Asturias is an awesomely beautiful northern region of Spain. A magical place where Western Europe’s few remaining brown bears roam in ancient territory still dotted with the footprints left by Jurassic dinosaurs 150 million years ago.
Sandwiched between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Mountains, Asturias is one of the Iberian Peninsula’s best-kept secrets.
The majestic Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) national park attracts walkers from all over the world and some of its better-known trails could almost be called crowded in August. But the rest of the region remains relatively untouched by modern tourism and the ravages of man, both of which have combined to blight some of Spain’s other areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The region’s unpredictable weather is a major deterrent to the development of mass-market tourism – average temperatures are generally only slightly higher than those in the South of England and rain can be expected at any time of the year. The close proximity of the Cantabrian mountains to the sea means this small region has a number of different microclimates and habitats which enable a huge diversity of flora and fauna to flourish. The towering peaks, gorges, valleys, fertile plains and coastline of Asturias are home to a variety of plant life unrivalled anywhere in Western Europe. These diverse habitats are also home to wild wolves, chamois, a unique species of fallow deer, Golden Eagles and a special breed of Celtic mountain pony known as the Asturcon.
Traditional farming methods are still widely practised throughout Asturias and the region’s remote mountain villages safeguard a way of life which has hardly changed for centuries. The village of Bulnes, in the Picos de Europa, was only accessible by mule track until the year 2000 when its splendid isolation came to an end with the opening of a new funicular railway.
Much evidence of prehistoric man’s existence in Asturias has been uncovered in numerous cave paintings and burial chambers found throughout the region. Some of these important archaeological finds date back more than 100,000 years. The caves of Tito Bustillo near the pretty fishing port of Ribadesella are a popular visitor attraction with their prehistoric depictions of deer and horses. There are beautiful, unspoilt beaches along this stretch of coastline and the town of Ribadesella is a good place to enjoy the cider bars which are so popular in Asturias.
The coastline between Ribadesella and Gijon has some of the most important Jurassic dinosaur fossils and footprints in the world. Dino-devotees should make tracks for the La Griega Beach where the fascinating Jurassic Museum is built in the shape of a dinosaur footprint.
An ancient trail which has drawn pilgrims to the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela for more than 1,000 years is the famous Santiago Way which passes through Asturias and has been declared a World Heritage Site and Europe’s first ‘Cultural Itinerary’.
The churches and monuments in and around Oviedo, the ancient capital of Asturias, represent another collective World Heritage site. The city’s crowning glory is its imposing gothic Cathedral, built between the 13th and 16th centuries. It houses many holy relics including the revered ‘Sudarium’ which, according to legend and some scientific studies, was the cloth used to wipe and cover the face of Jesus after the crucifixion.
Important places in Asturias
The region’s capital, located more or less at its geographical centre, is especially remarkable for its pre-romantic monuments and its great Cathedral.
This historic city, founded by the Romans, is today one of the most important sea-ports and offers active cultural life.
One of the oldest settlements of the Cantabric area, and although of high economical importance, has preserved as well its traditional style.