There are many reasons to love Asturias. Asturias’ monikers, “Spain’s natural paradise” and “the green coast,” are certainly justified.
Contrary to most of Spain, the region is verdant, with lush, abundant vegetation. It also has a varied geography, from emerald green valleys to snow-capped mountains.
But Asturias, officially known as The Principality of Asturias, offers more than just natural beauty. Any history buff will delight in Asturias’ fascinating past, beginning with the Paleolithic about 36,000 years ago. Some of the world’s most famous cave paintings are located in nearby Altamira, and the region’s medieval villages dot the surrounding countryside and have not changed for centuries.
Notwithstanding Asturias’ beauty and culture, perhaps the best reason to visit Asturias is the food. In a country where food is a cultural identity, Asturian specialties are legendary. In fact, Asturias offers a collection of unique experiences that only this beautiful region can provide. I’ve narrowed the main reasons why you should visit Asturias down to eight, to help you plan your Asturian itinerary and travel adventure.
Oviedo is a Delight.
Renting a car is the best way to see the Asturias region. Wherever you’re coming from, starting your tour in the capital city of Oviedo is your best option. It’s close to the airport, it’s conveniently located to everything you want to see, and it’s a phenomenal destination in itself.
If you land in the Oviedo airport—about 30 minutes from the city center you should either rent a car there and head to Oviedo, or take a taxi (about €35) to Oviedo, see the city first, then rent a car there when you’re ready to continue your Asturian exploration.
Why visit Oviedo? The city was established in the eighth century by Visigoth nobility who were revolting against the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. The well-preserved eighth century CE palaces and churches of Asturian nobility are among Oviedo’s main things to do, and are also UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The city also boasts broad avenues, pedestrian streets, and many spacious, leafy parks. In the central Plaza Porlier you’ll find the imposing Cathedral of San Salvador, constructed in a hodgepodge of architectural designs. Top Oviedo museums include the Museum of Archeology and Fine Arts. The Old Town is a collection of medieval structures, winding streets, and plazas used as marketplaces for hundreds of years.
A great place to stay in Oviedo is the Hotel Campoamor. It’s a reasonably priced value-for-money establishment close to everything you want to see.
Across the street from Campoamor is one of the best can’t-miss restaurants in Oviedo, La Corte de Pelayo, which specializes in traditional Asturian cuisine
Nearby is pedestrian Gascona Street, one of my favorite places. This street is lined with typical Asturian restaurants on both sides. On any given night, musicians will wander in and out of the restaurants playing traditional music while patrons join in, encouraged by the flow of alcoholic cider.
One of the most charming—and amazing—Asturian customs is the pouring of cider from a bottle about one meter above the glass. This is done to aerate the liquor and the servers don’t miss a drop!
There’s an Abandoned Mine 600 Meters Underground.
Before leaving Oviedo, make sure to stop at the Mining and Industry Museum, MUNI for short, about 20 minutes away. Not interested in mining, you say? Think again. Not only will this museum explain the importance of mining in Asturias’ history, but it will also take you on a very realistic simulated journey down a mineshaft about 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) beneath the earth into an abandoned mine.
You Can Explore the Port City of Gijon.
From Oviedo, head north 35 km and arrive at Gijon, with its broad oceanside promenade, Roman ruins, and loads of Michelin-rated restaurants.
If you developed a taste for the delectable Asturian cuisine while in Oviedo, head to El Otro Mallu—this spot is the perfect choice for a daily lunch specials for just €14.
Thirty minutes north of Gijon is Cabo Peña, the northernmost point of Asturias. The view of the soaring cliffs is outstanding.
The Seaside Fishing Villages off the Asturian Coast are Charming.
With a 345 km coast fronting the Bay of Biscay, picturesque fishing villages dot Asturias. Heading east from Gijon is Lastres, the first of many beach towns and fishing villages in that area. These are small villages with typically around 1000 population, and they’re great places to stop for fresh seafood with a glass of crisp white wine while you experience life in an authentic Spanish fishing village.
Less than an hour east of Lastres is Llanes, another seaside town. No matter who in the area you ask for a dining recommendation, the answer is always La Tertulia, and its reputation is justified—it offers innovative seafood at reasonable prices.
