Exploring Northern Spain: Asturias and León
THE KINGDOM OF ASTURIAS
It is said, “Asturias is Spain, the rest is conquered territory.”
A little known fact is Asturias was a nation and kingdom centuries before Fernando and Isabella defined Spain. So while it can be said that this region embodies the true essence and history of the country, it’s quite different from the Spain most people know.
The sidra drinking, Celtic influenced northerners who wear sophisticated bonnets and petticoats are different from the more commonly referenced wine sipping, sun-lounging Spaniards of the South.
JOURNEY TO GET THERE
There is no direct flight into Asturias, so you must fly to a bigger city in Spain and then into the region. Do not to miss the landing. The view of Asturias in flight is stunning, even more so if you’re visiting Spain in the summer. The parched prairies of the South are nothing like the luxuriant rolls of green mountains up north.
The air of sophistication of this city is an inherent, seductive flow, albeit more conscious than straightforward. Woody Allen’s choosing of this Victorianesque town to film one of his cerebral indies is fitting, and in many ways there are parallels with his style and Oviedo's: the bourgeois attitude and look, the overcast that looms over the city as if it has a permanent filter making even the most mundane things avant garde. A hint of arrogance mixed with curiosity, his main characters have a similar existential dilemma for the true meaning of life.
Parque de Invierno, or Winter Park, brings together this elegance pointedly. People stroll here with the mountains fading into the backdrop, without giving it much of a second thought. As you walk through the enormous public area, you can imagine why Woody Allen and so many others flock to this city.
Mercado El Fontán is a focal point of the city and has been featured in Woody Allen’s Vicky, Christina Barcelona. If you round the corner, there is a small restaurant upstairs where you can dine with a view of El Fontán and the sophisticated terrace that surrounds it.
The preferred drink up North is sidra (cider). It pairs well with the robust platters served in the region. Most bars and restaurants have waiters pouring sidra into cups from impressively far away. It's a time-honored tradition. You only pour enough to take a gulp, leaving just a bit of residue left over that is then tossed into the ground. I was always curious as to why that happened and assumed the leftovers were flat and therefore discarded, until I heard a more poetic justification: According to historic Celtic beliefs, the last pour is meant to give homage to Mother Earth by returning to her just a bit of what she gave you.
PICOS DE EUROPA ♥ León ♥
The large mountain ranges that touch León, Asturias and Cantabria are known as Los Picos de Europa (the peaks of Europe). The mountainous terrain is without a doubt one of the most stunning aspects of Northern Spain. Wildlife, solitude, friendly hikers, trails and some of the world’s most interesting caves are spread across the group of mountains.
You could come to Northern Spain several times in your lifetime navigating only through Los Picos and there would still be more to discover. Here, you will find small villages of people who have lived generations in solitude. Although plenty of tourists make their way to the mountains, even the most famous towns that lead to trails have done little to accommodate or alter their way of living.
Pensión Begoña Hostel
Ruta de Cares
This is one of those places where you stand and wonder how it all came together. The flat walkway is a trail carved into the side of a mountain and is a feasible hike for anyone. The mountain trail runs parallel to another mountain for 6.8 miles. It’s as if these two huge bodies of rock where once one and then separated forming the perfect narrow split with a river running through the middle. Several Spanish TV shows and movies have been filmed here.
The trail begins in Caín (province of León) and leads into Poncebos (Asturias). You can begin the trail at either end.
The wisdom of the mountains is something that I feel in my bones. It’s as if these celestial bodies of rock hold the secrets of the universe, lavishly whispering them into your ear as you walk through them. The sounds of a cool breeze, a mountain goat, even the river flowing as it always does, all evoke the similar sentiments of awe. It’s a forced pause nothing else can awaken, and it makes passages like this a requisite duty for us humans.
Why else are we here but to experience this? It is proven to have so many psychological benefits, many of which lead to self actualization or, at the very least, a much better chance of fully realizing one's potential. Places like this bring us closer to our destiny.
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