So, we have made our way back to the Asturian coast to Candas and to the same campsite as before (Camping Perlora). Hey, we needed a rest after the Fiesta at Sanabria.
And what do we return to? Another fiesta!
I’ll not take you through everything we did upon our return to Candas and anyone wanting to learn more about this town need only refer back to the previous entry of a little over a week ago. It will suffice to say that the weather was once again kind and we enjoyed the same bars and restaurants as during our earlier visit and… here’s the proof:-
We stayed two nights so as recharge our batteries and then we were off to France for more of Vanya’s Cremant; pausing on the way in Cantabria at both Lierganes and San Roque de Riomiera.
During our stay in Candas we took a short drive west along the beach to another erstwhile fishing village which has turned to tourism, Cudillero.
Cudillero is much smaller than Candas and to some extent the village reminds me of the Cinque Terre in Liguria (Italy) in that it is made up of pastel coloured houses built into steep hills in a semi-circle around a small bay. There, I think, the similarity ends; it isn’t nearly as pretty as the Cinque Terre. The different colours of the houses in Cudillero are almost lost against the dark green foliage that forms the town’s backdrop while the colours of the houses in the Cinque Terre appear more vibrant against the stark rock which forms their backdrop. That’s just my view.
Whatever, Cudillero is a pretty place and it sits on an amazing coastline of sheer cliffs and fine sandy beaches. Not far away is the Playa del Silencio, surely one of Spain’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a long silver sandy cove of a beach backed by a rock amphitheatre.
There are two roads into Cudillero; the first enters the village from the top of the cliffs and the second more attractive route (and one that is considerably more suitable for large vans) skirts the village and curls down to the harbour. This harbour approach is interesting. Most people park up just short of the village and then walk along the harbour road to the town but; there’s a short cut which runs through the hillside and up into the town. This short cut begins behind a small artificial waterfall. Step behind the waterfall and there’s a 300 metre tunnel which leads directly into the town. Nala and I set off up the tunnel not realising Vanya had demurred and was opting for the more circuitous route along the road. Whoops!
Cudillero is not a particularly large village but it was packed with tourists when we arrived. That is to be expected in July and August. I hoped we would be able to avoid the large crowds in September but it wasn’t to be.
One place I wanted to visit, so as to take photos along the coast and out to sea, is a mirador (a lookout point) which we had seen perched high above the harbour. There are at least two (La Garita and La Atalaya) but I simply couldn’t find the access point. I tried going up from the lighthouse but met a dead end and Vanya and I walked well up into the town but, again, no luck. I have since discovered they are sign posted from the main square at the bottom of the village. That perhaps explains why I couldn’t find them. The bottom of the town was packed with tourists and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
In conclusion, you only have to look at some of the photos to see how pretty the village of Cudillero is and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a return trip. However, I would not return at any time during early July to mid September. Too many tourists filling the streets, bars and restaurants.
Until quite recently Candas was a major fishing village on the Asturian coast. Villagers were whale fishing here as long ago as the 13th century and the village was the first in Asturias to salt, pickle and can fish. Indeed, as recently as the mid 20th century, there were 24 canning factories in what from here on in I will call a town (because I’ve just read that the place has a population of 6,500+).
Fishing remains important, as is evidenced by the statues and murals across the town (they are nearly all concerned with fishing and the restaurants serve some of the best shellfish along the north coast of Spain) but, the fishing boats are largely gone from the town’s harbour and it is tourism where all the money now comes from.
We parked up at a good campsite on the edge of the town. It is only a short walk along the promenade to the town. It was a weekend and the small beach was full of visitors taking advantage of the warm weather and mild sea. Almost everyone we met was Spanish and we rarely heard anything other than Spanish spoken throughout what became a 4-5 day stay.
My first walk into town took me along the promenade, the beach, the harbour and up on to Cape San Antonio to the Candas Lighthouse and then; down into the town for a beer or two. I identified a couple of decent looking restaurants by the harbour and thought to return in the evening with Vanya and the dogs. My first impressions of the town were not that positive; I think they were clouded by the high number of holidaymakers I had seen on the beach and around the harbour area. As it happened, I needn’t have been concerned. The people we met later in the restaurant were engaging and great fun and, besides, all the holidaymakers (other than us) seemed to disappear once the weekend was over.
As I returned to the Van after that first foray into Candas I couldn’t help but notice some of the town’s statues and murals and their association with the sea. The most impressive is perhaps one of the smallest which I found down on the Plaza El Cueto. It was created by a local sculptor known as Anton (real name Antonio Rodriguez Garcia) and it is called La Marinera. It was inspired by the suffering of mothers who lost sons to the sea.
To summarise the following few days in Candas – fantastic.
At heart this is still a local fishing village with warm and friendly people, some of whom went out of their way to make us welcome. That first night in the restaurant, one of the diners at a table alongside us offered me a glass of his sidra (the local cider) and proceeded to pour it from on high, as would an Escanciar (see last year’s Oviedo blog). Before you knew it, other diners were pouring from much higher heights than was the case earlier. Of course, our waiter simply had to show the amateurs how it should be done. I too had a go but the less said about that the better. It will suffice to say that Nala who invariably lays at my feet while we are in a restaurant was somewhat splashed and moved away.
