Home Sweet home
We have a little flat in Asturias where we can hide away from the heat of the UAE. It’s in Oviedo close to the city centre, and is a great base for exploring the rest of the region, either by train or road. It also has an airport nearby with Easy Jet flights to Stanstead.
I must admit that the Oviedo is not exactly abuzz during the Summer months, it’s a university town and inland to boot so the place can feel empty. But as we’re not the Rockerfellers Or Gates, so we needed to buy something that we could rent out all year, so here we are.
Oviedo is also the city of thousand statues, spot Woody below….
The flat is in a working class district close to the city centre . It has the typical collection of small bars and sidrerias, supermarkets and family butchers. There are not really any stand outs but nothing wrong with any of them. Basically pick a favourite and call it your local. There are also a couple of kids parks so if you decide to come and visit with little ones then once you’ve been for a few ciders you can burn it off just in front of the Palacio de Deportes on the swings.
The town centre is literally a fifteen minute stroll and although not a big hitter in Spanish terms it does have a couple of highlights. Take a look at a guide book, but for me the highlight was the market for some nice eats to cook back at the flat or a trip to La Bomba record store for some vinyl. For Lorena it was the chance to wander around the pedestrianised area of town (which is loads of it) and to nose around the independent shops. For the kids it was the park in the downtown, it has a cafe so we went for a drink while the boys ran around and climbed trees. They would follow this up with some churros from the stands just outside the park.
Our first day trip was with my nephew Matt to the beach. There are at least two dozen beaches within a thirty-minute drive of Oviedo, and I guess eventually we will cover them all. Our first effort was at a place called Playa del Toro, around the area of Llanes. The beach was picturesque if a little small, but there was a great view from up top and the restaurant Mirador del Toro was very good.
The boys had their first taste of the Atlantic (brrrrr!) and I had my first taste of Merluza (yum)
If you do make it here you can have some lunch followed by a brisk walk, and if you don’t want to push the boat out take some sandwiches or go for the cafe next to the beach itself.
The next beach trip took us to the longest, and possibly most popular beach on the trip. The Playa de Rodiles is still long enough not feel the crowds too much which even in the height of summer are no comparison with the Costa del Sol type beaches. It also won the best beach for walking up and down/playing beach ball/having sandcastle long jump competitions awards. You can also get a bit of hunting for tiny shrimp net action.
It also has plenty of lifeguards, parking and a kiosk for buying ice cream and BEER….
We went for a day of beaches around the Cabo de Penas area and we couldn’t have found two more contrasting beaches in the space of 15 minute drive. The first was the wild (in the big scary wave sense of the word), but that didn’t put the kids off, who loved the waves, although it did mean I daren’t take my eyes of them for a second, you can see the Playa Tenrero/Verdicio amongst others here.
Our final beach spot on this trip was the best beach if you have really small kids as the water was really shallow, with the sea going right out at low tide to leave lots of warm water pools for toddlers to splash about. I wasn’t that keen as it was packed, but we caught a few tiny shrimp and the warm water pools were nice to dip your toes in I guess.
We followed the beach up with some lunch overlooking the ocean at the end of the peninsular, the food was acceptable and the climb around the rocks afterwards invigorating.
By the way if you read Spanish and want an exhaustive rundown of the beaches around the area I have just described then look no further.
The Concha de Artedo takes the prize not only for the prettiest beach but also the easiest approach and possibly most peaceful surroundings, so it has a lot to recommend it.
The beach has a pay-a-contribution car park about 10 minute walk away through some peaceful woods. The beach itself isn’t great on space, but it is tranquilo and the restaurant was GREAT as was the tattooed waitress. Oh and you can do a bit of clambering over rocks and ‘fishing’.
All in all this beach is a definite Arnie style “I’ll be back”, top of the list so far….AND you can combine it with a trip to Cudillero (see the ‘Towns’ section for more on this)
After a day at the beach we visited the nearby town of Llanes, and I think we will be back. Llanes is fit to burst with tourists, but it really is pretty, has plenty of Asturian edible goodies, and plenty of history. You could easily spend a day here and an overnight stay would be worth it as well…
The opposite way from Llanes (i.e. towards the West) is Cudillero, a VERY picturesque but sadly somewhat Disneyland feeling fishing village. The village is small and most of the action is around a couple of streets, with lots of bars and cafes.
You can also hang out in the harbour on the way into town and for fun look out for the weird tunnel that follows a ditch thingy through the mountain, that was the bit the kids most enjoyed I think, it’s just off the road to the right as you walk between the harbour and the town.
I’m not sure of Gijon counts as a town as such, it’s actually Asturias’ biggest city (though that’s not saying much). But call it what you want it has a fair amount of attractions any time of the year, and gets especially hopping during the Semana Negra in July.
