Official UK partner to the Paradors, Pousadas, Pestana Hotels & Resorts, Les Collectionneurs (Chateaux), and European Hotels Collection. Keytours International, formerly Keytel International, your agent in the UK.
Lorna Roberts is undoubtedly a Parador expert having explored every nook and cranny of Spain and visiting almost all of the Paradors throughout her experience as their Irish Agent and leading numerous escorted tours across Spain using these wonderful hotels.
Here she shares her knowledge of the verdant region of Asturias and its Paradors:
ASTURIAS (along with neighbouring Cantabria) are is in the centre of “Green Spain” on the North coast between the sea and the Cordillero Cantabrico, the mountain range which stretches from the Pyrenees to Galicia in the West. They are both autonomous regions although each consists of only one province.
A motorway, the “Autovia del Cantabrico” runs parallel to the coast with spectacular views of the majestic mountains, the green rural countryside and the deep blue sea. Off the motorway the old road winds up and down valleys through small villages where the brightly coloured houses and traditional stone houses all have well-kept gardens growing every imaginable vegetable and all appear to have a lemon tree, an orange tree, a palm tree, an occasional vine and a prickly pear – all assumed to be found further south but flourishing here. However the main crop is apples, grown to produce the cider for which Asturias is so famous. Every small town has its sidreria, and most restaurants call themselves “Restaurante y Sidreria”, where the waiters love to show off the art of pouring cider from a great height!
The coastal CAMINO DE SANTIAGO enters Spain in the Basque country and then follows the coast all the way to Santiago de Compostela, passing through the coastal towns and along the beaches in Asturias and Cantabria. I met two ladies walking on the Camino and they said that they were astonished how different all the beaches are.
AIRPORTS: There are flights to Santander and Bilbao, and to the small airport at Asturias from the UK.
TRAIN: The Trans Cantabrian Railway is a narrow gauge luxurious railway which follows the North coast from the French border through Cantabria and Asturias to Galicia
FERRIES: from Portsmouth and Plymouth sail to Santander.
ASTURIAS is a principality as Spain’s heir to the throne traditionally takes the title Prince or Princess of Asturias. In the centre of the region is a triangle of three very different large towns. OVIEDO is the capital of the region and has an interesting historic centre while Aviles is the hub of most of the industry in the area and Gijón, a resort which has built up around the old town and a long sandy beach, is the coastal capital. On either side of this triangle is some of Spain’s finest scenery with expanses of green fields dotted with pretty villages, eucalyptus forests, nature reserves, and rivers reaching the sea as wide estuaries beside golden beaches.
A feature of most of the homesteads is the square barn built on stilts, very often with corn hanging out to dry. These are different from the horreos in neighbouring Galicia where the barns are rectangular with crosses on them to show that the grain has been blessed.
The Asturians pride themselves on their cuisine as fresh fish is brought in daily to Gijón and many smaller ports, and the green fields give excellent grazing for cows, goats and sheep, so that roast meats are a specialty, along with Cabrero, the local cheese. Most famous is La Fabada, the bean stew for which connoisseurs will travel to Asturias from all over Spain.
In Asturias many of the beaches are isolated and reached by following sandy tracks out of villages, and the tourist towns, such as Ribadesella, Llanes, Calonga and Villaviciosa have developed tastefully with villas and carefully planned new houses alongside their beautiful beaches Gijón, on the other hand, is a lively resort with high rise buildings lining the promenade alongside the long beach which stretches from the church on the headland in the old town at the western end to the Isabel La Catolica Park at the eastern end. The estuary at Villaviciosa is a favourite spot for birdwatchers as it attracts a huge variety of birds. Around the town of Ribadesella is the Jurassic coast with its dramatic rock formations, and all along the coast are small harbours, marinas and sandy beaches. There are more than twenty superb beaches between Colunga in the west and Llanes in the east of Asturias.
Three kilometres from the small town of CANGAS DE ONIS is the restored convent of San Pedro de Villanueva on the banks of the River Sella in the foothills of the Picos de Europa. This has been beautifully converted into a Parador with a tasteful modern extension joined to the old building by a glass conservatory. It has its own church leading off the cloister where Mass is said on Sunday and is very popular for weddings. A path runs alongside the river connecting the Parador to Cangas de Onis in one direction and downstream to Arriondes a centre for canoeing and white water rafting. The river continues its journey to reach the sea at the lovely town of Ribadesella.
In GIJÓN the Parador is set in a tranquil corner of the Isabel La Catolica Park, a 100-year-old mill close to the San Lorenzo beach and the town centre. Typical of Paradors in large towns it has an extensive bar menu with a selection of tapas. The bar has an entrance off the street to cater for local trade and tourists in the town.
The Parador de Corias is located in the south west of Asturias close to Cangas del Narcea and the Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña e Ibias Natural Park. This beautiful Parador occupies an 11th-century benedictine monastery making excellent use of the architectural space to combine historic masonry with contemporary décor. You can relax in the spa complete with leisure pool, treatment rooms and gym.
I have to give a special mention to RIBADESELLA, a small town and harbour on the Asturian coast, which seems to have everything to offer. This fishing port has many restaurants serving local seafood, and sidrerias lining the waterfront, behind which is the old town around the Plaza Mayor and church. The main beach, the PLAYA DE SANTA MARINA lies between two headlands on one of which is a lighthouse and on the other is the Hermitage of La Guia. Below the lighthouse the Jurassic coastline has extraordinary rock formations and evidence of the early settlements in the town can be seen at the TITO BUSTILLO caves with some of the best examples of pre-historic cave paintings.
The RIVER SELLA flows from the mountains into the wide sheltered estuary and reaches the sea alongside the beach dividing the town into two parts – the harbour and promenade leading from the town to the hermitage on one side, and the seafront on the other backed by villas and mansions as reminders of colonial days. At the end of the beach there has been some new development in recent years but this has been carefully planned so is not an eyesore, and with no ugly high-rise there is a feeling that the people care about their town. An interesting feature is a series of six murals along the promenade depicting life in Asturias from prehistoric times to the modern day.
PLAYA DE VEGA, a large surfing bay, and many small rocky coves are all close to the town, and only a short distance inland are roads leading into the Picos de Europa mountains and the lakes of Covadonga.
The Picos de Europa were declared the first National Park in Spain in 1918 with total protection. There are also many nature reserves and natural parks all over Asturias, notably the marshes and wetlands at Villaviciosa in Asturias, all are favourites with birdwatchers as they attract many migrating birds in Spring and Autumn.
In Asturias a small course at Berbes, near Ribadesella, has recently been extended to become an 18-hole course with stunning views of both the mountains and the sea. Other courses are at Llanes and near Gijón
If you are interested in escorted tours to the Paradors, please contact us. Lorna can tell you virtually everything there is to know about the Paradors of Spain, and she will be very happy to arrange all your booking requirements.