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Spain’s best-kept secret

With rolling meadows leading down to beautiful beaches, elegant and animated seaside towns, and a thriving regional culture coupled with a distinctive history, Asturias is the beating heart of northern Spain

Cuddling up to the Bay of Biscay in the middle of Spain’s northern coast is a region that locals claim is the last bastion of true Spanish culture. Its mountains tower watchfully over rugged coastlines that are punctuated by colourful fishing ports and hundreds of pristine beaches. In contrast to the parched plains of the south, the green land, mountain streams and ocean views here are a tonic. Hiking trails wend their way to an altitude of 2,500 metres, passing through rich vegetation and forests inhabited by beguiling wildlife. is is the essence of Asturias: arguably Spain’s most diverse destination, with a characterful landscape that has remained unchanged across the centuries.

Rustic villages and pre-Romanesque architecture sit side-by-side with the contemporary culture that characterises the capital, Oviedo; and the meditative hush of the valleys is occasionally broken by the zealous clamour of local fiestas. Yet this region remains a secret hideaway in comparison to more touristy locations beside the Mediterranean. A trip to Spain’s coastal flipside will convince you there’s much more on offer than just sun and sand.

Playa de Gulpiyuri near Llanes was declared a natural monument in 2001

Stylish Cities

The cities of Asturias give an insight into the history that made the region what it is today. Take a whistle-stop tour of its three major urban hubs: Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés

Oviedo is the capital of the principality and its compact size belies the fact it is bursting at the seams with monuments, museums, restaurants and a cathedral. It holds a special place in the region’s history, as this was the last stronghold against the Moorish occupation of Spain in the eighth century. Founded in 761, the city is renowned for its pre-Romanesque architecture, with examples such as the Cathedral of San Salvador and the Monastery of San Vicente standing testament to the distinctive Asturian style, recognised by its Gothic detailing and golden decorative embellishments.

But Oviedo is not a city that rests on its former glory: a quick glance around and you’ll see resplendent modern edifices such as the Congress Palace. Designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, the spectacular geometric structure makes for a remarkable sight. Meanwhile, downtown, you’ll also find a series of modern sculptures by a number of new and illustrious artistic talents.

Cosmopolitan comforts are not far away either. In town, enjoy rustic tradition at the Mercado El Fontán, Oviedo’s colourful 19th-century food market packed with meats, fish, fruit and veg. Take a pit stop in Dos de Azúcar, a homely café near the market calling out with a tempting range of teas, extra-thick hot chocolate and sweet treats. On a special evening, dine out at Gloria. Two-Michelin-starred Asturian chef Nacho Manzano is the resident culinary genius of this elegant food house, which is exquisitely decorated in a monochrome palette.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - January 2017
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