Asturias is one of Spain's best kept secrets. Although locals prefer not to spread the word excessively to preserve its nature and its authenticity, I confess that being from the region and seeing its natural treasures on a regular basis makes me unable to resist sharing some of them with you.
If you're looking for a unique and relaxing beach vacation between mountains and the sea, check out our video to get a taste of "green Spain" and some of its stunning beaches.
Playa de San Lorenzo
With enchanting sea views and a seashell shape, Playa de San Lorenzo is the most popular in Gijón. This amazing coastal city is the largest in Asturias and boasts endless entertainment for visitors. The beach is located near the city center and its promenade, called El Muro by locals, extends for over a mile from the Church of San Pedro Apóstol, which shines at night like gold embellishment on the seafront.
Before a stroll on the promenade, head to the Cerro Santa Catalina Park at the top of a hill that starts just behind the church. Enjoy the walk, breath in the fresh air and marvel at the outstanding beach and city views. At the end of the hill lies the Elogio del Horizonte, a bold sea-facing sculpture made by Basque artist Eduardo Chillida. Go inside the sculpture to feel reverberations from the waves while enjoying the impeccable views.
Afterward, stop at the Campo Valdés Roman Baths, right next to the church, to get familiar with Gijón's ancient history.
At the very end of the promenade, lined with hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, there are few small, quieter beaches surrounded by green areas. Where the promenade ends, El Paseo Litoral de San Lorenzo begins, a beachfront path surrounded by nature and a real pleasure for the senses. In the middle of the path you will find another surprise — access to a nudist beach.
Those traveling with children will be energized by the rhythm of the Cantabrian waves — walk a bit further down to find calmer stretches. There is an area designated for surfers, since the Cantabrian Sea is perfect for the sport. Lessons start in the summertime for beginner surfers.
Gijón is a very dynamic, young, sporty and lively city. Its inhabitants are very friendly and it's full of charming spots, amazing cuisine and a lot of entertainment in the summer. Top spots are old town, the picturesque port and Major Square, home to concerts showcasing a variety of musical styles.
Due to its popularity and location, Playa de San Lorenzo is usually quite packed starting at 1 p.m. — get a train, a bus or rent a car to discover more serene beaches just outside the city. Whether you head east or west, you'll stumble across impressive coastal stretches. I recommend two hidden spots east of Gijón.
Playa de Poo
This spotless beach is located at the foot of Picos de Europa, a series of impressive rocky mountain peaks with a height of 8000 feet. It lies at the mouth of the Vallina River near the town of Llanes. When the tide comes in, the sea enters the channel formed over the centuries, resulting in a kind of saltwater pool. This natural phenomenon makes Playa de Poo ideal for families, as bathing here is very safe.
After swimming, sunbathing, relaxing or walking around the surrounding areas, enjoy a wonderful lunch in the restaurant located right at the entrance of the beach. Otherwise, you can explore Poo's village and sample local cuisine.
The beach offers public showers and there are lifeguards in the summer months. There is a small parking lot at the entrance, but many locals open their private properties to provide visitors with additional parking for a nominal fee.
Playa de Gulpiyuri
Ever dream of finding a mysterious half-moon-shaped beach in the middle of a meadow? Mother Nature has created this surprising hidden oasis with crystal-clear saltwater, calming waves and white sand. To reach Playa de Gulpiyuri, the sea flows through a subterranean tunnel, bringing the sand with it to form this unbelievable paradise.
At 40 meters long and 15 wide, it's considered the smallest beach in the world, and is quite a thing to swim across while contemplating nature's purity. For its magnificence, it was declared a natural monument and is also a protected natural area.
To find this treasure, head to the small town of Naves, between Llanes and Ribadesella. It's not exactly easy to locate the beach — if driving, make sure that you bring a GPS. Take the Autovía del Cantábrico motorway and once you arrive at Naves, hop off at exit 313. Otherwise, ask a local — even people from the region take that approach in unfamiliar areas. Paradise isn't always easy to find!
Both Playa de Poo and Playa de Gulpiyuri are backed by cliffs. Embark on a pleasant hike to reach them and experience the breathtaking views that they offer.
Since Asturias is a coastal city with the Cantabrian Sea at its feet, fish and seafood feature heavily in its delicacies: from sea urchins — very popular in Gijón — to hake, sea bream, mussels and squid. There are a variety of delicious homemade cheeses produced in Asturias. The most famous is Cabrales cheese, a blue cheese with a strong flavor, regulated for authenticity and quality under the country's Denominación de Origen. But the most popular dish of the region is Fabada Asturiana, a stew of locally grown white beans with black pudding, chorizo and bacon. A dream dish for carnivores!
The area's special drink is homemade cider poured by waiters from above their heads into a wide glass — all without even looking. You'll get a small quantity of cider to drink within moments, with waiters discarding the remainder on the floor. Of course, there are other options like wines or beers from the region and surrounding areas. Don't forget to ask for the homemade rice pudding as a desert — an exquisite treat for the palate!
From North America, fly into Madrid or Barcelona first, and then catch a second flight to Asturias. Otherwise, you can fly to Santander and from there board a bus to Asturias. Most places can be reached by bus or train, but I recommend you rent a car — it's the best way to enjoy the region at your own pace.