Central Asturias boasts the two main cities of the Principality – Gijón and Oviedo – and the historical and lively town of Avilés. Beyond the urban hubs, remote villages bring together history, tradition and wild nature. It’s a place begging to be explored by the most adventurous souls. If you do venture into the great outdoors, make sure you respect the environment with the same fervour as the locals.
Woody Allen described Oviedo, the capital of the Principality of Asturias, as ‘delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, lovely, tranquil and pedestrianised’ during the ceremony for the then Prince of Asturias awards in 2002. The film maker’s words have since been immortalised next to his statue – one of more than a hundred such sculptures adorning the streets of Oviedo (inadvertently creating a sort of outdoor museum). Celebrity status aside, the main attraction of this city (founded in the 8th century) is not its statues but its historical buildings. The 16th-century Catedral de San Salvador is the finest example of the city’s architecture and combines Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Other examples are Santa María de Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, two 9th-century churches on the outskirts of the city. For those looking to soak up some atmosphere, Plaza del Fontán (the market square) and Calle de Gascona (the street with the most sidrerías or cider houses in town) are chock-full of typical local bars. If you have a sweet tooth, head to the Confitería Camilo de Blas (Jovellanos, 7) where the carbayones (sweets made with cream and egg yolk) will round off your visit nicely.
Gijón is the largest city in Asturias and has a charming coastal location. The stunning and maze-like Cimadevella fishing quarter, with its colourful houses, is one of the main tourist attractions. Nearby, on the hill named after Santa Catalina, is a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida titled Elogio del Horizonte (Eulogy to the Horizon). This abstract artwork has stood as a symbol of the city since it was installed in 1990. When you need to recharge, do what the locals do: enjoy a glass of freshly poured cider while you sit on one of the steps in the Plaza Periodista Arturo Arias (also referred to as the Plaza del Lavaderu). Visit the Plaza Mayor to sample a typical Asturian menu in restaurants such as La Galana or El Centenario. Before you leave the city, brace yourself for a dip in the cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea at Playa de San Lorenzo.
The mining town of Avilés is another prime tourist destination. Founded in the 10th century, the town is a veritable treasure trove of plazas, gardens, palaces and churches. Among the sights is the church dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. It stands 47 metres tall and was built over nine centuries. Behind the church is the Sabugo fishing quarter with its beautiful network of old streets, among them the long and lively Calle Galiana packed with sidrerías and restaurants.
Fans of the outdoors will love the choice of hiking routes in central Asturias, many of which leave from one of the area’s villages. Pumares is a hamlet of stone and slate houses to the north-east of Oviedo and the starting point of the Semeira Waterfall trail (the waterfall has one of the highest drops in Asturias). The Medieval village of Bandujo sits against the hillsides of Las Ubiñas Natural Park. From here, you can pick up the Senda del Oso – a steep Medieval trail which was the only access route into the village until the 20th century. If it’s cliffs you’re after, follow the route from Verdicio to Cabo de Peñas and the most northern point in the Principality.
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