Where: Oviedo, Asturias, Northern Spain
When: November 2015. Page written December 2015.
Why? £37 return flights and a curiosity to see a new area of Spain.
What we did on our holiday
As a frequent traveller, one top tip that I have is to sign up for the budget airline newsletters, and then they’ll alert you as soon as they have sales or cheap flights. Around October time, many of the airlines have sales for their November/December flights, and they compete against each other to be the cheapest – and this is where you can pick up some real bargains.
November and December are not traditional travel times, but to me this is the perfect time to travel: places are less crowded, prices lower, the weather is still nice in most of Europe (or at least nicer than the UK), and it’s a great way to occupy yourself in the post-summer/pre-Christmas lull.
For Jeff’s 30th birthday’s I bought him November trips to Andorra and Liechtenstein. When we’re travelling, we try to have one weekend on and one weekend off. But then the sales happened, and so when Jeff spotted the flights to Asturias for only £37, in the spare weekend inbetween trips, we said: ‘why not?’
I’d driven through northern Spain before and stayed for a night in Burgos, but I had never been to this area and it’s an area that intrigues me. Spain’s northern Atlantic coast has a history and wildness to it, completely at odds to the stereotypical, dry Spain of Andalusia. This area of Spain has Atlantic weather, more like Ireland than southern Spain: it’s wetter and windier, and the coastline is much more craggy and dramatic. All the rain means that this area is also much more lush, and the fields positively glow with life (much like Ireland). Lush grass means lush produce, and this area is famous for its cows, cheeses and ciders: three of my favourite things.
The three cities closest to Asturias airport are Avilés, Oviedo and Gijon. Gijon is on the coast and a surfing town, and I’d like to come back to visit here in the summer. Avilés is apparently more industrial and Oviedo is the cider and cheese capital of Spain – so you can guess which one we visited.
It rained pretty much for our whole time in Asturias: huge, periodic waves of water that soaked everything that we were wearing – and so we didn’t explore as much as we would have liked to. Also, the early start meant that we had to have a siesta as part of our 24 hours in the city – but we did have fun being in Spain, speaking Spanish and being in this interesting place.
A lot of Oviedo is made up of tower block type accommodation, and in the rain it didn’t look that pretty. The town felt deserted and run down, and there weren’t many people out and about. However, there is a beautiful old centre to the city, with lovely parks, and I think in the sunshine this must be a much nicer, livelier place. We probably just saw it at its wet, winter worst.
So, what did we do?
When we arrived, we checked in then went for lunch. We walked through the intersting, ornate old town and found a nice local bar which offered a set menu for €10. As the food offered included some of the local specialities we wanted to try, we went in. It was a lovely, typically Spanish bar, with dark wood and glass, and regulars popping in for a drop and a snack. The set menu we had included a drink, so we asked if we could have a wine – our waitress said yes – and bought us the whole bottle! So that was a nice lunch. We ate Fabada Asturiana, which is a rich sausage and white bean stew, a bit like French cassolet; roast chicken and veal (I thought it was beef – oops); then creamy yoghurts and fresh fruit for dessert. It was delicious.
After lunch, we visited the indoor food market. Sadly, as we only had cabin baggage we couldn’t bring anything back, but we had a lot of fun drooling over the meat and cheeses.
I then went off to shop, and headed to the space age lookingConvention and Exhibition Centre Ciudad de Oviedo. On my Google Maps, it indicated that there was a C&A here, and I love C&A. After living in Spain for two years, I love Spanish clothes shops, and I was hoping to find Pimke, Vera Modo, Bushka, C&A etc.
But Convention and Exhibition Centre Ciudad de Oviedo seems to be a victim of the Spanish recession as it was half-empty, with boarded up shops. There was an El Corte Inglés, Promod, Zara and Primark, but little else. It was really sad to see, as this space-ship of a building should be lively and used; but at the moment it’s a bit of a white elephant.
After shopping and siesta, J and I headed out for the real attraction of Oviedo: Cider!
