Destination of the Day: Asturias


IMG_4824If Spain was a turnip, Asturias would be the green shoots at the top, as far removed from Flamenco and bull fighting as it is from us.

It is as Celtic as west Kerry, with higher mountains than its neighbours, sculpted against the Biscayan version of the Atlantic, glens and crags and some of the best food on the peninsula.

So Celtic, in fact, that Asturias turned up at this year’s Festival Interceltique as the seventh Celtic nation (Galicia as the eighth). They have their own pipes, and judging by the museum in Teverga, Manuel Fernandez Delgado is their version of Willie Clancy and Diamantina Rodríguez is their Mary O’Hara.

The province has an influential celebrity fan in Woody Allen, who shot parts of Vicky Cristina Barcelona in Avilés and Oviedo. They have celebrated this and his kind quotes about the province. They also have a famous camino path to Santiago.

The Irish, to date, have tended to stick to the south on their Camino-quest, through Bourgas and other centres in Castille-Leon.

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San_Miguel_de_Lillo_Oviedo_AsturiasAsturias is a far cry from the laminated menus flaunting Eu6.99 egg and chips meals.

The price differential applies to everything. Beer is cheaper. Food is cheaper. Golf is cheaper, and they have 18 great courses. Rooms are cheaper in every category, they have 30,700 beds, eight five star, 58 four star and 159 three star.

For this you get access to the most Spanish of Spanish provinces, far removed from Flamenco and bull fighting but offering something equally rich, diverse and astonishing and unknown.

A round of drinks at the little bar down the road costs six euro, Bar Jardin Las Caldas. You would pay that for a glass of wine on the Costa. The five star is okay but if you want atmosphere, a generous vino tinto and a snack and a chat about local soccer star Juan Mata or Kevin Moran’s days at Sporting Gijon head 50 metres down the road to the corner ristorante, past the beautifully high forehead pre-Romanesque churches that pop up on the side of the mountainy road or even in the suburbs of Oviedo, such as the stunning San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco on the Naranco mount.

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IMG_4791Lorena Diaz shows us round the Talasatoerapia centre in Gijon, celebrating each feature with an excited smile, guiding us to the dark relaxation pools, hot and cold running treatments, and basins of hungry garra rufa fish to nibble dead flesh from your toes. Fish pedicure has its tail-fin of controversy but this felt good.

At lunch in Sidrerías Tierra Astur restaurant in Gijon we sample 35 of the 40 different types of cheeses found in Asturias. The signature cheese, Cabrales, is matured in a natural cave for three months. Two bites and you KNOW it is worth the trouble.

Las Caldas Villa Termal, 8 km from Oviedo, is an epic five star with huge rooms, stunning plaster work and gilded mirrors. The hotel was converted in 2008, and uses the healing waters of its own thermal spring.

Evening ends with a massage, as these things do, muscles melting under the firm grip of a masseuse.

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IMG_4789Asturias offers great wine, frothy local cider, astonishing hams, angula (baby eels plucked from where the river meets the ocean), eccentric spicy sausages, bean-based meals and cheese, all at two thirds of the prices you pay a couple of hours down the motorway.

The journey starts well, a lunch stop at an ancient converted convent Hotel Don Paco, swarthy hams and Beronia wine topped off with a blast of Aguardiente de Orujo that would put hairs on a bear’s chest. Bears are a thing around here, you see.

The night stop is in Casona La Paca where dinner consists of delicious monkfish. For a song to end the evening, ask for the anthem, Asturias Patria Queria, sung as passionately as the Banks would be my any Corkperson.

So far their song has not been heard beyond their own mountains. More Irish people go to Santa Ponsa in a week than go to Asturias in a year.

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Eoghan Corry was hosted in Asturias by the Spanish Tourist Board and Asturian regional Tourism. Access is through Santander direct from Dublin or through Madrid to Asturias airport.

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