The welcome we received in other bars and restaurants was equally friendly. My favourite ‘local’ however has to be El Barcon. It doesn’t do food. It simply serves drinks and the occasional free tapas / pintxos / pinchos. You couldn’t find more welcoming hosts – Spanish hospitality at it’s best.
I must mention the seafood. The shellfish we tried in a couple of the restaurants were outstanding. The scallops were good, the langoustines were excellent and the mussels in the vinaigrette were the best. Oh, and Vanya adores the local anchovies.
I’ll not say anymore about Candas. A few photos will suffice.
I’ve long wanted to visit elegant Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. According to legend, modern Spanish history began here when a certain Don Pelayo saw the Virgin Mary and was inspired to fight the Moors who then occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula. Don Pelayo bacame the first King of Asturias and Oviedo the starting point for the reconquest of Spain.
As in so many Spanish cities, the old town forms the centre of Oviedo and it is the old town that attracts Vanya and I. We parked the Van and headed towards the old town; the spire of the Catedral de San Salvador de Oviedo showing the way.
I’ve often written in this website about the different ‘Camino’s which wend their way across Spain and Portugal to Santiago de Compostela. Two such ‘Ways’ are to be found in Oviedo. The first is the Camino Primitivo which stretches 199 miles from Oviedo’s cathedral to Santiago. The second is the Camino del Norte which travels 512 miles from St Jean de Luz in France to Santiago (crossing the Pyrenees and then travelling along Spain’s north coast to Oviedo before turning west south west into Galicia). I’m beginning to think I would like to travel the Camino del Norte.
There are a number of impressive churches in Oviedo. The first such church we encountered was the San Isidoro el Real on the Plaza de la Constitucion. This church was previously the 16th century Jesuit Church of San Matias which had it’s name changed following the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain. Then there is the Catedral de San Salvador de Oviedo (sometimes referred to as the Sancta Ovetensis) which was built on the site of an earlier church in the 14th century but, with an 82 foot tower being added in 16th century; hence it being a mixture of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Inside the Cathedral there is a small chapel containing a very special cloth (the Santo Sudario) which is said to have been placed around Jesus’ head after his death. The third most impressive church (in my view) is the San Juan el Real which was built between 1912 and 1915. This has since been elevated to Minor Basilica status and it’s inside is supposed to be absolutely fabulous (we couldn’t get in) but General Franco was married in this church.
Just around the corner from the Cathedral is the central indoor food market, the Mercado El Fontan. We didn’t go in. We were getting hungry and wanted to eat food not shop for it. Moreover, I was keen to get along to the Calle Gascona (also known as the Cider Boulevard) to find a sidreria. We found one in La Manzana Sidreria Restaurante.
While not keen on British cider (it is usually too sweet and/or fizzy), I have enjoyed all but one of the Asturian ciders (sidra) I have sampled. There are no additives (not even sugar and yeast) in the sidra and it is never carbonated. The escanciar serves small amounts from on high so as to properly aerate the dry flat cider and it is then knocked back by the drinker before the cider goes flat in the glass. Needless to say the bottles do not last long with the small amounts being poured frequently and drank quickly. Cider is more popular than wine in Asturias and I fully understand why. I had a bottle with probably the best garlic prawns I have ever eaten and I can say in all honesty that I barely missed Vanya while she went shopping in a local branch of the El Corte Ingles.
Oviedo is one of those cities I could just wander around for hours.
It was time to spoil ourselves; time to chill in a hotel for a couple of days; a hotel with a large bath, a real bed and a good breakfast. Our approach when looking for such a place is to simply log into Booking.com and apply our search parameters – must take dogs (and not insist upon charging ridiculously high cleaning surcharges) and must have parking sufficient to accommodate the Van (or be close to suitable parking). Thereafter we seek something quite luxurious at a reasonable price. It doesn’t really matter where the hotel is provided it is within striking distance. We found a number of options but the one we chose was the Zen Balagares Hotel on the outskirts of Avila and close to the Trasona Reservoir Park.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Zen Balagares. It was perfect for us and I would highly recommend the hotel but, the surroundings? I kid you not, the approach to the hotel is through an area which resembles a film set for an episode of that post apocalyptic horror television series ‘The Walking Dead’.
Our drive up to the hotel took us first through a fairly scruffy, almost industrial, part of Aviles and then up towards what looked like a quiet upmarket residential area. Then, suddenly, our surroundings changed. We were driving along a series of wide empty roads. There were roundabouts, zebra crossings, street lights and parking places on these roads but neither houses nor shops and absolutely no people nor traffic. This went on for what seemed like miles. We passed an overgrown 18 hole golf course and driving range which, clearly, had been left unattended for years. There was a club house & cafe bar with chains on the doors and a large car park, with parking bays marked for the president and club captain, cracked and covered in weeds. Through the dirty windows of the club house we could see tables and chairs and display cabinets with cups, shields and medals but still no people. Further round the golf course was another run down, glass fronted building – an empty showroom. Through the diry cracked windows we could see scale models and artistic impressions of… This wasn’t a setting for the Walking Dead – a local developer had gone bust.
