Asturias is one of Spain’s best-kept secrets. While it’s famous among Spaniards, few outside of the country are aware of its jaw-dropping mountains, crowd-free beaches and wide range of gastronomic delights, although word is likely to be getting out soon. For now, it makes for an ideal destination where you’re very unlikely to find yourself bumping elbow other tourists – come visit for all these reasons and more.
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Picos de Europa is home to one of Europe’s most spectacular mountain peaks, a national park rarely visited and arguably one of Spain’s most underrated destinations. Explore miles and miles of incredibly scenic hikes, including a stunning 7.4-mile day trek that winds along the Divine Gorge. The route from the Fuente De cable car towers past the peaks of Pena Vieja, Horcados Rojos and Tesorero, while the 6.9-mile Ordiales Scenic Balcony Trail boasts some of the most breathtaking vistas as a photographer’s dream.
Yet another trek, featured on one of the last “Parts Unknown” episodes with Anthony Bourdain and his friend Chef Jose Andres, leads to the historic village of Bulnes, a stunning little mountain village. Until 2001, it could only be reached on foot, but today, a tunnel train funicular built in the mountain provides transport for the few locals. If you have time, follow the old route alongside the mountain goats.
Covadonga Lakes, also referred to as Los Lagos or the Lakes of Enol, is made up of two glacial lakes, Lake Ercina and Lake Enol which are the original center of Picos de Europa. One of the best ways to discover this serene landscape is to take a tour through Viator, which includes a visit to the famous holy Cave of Covadonga and its cathedral as well as the town of Ribadesella’s beautiful golden sands on Santa Marina Beach. A stop for lunch is included in Molin de Mingo or Gueyumar.
Book the excursion through Viator here.
Santa Cueva de Covadonga
Santa Cueva de Covadonga is a hidden cave and Catholic sanctuary tucked within the Picos de Europa mountains. There is a shrine that sits inside of it dedicated to the Virgin of Covadonga, and while it’s now linked to Christianity, it’s believed it was first a site for prehistoric pagan worship. Just below is a waterfall that originates from a small, natural spring, making it truly a sight to behold and one of the most popular sights to photograph in the region.
While you might think the Asturian coastline would be rough and rocky, it surprisingly offers powdery white sandy beaches edged by clear turquoise water that look as if they were stolen from the Caribbean. Playa del Toro is one of the top stretches, located near the village of Llanes boasting many interesting rock formations. Playa de las Catedrales, or Cathedral Beach, is a stunner too, with its natural stone arches forming a “cathedral” that one can walk through at low tide. It resembles the towering arches typically found in Gothic cathedrals, perhaps even more magical with it revealed only at low tide. The arches reach 90 feet in high, while deep caves are carved into the cliffside.
You may be able to visit both of these breathtaking beaches on this Viator tour which explores some of Asturias’ most photogenic coastal landscapes.
Asturias is renowned for its gastronomical delights, including some of the most mouthwatering fresh seafood and cheeses. While there are many places in Spain producing outstanding cheese, there may be no better than this – in fact, Asturias has been called “El Pais de Queso,” or “The Land of Cheese”. Over 1000 different types of artisanal cheeses are made in Asturias, made from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. Some of the region’s most famous local cheeses are Cabrales blue, Casin and Gamoneu Afuega’l pitu. There are dairy farms that can be visited to see how the cheese is made and at the Cave of Cheese, located in the national park, you can see where some of it is aged.
Asturias is also famous for its cider. While cider is more often associated with countries like Sweden and Ireland, Spain makes its own delicious type. It’s sparkling and tastes like freshly pressed apple juice rather than having a sweet flavor. Asturias is the capital of Spanish cider and here you can even visit Spanish cider houses, known as sidrerias to sample the beverage and marvel at how its poured into your glass from a great height.
The Capital: Oviedo
Asturia’s capital city offers lots of charms, including a colorful medieval Old Town which hosts a 9th-century Basilica and pre-Romanesque Santa María del Naranco church. The Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias is one of the top attractions, located inside Palacio de Velarde. It showcases more than 15,000 works of art that date from the 14th-century through today, including paintings by Dali, Picasso, Miro, Goya, El Greco and more. The Archaeological Museum of Asturias, built in the 16th century, offers a fascinating look at archaeological artifacts recovered from the region, with objects from prehistory to modern age.
Yet another highlight is the 13th-century gothic Cathedral of San Salvador along Camino de Norte, a major stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The complex includes the 9th-century Holy House, built in pre-Romanesque style.
The Gijón Aquarium
One of the top attractions in the region, the Gijón Aquarium is Spain’s only aquarium where you can see all five animal groups, covering an entire acre housing 5,000 marine creatures that include 400 different species. Look forward to watching everything from playful otters to adorable Magellanic penguins and sharks – there are also exhibits that include local wildlife.
It's a Walk Back in Time
Not only can visitors enjoy being surrounded by fairytale-like landscapes with jagged mountain peaks, lush green hills and bubbling streams, but this region feels as if time has somehow stood still, staying just as it has for thousands of years with shepherds and their huts, farmers passing by with their flocks of sheep, and of course, its deliciously famous Cabrales blue cheese, still aged in ancient caves that same as it always has. It offers the simple life, far removed from the chaos of the city.