Our trip to Gijon was really a visit to the aforementioned black week, a literary festival that has lots of stuff for non-literary types as well. But while we were waiting for festivities to get underway (at around 5pm), we had a nose around the Gijon railway museum, which was cool, although for some reason I now forget half the trip was taken up with a running battle between us and the kids and the kids and the guy that kept telling them not to touch anything. Come to think of it, why do they make museums with lots of things with handles on them and then expect kids to resist touching them…?
We didn’t get to the beach, or indeed around the old town either really, but I’m sure we’ll be back next year as it all looked quite enticing, and at a short drive or 30 minute train ride it’s got to be worth it.
So by fiveish we were raring to hit the festival which was in a nutshell, loads of lovely grub, from candy floss to full-on hog roast and cider loveliness passing by sea food delights and lots of churros. It was also cheap books, fellas with beards sitting around giving them a stroke and talking about identity in Latin American crime fiction etc. Add a big noisy Euro sapping funfair and live bands and you have what passes for a Spanish literary festival, a bloody loud one where you end up drunk and skint, BRILLIANT! Oh and it’s called the SEMANA Negra but lasts 10 days….
Lots of people come to Asturias for the walking, which can be from a stroll in rolling hills to some serious looking mountains. We tended to more of the former and here is what we have managed so far.
Our first walk was a ‘go out in the car and stop somewhere pretty looking’ effort, in this case that meant a drive out of Oviedo this way…. I basically stopped at the first brown sign I saw and we walked up….
This is what we found for our efforts, you will notice the kids were armed to the teeth with their Nerf Guns, which helped to keep them going at least until we got this far…
We then carried on to find the Senda del Oso, a walking and cycling path that runs through some really pretty countryside. You can find parking spots at various places on the route, we stopped at a spot run by Depor Aventuras, which had a run-of-the-mill bar and a pleasant picnic spot. You can also rent bikes here, or as the boys chose some go karts. This is also the place to visit the eponymous bears who live not 10 minutes walk away, but they are in massive enclosures so don’t expect to get too close.
I’m sure we will be back here next year, this time to try out some of the options like potholing or kayaking, watch this space.
Next we tried the famous Picos de Europa or at least a tiny corner of them. Again we will have to come back year after year to cover any of the park at all, but one step at a time 🙂
On this occasion we stopped at two spots, the first one because there were a few other people stopped, and the second because, well because the first one turned out to be a long walk to nowhere in particular.
It’s worth noting that the Picos get pretty packed in the Summer, at least the parts of it we could reach with the kids.
Still, at the second spot, which was obviously a really popular one, I managed to go for a walk around the lake with the boys and escape the crowds a bit, which they seemed to enjoy as much as me. The weather isn’t reliable up here of course so a waterproof might be useful, there are some spots that of course have a bar…this is Spain after all.
A less stressful walk is a sedate riverside (ish) stroll around the village of Pola de Somiedo near the entrance to yet another national park in Asturias.
Once you get to the village there is a selection of routes, we took the easiest another the river bank and we didn’t manage it all. Next year I think we might try and whole day run up to it.
There is a nice lady in the tourism office who will point you the right way for the path if you can’t find it.
Some Kid Friendly Stuff
This year the Jurassic Park reboot came out so it had to mean a trip to the dinosaur coast and more specifically Museo Jurasico de Asturias. The museum has indoor and outdoor bits, and it turned out that the day we went it was free (Wednesdays), which meant LOADS of people, so many in fact we didn’t bother to go inside, but spent and hour or so wandering around outside and letting the kids play in the playground. Not sure if we’ll bother with it next year, maybe inside is spectacular but the models outside are a bit meh….
We also had an afternoon of horse riding which was much less meh, but much more $$$$ at 80 Euros for an hour’s trek for the four of us…Still our guide was informative and knowledgeable, the horses were lovely as was the countryside….
The same horse riding company hooked us up with a kayaking crew in Villaviciosa. Again it wasn’t super cheap at 80 something Euro for a couple of hours with a guide. I doubled up with Danny and Lorena and Tommy had single Kayaks, when Tommy got tired the guide towed him in. It was a good trip with an enthusiastic young guide and some pleasant countryside. It was hard work for the kids in parts but that is not necessarily a bad thing and by the time we had finished Tommy at least had got the hang of it although at 6 Danny found it more more challenging.
As you can see from the photos everyone had a life jacket and the guys took us to the start point in a van.
