“Astoria? That’s in Spain? Where in Spain?”
“The North Coast.”
“But you just went there last year!!”
“No, we were in northern Spain last year but not to Asturias”
“Oh, you always find these places that no one else knows about.”
I’ve been having variations on this conversation (substitute various locations) for most of my adult life and this was no different. While I admit that many of my friends and acquaintances would not be considered very well traveled (by the standards of many here), they were really thrown this time by my mention of the region that was to be our destination for 12 days this past October. Not so surprisingly, not one person I divulged my travel plans to had ever heard of Asturias, let alone been there. (Yes, it has occurred to me that I could use a few new friends but that is besides the point).
I love Spain, and have had the good fortune to have visited many regions of the country over the course of many trips during the past decades. I’d driven along the Asturian Coast about 10 years ago on a rushed, week-long car trip from Santiago to Santander, dipping south to spend two nights at the Parador just outside the town of Cangas del Onís, on the edge of the Picos de Europa. The beauty of the area we saw, with its patchworked emerald-green landscapes edged by the snow-capped Picos on one side and rock-strewn ocean coastline on the other, lingered ever since then.
After a spectacular visit to Castilla/León and the Basque region last fall (combined with 5 nights in Lisbon) I was determined that this year would bring a return visit to Northern Spain, to Asturias. I’d been reading about the plethora of good restaurants in the region and that, combined with the fact that Asturias is somewhat off-the-beaten track for foreign tourists other than some hardy folks drawn by the splendid outdoors activities—fishing, hiking, climbing, biking—clinched the decision. And, after reading the praises sung in the Spanish and international press about an out-of-the-way restaurant near Leon that served up what some critics declared to be the “best steak in the world,” I tacked on a dinner there to the travel plan.
(We had originally thought of combining Asturias with Porto and Galicia but I condensed the scope of the trip to avoid the rather extensive stretches in the car that that plan would have entailed. I do hope to return to the area, adding Galicia, before too long)
This was our itinerary, to take place over 11 nights during the last two weeks of October.
PLANNING THE TRIP:
Materials published in English that focus on the North outside the Basque country are less than plentiful, the one standout being CADOGAN’S GUIDE TO NORTHERN SPAIN, whose most recent edition dates from 2012. Some of the hotel and restaurant information, therefore, might have to be double checked, but the sightseeing chapters are an excellent resource, and there are good introductory chapters on history, culture, and gastronomy.
There is an excellent chapter on Asturias and Cantabria in DISCOVERING SPAIN by the late Penelope Casas, who did so much to introduce to the Cuisines of Spain to English-speaking readers. First published in 1992, this book belongs on the shelf of anyone with an interest in Spanish gastronomy. It is probably my most valuable printed resource when planning my visits to the country. The scope ranges far beyond food and drink to include architecture, history, and cultural topics.
There are only two chapters within on Asturias (neither of which was pertinent to this trip,) but I mention this 2003 book because of its valuable background reading for anyone planning to visit the north of Spain, not just Asturias. Many of the chapters, on subjects ranging from the San Fermín festival and the Battle of Lepanto to Cabrales cheese and the Camino, have been published previously in magazines and newspapers. Authors include Calvin Trillin, Tom Brokaw, Frank Prial, Amanda Hesser, and Anya Von Bremzen.
The Asturian Tourist Office has compiled a number of online guides, most of which I neglected to read before our trip, but must certainly be worth digging in to:
One of these is the excellent CASONAS ASTURIANAS, a lavishly photographed guide to hotels of character in the region, many of which are moderate in price.
Where I did do much of my background reading was on the online sites focusing on the gastronomy of the area. The Spanish equivalent of Michelin is Repsol, and they publish very well-regarded restaurant guides to all regions of Spain, handing out “soles” or suns, instead of the Stars favored by Michelin. The site is in Spanish. Also in Spanish are various food blogs including www.fartúcate.net, which covers all of Spain but is particularly good on Asturias, and
www.lesfartures.com, with copious coverage of the Asturias restaurant scene.
I received helpful information on this Fodor’s planning thread:
RT flights on IBERIA, from JFK to OVD (Asturias airport) and return, with stops in MAD in both directions. The two trans=Atlantic flights were on A-340-600s.
NH OVIEDO PRINCIPADO in Oviedo 4 nights. (I tried to book the Hotel de la Reconquista but they were booked out due to the festivities surrounding the annual Princess of Asturias Awards, held during our time in the city and the focus of much of the action when we were in residence). We would pick up a rental car the day before we departed Oviedo and park it for one night in a municipal garage.
PUEBLO ASTUR ECO RESORT in Cofiño 4 nights. (This upscale hotel would be our base for exploring the edges of the Picos de Europa and the coastal towns and beaches of Eastern Asturias, and for visiting several much-lauded restaurants in the area)
HOTEL CASA DE TEPA in Astorga 1 night (The 2-hours-plus drive to Astorga was included so that we could sample the steak at Bodega de Capricho, a half-hour’s drive way in the hamlet of Jimenez de Jamuz. As we discovered, an unfinished Gaudi palace and restaurants serving the cuisine of the mysterious Maragato peoples, along with chocolate and some of the best charcuterie I’ve ever tasted made the small city of Astorga, in Leon province, well worth a visit on its own right, even without a foray to El Capricho)
HOTEL RURAL TRES CABOS outside Luarca 2 nights. (This would be a base to explore some highlights of the western Asturian coastline including the charming village of Cudillero, the fishing town of Luarca and the coastal promenade from Cape Busto, with divine sea views and glorious hillscapes; it was also well placed for access to the Asturias airport, where we would return our rental car and depart for the flight to Madrid and on to the US).
