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Slow Train through Asturias

A journey through España Verde by rail
Holiday information
Nights: 7
Accommodation: one 4-star hotel; two 3-star hotels
Meals: 7 breakfasts
Included extras: rail pass for up to 10 single journeys
Extend your stay
For a real contrast, we recommend adding a 3-night stay at the Hotel Picos de Europa so you can access some of Spain's best mountain trails within one of Europe's most stunning National Parks.
Starting point:

Your holiday begins at Casona de la Paca, which sits at the top of the hill above Cudillero, one of the most charming fishing villages in Asturias.

Bringing in the catch

Cudillero fills a natural amphitheatre facing the sea, with colourful houses tumbling down terraces towards a small cove. The cobbled streets and stepped alleyways are a delight to explore, and it feels as though the whole place is dedicated to fishing (almost half the population still earn their living from the sea). Don’t miss the return of the boats to harbour with their catch during the early evening: most of their haul, destined for some of Spain’s finest restaurants, is taken straight to the market for auction.

Days 1 & 2

There’s lots to do during your first two days, with and without using the train:

• Enjoy Cudillero
Take a short walk along quiet lanes down into the village to explore.

• Aguilar Beach & coastal walk
A 5-minute taxi ride brings you to Aguilar Beach, whose inviting golden sands stretch beneath dramatic cliffs. From here, follow a 7-kilometre coastal path to pretty San Esteban, where deep blue waters fill its harbour and the wide mouth of the River Nalón, before catching the FEVE train back again.

• Visit Luarca
From Cudillero, catch the FEVE west to Luarca, where you have time to wander the narrow streets and take in the attractive harbour before enjoying lunch and catching the early afternoon train back to Cudillero.

• Historic Avilés
Avilés lies in the other direction, about an hour’s ‘Slow Train’ journey to the east. Often overlooked due to its former industrial associations, this is a gem of a place to explore. The historic centre, with its elegant, colonnaded streets and central Plaza de España, fronted by two fine 17th-century buildings, makes a fine place to wander; and there are some good, authentic Asturian restaurants to enjoy. You can also visit the striking Cultural Centre designed by Oscar Niemeyer, one of the world’s most influential modern architects.

THE ‘SLOW TRAIN’

In this corner of the world, so replete with natural attractions, the FEVE (Ferrocaril Española Via Estrecha ) is a reluctant star. It is, after all, a bit of a misfit: its narrow-gauge tracks support trains that are neither luxurious nor particularly modern, doggedly resisting ‘progress’ as they plod from one tiny platform to another in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. But the FEVE, in its refusal to rush, remains integral to Asturian rural life, and is – in our eyes, at least – an icon of Slow Travel. Feel the deceleration of both life and mind as you trundle through some seriously eye-pleasing scenery.

Day 3

Today you head a short distance inland, again by train, to reach Oviedo, Asturias’ cultured capital. You stay one night at the Hotel Fruela, handily placed for our self-guided tour of this eminently pleasant – and very walkable – city.

A cultured capital

Oviedo, Asturias’ civilised and compact capital, has a characterful casco antiguo  (old town) offset by elegant parks and good shopping areas. There are intriguing sights, inviting restaurants and sidrerías, plus a lively student population, which together lend the city an historic yet coolly contemporary vibe. Admire the cathedral of San Salvador, the Museum of Fine Arts, and – a short bus journey away – the two UNESCO-protected, pre-Romanesque churches which are a symbol of the town. You might also spot a bronze, life-size Woody Allen: the American director set part of Vicky Cristina Barcelona  here, and the statue’s rather lugubrious demeanour belies the fact that he fell deeply in love with Oviedo, claiming the city “is like a fairy tale”.

Day 4

Today you continue by train to Ribadesella and the Villa Rosario. Ribadesella’s pretty plazas and narrow streets offer up a tempting variety of places to eat and drink, from traditional sidrerías  to the Michelin-starred Arbidel (advanced booking essential).

CASAS DE INDIANOS

There were a number of distinct cultures that thrived here in times gone by – the pixuetos  (primarily fishermen) from Cudillero, for example; and the vaqueiros  (Asturian ‘cowboys’), who lived and tended livestock in the mountains. Whatever their background, many were lured to the Americas during the 18th and 19th centuries to make their fortunes, and it is their rich legacy – in the form of the grandiose, almost palatial, homes that dot the region – that is so distinctive today. These houses, or Casas de Indianos, often feature a palm tree in their grounds, planted as a reminder of where their wealth came from.

