Two years ago, I arrived in Asturias to spend 5 months studying there. This principality on Spain`s northern coast is not somewhere widely known to foreign tourists I must admit, I knew very little about it before landing at the airport, but it wasn`t long before the Costa Verde worked its charms on me and I fell in love.
Oviedo, the regional capital, became my temporary hometown. It is a disarmingly attractive city, which the inhabitants are rightly proud of and keep incredibly clean, to the point of washing the streets every single night. It is a place of contrasts, at once genteel and bohemian, with a quiet outer reserve which belies the vivacious Spanish soul just below the surface. Whether joining the battle of the umbrellas on rain-slicked streets or sitting at La Corte, a bar perfectly positioned for people-watching, every routine act in Oviedo is an event to be enjoyed. The whole city has the atmosphere of an open-air art gallery, with dozens of sculptures providing a narrative through the different quarters.
To really understand the Asturian culture, you just have to spend a weekend in the Old Town. Things kick off with Botellin on a Friday night, when everyone congregates in the Plaza del Sol to shake off the calm rationality of the working week. Then on Saturday mornings, the networks of cobbled streets and open squares come alive with markets and cultural events. Life here is punctuated with celebrations, whether it`s Carnaval, Palm Sunday or San Juan. At every opportunity, the bagpipers parade around the town, playing the regional anthem, and folk dancers perform. Waiters serve sidra, the Asturian cider, in a flamboyant manner and there is always a sense of festivity in the air.
Oviedo is also a great base from which to explore the rest of Asturias. Gijòn is a city to the north and takes only half an hour and a few euros to reach by bus. The main draw of Gijòn is its beach, so the bus is often packed with people armed with flip-flops, towels and picnics, but that is half the fun. It is a busy, popular city with a startling mix of old and new buildings, including the imposing Revillagigedo palace.
However, my favorite place in the whole of Gijon is the aquarium. It is tucked away on the Poniente beach in a large white block of a building which does not look particularly exciting from the outside. Inside however, it is a marine wonderland. If the weather is less than perfect, this is the place to spend an afternoon.
One of the main pleasures of Asturias is getting out of the main towns and exploring the rugged Jurassic coastline. While it does not have the faultless sunshine of the Costa del Sol, it is wild, natural and to me, beautiful. Just a short drive along the coast from Gijòn takes you to some hidden coves and viewpoints out across the open Atlantic sea.
The fishing village of Cudillero is somewhere not to miss, with colorful houses built haphazardly into the hillside and streets almost too narrow to drive a car down. I will never forget coming here one stormy morning. The wind was howling and waves crashed over the barrier, grey and angry. Then, through the mist, I saw a fisherman tugging his rickety boat out to sea. I watched him in awe for a moment, then retreated into a friendly, warm cafe and realized that Asturias, in all its madness, had captured my heart.
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Originally from Salisbury in the UK, Katy is a writer with wanderlust. She writes for several travel sites and is about to set off on a four-month adventure in South America. Make sure to check out StarryEyedTravels or follow her on twitter: @katyabroad.