Asturias and Cantabria Coasts - Spain's Rural Prehistoric Cave Country
Great food, a rural landscape punctuated by tall mountains, prehistoric caves, and a cool climate make Spain's Northern coast a place to consider staying for a while.
If you're a frequent traveler, I'm sure you have paper maps with the cool places you've visited annotated by hastily scribbled and mostly unreadable notes. Mine of the Asturias and Cantabria coast is below, although spruced up a bit.
The area covered by the map is western Asturias and eastern Cantabria, an area between the cities of Gijon and Santander, which I found to be one of the most fascinating rural areas I've ever visited in Europe. People are friendly, you're never far from the sea, and the climate is moderated by its exposure to cool Atlantic waters of the Bay of Biscay. We visited in the summer when the daytime temperatures were near perfect and were able to watch incredible thunderstorms almost every evening from the wrap-around patio of our rented "Casa Rurale." The area is a favorite with Spaniards who know enough to avoid the heat of Spain's interior in summer.
Some of the things you can experience here:
- Cider Houses - Asturias is sidra or cider country, along with Cantabria and the Basque region.
- The Picos de Europa, separating the Liébana region of Cantabria (the westernmost section) from Eastern Asturias, are a tourist favorite. A craggy limestone range with immense slopes and dramatic gorges, the picos are a great destination for mountaineering, bird watching, walking, and trekking.
- Cheese - The lush green valleys are perfect for dairy cattle - try the local blue cheese Cabrales.
- Prehistoric caves in abundance - There's the famous Altamira, of course, but some lesser know caves, pointed out on the map as gray stars, are worthy of your attention as well.
Where to Stay in Asturias
Casas Rurales are a fine way to experience Asturias. You'll find a plethora of them surrounding the town of Infiesto, in a region called Concejo de Piloña, where you'll also find many recreation areas in which to hike or picnic, along with small mountain hamlets which host bars, restaurants, and cider houses. To get information on the Casas Rurales, see the Aspitur website, or pick up a handy map from the tourist kiosk on the main road through Infiesto (on your left if you're going East). See the summer storm pictures, mostly taken from the veranda of a house we rented located just south of Infiesto.
Congas de Onis
Congas de Onis sits besides the river Sella on one of the old pilgrimage routes. It used to be the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Asturias. There are lots of opportunities for river sports like fishing and kayaking nearby. A walking trail along the Sella follows the highway northwest. Congas de Onis is centered around a medieval "Roman" bridge, and there's a bar and restaurant right on the banks of the Sella in the shadow of the bridge--have a coffee or a meal on the lawn here.
There is a highly-rated luxury parador just outside Congas de Onis as well as other less expensive hotels listed at Venere: Cangas de Onís Hotels, Spain.
Infiesto is a nice little town to visit in the heart of cider country. You can take a walking path between Arriondas and Congas de Onis, stopping to eat or drink in the shadow of the "Roman" bridge at Congas. Further on the road brings you fabulous views of the Picos de Europa. If you have time, stop at the National Park Sierra de Covadonga.
Ribadesella is a pretty port town located where the river Sella meats the sea. On the first week of august paddlers try to rip through the last 20 km of river in record time in the Descenso Internacional del Sella. The Tito Bustillo Cave is here. The hotel Posada del Valle has an organic farm to stock its restaurant, and offer food, language and other workshops. There are lots of shops and restaurants in town. You can make reservations for the caves, then go and visit them at your leisure. The Saint James Way pilgrimage route passes through Ribadesella, so you might want to reserve lodging well before you get there in the tourism season.
Picos de Europa
From Congas you can travel on to the National Park of Sierra de Covadonga to visit the mountain lakes the park is noted for (Covadonga is where the Spanish Christian army first held fast against the Moors in 722), or you can start your visit to the Picos de Europa. If you just want to have a view of the Picos from your hotel room, check out the area around Arenas de Cabrales. See our Picos de Europa links for more on this fascinating area. Best time to visit is late summer, earlier and the weather is pretty unpredictable, and it can get mighty cold and fog shrouded in those hills.
Things you'll see: El Horreo
These ancient granaries made of chestnut and set upon triangular pillars as protection against rodents are almost a symbol of northern Spain. Called Garaia in Basque country, they're still in use, mainly because it's illegal to tear them down and they do serve a function for rural inhabitants of Asturias.
Sidra - The Cider Culture
Cider houses are found frequently in the Asturias region. Cider houses are separate from bars because of the ritual nature of pouring and drinking that cider requires; the floor of a cider house can be awash in discarded dregs at times. Interested in how it's all done? We've got a page on Cider House Rules.
Altamira Cave and the New Cave
Altamira is known as the "Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art pretty much since its discovery in 1879 by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, but alas, it is currently closed to visitors. A replica has been built, called the New Cave, and you can visit it in the Altamira Museum in Santillana del Mar. Entrance costs 3€ and is free for those under 18 and over 65 years of age. Admission is free for everyone on the 18th of May, International Museum Day; the 12th of October, Columbus Day; and the 6th of December, Constitution Day. Open 9:30 am to 7:30 pm in Summer. Official Site, which also has information on visiting other caves and archaeological museums.
Puente Viesgo and its Prehistoric Caves
The village of Puente Visego has a variety of interesting restaurants and makes a fine lunch spot before you head off to the caves of Monte del Castillo, just a short, uphill drive out of town, well marked. For a reasonable fee, you'll visit two caves, one noted for its paintings and the other for the variety of rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites.
The road south from Puente Viesgo, N 232, is quite scenic, but desolate after the town of Soncillo.
A Virtual Tour of the Best of Northern Spain will take you through a series of photographs of the sights in Asturias and Cantabria.
What to Eat
Try the famous blue cheese of the region called Cabrales. There is plenty of fish in the region, of course. Fabada is a local stick-to-the-ribs bean stew with Spanish chorizo and other meats, and it's one of my favorite dishes of all time.
Posadas and other Lodging
The P symbol inside the box on our map indicates that the village hosts a posada, or historic country inn, often quite charming. Here's a short list:
- Ribadesella - Posada de Valle
- Santillana del Mar - Posada Casa del Organista, Posada el Pedroso.
- Cangas de Onis - Posada del Monasterio Ofrecemo
- Valdaliga (marked "H" on the map) La Charola (with library, barbeque, laundry and Internet).
And, while it's not technically a Posada, you might want to check out El Molino de Tresgrandas, a hotel that features mystery weekends. Solve the mystery and you may win a barrel of Sidra, as explained in this review.
Nude Beaches - Naturalism
There is a nude beach with camping nearby near Ribadesella called Playa de l'Arena de Vega. See the Naturist Association Friends of the Principality of Asturias web site for more on Naturalism in Asturias.
Asturias Airport (OVD), located 47 km from Oviedo, serves Asturias.