Through the broker AutoEurope, I rented a compact automatic (Nissan Juke or similar) with pick-up in Oviedo city and return at Asturias airport. This was the only car model that allowed pickup in the city and return in a different location, in our case, the airport. The price was $240US for 8 nights.
We were pleased that upon arrival at the EuropCar office at the Rail Station in Oviedo, we were allocated a medium sized Mercedes, whose model name or number I failed to discover. We liked the car and had no problems whatsoever for the duration of the rental. (We did have some minor confusion brought about by fact that there was no one around when we returned the car at the airport on a Saturday morning; we turned in the keys at the rental desk inside the terminal, after taking some photos of the undamaged exterior).
Discovering the regional cuisine was a principal focus of our trip. We tended to eat breakfast (included with the room rate at our hotels and of varying quality) and one other meal during the day, either lunch or dinner depending on where we were and how far the restaurant was from our home base on that particular day. (We prefer to avoid driving in the dark where possible; unfortunately at this time of year it got dark well before the dinner hour so there were occasions when we could not satisfy this preference).
I made most of our reservations for our one daily “important” meal in advance of arrival. Most reservations were done by e-mail or directly with the restaurant through their website. In one or two cases I received no response to my attempts and so I asked the hotel to book the table for me.
When we ate lunch, we generally ate late, about 3 or 3:30pm, in order to have much of the day free beforehand. For dinner, we were often the first ones in the restaurant, arriving at the opening hour which was 9pm in all but one or two instances. Being used to that, we were not bothered and, in fact, relished the extra attention we were given by staff at that early dinner hour. (Back home in New York City, we often have to dine at first service in order to snag a table at ppopular venues, even if I book weeks in advance)
Although we ate in several Michelin-starred and Repsol sun-ned restaurants, we found the prices to be gentle when compared to prices in the US. We had only two meals that hovered around the 200 euro mark and most meals were closer to 100 euro for two. At Casa Gerardo, for example, a revered eatery with one Michelin star and three Repsol suns, our (superb) lunch cost us 142 euro.
On the evenings after we had had a large lunch, we generally treated ourselves to pastries. Unfortunately, I became overly well acquainted with the sugar, almond, and egg yolk Carbayones of Oviedo, among other sweet confections.
My only apprehension about this trip concerned the weather. It’s no coincidence that the north coast of Spain is known as “Green Spain,” and late October is not historically a very dry period.
An online friend who covered some of the same ground as we did, but a week earlier, reported day after day of rain and fog, not a good situation when scenic walks and drives are a large component of one’s trip plans. But we were very lucky. Apart from some rain during our first few travel days, in Oviedo, the rest of the time brought sunny and often very warm weather. We were in short-sleeves for about half of the days, donning only light cotton jackets at night.
My old black Andiamo suitcase reached the end of the line just before our departure. As a replacement, based on online reviews and some comments here and impressed by the long warranty, I bought a Briggs and Riley Baseline expandable bag. While it made the trip over only about half full, it reached near capacity on the way back, stuffed as it was with cheeses, canned seafood, assorted other edible treats, and a few items of clothing from Massimo Dutti and Zara, both of which have outposts in Oviedo. So far I like the suitcase very much, and hope that it will have many miles under its straps before too long.
Recent ActivityView all Europe activity »
- 1 Spain.... 2.5 Weeks... Need Help!
- 2 A Merry marvelousmouse, and (likely more than one) cup of good cheer!
- 3 London 'Tube-less', Fine dining, Fun excursions plus a GTG
- 4 Best area to stay in Amsterdam for a first time visitor
- 5 Looking for Paris Rental Apt.
- 6 Four Nights in Nice--What should we do?
- 7 Headed to Madrid in the Spring
- 8 Help needed for Bergamo to Venice journey
- 9 Paris November 2017
- 10 1 night in Algarve in January?
- 11 Sorrento to Montepulciano- where to rent car?
- 12 A very important question regarding pronunciation
- 13 Wedding In Cambridge England
- 14 Planning a Trip from DC to Anywhere in Europe (Budget Friendly)
- 15 Connecting trains in Chambery
- 16 Current plan for March trip
- 17 Three nights in the Italian Riviera: hiking in Camogli with day trips
- 18 Spain in 2018
- 19 Rentals in Madrid , Spain-Select
- 20 Mid-May stay in Lauterbrunnen or Murren
- 21 Italy 9 Days in December/Itinerary Help
- 22 First time in Spain
- 23 Help me pick a destination --- Please!
- 24 Schengen entry/exit stamps in Austria
- 25 Barcelona to Malaga
CACHOPO, CABRALES & CARBAYONES Asturias..and "The Best Steak in The World"