The Mole Diaries: Asturias
An Introduction to Asturias
The customary migration to Granada, Benidorm and the Costa del Sol that occurs every summer by thousands of sun-seeking Brits often leaves regions like Asturias, going relatively unnoticed (the northernmost spot on TripAdvisor’s top ten Spanish destinations is Salamanca!!) but perhaps this no bad thing because the North Coast of Spain remains authentic, traditional and unspoilt. Asturias has a slogan: ‘Asturias, paraíso natural’ and I reckon that’s spot on. I challenge you not to be struck by the sight of golden beaches laying just a stone’s throw away from rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains.
The easiest way to arrive in Asturias is by plane. Oviedo airport has direct flights to and from Stansted airport with Easyjet (so they’re easy on the purse, especially if you book way ahead of time). And if Stansted isn’t convenient for you, you can fly from most British airports via Barcelona or Madrid or even Paris. Once you touch down at Oviedo airport there’s an easy and regular bus service which links the airport to all three of the main cities. Unfortunately, it happens to be the most expensive airport transit service in Spain at €7.50 or €8 per journey. Try to work out how many times you’ll need to go back and forth – buying a prepaid travel card might be worthwhile. Use the ALSA website to check the schedule.
There are three main cities; Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés. If you are going as a British Council assistant you may find yourself placed in a little pueblo. My advice would be to find out whether your school is a commutable distance from one of the cities when finding a place to live. Then again, living in a pueblo will no doubt massively benefit your Spanish as you won’t have the ready supply of English speakers to fall back on that you inevitably find in cities!
Oviedo in particular is a beautiful city (and if you don’t trust me, ask Woody Allen, who chose Oviedo as a setting for his film Vicky Cristina Barcelona).The cathedral is stunning and La Corte de Pelayo serves some of the best chocolate con churros I’ve ever tasted. Avilés is a semi-industrial city but has a lot of charm. It is home to the striking Centro Niemeyer, which is a venue for concerts and shows and well worth a visit. Gijón (which was my home for 8 months) is the coastal city of the three. The shoreline is definitely my favourite thing about the city, morning noon and night. I would HIGHLY recommend you get involved in surfing and you also won’t regret a midnight dip in the sea after a cerveza or two, trust me. My daytime haunts included Pomme Cuite, La Pause and Toma 3, which are all very stylish cafes with great atmosphere. And great cakes. In the evening head to Varsovia for cocktails to die for, El Rey for the best pinchos in town, Sputnik for an oasis of a great music, Blue Sky to find other travellers and couch-surfer types, and finish off the night in one of the many bars in the Cimedevilla area, where the party doesn’t stop until 8am.
If you’re heading to Gijón, feel free to check out the blog I kept whilst living there (between October ’12 and June ’13) for more info!
Once in Asturias, the region is your oyster. You can (and should) catch a bus to anywhere that’s worth a visit. There are numerous little fishing villages, coastal towns and plenty of exploring to be done further up in the Picos. Llanes is beautiful little town and the film buffs out there might like to know that it’s the home of the house that played host to Guillermo Del Toro’s chilling film El Orfanato. And it’s just as terrifying as you’d expect. Cudillero is a tiny little town but with some of the best views around and well worth a visit for a day or even just an afternoon. I can also vouch for Luanco, Ribadesella and Candás. Granted, if you’re looking for parties, thrills and a metropolitan buzz, you will not find it by exploring Asturias. You’ll need to learn to appreciate a slower pace of life, but it’s well worth a try!
If you’re not averse to the odd 5 or 6 hour bus journey or a hop on a plane, there are plenty of awesome destinations that are well within reach from Asturias – during my time there I managed trips to Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, Lisbon and San Sebastian and managed not to break the bank by planning ahead.
Food, Glorious Food
The food in Asturias is to die for. How I didn’t come back needing to be rolled off the plane I’ll never know. Sidra is the local tipple. If you visit Asturias and don’t drink the cider, you haven’t really visited Asturias. It’s dry and strong and vaguely meaty – not to everyones taste but if you value your life don’t dream of saying anything other than “me encanta!!” when questioned by a local. The method of serving is to ‘escanciar’, which involves holding the bottle high above your head and the glass down at you hip and trying not to drench yourself.
Fabada is a local dish made from beans, sausage, ham and often black pudding. It’s flippin’ delicious but very heavy: expect to need a nap after eating it. Other personal favourites include calamares, croquetas, pimientos de padrón, frisuelos and,of course, cheese. Cheese is great. The best way to try all of the local dishes and to be plied with sidra all evening, with a guaranteed fantastic atmosphere is to head to Tierra Astur. This is a chain of restaurants exclusive to Asturias which specialises in the local gastronomy and I couldn’t recommend highly enough.
Coffee is always fantastic and always cheap. Most bars and cafes give you a little pincho (bar snack) for free when you order a drink, which range from little bits of cake, to a piece of ham and bread, to chips and olives and meatballs. This is officially one of my favourite things about Spain.
General Tips and Advice
1. Don’t get stressed about Spanish bureaucracy or the pace of life.
In this sense, Asturias is no different to any other region in Spain. Just let go and go with the flow and embrace the ‘manaña’ culture.
2. Be proactive in filling your time.
There’s plenty to do but it’s not often publicised so you may have to go looking for it. Football matches, local festivals and gigs are great ways to get stuck in.
3. Get a currency card!
It’s just silly not to - I’ve heard people say ‘oh but my bank only charges £3 for every withdrawal’ but when a currency card charges you £0 it’s a no brainer.
4. Wherever possible, live with Spaniards.
Be brave and take the plunge. There are plenty of students in Oviedo and Gijón in particular which is great when it comes to finding a flat.
5. When packing, prioritise things that are sentimental or that will help you feel at home.
Toiletries can be bought anywhere. The cuddly elephant toy you’ve had since you were 6 and which has become your lucky mascot can’t.
6. You will be in high demand as a native English speaker.
If you have the time and the inclination, giving private classes is a great way to earn a bit of money. The going rate is €15 per hour, which isn’t too shabby!
I’m going to echo what a lot of other people on Third Year Abroad have said – your living abroad motto has got to be ‘just say yes’. If you’re dreading going abroad this motto applies to you all the more. Thinking that you’re going to have a crap time is a self-fulfilling prophesy because you will end up just sitting and crossing days off your calendar and letting opportunities pass you by. Try to be positive, make the most of any opportunity that comes your way and grab the experience by the cojones.