A few years ago I worked for a travel company which offered a hiking trip in the Picos de Europa. It was one of many trips that I had wanted to do while there, so when my husband came home declaring that a colleague had recommended the Asturias region in Spain to him, I was super keen to go. I knew of the mountainy part – the jagged peaks, the wild bears and the fantastic hikes, but I had no idea of the other side of the region – the beach resorts, the picturesque villages and the cider-and-seafood culture.
We went at the beginning of June for six nights and started the trip in Lastres, a seaside town that was gearing up for the summer season. The weather when we arrived was pretty dreich, but I love that eerie mistiness that you get in Atlantic coastal towns. We went out for our first pote asturiano – a hearty cassoulet-type bean stew (beans are very popular in Asturias) which contained chorizo, black pudding and smoked ham. I’m not sure of the difference between a fabada and a pote asturiano, perhaps it differs from household to household, but every pote or fabada that we tried seemed to be made up of the same key ingredients, and all were delicious.
The following day we headed to Llanes, a pretty and touristy seaside town, via Playa de Torimbia, a tucked-away nudist beach (far too cold for any of that). The landscape was described to me as a bit Hebridean, and I’d agree with that. Fishing villages with lobster pots piled high, deserted beaches with a mountain backdrop, a strikingly turquoise sea. And mist.
We ate a cheap meal of verdinas con almejas (beans with clams) accompanied by a bottle of red wine.
We passed a bufón, or blowhole, in the cliff. At high tide or during rough seas seawater spurts vertically through the rocks, in a geyser-like burst. The sea was quite calm when we were there, but we could hear the rumbling of the water swirling below and caught some seaspray geyser action.
Driving around, we saw quite a lot of pilgrims – I guess they were walking the Camino del Norte – and I wondered why they weren’t up in the stunning mountains a few miles away rather than trudging along an A road. I guess the views aren’t the point of that kind of trip.
After starting at the coast we headed inland to stay three nights in a tiny village called Sames, near Cangas de Onís. We rented an amazing place, thoroughly recommended called Casa La Riba.
The hosts ran a little café-bar (the only place in town) and sold the most random bits and bobs from behind the bar – everything from local cheese, to toothpaste, to handmade espadrilles. It was lucky for us as we arrived late on a Sunday with no food. Ill-prepared as ever.
The town was cute and higgledly piggledy with Asturian hórreos (granaries on stilts) and narrow, winding roads with dogs and cats obliviously crisscrossing them.
Next day, we walked the Ruta del Cares, a path cut into the mountainside along la garganta divina (the divine gorge). From what I understand it’s an old path connecting two towns – Caín and Poncébos – which was expanded when they started to use the Cares river for hydroelectricity, and has now become one of the most popular hiking trails in the Picos.
It’s a linear route, so unless you’ve got someone to pick you up after one way, it’s 11km there and 11km back. It’s a pretty flat walk so it’s doable, but since we took a picnic we didn’t need to go the whole way into to the next town and turned around after 9km, so did 18km in total.
That day, the weather had dramatically improved, and it was cloudlessly sunny – the slate grey Picos looked stunning against the deep blue sky.
One of the cool things about the walk is going through tunnelled sections, where they’ve bored into the mountain to create a path. There’s quite a few sections with steep drops, but the path is always pretty wide so it doesn’t feel scary. We saw some big birds of prey (eagles?) circling high overhead, and lots of very chilled out goats.
The weather was nicely unpredictable: after a misty day, we had a sunny day, followed by another misty one - we spent it wandering around the misty Lagos de Covadonga and met some sassy cows. The driving route up to the lake was... an interesting experience from the passenger seat: I’m not into windy mountain roads and herds of animals freely roaming in front of you.
In the evening we went out for cider. Now, despite being a westcountry girl, I am not a cider fan. And, unfortunately, Asturian cider didn’t change that. But the ceremony of it all was very entertaining: the cider is cloudy and flat, like scrumpy, and is sold in large bottles to share. The server pours your cider from high above their head to aerate it and give it a bit of fizz and a bubbly head. One particular point of pride is that the server doesn’t look at the glass as they pour. Then you down it. Yep, you have to drink it all in one go. What I found odd was essentially having to wait your table’s turn (or hold up your hand) every time you wanted to drink so your server could come and pour it for you, and I tried to imagine how good old British binge drinking would work with this restriction.
The last part of our trip was two nights in Cudillero, in another really great accommodation; an apartment in El Casa del Pintor which had a stunning view of the harbour and we were welcomed by the friendliest hosts ever.
We spent the day driving along the coast and stopping off at beaches, like the pretty Playa de Cuevas del Mar and the inland beach Playa de Gulpiyuri (which I just googled and is actually a flooded sinkhole). But the highlight may have to be our lunch at Tazones. We went to a restaurant recommended to us by a local friend called Restaurante El Rompeolas, and had simple, grilled fish and a bottle of albariño. Heaven.
While staying in Cudillero we spent a day in Oviedo, a really nice small city full of open plazas, beautiful buildings and cobbled streets. Worth a wander.
I’d go back to Asturias in a heartbeat, we tried to see as much as we could but barely scratched the surface of such a beautiful region.