal that Isabel was completely full whilst the two restaurants next to us were practically empty.

It's thumbs up for the Isabel restaurant in Cudillero where we had a great seafood platter (mariscada)

The walk back up through the village and to La Casona de la Paca did a great trick of working off some of the seafood platter but even so we decided on a well deserved siesta in our delightful little room afterwards.

Our first room at La Casona de la Paca in Cudillero

Our day did not end there though as there was more to see in the afternoon. Montse had recommended we visit the nearby Cabo Vidio, another cape which of course we were keen to visit. We loved Cabo Vidio with its stunning views

Eladio and I at Cabo Vidio (Cape Vidio) near Cudillero

Here Eladio uprooted some beautiful pink rock flowers we had seen growing everywhere and now they are planted in our garden. I do hope they survive. They are a wonderful souvenir of our memorable trip to Asturias Patria Querida.

The typial pink rock flowers we saw everywhere and which Eladio brought back for our garden

From the top of the cliff we spotted a windy path down to a small cove and decided to venture down. For the record it took about 20 minutes down and another 20 minutes to walk up again. It was well worth the effort as the beach called Playa de Peña Doria was small and charming and we had it to ourselves at sunset. We shall carry Playa de Peña Doria in our hearts now as well.

Eladio walking down from Cabo Vidio to the Playa de Peña Doria

Dinner that night was at the much recommended El Pescador restaurant some 500m from the hotel, ideal to walk back from after a copious meal. And copious it turned out to be too. The place is also a restaurant but the decor is just too over the top for me; too chintzy and precious. However the food is literally amazing. It was here we had to cancel our second courses as the first courses were just so enormous. For the record too we only managed half of a first course. I had a wonderful seafood salad and Eladio tried the “pote asturiano” (Asturian stew).

The seafood salad I had at El Pescador in Cudillero.  I could only eat half of it and had to cancel the second course!

Sunday, Palm Sunday, was our last day in Asturias and we meant to pack in as much as we could. After a magnificent breakfast at La Casona de la Paca, we drove to the nearby Playa de Aguilar, a natural beach a bit off the beaten track. We were there early enough to have it nearly to ourselves and to take in the wonderful air and views.

We loved the Playa de Aguilar near Cudillero and Navas de Muro

Our next stop was a small village inland called Somao recommended to me by my friend Ramón because of its famous “Indiana” houses. They were indeed splendid. We enjoyed our stop here taking in these marvellous houses and wondering why houses like these are no longer built, instead of the modern atrocities you see so often everywhere today.

The most spectacular "indiana" or colonial house in Somao

From Somao we drove back to the coast to a small fishing village called Puerto de Vega recommended to us by Montse. Puerto de Vega was the furthest west we went on this trip. It was very pretty but a bit sleepy. Here we took a walk around the port and ventured out to the very long pier from where we were to see the now familiar sights of waves hitting the characteristic rocks of this area.

At Puerto de Vega, the furthest west we went

Our main destination on our last day was to Luarca just a few kilometres away from Puerto de Vega.  Luarca is one of the most famous holiday spots in Asturias. All Spaniards know that the Nobel laureate for medicine in 1959, Severo Ochoa was born here.  I didn't but I do now. 

At the pretty seaside town of Luarca

It’s a very pretty town and was full of life on Palm Sunday as the locals went to have their aperitif in the port after church. We decided on an attractive place called El Mesón de la Mar and were not disappointed. Here we were to try our last fabada in Asturias. Of course, afterwards we went back to our hotel for a lovely siesta. Montse had moved our luggage into the “special” room and we were delighted. It was much bigger with a little lounge and a balcony all the way which overlooked the front of the house.

The special room we changed to at La Casona de la Paca

Our last expedition turned out to be the most lasting experience of our stay in Asturias. Montse had recommended we visit the Playa del Silencio (beach of silence) and see it at sunset when it is apparently at its best. We drove some 15km towards Castañeras and soon found this jewel of a place. We were overawed with its beauty, with the views from the cliff and with the lovely little beach itself. Again it took some 15 minutes or so to walk down and another 15 minutes to walk up again.

The Playa del Silencio (silence beach), probably what we will remember most

When we walked back up again to the top it still wasn’t sunset. We spied a path up the hills over the cliffs and decided to explore. That was when our adventure began. We walked up the steep path and down into a field. To carry on we had to cross a small river, an adventure in itself! From there we walked up another path which took us to the top of an unexpected cliff with a hidden beach below which we called “la playa de nadie” (noone’s beach) as it was inaccessible on foot. There was life there though as we found a herd of goats on the hillside above this little beach.

Only goats could get to the beach below, inaccessible by foot

We carried on up and up and I suddenly understood what makes mountaineers tick. I just had to see what was coming next and didn’t mind going up and up and faster and faster. I was hungry for more and more beautiful views. And I got them and they were spectacular and I felt on top of the world. Asturias is a true natural paradise.

One of the spectacular views on our adventurous walk near the Playa del Silencio

Sunset was coming and we had to get back on time to see it at the Playa de Silencio. So we hurried back and were just in time to capture the moment; another moment I am taking back with me from our trip to beloved Asturias.

Sunset at the Playa del Silencio. There are no words to describe it!

Fully satiated with the beauty of the Playa del Silencio and with our wonderful walk, we drove back to our hotel. On the way we stopped to wash the car and unfortunately left the sun roof slightly open. Luckily not much water leaked. That night, our last night in Asturias, we had our last great meal in dinner at the Arbichera restaurant across the road from our hotel in Cudillero. There is no mention of this place on internet but I can tell you the food is out of this world and the owners very friendly and helpful. I think I must have had the best piece of steak I have ever eaten!

We were supposed to enjoy our last night at La Casona de la Paca and our great new room. However misfortune was to strike. After we had packed and gone to bed I got up in the dark to go to the bathroom. The floor was tiled and I didn’t realise there was a step and thus fell flat on my face, hitting my head, my knee and my foot. It was so painful I cried and could hardly get up. Eladio was distraught and we didn’t really know what to do as we were so far from any hospital. I was cold and trembling and Eladio was worried. I then remembered that on the back of our health insurance card there was a special number to call and we did and we spoke to a very efficient doctor who asked all the right questions. I didn’t seem to have broken anything and hadn’t lost consciousness nor was I feeling sick. He thus prescribed an ibuprofen and said to be on the lookout for any unusual symptoms. Luckily it was nothing more than a nasty fall and although I hurt all over I was able to sleep and the next morning felt quite ok if a bit sore.

The bathroom where I fell on our last night at La Casona de la Paca in Cudillero

We were up at the crack of dawn the next day as we had a long drive back to Madrid but not only that we had a plane to catch to Ibiza and had to be at the airport at 16h. I’m glad to say we made it. We drove home in a bit of a rush but were back at about 13h, on time to change the contents of our suitcases and to have a lunch with our lovely family. For once we were all together, but not for long as just a few hours later we were off again. But that story will be told in the next chapter of this blog.

I hope at least to have shared with you some of the highlights of this great trip. Asturias has made a mark on me and I know we will be going back. You can see the whole set of photos of our stay here on Facebook.

And that folks is the end of my blog post on our trip to Asturias. The next one coming up will be all about our next trip to Ibiza and to Formentera, known as the Islands of Pitiusa.

Cheers for now


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