With poor weather sneaking in and stealing our mojo on our last day in the Picos, we decided to pass on our original plan to walk around the Covodonga lakes, and instead move on. This walk was said to be another of the ‘must dos’ when in the Picos, but with low grey clouds and miserably persistent rain, and having already completed some exceptionally beautiful walks in the Picos already, we decided to head directly to the city of Gijon on the north Asturian coast.
As usual, we located our chosen aire easily using GPS coordinates from our aires book and Google maps on our phones – how did we ever find anywhere before? This aire was a large but not exclusively designated (so still shared with visiting cars) car-park with spaces just large enough to accommodate Benny. Pleasingly it was not too busy with it being shoulder season, so every ‘autocaravana’ on site was able to utilise two or three spaces, as required, to leave a more spacious feeling between each.
After parking, we repeated our practice of exploring the area and town that we were to spend the night in. The aire was located right next to a pretty palm-tree fringed park alongside the sea-front promenade. The nearest stretch to us looked directly out to sea and had its own sandy and rocky beach below, less than 100 metres from where we were parked. Although, with Atlantic rollers pounding in and causing large breakers, a swim opportunity looked unlikely, especially with the weather not at its sunny best.
We had a pleasant, breezy walk along the promenade into the main town, crossing a bridge to join the huge seafront at the impressive Playa de San Lorenzo. The sea front consisted of quite a few high-rise modern buildings along the front, with many bustling businesses occupying the ground floor properties. We passed plenty of joggers and walkers exercising along the sea front; good to see such a valuable resource being well utilised.
We observed a rather relaxed but active city, and as short bursts of sun occasionally escaped the clouds and lit up the front, we carried with us a decent first impression of Gijon. We had the same safe and pleasant feeling when walking around that we’ve experienced most of the time on our trip so far, with lively locals enjoying the outside spaces of their city with smiles on their faces. We walked around to the far edge of the large semi-circular bay and across to the opposite headland, passing the local church and up to the remains of the 19th century gun emplacements set high on the hill to defend the city. From the top of the Cimavilla headland we could see across to the next bay which was the main commercial port area of Gijon, with a much more industrialised feel.
We walked down off the peninsula into the old town, traditionally a local fisherman’s area, enjoying the leisurely downhill route past the active marina before heading back through the upmarket commercial centre and towards Benny.
One of Nicky’s enduring memories of Gijon was not so much the town, but of one service it offered. We visited a small supermarket and bought a liquid yogurt drink in an attempt to soothe a sore throat she’d had for a few days, and the memory of this smooth cold drink on this muggy day, relieving her ailing throat, was very comforting.
Later that night, just before the sun was to set, we walked back down a part of the sea front promenade with a rucksack filled with sketch books and our favourite cheap red wine. The coastal walk was alive with dog walkers and and joggers, giving off a friendly and vibrant mood. We enjoyed a glass of red as we sat and sketched a prominent bronze statue named ‘Monumento a la Madre del Emigrante’, poorly. As requested previously by MarkP, here’s the final result; yes, I blame the wine, myself.
This was never a priority place for us, being away from our preferred coastal route but the poor weather drove us back inland in the direction of Ovideo, for more of a city break. On the way we read up a little and noted that the city holds World Heritage Site status, so this made our sidetrack became a much more interesting proposition.
We parked on a free aire, exclusive for motorhomes, in the southern university quarter of the city, about a half hour’s walk from the central area. The area was fully serviced and looked clean and safe and we considered staying over if we liked the town and wished to linger.
We had a long walk from this parking aire to town, on busy city srreets. It was a dull, overcast day on way into town, although hot and sunny on our return trip later. The walk in wasn’t of too much interest, but the road did remind me somewhat of the Dumbarton Road in north Glasgow; a long, sprawling but active street with lots of small, sometimes scruffy businesses looking busy and productive, serving the local community well, unselfconscious and unpretentious. We did note the complete lack of any Starbuck’s, Costas or other global franchised stores, as we had in most of Spain, which was a welcome change from the normal globalised chains that usually line such city streets.
We cut left when we felt close to the centre, up a narrow alleyway with giveaway cobblestones and small bars setting out tables and chairs in time for lunch, to what we correctly guessed was the Cathedral quarter and main square. We had our obligatory look inside the cathedral before exploring more of the city in the now bright sun.
