In the fairly recent past I found myself sitting with forehead against bus window, watching tall, green sloped mountains pass along a highway that seemed to bend in one continuous spiral.
I was somewhere in Asturias, Spain and the steep inclines that were visible from my window seat were parts of the Cantabrian Mountains. Despite knowing that this was still the same country, it was difficult to distinguish any similarities between the landscape around me with that of my home in Murcia.
Tall, green, and spacious.
The ALSA bus was continuing along a windy northbound trajectory until it reached it’s final destination of Gijón, the largest city of this region of Spain.
One of my best friends in Murcia named David is from Gijón and he happened to be up there visiting his family during the same time that I was planning a trip for Semana Santa. With a week off from work and a desire to see something new in Spain, Gijón seemed like the perfect place to visit. David invited me to crash at his families’ house and since I’m English teacher who charges very low rates it sounded like an ideal option.
In total, the journey to Gijón took about thirteen hours by bus. Luckily, I made a two-day stop over in Segovia beforehand because this picturesque medieval town is nearly half-way between there and Murcia.
Upon arriving into Gijón the sun that was following the ALSA bus through the mountains had now disappeared above a blanket of fog. This was something I hadn’t seen in nearly five months, since last being home in Sausalito with my family. David picked me up at the station and we immediately started touring throughout his home city. Within minutes I started to like Gijón. Traffic was less chaotic than in Murcia, fewer people were seen crossing the street, and the flow of life in the downtown area was visibly more relaxed.
Green, less people, less sun, clean, quiet; maybe this could have been a city in Denmark, but certainly in my brain this wasn’t the Spain that I was accustomed to experiencing.
Gijón is a city of a quarter-million inhabitants, hugs the northern coast of Spain, and has expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean. Gijón has Celtic, Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish roots ever since a settlement was established there over 5000 years ago.
Modern day Gijón is known as being one of Spain’s largest port cities, nestled between numerous beautiful beaches (La Costa Verde), the home of Real Sporting the football club (soccer) who have the countries’ oldest professional stadium called El Molinón, a destination for delicious ciders, tapas that come with each beer you order, and a wholesome stew called Fabada Asturiana.
There are many things I would like to say, and to go into more detail about certain aspects of the trip to Asturias, but this might honestly take too long and whoever is reading this post might start thinking about unicorns rather than the name of a certain really cool restaurant where we ate at. To save you time I’m just going to go into the highlights of what I thought was particularly great about the experience in Gijón.
During the morning of each day of my stay I had time to wander myself because David was busy preparing for important exams. This allowed me to see some of the sights within his home city and also find as many coffee shops as possible.
My favorite part of the city was San Lorenzo beach, a wide spanning natural barrier that separates Gijón’s downtown center from the incoming swells of the Bay of Biscay. Instead of having a central plaza like in Murcia where everyone congregates, Gijón has a massive boardwalk above San Lorenzo. People of all shapes and sizes could be seen migrating towards the beach.
Looking out into the tides of the Atlantic it was easy to spot surfing schools as sunshine reflected off of their multicolored boards. I took a stroll along the fine grained sand and people’s dogs gave me weird looks as I neared the shoreline. Being there brought back many flashes of California and the only thing missing, besides friends and family, was a cup of coffee.
This was when I found one of my favorite coffee shops of all time. On the opposite end of the beach, a small meeting place called Café San Pedro was beckoning me to order a pitch black Americano. It didn’t have a sign, just an open door and various metallic chairs placed along the sidewalk. I’m not sure why this became my favorite cafe, but the need for caffeine was so great and finding it by surprise added to the allure of the memory. The coffee was more expensive than in Murcia, but as I left with a hot cup in hand and made way to picturesque Iglesia San Pedro, it was in my mind the best decision ever.
Another part of Gijón that was quite amazing was the neighborhood behind Iglesia San Pedro called Cimavilla. This was the first official neighborhood of Gijón, before the town sprawled into a city. Here is where you can find Elogio del Horizonte (Eulogy to the Horizon), built by Eduardo Chillida. This is the most important monument in Gijón, and the neighborhood of Cimavalla is filled with Siderias (for cider) and restaurants where you can try Fabada.
Asturias is famous for the way they make, and serve cider. This is typically made from fermented apples and flavors range from slightly sour to bitter, but after a couple tastes this becomes savory. David introduced me to this interesting beverage in El Faro De Piles, one of the cities’ oldest places to get a cider buzz. When you order a bottle of cider, the bartender takes your pint glass and lowers it towards the floor with one hand. In the other hand he or she raises the bottle as high as possible and slowly lets the cider pour down into the glass, in an odd stream that makes one get an urge to use the toilet. This is called “escanciar” and it’s said to help improve the taste of the cider (sidra). When you get served a small portion of cider you have the drink everything in your glass in one try. It’s an easy way to spend an afternoon and also an easy way to get tipsy before 3pm.
David and I took a couple afternoon trips away from Gijón. One was to the mountains between Gijón and Oviedo to check out some impressive views of the landscape. We then continued to Covadonga, a mountainous village that houses a beautiful sanctuary with the same title, and the grave of Asturias’ first king named Don Pelayo. It was in Covadonga where the Iberians defeated the Moors, sparking the beginning of the Spanish Reconquista. Asturians have a famous saying which I thought was great:
“Asturias is Spain, and everything else is reconquered land.”
Another highlight was visiting the small fishing town of Cudillero. About 50 kilometers along the coast away from Gijón, it was one of the places high on my list to visit during my time back in Spain. The town itself was very quiet. The main purpose for visitors is usually to try fresh seafood and to walk around narrow streets that boast views of colorful houses sitting along all sides of gradually declining hills.
Beers accompanied by massive plates of tapas, watching Real Sporting on TV in Maya’s Cafe with David’s family, and enjoying lots of ocean views were some other great moments in the North.
My time in Gijón lasted four days, not enough to see everything, but enough to know that this is one of the best places to visit in Spain. A very big thank you to David and his family is necessary because they were great hosts. Hopefully one day I can pay back the favor if they ever decide to visit California.
If you want to know more information about other coffee shops and random things we visited, then feel free to send me an email! Have a great day and thanks for reading.