Asturias is one of the least explored and most beautiful regions in Spain. Located in the glorious north on the Costa Verde (Green Coast), Asturias is situated to the east of Galicia and west of Cantabria and Basque Country. This is about as different a Spain as you could imagine. Far from flamenco, paella, sherry and bull fighting, Asturias is a lush and misty region that quite resembles Ireland. The rugged coast is achingly beautiful, punctuated with coves and cliffs between its charming and colorful fishing villages such as Tazones, Cudillero, Luarca, and Llanes. The bagpipes are regularly practiced by college students in the region´s city squares. And whereas olive oil is de rigeur throughout the rest of Spain, butter is the norm here (you will see cows everywhere!). Asturias is a treasure trove for artisan cheeses. The Picos de Europa mountains, straddling Asturias and Cantabria, are a magnificent area to discover some of Spain´s best scenery and hiking. Not to mention fabulous country cuisine like heavenly fabada, a butter bean slow-cooked stew. Asturias is also home to some of the most captivating pre-Romanesque churches in Europe such as the sublime Santa Maria del Naranco. While in Asturias, there are two things you cannot miss under any circumstances- cabrales and cider!
Cabrales is a delicious blue cow´s milk based cheese (blended with goat and sheep milk), similar in production to Roquefort, and made in Asturias. Cabrales is considered to be one of the best blue cheeses in the world, alongside Gorgonzola and the aforementioned Roquefort. The artisan producers are governed by the Consejo Regulador board, established in 1981 with the appellation as a quality control. The cheeses are matured in caves with an approximate humidity of 90% and natural ventilation aided by the “soplaos” (currents of air that naturally circulate the cuevas, translates as “breaths”). This cheese pairs magically with late harvest wines, Muscats/ Moscatos and sweeties like PX (Pedro Ximenez sherry). Another common way of using it is in sauces to top savory steaks (like chuletón). You can visit a cheese cave as part of a gourmet walking tour in the hills in Arenas del Cabrales (we set this up for guests). In this same village, located right in the Picos de Europa Mountains, the Cabrales Cheese Fiesta and Competition, called the Feria del Cabrales”, takes place on the last Sunday in August (so this summer it falls on August 31). You´ll be able to see the ancient cheese-making process, check out folkloric tournaments, and parades, and of course enjoy tastings of Cabrales.
Cider, called Sidra in Spanish, is produced all over the north. In Asturias the main centers of production and apple orchards are around the towns of Nava and Villaviciosa, and also close to the city of Gijòn. After pressing the apples, they ferment naturally and then mature for about 5 months until bottling. The alcohol content varies but is usually about 5-6 %, similar to some beers. “Sidra” is also effervescent due to the natural yeasts present, but except for a few cases of cheap cider imitations, Spanish cider is not carbonated. . Cider bars in Asturias are called a “Chigre”, whereas in the rest of Spain they are called a “Sidreria”. The cider houses where this delicious drink is produced are called “llagars” and a few of them can be visited. The funnest part of cider tasting in Asturias is being served your drink. A trained “escanciador”, or cider server, takes the bottle with the right hand and lifts the arm above the head. With a straight back and a serious expression on the face, the escanciador pours the cider from about 2 feet up in the air into the special glass, without missing and hitting the floor (which is what will happen when you try to do this!). The objective is to “break” the cider in the glass, giving it a quick injection of air bubbles, and you should drink the cider immediately after pouring. Good brands of Sidra include Gaitero and Fanjul.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE- The coastal villages of Llanes and Cudillero are a must. There are countless, splendid beaches along the Asturian coastline, including Playa de La Ballota, Playa de la Vega, Playa de Rodiles, and the la Playa del Silencio. Oviedo, the cultural capital, is a delightful small city whose biggest fan is Woody Allen. The pleasant seaside city of Gijón holds an annual international film festival. While quite touristy, history buffs should head to Covadonga, nicknamed “Cradle of the Reconquest”. 2008 is also a jubilee holy year for the Sanctuary of Covadonga and thousands of Catholic pilgrims will be visiting this year. Of course for nature lovers and hikers, Asturias is a natural paradise.
WHERE TO STAY- Asturias has many quaint hotels and some of our favorite little boutique gems for special stays in Asturias include: The “El Habana” in Llanes, “Casona de la Paca” in Cudillero, “El Babu” in Caravia and the newly inaugurated beautiful 5* Palacio de Luces near the pretty fishing village of Lastres.
WHERE TO EAT- for hearty country cooking, it´s impossible to get a bad fabada in Asturias. For more refined meals, check out the gourmet hub of Arriondas at Casa Marcial and El Corral del Indianu. A few miles from Oviedo you have L´Alezna with star chef Pedro Martino and Casa Gerardo in Prendes near Gijón is great for high end dining. In case you haven´t heard of the gregarious Asturian celebrity TV chef and restaurateur (in the USA) José Andrés, check out his great website, full of interesting info on him, on Spain, on cuisine, Asturias and much more.
INTERESTING- Read about Asturian migration to the USA
Puxa Asturies, Viva Asturias!