Calle Gascona is a street full of cider bars, which have a very unique tradition. Unlike a lot of British ciders, Spanish cider is more sharp and flat, so to liven it up, the waiters in Oviedo have a trick where they pour the cider into the glass from on high, whilst jiggling the glass about to keep the cider bubbly. You’re then supposed to down the cider like a shot. Obviously, this can get a bit messy – so many of the cider bars have special pouring areas, and you’re not allowed to do this yourself.
When we went out it was still raining and there was a Madrid vs Barcelona football match on: one of the most contentious matches in Spain, so the bars were pretty packed.
Though the cider is okay (not as good as British cider), it is quite tart so has to be drunk as a shot; and you do need something else to drink alongside the cider. The cider was about €2.50 a bottle, and a bottle tended to last the two of us about half an hour. We didn’t really like that you had to get the waiters to pour for you: it felt quite regimented. We did love the atmosphere in the pubs though, and that there was usually some tapas on offer to accompany the drinks. We stopped in a restaurant and had a cheese board for tea (see photo at the top of the page), and that was delicious, though maybe not the healthiest.
Some of the bars have taps in the wall, so that you can pour the cider yourself, though the one bar that we found that had these said they were all out of order.
One bar we went to had a cheese cupboard behind the bar. My dream pub!
We visited six different bars on Calle Gascona:
- La Manzana Sidrería Restaurante (very traditional and a great place to start)
- Sidrería La Solapipa
- Sidrería La Noceda (great tapas)
- La Finca Sidrería Agrobar (which had the cheese cupboard behind the bar)
- Restaurante Sidrería Tierra Astur Parrilla (where we ate in a cool wood/bottle tunnel)
- and Bar-Tienda Albar (which has cider taps in the wall).
Being Spain, the party really got going about midnight, though by one I was shattered (we’d been up since four) and I had to call it a night.
Next day, we had to be on the bus at noon, so we just had time to have a closer up peek at thecathedral, which is very pretty and has some interesting carvings, and then it was time to head back to the bus and home.
We only had 24 hours here; but it was a fun, quick trip and I’m glad we got to see this often-overlooked part of Spain. Asturias is really close to the UK, so the flight time is short, and it’s an easy part of Spain to get to. This is a really rural area, with forests, mountains, wildlife, beaches and history. It’s a dramatic, exciting, frontier area of Europe, a lot like Cornwall – and there’s lots of places to explore. I’d definitely like to come back to explore further, though with a car and at a less rainy time.
We flew from Stansted to Asturias with Easyjet. The return flights were £37.
Asturias airport is small and cute, but has a shop, cash point, restaurant and airport cat. We love airport cat. She sat on one of the window sills, in the sunshine, being petted by the airport staff and she was all lovely and cute and chill. I’d go back to Asturias just to see her.
Getting the bus to Gijon or Oviedo is really easy as they both leave from just outside the terminal, and they are well sign-posted (with graffiti). Turn right out of the main doors and you’ll see the coach bays. They had a board to show the times of the next bus.
The bus to Oviedo cost €8, we bought our ticket from the driver on the bus and the journey took about 40 minutes. The bus times are on Google Maps.
The bus dropped us off at the bus station, which is close to the main train station, on the edge of the town centre. (You’ll see the bus station on the top left hand corner of the Oviedo map below). To get to the town centre from the bus station, turn right out of the main doors, walk to the junction and cross over. Walk up the road that is slightly to your right; cross over the road at the end, and this will lead you to the main shoping street. The old town is at the far end of Calle Nueve de Mayo/Calle Caveda.
Coming back, we bought our bus tickets from the machine at the bus station. There’s a great cafe at the bus station and some shops too.
Where we stayed
Gran Hotel España
Nice 4 star located in the centre of town, just off the cathedral square and right by Calle Gascona. That is all.
Find out more about Asturias at Wikipedia, Wikitravel, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet, or the following:
Find out more about Oviedo at Wikipedia and Wikitravel.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.