Asturias 2016 Update
We had our second Summer in Asturias in 2016 and tried a few new things, which we’d like to share. Before that it’s worth mentioning that it was the first time we had spent two Summers in the same place two years running and we all thought that year two was better than year one. We had settled into the neighborhood in Oviedo more, got to know the people and felt like we had made friends. The ironic thing is that the catalysts for meeting people were both epic house fails. The first was that we got our electricity cut off for non-payment and couldn’t get re-connected for about 4 days. This meant we had to eat out (sandwiches and cereal got tired pretty quickly) and more importantly get out of the house in the evening, and where better to go than a bar! After a few nights of doing this, bingo we had become part of the neighborhood.
Here are some of the highlights of what we got up to on our 2016 trip 🙂
Fiesta del Cordero
If you’re staying in Oviedo and have a car I’d recommend this fiesta. You basically drive up a mountainside, eat a shed load of roast lamb, drink cider and listen to cheesy fiesta music, what’s not to love? There’s also some bag pipes to enjoy and a cracking view and if you have kids you can let them wander around to their hearts content. Check out the link on how to get there and when to go and I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking
More Adventure Stuff
The big draw this summer was more adventure stuff. This year we booked three activities through Rumbo a Picos an absolutely brilliant outfit with super guides and great locations. We did three activities, kayaking, baranquismo and caving, all three were great, with baranquismo coming out as the star of the show. The three activities came as part of a package for families, which you could spread over as much time as you wanted.
Cousin Bob was visiting for the kayak part of the activity which was down the Rio Cares, we got all the kit from the company including a packed lunch and we set off in two double canoes. The river was very scenic and even had a few bits of mild white water. We started off with a group of about 12 canoes, but the teams of Super Bob and Daring Dad soon pulled ahead. Chief dumb-ass moment was when we chose the wrong fork in the river (Tommy and Bob’s idea, who else), it looked more exciting (more white water) and the inevitable happened, everybody got very wet, although me and Danny avoided going in completely, anybody watching would undoubtedly have bust a gut laughing at our panicked attempts to keep the kayak the right way up.
The caving was just that, and the four of us did it with a group of lads from Madrid. This was the activity that needed the kids to listen to the guide the most, (to avoid injury, damage to the caves or to listen to explanations), and as a consequence was the most challenging for the boys. Still there was enough adventure for all and the guide was great and took no nonsense from the boys, so all we had to do was to tell him to put them in their place and he was happy to oblige….
It’s also worth a mention that we were all knackered by the time we got out of the caves and surprised by just what hard work it was
Baranquismo is basically sliding down a mountain stream on your arse. This is LOTS of fun. Again the guides made us feel say and made the thing loads of fun. My favourite part was when one found out that Lorena was a confident swimmer and spent the rest of the time dunking her fully under the water at every opportunity, hilarious!!! The group we went with were cool and the only word of caution is that it was hard work again, especially the walk back to the van! Danny was beginning to melt down by the time we got there, but overall the boys LOVED this trip. If anybody ever reads this and is contemplating going to a theme park, then do this instead, it is WAY, WAY, WAY better and is about the same price, but with no queues.
You may also spot from the photos that I was possible the least stylish of the four of us, although I also did a karate-kick jump into a pool of freezing water, just nobody took a photo…
Rock n’ Roll
We did some serious rocking and rolling in this trip. There was the side trip to Portugal to see Iron Maiden, then me and Tommy went to the Derrame Rock festival in Ovideo and finally the boys took drum lessons and Tommy took guitar lessons. Derrame Rock is for middle aged Spanish blokes into home-grown plod rock, so it was right up my street. We managed most of the festival which is in a cool venue, a picturesque square in a university in Gijon. Tommy’s lasting impression seems to have been the amount of weed being smoked by the old boys, we also got to meet the drummer from Los Suaves, as the organisers of the event were the same people the boys did their guitar and drums with. Unfortunately Los Suaves didn’t play as the night before the singer had fallen off another concert stage and was in hospital after having had one too many… ROCK N’ ROLL!
The music lessons were also quite successful and about a third of the price of their equivalent in Abu Dhabi. The teachers knew what they were doing and I saw improvements for both of them. Tommy reacted the best, maybe because of age or simply interest, also Danny struggled to understand the drum teacher’s Spanish at times. The guitar teacher was also in a cool band who we saw in Derrame Rock, so Tommy got to do some hero worshiping.
More Fun with the Cousins, Food, Booze, Villages and Walks
As I said Cousin Bob came to hang with us for a few days as did Cousin Matt, who caught the train up from Madrid. As well as the kayaking with Bob we had some good food in la Calle de la Sidra in Oviedo and the two of us popped out for a couple of drinks and met some delightful young people pictured below.
