The region of Asturias reminds me of Scotland….rugged mountainous terrain that towers over you with lush green forest that climb up the steep sides with interruptions of grey and white rock that eventually overtakes everything else as it ends in a stony peak. Fields of wildflowers cover rolling hills in varying colors of yellow, purple, and the occasional patch of red. Small lakes and rivers wind through the deep valleys and the air is soft and cool on your skin from the moisture in the air and the frequent rain showers.
It was my second time visiting Oviedo and this time I had the opportunity to be there with some of my family. My youngest brother Brendan is the coolest sixteen-year-old I will ever meet…I may be biased since he’s not only family, but also one of my best friends (both of my brothers are). I met him in Madrid where he flew in from Florida to spend the summer with my mom in Spain. Having flown for over eight hours with a layover on the east coast, he literally met me at seven in the morning Madrid time and then jumped directly onto a train with me only a few hours later for a five-hour train ride to Oviedo….talk about getting a good young head-start on international traveling! My Tita Amalia (Spanish for “aunt” and yes, I was named after her) came over from Washington D.C. and had already joined my mom a few days earlier in Oviedo. With my mom Angie, we made a great group of four that descended upon the northern region of Spain known as Asturias.
I’m going to start off by giving away the ending….by the end of a week, we came to the determination that Oviedo is one of our favorite towns in Spain. There is simply a wonderful feeling to the place, like a comforting blanket. Everywhere you look, the varying architecture and sidewalks blend in among quaint cobblestone streets and greenery. Parks and fountains abound at every turn with cafes and retail shops tucked away neatly down old narrow avenues. The oldest part of the town is located in the center where the cathedral and parts of the University are located. The architecture is an amazing collection of the times the town has seen and is described as an “inheritor of Visigothic, Roman, and Nordic traditions”. It was wonderful to look down any street and see beautiful green trees dispersed along the sidewalks, ornate street lamps, and rolling lush hills off in the distance. Walking throughout the town we saw a mix of students, visitors, and backpackers of the El Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage trail traversing northern Spain that is famous today for hikers all over the world.
We stayed at the Hostal Alvarez, which I highly recommend. I learned from my mom that in Spain they call these accommodations “pensions”. For an extremely affordable price, the rooms were wonderful and the location was great, located just two blocks around the corner from the train station. My brother and I shared a large double room that had a large bay window that looked out onto our picturesque road in the center of Oviedo. Our favorite experience of the town was the San Francisco Park, which was just blocks away from our hostel. My brother Brendan said it best when he made the comment “I feel like I’m in the Shire and a hobbit may appear around the corner”…The park takes up an area the size of several blocks right in the center of Oviedo. From any side we entered, I felt like we “disappeared” into a world of absolute green that seemed to float along the tops of the tall trees in a canopy of leaves. Every time I was in that park I could not help but think “these trees are so beautiful and tall and full!”.
Now, I am no tree expert, however I reveled in what my eyes beheld in the huge variety of trees…their trunks were so thick and they towered so high over us that arching my neck back I could see leaves larger than my hands that were so vibrantly green. Sidewalks curve in all directions throughout the park, wandering among the trees and making patterns out of the bright green grass covering the ground everywhere like a soft carpet. Along one side is a small pond that is home to white swans and colorful peacocks. A small outdoor cafe gives you a great view of this natural habitat to the birds and other animals like turtles and fish that live in the water. Gorgeous bushes of colorful flowers were at every turn. At the opposite end of the park, there is a long wide walkway that is lined on both sides with trees and benches. At either end of this type of “boulevard” are large water fountains that are almost identical and seem to mirror each other in their beautiful stone structure and arching water that leaps high in the air. Vivid reminders of those from the past who have contributed to Oviedo, are placed sporadically throughout the park in the stone busts and bronze statues that we came across…and yes, that we also had fun with. I love this park and for this park alone, I consider Oviedo a town I could live in one day.
One of the mornings that we were walking through the park, I caught site of a small black dog being walked by its owner. As I kept watching and nudged my brother beside me to also look, I saw that it was a Cocker Spaniel and even had a small patch of white fur on its chest, just below its head and chin. He was walking very slow and every few steps seemed to be a bit lopsided…we realized he had to be pretty old. A few minutes later I was walking through part of the park on my own and saw this Cocker Spaniel sniffing among the grasses and flowers next to the bench where his owner sat. I asked the owner if I could say hello to this adorable little dog and he said I of course could, but that I needed to know that he is deaf and blind…the furry guy is sixteen years old! As I spent some time with who I came to know as Lolo and his owner Jacobo, I marveled at the fact that the last dog I owned had been only a couple of years ago and he had rare colors like Lolo, all black with white only on the chest. It was wonderful to meet this Spanish dog as a reminder of my old dog Himal and feel like I got to connect with him in some way even while in a different part of the world.
Other great experiences that my family and I love in Oviedo were drinking vermouth at La Paloma. In Asturias they call the drink a “Solera” and it is deliciously smooth and sweet…watch out though because they’re also strong. We also enjoyed watching Spain win the EuroCup against Italy while eating amazing paella and drinking sidra at La Pumarada. That’s the other fantastic and unique thing about Oviedo and the region of Asturias…they enjoy and maintain the old tradition of cider, which in Spanish is sidra. The Sidra is drank in its most natural state, just after fermenting and because of that, has a strong level of alcohol, at least from what I can tell when I drink it. This is not just a drink though, it’s an experience. The true way you drink it is to raise the glass bottle it’s in, which resembles a wine bottle, and extending it over your head to pour a small amount into a glass that you hold with your other hand that is completely extended down past your hip…did you get all that? Even with those who literally make this pouring of the sidra their profession, there is plenty of splashing of the sidra that gets on the one pouring, the ground, and any innocent by-standers waiting to simply drink the stuff. The servers at the restaurant La Pumarada are skilled in the pouring of the sidra since the place is a “House of Sidra”…Oh, and don’t forget that when you drink it, you leave the tiniest bit at the end that you shake out of your glass onto the floor. Talk about a sticky floor!
Oviedo is my green gem of Spain…it reminds me of childhood stories of Chronicles of Narnia and settings of magical ancient forests in far-off lands. The lush green terrain is a beauty of Spain worth taking in and the customs of the local culture are a great part of Spanish culture to experience. I realize that I perhaps feel a special bias to this part of Spain because my abuelo (grandfather) was from this region. He was born and raised in the very small village of Tuna, which is where the Del Riego family history is still recognized to this day. At the same time, I have no doubt that others who visit Oviedo will greatly enjoy and appreciate this part of Spain.