Astounding Asturias – Spain’s Best Kept Secret

by Sally.Dowling

If you are looking for long sandy beaches combined with magnificent mountains, then Ribadesella in Northern Spain is the place to go.

What comes first – location or accommodation? In my case it’s nearly always location but on this trip I was lured to the Northern Spanish town of Ribadesella by the seductive website of a stylish B&B - La Calma. I am pleased to report that La Calma didn’t disappoint and after 4 days it had done it's job and calmed me down perfectly.

La Calma is the dream of Englishman Andrew and his Venezuelan wife Morelia. It was built to their specific design to cleverly resemble an old farmhouse. The five rooms are all beautifully decorated with modern en suite facilities that actually work (a novelty in Spain sometimes) and equipped with espresso machines for that early morning caffeine fix. The surrounding gardens have views across the valley and the entire area is quiet and peaceful. An added bonus is a holistic massage or Reiki treatment from Morelia, something that the couple hope to expand on in the next few years, creating a wellness centre to cater for all us stressed out city dwellers. A double room cost 100 Euros a night with breakfast and my hour long massage was 50 Euros.

Ribadesella was one of the prettiest and interesting towns that we came upon on our tour of Northern Spain. It straddles the River Sella with the bustling town and port on one side and elegant hotels and long sandy beaches on the other. Both sides linked by an attractive bridge. An outdoor market weaves its way through the streets every Wednesday and is a good place to pick up local cheeses and cured meats as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

As one of the centres of the Asturian Sidra (Cider) industry, Ribadesella's main riverfront is dotted with Sidra bars. The Sidra is cheap with a bottle for two costing around 3 Euros. The waiters make a great show of pouring the cider in the traditional way from a great height, just a little at a time. All accompanied by tasty tapas of sizzling gambas (prawns), croquettas or a plate of Asturian cheeses.

Morelia and Andrew are great ambassadors for the area and suggested activities and restaurants that they had tried and tested. We weren’t disappointed. We had a home cooked meal just five minutes walk from La Calma, along the quiet lane, L'Alisal, to Meson La Fuente, (tel: 985 860460). We tucked into fabada the famous hearty stew of Asturian beans, sausage and meats and were very glad of the walk back to the hotel.

For our last night Morelia suggested La Huerbona, (Tel: 985 86 05 53) a slightly longer walk along the lane and a very stylish restaurant. We sipped cocktails on the pretty terrace where the owners had thoughtfully provided cashmere wraps in case the temperature was a bit chilly. Again, as suggested by Morelia, we chose steak and it was heavenly. Our meal was rounded off by a taster selection of tiny desserts, beautifully presented arroz con leche (rice pudding) helado du turron (nougat ice cream) and flan (crème caramel). The bill came to just under 50 Euros each including wine and drinks.

Ribadesella comes into its own each August when a prestigious international kayaking festival takes place along the River Sella. As a result there are many opportunities to have a go yourself and we spent an enjoyable morning kayaking downstream with Turaventura, Costs can vary depending on conditions; we paid 25 Euros per person for a half-day tour.

The coastline in and around Ribadesella is a mixture of large sandy beaches and smaller coves. We particularly enjoyed Vega Beach, a very unspoiled spot just outside town. A café/bar and snack kiosk provide drinks and ice creams but for a special lunch there is a superb fish restaurant Gueyu-Mar, (Tel: 985 86 08 63). Service is attentive and the fish and seafood all freshly caught.

For me the best experience was a drive into the glorious Picos de Europe. It took about 30 minutes to reach the northern gateway to the mountains Cangas de Onis. A busy and attractive town that we unfortunately did not have time to explore. We pressed on higher and higher to Covadonga where the amazing 19th century basilica clings to the hillside and attracts visitors by the coach load. Our destination was the glacial lakes, reached via a road that wound around the mountains giving stunning views around each bend. Andrew from La Calma had advised us to drive past the first lake, Lago Enol and head for the car park at Lago de la Ercina. Here you will find a small restaurant open in the summer months for snacks and lunch. The view is breathtaking across the icy blue lake to the rugged mountains beyond, cows grazing peacefully with the bells around their necks echoing across the valley.

We had a picnic so soon left the crowds behind and followed a walk from the indispensible Sunflower Guide to the Picos de Europe. A book I would recommend to anyone setting out to explore the region, The peace and quiet and clear mountain air was just incredible, a real tonic for jaded townies.

Sadly there is never enough time to do all you would like but it does guarantee that we will return to this pretty town and to the calming atmosphere of La Calma.

GETTING THERE: We travelled with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Santander.

TOP TIP: Pack a selection of clothes, it may be sunny on the beach but it can quickly turn cold at high altitudes in the mountains.


I have been involved with the travel industry for all my working life and in the last 5 years have turned to travel writing. In 2006 I won the Visit USA award for best consumer magazine feature entitled 'Secret Florida'. I continue to travel whenever and wherever I can with my husband. We like to seek out lesser known areas of popular destinations and to stay in small family run hotels. It gives me great pleasure to recommend somewhere that we have enjoyed so that others can share the experience.