Days 5 & 6

Again, there’s plenty of choice for your two days here:

• Explore Ribadesella
Both a low-key fishing town and a jewel of Spain’s Atlantic Coast, Ribadesella – as its name suggests – is carved in two by the mouth of the Sella River. As well as exploring the charming streets of the Old Town east of the river, take time to enjoy the graceful curve of Playa de Santa Marina to the west, where golden sands and gently lapping waves are backed by a popular pedestrian promenade. You can also wander up to the picturesque Hermitage de la Virgen de la Guia, where there are marvellous views.

• Tito Bustillo Cave
Just a 10-minute stroll from the waterfront is Ribadesella’s most curious attraction: the outstanding, UNESCO-protected Tito Bustillo Cave. The eerie interior is lined with prehistoric depictions dating back as far as 35,000 years – considered to be some of the most important examples of Paleolithic Art in Europe.

• Medieval Llanes
Catch the train east to Llanes, where you will find another lovely coastal village, but with a very different feel – there is a walled medieval heart to explore, as well as a wide choice of bars, cafés, shops and restaurants.

• Head to the beach
Jump back on the ‘Slow Train’ to take your pick from a string of pristine beaches along this stunning stretch of coastline, many of which are easily accessible on foot from the various FEVE calling-points. You can even make up your own coastal walks, getting off the train at one stop in order to follow the footpath to reach another, perhaps stopping off at a quiet cove for a dip along the way.

FABULOUS BEACHES

Little-known outside Spain is the fact that the country’s most beautiful beaches are to be found up here along the untamed and unspoiled northern coast. These golden strands entice surfers and sunbathers during summer, but outside peak season Asturias’ 200-or-so coves are delightfully quiet. Along the short stretch between Ribadesella and Llanes, for example, more than 20 beaches await discovery, including Celerio and Po, two of our favourites. Simply hop off the train, take a short walk, and enjoy your own sandy slice of the Costa Verde.


ASTURIAN CIDER

To the Asturianos, an intensely proud people, theirs is the real  Spain. This, they claim, is the sole patch of land never conquered by the Moors, meaning that all the rest is merely tierra de reconquista  (reconquered land). Emblematic of this exceptionalism, which has in some respects softened over the years, is the cider-drinking tradition – an art form in itself. Witness the lively, waterfront sidrerías, where skilful escanciadores  (cider pourers) artfully decant fizzing local brews from high above, and where the emphasis on communal revelry makes the occasion feel more like a group hug than a mere meeting of friends.


Optional extension in the Picos de Europa:

Day 7

An hour’s taxi journey brings you to Arenas de Cabrales, where you spend three nights at the Hotel Picos de Europa, which lies at the gateway to one of Europe’s most magnificent National Parks.

PICOS DE EUROPA & THE CARES GORGE

Among the many remarkable geological features of the Picos de Europa National Park, the Garganta del Cares (also known as ‘The Divine Gorge’) is one of the great natural sights of Europe. This immense chasm would be virtually impassable, were it not for a trail blasted in the 1940s for the maintenance of an irrigation canal, but its accessibility for walkers means that, as you approach the village of Caín (the point at which you turn back), the gorge opens up to reveal an unrivalled view of towering jagged peaks.

Days 8 & 9

Up here, in the rarified mountain air, keen walkers are in for a real treat, and a complete contrast to the rest of this holiday. With access to some of Spain’s best mountain trails, it’s a great way to complete your varied Asturian experience. Highlights include the spectacular Cares Gorge (accessible via our included return taxi to Poncebos); a trip on the funicular up to Bulnes for the walk back down (or vice versa if you’re feeling energetic!); or even a hike up to the Pandebano Pass from Bulnes for a really challenging day. Back at base in Arenas, cheese lovers should definitely pay a visit to the cave where the pungent Cabrales blue is produced.

‘CABRALES BLUE’

Among the array of tangy, pungent blue cheeses produced in Asturias, Queso de Cabrales, from the pleasant hill town of Arenas on the edge of the Picos National Park, is probably the best-regarded. The traditional blend of cow’s milk with that of goats and/or sheep lends the final product a strong – even spicy – flavour, and the maturation process (for up to four months in limestone caves) means that its distinctive bluey-green mould grows naturally from outside, resulting in a strong, penetrating aroma, and a taste that is not for the faint-hearted.

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Local Map
The 'Art' of Asturian cider
Cider is very much part of life in Asturias, and the passage of this honey-coloured liquid from bottle to glass is a true art form. Inntravel's Steve Jack delves into the traditions surrounding this much-loved drink...
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My FEVE journey
Though unmarked on most railway maps, the narrow-gauge FEVE is very much a part of life in northern Spain. Inntravel's Charlotte Phillips shares her impressions from her recent journey on this Slowest of trains...
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