It was market day in town, so the streets around the central squares were crowded and bustling with life, although the market itself looked a little disappointing, with the standard tacky stalls selling phone covers, slippers and pillow cases, rather than anything of local interest. It did prove a level of noise and colour outside to contrast with the cool silence of building interiors when we steeped out of the sun for a while.
The centre had many worthy Romanesque buildings built from a light yellow ironstone, reminiscent of both Malta and in some ways Northamptonshire stone. We undertook a self-guided walking tour, at a slow pace, visiting most of the key sights around the centre. We wanderd through Constitution Square, with the Church of San Isodoro del Real and Oviedo’s town hall, then Fontan square, near the market, with lovely looking restaurants spilling out into the shaded corners. We walked Mon street and Cimadevilla street, enjoying different perspectives of the cathedral tower and other local buidlings. Oviedo proved a delight in the morning sun, we were so glad we stopped off here on our way.
We stopped to have lunch in a shady path to the west of the centre, near a fountain. The sound of trickling water was relaxing, as the sun was draining even at the slow walking pace we had adopted. We walked a little further out to the south west of centre, to take a closer look at a Santiago Calatrava building, a commercial shopping centre and hotel complex in the heart of the University quarter. It proved to be in his usual distinctive style, with white angular or curved forms and interesting sail-like shapes, all defying gravity and the form taking precedent over any functional or practical necessity.
It struck a strong architectural statement and from a distance added a clear level of interest and drama to the street scape. Yet close up, the buidling was a bit of a mess; badly finished, dirty and poorly considered in terms of maintenance. We climbed an external escape stair that led only to a locked door. Algae stains from water run-off sit obviously on most surfaces that would be difficult, if not impossible, to clean properly. The white, flat horizontal brise soleil were so thick with dirt and grime I scraped my name on them with a stick, to match the other myriad of graffiti marks and tags on the side walls. It was a shame it isn’t looked after better; even the shops in the mall inside looked tired and dated.
We decided not to linger overnight in the city, but to make our way a short distance further on to a waterside aire, near the village of Cudillero.
This was a place to stop over for a night, a simple and easy reach aire only a few minutes from the motorway. A quiet harbour park on the water’s edge, with views over the moored boats and the town built into the hillside.
After relaxing in Benny for a while (with a nice glass of red) we thought we needed a cobweb-cleansing walk rather than falling lazily further into a bottle and closing shop for the night. We walked along the harbour front, surprised by the swell and hidden rocks jutting up in between the moored fishing boats. We crossed a narrow footbridge, cutting off a hairpin corner of the only road into town to reach the small loading harbour at the main square.
The town itself was a very rewarding surprise. The restaurants and small shops at the base level no doubt dominate the commerce of the village, but the setting and ambience is a joint venture, and the quirkiness of all the houses combined, created something rather greater than each individual house could ever hope to. We walked up behind the centre, up narrow algae covered steps with painted blue handrails on routes marked on the paving slabs with either an anchor or a fish, to denote various options for walks and miradors over the town or the adjacent sea.
We saw into the tiny external spaces of locals properties as we weaved between corners of buildings, with some very narrow gaps that could have left larger framed walkers returning by the same route. The quirkiness and ramshackle nature of the town added to its character, although I imagine living there would become quite a chore after a while, with constant steps up and down and with precarious falls at each bend or around each corner. Private doorways lead off these narrow paths, some beautifully neat and well kept, others rough and needing attention. There were almost no external spaces for any properties that didn’t form part of the public sphere, so we felt like we were invading a little into the privacy of residents just by walking past, but I’m sure they are quite used to it.
The highest mirador allowed views back across the harbour to see Benny parked up in the distance. Out of curiosity we climbed the steep road behind, to find a large cemetery with eternal facing gravestones on tall concrete walls.
We were later told of the small signs around the harbour warning that it was not permissible to park there overnight with motorhomes, and initially felt lucky to have been spared a fine, but later met another traveller who suggested the injunction was only applicable to or enforced in the months of July and August, to stop the car-park being overrun by motorhomes at their busiest times. Something to look out for when we travel in the high season.