We did a drive or two and found a lost village with something like four permanent inhabitants (we met all of them I think), chanced upon a street market and walked part of the Senda del Oso (again), including a lunch stop in one of many merenderos in Asturias that I would whole-heartedly recommend. We also visited one of the prehistoric cave complexes in Northern Spain, it was fun and informative and the guides knew how to engage with the kids. The actual cave you go in is not the original so that take the sting out of it a bit but it was still fairly atmospheric.
We also went to visit some friends from Abu Dhabi from the small town near the border with Galicia. It was like something from the land that time forgot and if you like your countryside hardcore Deliverance Spanish style then this is a great spot. The boys had a fantastic time running around the foggy mountain. They found a litter of new born pups in a barn, then one of them (not one of mine, one of the neighbours), had the bright idea of starting up another neighbour’s tractor, which they couldn’t subsequently switch off. So they came bolting home to hide and await the wrath of the neighbour which never materialised, but watching their fear was a lot of fun.
Yulie and Samuel were brilliant hosts and we ate and drank constantly, in a way that only the Northern Spanish know how. Both of their moms were there and were also lovely.
Cousin Matt bought the rain with him, so there was some wet walking done. Still, we had a night out on the town which ended with us both on a park bench at God-knows-what-time-in the morning talking drivel. And of course there were plenty of good eats and double entendres abounded.
We also had a visit from our old mate Isabel, who is finally back in Asturias, so we had a schlep around town and another merendero, this one closer to Oviedo but still highly recommendable, with great food and Sidra and a bouncy castle (for the kids). I’d also like to comment on Tommy’s hair in this photo. I take FULL responsibility. This is the result of an actual hairdresser, all I can say is be very careful when choosing one in Oviedo. Still we almost wet ourselves laughing at the result and he took it in good humour (although he walked around with his hood up for the rest of the trip).
Another spot I would recommend in Oviedo is the Romanesque church overlooking the city, we didn’t do the tour which the boys would have found boring I think, but they loved rolling down the hill 🙂 you can also drive a bit further up and go for a pretty cool walk overlooking the town along a path popular with joggers and what not, just keep heading up…
Asturias 2017 Update
This was our third and maybe final year in Asturias, I say final not because we don’t think it’s fabulous, but it’s just that so many other places are as well, so we might rent the flat out and see what else there is to do in the Summer.
Anyway this year we also did some other stuff, like send the kids on a Summer camp to Salamanca and travel around Galicia a bit, both of which I’ve blogged about elsewhere. Of course this had the effect of leaving us less time at “home”. We also found ourselves revisiting a lot of our favourite places, beaches, restaurants, villages and the like and I don’t want to use this space to go over already trodden ground.
So this short entry will include a couple of other day trips we did round about including one honourable mention for a revisit to the first beach we went to with Matt back in 2015. So I only mention Playa Toro because I got some nice snaps of the kids on their boogie boards and because we also met up with Isabel and went for a little drive around the area which turned out to be pretty nice.
This year was also notable for a couple of drive around and see what happens, that turned out rather well…
The first was when hunger set in on the way home from somewhere and we pulled off the road about 4 times looking for some grub. As I have said before on this blog, in Spain you need to do things Spanish times, which means looking for food before 9pm can be tough. We had almost resigned ourselves to a piece of toast at home when we found a place that gave us this to eat…
This is called a Cachopo, and in this case it was a XXL cachopo….it turns out the place we had found was a well known sidreria (de toda la vida) near Nava which is right in the heart of Asturian cider country. So the waiter did tell us this would be enough for the four of us, what he failed to mention was that it was enough for the four of us for about four days. With the best will in the world I couldn’t manage more than a corner as did the kids as Lorena. So they bagged the rest up and very nice it was the next day too, and the day after….
The sidreria also had a big garden with a trampoline and friendly natives. So after gorging ourselves senseless we ended up chatting and drinking MORE cider (me that is) until it was the proper Spanish dinner time….
The boys made a friend as well…
The other drive until you can’t drive no more days, washed us up in Villamayor, up a mountain without a clue. We stopped the car in the 10 houses that constitute the village and started on foot. After a few minutes of vertical walking one of the local ladies poked her head over the garden wall and tempted the kids in with chocolate and coke (it worked for me too). We spent 20 minutes or so being interrogated before we carried on up the path. The walk proper was through lovely countryside with not a soul in site. We did meet a donkey though…
On the way back through the village we had to run the gauntlet again, only this time it included the woman’s brother and a neighbour. This time it took even longer to get away, although we weren’t in too much of a hurry. They also sent us away with a box of their eggs. Lorena insists that next time we’re in Asturias we will return the favour and take them something in return, let’s hope they’re still breathing when we get there…
It’s also worth mentioning there is a water fountain in the village, so remember to take some water bottles, apparently it’s quite the thing to come and fill up, and ‘yes’ the water did taste better.