We’ve just arrived home after one of the best holidays we’ve ever been on. But I don’t want to tell you about it.
Asturias in northern Spain is so beautiful and so unspoilt, and so un-touristy that I don’t want the secret to get out. It’s the very definition of a “best kept secret” destination and while I don’t understand why it’s not as busy as the Barcelonas and Sevilles of the world, I want it to stay undiscovered, and all mine. Selfish!
But like a good blogger, I’ll give you a few highlights – just promise you won’t tell anyone else!
We first discovered Oviedo last year when the Mr bought some shares in Real Oviedo – the local football club. Before then, I’d never heard of the city. I took the idea of a trip to see a match and ran with it though. Once we picked the game we wanted to see, I planned us a 5 day tour of northern Spain, taking in the Rioja wine region, Oviedo and Bilbao. I usually pack out our schedules on holidays, so three destinations in 5 days seemed just fine – and at that stage, Oviedo was the bit I was the least excited about – I’d never heard of the place, and the other two stops were a wine region (yes please!) and the home of the utterly bonkers Guggenheim museum.
And then we loved Oviedo! Looking back on last year’s visit after spending a week there this year, I can’t work out why we fell in love with it last time – we had barely scratched the surface – but clearly we saw just enough to work out that we had to go back and get to know it better.
Last year we stayed in the Ayre hotel, which is over near the stadium – perfect for watching a match. It’s a bit… eccentric (!), but the rooms were nice and clean, and it’s on top of a big shopping centre so it worked for me.
This year we decided we wanted to change things up though – our plan was to catch the game on the Friday, so we didn’t need to stay near the stadium all week. We had briefly visited “cider street” Calle Gascona last year, and liked the atmosphere (let’s go with atmosphere, not just the cider!) so we knew we’d like to be a little closer to that end of town.
After studying Airbnb like we were preparing for an exam, we settled on a gorgeous little flat over the flower market – because what could be more idyllic than that?
We weren’t disappointed when we arrived at our flat – it was gorgeous. What was astonishing though, was the location! We hadn’t even ventured into the old town on our first visit – and it turns out, Oviedo has one of the most beautiful old towns I’ve seen anywhere in Europe.
Not only that, but because it’s not a huge tourist destination – old town is quiet, and stress-free. There is a buzz around the market, but not to the extent I’ve seen in other cities (I’m looking at you, Barcelona) – we never once felt crowded or rushed or jostled around.
Walking around Oviedo’s old town at night is incredible. There always seemed to be one busker playing classical guitar in an acoustically perfect spot, so you can hear the soft music everywhere, and you feel like you have the city to yourself. There are no crowds, but there is a series of wonderful restaurants and cafes where you can sit back with a drink and soak it all in.
From our flat in the old town, we were about 8-10 minutes walk from the delights of Calle Gascona – the Bulevar de la Sidra, or cider street!
The Asturias region is famous for its cider, or more specifically, for the flamboyant way its cider is poured. Your cider server will grab the bottle with one hand high above his head, your glass with the other hand down at the hip, and pour from a great height – all whilst casually staring off into the distance. It’s quite a sight to behold! The pouring technique aerates the cider so that it is cold and slightly fizzy on the tongue when you drink it (and you have to drink everything in the glass immediately after the pour). If that sounds unconvincing, I can tell you that I tried just pouring some cider into my glass normally and it tastes completely different. The crazy pour isn’t that crazy after all.
It takes some getting used to, having shots of cider throughout the evening, but it’s a lovely way to drink – it helps that every person we met in Oviedo was lovely – it’s never a chore for them to line you up another shot of cider.
We fell so utterly in love with Oviedo that we didn’t really venture out of the city much to explore the rest of Asturias, but from what I’ve seen it’s completely amazing. Asturias is a mountainous region, which is on the coast right at the top of Spain, which means it has it all! Parts of Asturias look like Switzerland with their big mountain views.
And then if you hit the coastline, you could be on the Amalfi coast in Italy. We actually were on the Amalfi coast last year, and having seen Cudillero in Asturias, I won’t be heading back to the crowds and overpriced restaurants of Positano any time soon.
