Asturias is such an interesting region with very much to see and do. From preroman churches, historic centers, mining museums, monasteries to cider factories and Spain’s biggest building no one talks about. Prepare for a longer read 🙂
A short ride from Gijon, Aviles is a historical city with an important industrial port connected to the former mines. There is a preroman church dedicated to Santo Tomas de Sabugo, beautiful gothic church of Saint Thomas of Canterburry, Plaza de España as the main passing point and a large calm Parque de Ferrera to take a stroll. We had lunch in Punto de Encuentro La Madreña close to Plaza de España and can highly recommend it.
Another of the preroman churches, which are all UNESCO sites, is the Iglesia de Santa Cristina de Lena, from 9th century. Situated on a hill inland, it offers a perfect place for meditation. For a small fee, it is possible to admire the inside of the church. The nice custodian is very knowledgable and will give you all kind of information, should you desire to dig deeper in the history of the church.
A perfect place to visit with kids interested in machinery, MUMI Museo de Mineria y Industria offers an excellent experience for the whole day. The ticket includes going down the shaft by an original elevator, explanation of different mining techniques as they evolved in time, ride on the underground train and once you get up again, a massive set of expositions about mining, industry, machinery, evolution of fire department and medical equipment, and much more. You can even try the running wheel yourself!
Situated in a beautiful valley, Monastery of Santa María la Real de Valdediós is a haven of tranquility. On the vast grounds, there is a preroman church with three naves and a much younger monastery building. The church was constructed by king Alfonso III El Magno in the second half of 9th c. More details of its history, which really breathes there from every corner, can be found here.
Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and as such surely deserves a much longer visit. But we were tight on schedule and so decided to see the most important, which surely is the cathedral. Inside, there is a Cámara Santa (holy room), which houses the most precious relics. To me, the most interesting was the cloth that Jesus allegedly wore on the cross, with stains of his blood. Also worth a close look is the chapel of Saint Eulalia, which can be found in the main church nave by the exit doors.
At the outskirts of Oviedo, there is also a set of two preroman churches, both very interesting with well preserved carvings. The Santa Maria de Naranco with two floors and the San Miguel de Lillo. The only downside is the very rude lady guide, and also the fact that the information is given in Spanish only.
Asturias is rich in apple orchards and also has a number of apple varieties native to Asturias. It was a surprise to me that there are over 5000 apple varieties in the world, with around 200 growing in the region. El Gaitero cider factory offers tours explaining the manufacturing process, ending by tasting of two types of their sidra, with a possibility to buy their bottles for a good price. They specialise in sidra champagne, a sparkling cider made using the champagne technique. The product is very nice and easy to drink.
Last but not least, a somewhat hidden “gem”, evoking mixed feelings in the Spanish society. The biggest building complex in Spain, named Laboral. It can be seen from very far, but the locals seem to pretend there is nothing exceptional. Why? The complex was build by the Franco regime, originally meant to be a self sufficient orphanage. That idea was abandoned even during the construction and it was transformed into a technical college (Universidad Laboral). At the beggining of the 21st c. the space was renovated and transformed again, to serve as a City of Culture. So nowadays, several universities (literature, theatre, etc), cultural spaces, exhibition hall, sports grounds all can be found here. Visitors can also go up the tower (by appointment) to see the true immensity of the place.
Next to Laboral are beautiful botanical gardens, divided into four spaces to show plants native to Asturias and to different regions of Europe.