Have you ever heard of Oviedo? I’m guessing, probably not. What about Asturias? Did you know that this is a province in Northern Spain, and Oviedo is its capital city?
Maybe I’m wrong and you’re a geography buff, or maybe you remember this place being featured in Woody Allen’s movie, “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona,” as the lusty getaway.
I was clueless about this destination, and now consider our visit there, as the BEST kind of luck. When Dan and I began planning our move to Spain, our visa required that we enter the country in July, but our new home was not going to be available until August 16th. We found our least expensive flight to Barcelona on July 17th, and began to plan a month of exploration to fill the gap. The beginning of our trip with five days in Barcelona and ten in Mallorca was formulated without effort, thanks to cheap flights and the generosity of Peter, who let us stay in his house in the Balearics,… but where to next? The tricky part was that Dan was not on holiday. For the most part, he had to work full-time. For this reason, we did not want to be moving around a lot, dragging our massive luggage around the country.
Back in Oregon, beaches were all I could think about. I imagined that we’d find a little apartment or tiny casa by the coast, and that I would spend the days hanging out on the playa with Stella and Gabriel, while Dan typed away. He also dreamed of daily dips in the sea, and sandy strolls. I soon discovered how generic our dreams were, because everybody has the same idea come August. I spent hours searching the web for that perfect Spanish seaside town, ideally near Costa del Sol, with my jaw dropping at the inflated prices and lack of accommodation availability. Two weeks on the playa was not going to be a possibility for our budget. I also learned how the temperatures would be blistering, a reality of Andalusian summers, and the beaches crowded with foreigners. “Maybe we should rethink this,” I thought.
It was a recommendation from our Spanish friend, Gisel, that made me consider the north. She explained how perfect and mild the weather could be, in this region which is plagued by rain the rest of the year. I started googling Northern Spain, and soon discovered a love letter to Oviedo and Asturias, written on the Young Adventuress blog. Her photos, coupled with her enthusiasm and praise of this region, immediately grabbed my interest, but when I found nonstop flights from Mallorca to Asturias for less than $100, and reasonable accommodation prices, I was sold.
With little prior knowledge, we committed to nine nights in Oviedo, and left wishing for more time.
Oviedo is beautiful. It sits in a green valley surrounded by mountains, forty minutes inland from the Atlantic Ocean and its string of picturesque fishing villages and historic cities, like Gijon. To the east are the famed Picos de Europa (Spain’s version of the Swiss Alps), and just outside the dense city perimeter are pre-Romanesque architectural treasures, such as the Santa Maria del Naranco and the church San Miguel de Lillo.
What about Oviedo enamored me?
- Its classy beauty represented by turn of the century architecture, a well-preserved old, city center, elegant parks, pedestrian shopping ways, and cleanliness.
Here are photos of the main Plaza de Alfonso II and the Cathedral de San Salvador:
Another day we toured the Government building of the Principality of Asturias:
- Its evident appreciation for the arts, which included an abundance of outdoor sculptures and statues, and an amazing Museo de Bellas Artes (free to the public!) and Archeological Museum.
- The food! Most notable were the fabada (a broad bean stew flavored with chunks of chorizo, bacon and blood sausage), cachopo (a thin cut of meat, usually pork, which was breaded and stuffed with cheese and jamon), pulpo (octopus, fried or grilled, but always tender), and the best sweet and tangy dessert in years – a creamy concoction served in a jar layered with strawberry jelly.
- Hard cider – this is the land of alcoholic apple cidra. The bottles are large and green and the price is right. A ritual has developed around the serving of this drink which requires skill. First, the waiter turns his back on you, then he holds your glass low, raises the bottle high, and begins to pour, without aiming by sight! He must “sense” the correct placement of the glass so that he does not spill too much on the floor. All this effort creates the perfect amount of bubbles for a single sip, and must be repeated every time you want to take another drink. We found that waiting for the waiter to make his rounds kept us from over imbibing. Good trick.
- The people. It has been over a month since our time North, and it is the people who made the biggest imprint. Especially, Montse, her husband, David, and their daughters, Ana and Julia. We met this family and many of their friends and extended family through Stella and Gabriel. Our first night in Oviedo, Dan and I were exhausted, having been up since 3:30 AM to get from Mallorca to Asturias. We were in bed by nine, a shocking time to Spaniards. The kids however were fully awake, yet trapped in their room to while away the time. They opened the doors of their balcony, which overlooked a dining plaza, and began speaking with the children playing below. This was a difficult process because Stella and Gabriel didn’t know much Spanish, and the other kids didn’t know much English. Despite this road block, they found a way to communicate, engaging parents to translate and throwing notes with questions back and forth. They tell us that they were up until past midnight. By the end of their fun, they had arranged a meet up for the next night, same place and time, with us. So began a warm friendship…
We got together with Montse and her friends multiple times, and they shared their culture and stories with us, treated us to local tapas and cidra, made recommendations for our time in their region, and took us on a hike through the hillsides. I can only hope for the opportunity to repay their generosity and kindness. It’s these types of friendships that make traveling worth it. We learned more about Spain by sharing our life than we would have ever understood on our own, and saw a side of Oviedo that might otherwise have been missed.
(This entry focuses on the city and its beauty, but my next will showcase all of the side trips we took from there.)