Oh, and mountains and beaches make for some pretty sights.
When we return to Oviedo next year (or, you know, next week if we can swing it), we’ll be spending a bit more time exploring the rest of Asturias. I’m excited to find villages and fishing towns and beaches and isolated spots in the mountains – if I can tear myself away from the delights of Oviedo for long enough.
The focal point of central Oviedo is the amazing San Francisco park. I don’t often fall for parks, but this one is phenomenal – it feels completely safe, with its paved walkways and carefully laid out features. We loved dog watching from various benches in the park, and I couldn’t get enough of the date display that they change every day of the year.
One incredible Oviedo experience is heading up the Monte Naranco to catch the views from the top.
Monte Naranco is used in the Vuelta a España (think the Spanish Tour de France) every year, and you can see why this punishing climb makes the cut! The two trips we’ve made up Monte Naranco, we’ve passed a lot of cyclists and it looks incredibly tough. But what a pay off when you get to the top!
From down in Oviedo, the Christ statue looks absolutely miniscule – but when you make it to the top of this peak you realise just how high up you must be – it’s massive!
The road up Monte Naranco has a series of achingly historic churches alongside it just waiting to be explored. We made a stop at the Santa Maria del Naranco on our way down.
On the way down Monte Naranco this year we had the best meal of the holiday in Parrilla Buenos Aries – a restaurant that clings to the mountain just off the main road. The views were spectacular, the food was fabulous and the service was excellent.
Which brings me to the food. One of the amazing things about Oviedo is the food. It took us a couple of days to crack this – but we came to the conclusion that in most places, we only needed to order one dish to share because everything is so enormous. And even then, we only managed one proper meal per day – the rest of the time we survived on the pintxos they bring you with your drinks in cafes and bars. The whole week we didn’t have one meal (and all our meals included plenty of drinks) which came in at over €40. I’ve rendered myself speechless again – how is this possible?!
So, the reason we went to Oviedo in the first place – the football! I’m not *technically* a football fan, but I kind of know to shout in the right places and I do appreciate a good scarf, so I like taking in the odd match. Visiting Oviedo as a shareholder in the club is amazing – shares went on sale a few years ago when the club were having financial troubles, and the investments from new shareholders helped to save the club (possibly not our small investment, but still!). Because of this, the people of Oviedo are really fond of foreign shareholders and treat you like kings. People in Oviedo are generally lovely, but they get even lovelier when you wear the scarf!
The stadium in Oviedo is near the Ayre hotel, a little way from the old town (but still only about 25 minutes’ walk). The views from the stadium are pretty stunning.
We met up with a representative of the shareholder trust, who kindly guided us to the best seats in the entire stadium – they were amazing!
The stadium itself has its moments of beauty too.
Despite our enthusiasm, both times we’ve been to see Real Oviedo now, they’ve lost. Oh well, at least we have an excuse to go back to try and catch a win!
“Ok, ok, you liked it – but did you find a yarn shop?”
Ye of little faith!
I found two yarn shops – one of which I failed to photograph. But the other of which… was one of the best yarn shops ever. Ever ever.
It took me a minute to notice the yarn in the window as we walked past this lovely little shop – from the window display it looked like a clothes shop, possibly specialising in underwear. And while it did have quite a lot of underwear in it, it also had this wall.
One entire wall of the shop was full of unmarked, unbranded yarns, all tied into skeins with white cotton. A huge selection of weights, colours and fibres were on offer. I haven’t ever seen yarn displayed like this, but I was 100% behind the concept – I’m pretty sure this enabled them to display more yarn than any other shop ever.
They also had a more conventional display of other yarns – mostly DMC – but it was the wall of yarn-y joy that I couldn’t resist! I was as restrained as possible and only picked up one skein of blue 4ply and one mega skein of aran weight pink mohair. To purchase, they weigh your chosen yarn and charge by weight. It’s so novel, and so exciting and I cannot wait to revisit!
We’ve already decided on a return trip to Oviedo next year – and possibly one later this year, depending on the football schedule. But I won’t be telling anyone else about how good it is – I need to keep this to myself!
Until next time,