Llanes has a small but lively Old Town surrounded by portions of the original medieval wall. There are many little bars and tapas establishments in this area. It’s a great place to spend the evening after a day exploring the area.
The ideal place to stay in Llanes is the Hotel Miracielos. With all there is to see in the area, it makes sense to establish a base in this comfortable and friendly oceanside hotel while you explore the area. The hearty breakfasts feature Spanish specialties, the cozy bar gets lively at night, and the staff couldn’t be warmer and more welcoming.
Cueva del Soplao (Soplao Cave) is Worthy of Exploration.
Less than an hour east of Llanes is an amazing natural phenomenon. The Soplao Cave is a 250-million-year-old network of caves with dazzling formations. You enter the caves, accompanied by a guide, through a little train that takes you deep into the earth. Tickets cost €13.50 for adults, but they must be purchased beforehand as they are limited, timed tickets to avoid large crowds and protect the environment. Buy online beforehand to ensure your preferred time slot.
Time Travel is Possible in Santillana del Mar.
Forty-three kilometers east of Cueva del Soplao is the medieval town of Santillana del Mar. It’s slightly over the border of Asturias into the region of Cantabria, but if you’re in the area, you must visit Santillana.
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described Santillana del Mar as “the prettiest village in all Spain.”
He was not exaggerating.
This medieval town looks pretty much like it did in the Middle Ages hundreds of years ago. The historical highlight of the town is the impressive church, Colegiata de Santa Juliana, reputed to house the remains of the town’s patron saint of the same name. Stroll the accompanying cloisters and you’ll imagine yourself traveling back in time.
While in Santillana, enjoy a meal at El Porche Restaurant—it offers a lunch special for €17 in a beautiful environment.
Hiking is Top Notch in Picos de Europa National Park.
About an hour southwest of Santillana is Picos de Europa National Park. This 246 square kilometer park was established in 1918 and is one of the oldest in Europe.
The park is a hiker’s heaven, with soaring mountains, rushing rivers, and many well-marked trails. My favorite is the Cares River trail, which crosses suspension bridges and natural tunnels. You’re likely to see wild goats and hawks, but don’t be surprised if you spot a Cantabrian bear too!
8. The Covadonga Routes Offer Breathtaking Views.
Within the Pico de Europa National Park is the Covadonga Basilica, a church built entirely of pink limestone in the late 1800s, an incredible feat of engineering considering it’s located on a high mountain top.
Nearby is the Cueva Santa (Holy Cave) of Covadonga, a small church built into a cave over a waterfall. Seeing this you can’t help but marvel at the extraordinary structures created by religious inspiration.
Lastly, the Covadonga Lakes are nearby. Many consider these among the most beautiful vistas in Europe.
If you’re ready to head home, the Asturias airport is about an-hour-and-a-half from Covadonga. The closest town to the airport is Aviles, 20 minutes from the airport.
Aviles is a good place to spend the night before a return flight home. Most flights to connecting cities like Madrid are in the early morning so, if you’re flying home, it makes sense to spend your last night n Aviles, drive to the airport in the morning and drop off the car before your flight.
A good hotel in Aviles is the Hotel Oca Villa de Aviles. It offers parking, a good restaurant, comfy rooms, and is centrally located and reasonably priced. Note that, like many hotels, prices vary per season.
Aviles is also worth a longer visit if you have the time. The city has regional museums including the Oscar Niemeyer cultural center. The Old Town area is charming with interesting churches, tasty tapas bars, and a wide plaza surrounded by arched historic structures.
There’s enough to keep you busy in Asturias for quite some time. This region has something for everyone. Asturias is still an undiscovered paradise but won’t be for long, so visit now.
By Talek Nantes
Talek Nantes is an author, digital content creator, and founder of the travel blog, travelswithtalek.com. She is a passionate travel enthusiast and enjoys sharing her travel experiences with others—she runs cultural tours in Asturias and Galicia. Talek’s personal and professional background has led her to travel to over 110 countries. She has lived and worked throughout the world and speaks several languages. Talek has an MBA and a Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in with her husband in New York City and Miami. Talek’s most recent book is “Don’t just travel to Cuba, experience Cuba: The ultimate Cuba travel guide and you can also follow her journey on Instagram.