12 Reasons We Have to Share Spain's Best-Kept Secret, Asturias

Picturesque fishing villages, such as Cudillero, are dotted along the coast of Asturias
Picturesque fishing villages, such as Cudillero, are dotted along the coast of Asturias | © Raul Garcia Herrera / Alamy Stock Photo
Esme Fox

Asturias may be one of Spain’s lesser known regions but there are many reasons to visit this beautiful landscape, found on the northern coast between Cantabria and Galicia. From the incredible scenery to its Unesco Biosphere Reserves, the delicious cheese and stunning coastline, here are 12 reasons why we just have to share Spain’s best-kept secret.

The incredible scenery

Asturias looks out onto the Bay of Biscay on one side, with mountains on the other; part of Green Spain, in the northeast, it’s always verdant, unlike some of the more desert-like landscapes of southern regions such as Andalucia. So there’s a lot of scenery to take in.

The Picos de Europa, in Asturias, has some of the best hiking trails in Europe

The tasty dairy products

Asturias is renowned for its dairy products, particularly milk, cheese and yoghurts, and has even earned the nickname of Pais de Quesos, Land of Cheeses. One of the most popular is cabrales – a blue-veined cheese made from a mixture of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. There’s even a cheese route you can follow, to visit dairy farms and see how it gets made, including how it’s aged in ancient cheese caves.

The charming city of Oviedo

The capital of Asturias is the delightful city of Oviedo, with many historic monuments, churches and charming medieval quarter. It’s lively and elegant, with lots of restaurants and places for shopping, as well as a few museums and palaces to visit.

The historic central square in Oviedo is home to the gothic cathedral of San Salvador

The traditional cider

Asturias is the cider capital of Spain, but the Spanish variety may be a little different to the cider you’re used to. It’s cloudy and flat, rather than clear and sparkling, and it’s not overly sweet, more tart and crisp. Look out for the sidrerias, or cider houses, where you can taste it straight from the barrel and watch it being served in the traditional way – poured from a great height. Take a look at our article on everything you need to know about Spanish cider to learn more.

The excellent hiking opportunities

Asturias is a great region for hiking, thanks to its natural parks. One of the best places to test your new boots is the Picos de Europa National Park, which covers Asturias, Castilla y León and Cantabria. With everything from deep valleys and vast gorges to rivers and limestone mountains, this is one of Spain’s most scenic hikes.

The river Cares has sculpted a giant gorge through the centre of the Picos de Europa range, resulting in some spectacular hiking trails

The lively city of Gijón

The city of Gijón, on the coast, is the biggest city in Asturias. It may lack the charm of nearby hilltop villages or coastal towns, but it is a lively cultural hub full of seafront promenades, beaches, pedestrian streets and squares packed with restaurants and bars. As you wander along the many pretty streets you’ll find plenty of museums and monuments of Roman architecture, including a mightily impressive Roman wall dating back to the third century.

The picturesque coastline

Asturias boasts a gorgeous coastline overlooking the Bay of Biscay. You’ll find quaint fishing villages and beautiful beaches every few miles. In fact, two of northern Spain’s best seaside towns to visit are in Asturias – Lastres and Cudillero. If you’re here in summer and want somewhere to soak up the sun, head to Playa Rodiles near Villaviciosa, Playa de la Griega in Lastres, or Playa de Santa Marina in Ribadesella.

Some of the best traditional Asturian architecture can be seen in Lastres, on the east coast of Asturias

The Unesco World Heritage and Biosphere sites

The Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias, made up of six ninth-century buildings, is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, while the region is also home to six incredible Unesco Biosphere Reserves, rich in wildlife and natural beauty that promote sustainability, biodiversity and conservation. For brown bears and oak trees in the hundreds, head to Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña e Ibias Nature Park. There’s also the impressive River Eo at Oscos-Eo, while Redes Natural Park has a range of glacial formations worth visiting, and the mountainous Picos de Europa is home to the Iberian wolf.

The varied and delicious cuisine

Asturias, like most Spanish regions, has its own cuisine, characterised by its hearty stews, seafood and dairy products. A typical dish is fabada Asturiana, a thick stew made from white beans, Asturian sausage, black pudding, pork and bacon, flavoured with saffron. Fish stew and arroz con leche (rice pudding) are also popular dishes – and don’t forget the cheese.

Fabada Asturiana is a traditional regional stew – and let’s not forget the cheeses

The ancient cave art

Asturias is one of the few places in Spain that is home to ancient rock and cave art. There are five caves in the Comarca de Oriente area that contain remarkable ancient art: the Tito Bustillo Cave in Ribadesella, the Cave of Candamo in Candamo, the Cave of La Covaciella in Las Estazadas, Cave of Llonín in Peñamellera Alta and the Cave del Pindal in Cape San Emeterio. Most of the paleolithic rock art here dates back to between 35,000 and 11,000 BCE.

The Dinosaur Coast

Ancient history is rife here in Asturias, and the coastline between Gijón and Ribadesella is known as the Dinosaur Coast thanks to the number of fossilised dinosaur footprints and bones found here, which date back around 150m years. To find out more about the dinosaurs here, visit the Museo del Jurásico de Asturias in the village of Colunga, one of the best dinosaur museums in Europe.

Ancient dinosaur footprints can be seen on dry mud along the beaches of Gijón and Ribadesella

The fascinating museums

You may think that Asturias is only for outdoor pursuits, but it also has plenty of excellent museums. As well as the Museo del Jurásico de Asturias, you have the Fine Arts Museum of Asturias, where you’ll find works from Picasso, Dalí and Goya, and the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, the best place to learn about this land’s ancient history.

The old churches of Villaviciosa

If you’re a fan of old churches and charming architecture then head to the town of Villaviciosa. The main church in town is the Iglesia de Santa María de la Oliva, but stroll around the area and you’ll find a number of architectural gems, such as the Parroquia de San Juan de Amandi and the Capilla de la Concepción de la Torre.

The town of Villaviciosa is filled with historic architecture like the charming Iglesia de San Salvador de Valdediós

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