We carried on towards the hotel and again our surroundings changed. The hotel is surrounded by that quiet upmarket residential area we had seen from the foot of the hill. We had arrived at the Zen Balagares but, having said that… the estate is reminiscent of another film plot. Yes, it’s a perfect setting for another remake of the Stepford Wives. The houses… Enough already!
We spent two great nights at the Zen Balagares. The room was comfortable (and it had a wonderful hot bath), the breakfast was good, the bar was open whenever we needed it and the food wasn’t bad. Oh, and they kept a decent Albarino. The best part however was a very reasonably priced 90 minute hot and cold stone massage. We loved that.
We marked our spot at the Novales Cove campsite and took the Van westwards along the Asturian Coast to Ribadesella, the plan being to return to the campsite in the evening.
Ribadesella is a beautiful little fishing town, somewhat smaller than neighbouring Llanes with plenty of character and absolutely stunning beaches. It has a population of little more than 5,000 but is recognised as being one of the most popular, liveliest and busiest towns on the north coast of Spain. The Spaniards love the place but on the day we arrived it was virtually empty. Really dismal and unseasonal weather had kept the crowds at bay. No matter, we were happy to take a look see and stop for lunch.
The River Sella splits the town into two halves which are connected by a lengthy low slung bridge. The eastern half comprises the historical town centre (a network of pretty plazas and streets), the Iglesia Santa Maria Magdalena and the harbour. The western half is mostly about the town’s Santa Marina beach, it’s promenade and a series of very elaborate and colourful mansions (belle epoch style and reminiscent of Dinard in Northern France) which line the promenade.
Although the rain held off, the weather was such that we were deterred from visiting some of the local sites and we certainly didn’t see Ribadesella in it’s best light. Indeed, for much of the morning the cloud was barely above sea level. No matter, we saw enough to know it is a very beautiful little town and well worth a return visit. Most certainly, I would like to walk up the Paseo de la Grua to the little church of Ermita de la Virgen de Guia. That route takes you up past 6 large ceramic panels representing Ribadesella through the ages. I have seen prints of them and they look charming. Of equal interest would be the views across the town from the little church. On a fine day, with the Picos de Europa mountains providing a backdrop, I imagine the view would be magnificent.
The river Sella is a major feature of the town and the following reference to the ‘Descenso Internacional del Sella’ is for my brother as much as anybody. The “Descenso” is an annual kayak race (festival), held on the first Saturday of every August, down the last 20 kilometres of the River Sella from Arriondas in the Picos de Europa to the main bridge in Ribadesella. It has been run since 1930 and the last race attracted 1,000+ entries. Many of the entrants now are professionals but most are relative novices out for the crack. I’m not sure if it will be run this year because of Covid but it is worth reading up on. Oh, and while many entrants will take more than 3 hours to complete the course, the current record is 1 hour and 1 minute.
We left Ribadesella as it started raining but just a few miles down the coast near the hamlet of Cuerres the weather seemed to improve. That is the mountains for you. We were delighted because our next stop was to be at the Bufones de Pria. The Bufones are a natural phenomenon where jets of sea water surge and spout from holes and cracks in the limestone cliffs (a bit like geysers, I suspect). The ones we were visiting are supposedly powerful enough to blow an adult man into the sea and we had arranged it so as to arrive at high tide. Whoopee! We expected great things and we deserved them after navigating the Van along a series of ever narrowing country lanes to reach the place.
It wasn’t to be. The sea was as flat as a millpond.
On the way back to Lannes we paused briefly at the tiny hamlet of Cuerres so that I could admire the Church of San Mames. It is so pretty and very unusual with it’s verandahs.
Sad note to end this particular blog on. The weather forecast for the north coast is not so good over the next few days, especially in the Asturias. We’re having to move south (we like the sun too much) but, while I have tasted some excellent local ciders I have not yet been served one from up on high by an escanciador (i.e. a proper Asturian Cider Pourer). I’m going to have to do something about that.
This is going to be the shortest blog ever (and probably not at all interesting) but for completeness’ sake…
It had been hot in Burgos and the weather forecast in the Llannes area of the Asturias was cooler but still bright (perfect) so, we made for a camp site on Novales Cove a few clicks east of LLannes. We drove through Llannes during our stay but saw very little of the town choosing instead to use the campsite as our base and visit Ribadesella (further west in the Asturias) and San Vicente de la Barque (to the east in Cantabria). They are the subject of separate blogs.
The Novales Cove (Ensenade de Novales) is really just about Camping La Paz. The campsite is built around a promontory in the centre of the cove with a pebble beach to the left and a beautiful sandy beach to the right. The camp site is unusual with all sanitary facilities built out of the rock (which makes it feel a little primitive) but, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the place. The site is terraced (with particularly good pitches for tents) and it provides for absolutely stunning views.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast didn’t live up to expectations or we would have stayed longer than our two nights.