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Welcome to Ribadesella

Selina Lovell, 17 August, 2018
Vast expanses of golden sand, an excellent array of restaurants and a warm and characterful hotel – blogger and first-time Inntraveller Selina Lovell tells us what she loves about the Asturian town of Ribadesella.
 

Nothing says ‘holiday’ more than the wide-open expanse of a golden beach. Combine this with a superb location at the foot of the Picos de Europa, fantastic restaurants ranging from earthy bars to Michelin star and a warm and friendly hotel offering breakfast views of the sea and you have the foundations for a very good few days. Welcome to Ribadesella, the last stop on the Slow Train through Asturias holiday.

This fascinating town has much to please the intrepid explorer: split into two halves, separated by the Sella river, each side has its own distinct identity. The dark river widens into a muddy estuary with tidal mud flats littered with oyster shells to form a natural harbour clinking with the masts of small boats. Along one side of the harbour lies the main part of the town, the tiny FEVE  station just a short walk up the hill. Across the connecting bridge and its steady stream of backpackers en route to Santiago de Compostela, there’s a bit more of a seaside resort vibe. Hotels and hostels for tired pilgrims to rest their weary feet are interspersed with giant casas de indianos  set in exotic gardens overlooking the beach, one of which is the hotel Villa Rosario.

You may feel like you have inadvertently stumbled onto the set of a Wes Anderson movie when you first set eyes on Villa Rosario. Its flamboyant eccentric style has to be seen to be believed. Although it’s not alone in its decadent style – there are several other gothic-looking casas de indianos along the curve of the Playa de Santa Marina – with its green tiled turret it is undoubtedly the most magnificent. Built by a returning émigré and romantically named after his wife, this beautiful building is now a lovely hotel, the perfect base for your last few days in Asturias. The rooms are sleek and modern but take a peek out the window and gaze in awe at the floral decorations covering the outside like royal icing on a wedding cake.

It’s a short walk back over the bridge to the main part of the town, canoeists tracing sleek lines across the water, fast and silent as the clouds drop over the mountains in the evening light. The town itself is not more than a couple of long parallel streets but there are plenty of bars and restaurants. The main action is harbour side, with traditional sidrerías and posh seafood restaurants facing the sea for the best views. Take a people-watching walk along the harbour, stopping off for a drink or two before making your choice. El Carroceu is one such pleasant spot where you may be tempted (as we were) to extend the initial glass to a bottle. Service is friendly and the food is great, with a wide tapas menu of exotic-sounding seafood and excellent local dishes like chorizo in cider. You can choose to sit harbour side (and pay a small surcharge) or do as we did and join the friendly locals at the bar watching lively Spanish game shows and football on the wall-mounted TV; you’ll soon be hooked and may even find yourself cheering on the local side.

A little farther around the corner is the Michelin-starred Arbidel. The chef, Jaime Uz, is famed for his creative versions of local Asturian cuisine and his showcasing of Spanish products. You can book easily online and the tasting menu is fantastic value for the quality of the food. A recommended decadent afternoon for foodies.

Deeper into the back streets of the town is the escalera de colores, a steep set of stone steps in rainbow colours with inspiring slogans created by a local photographer, just outside his studio. Follow this path upwards amongst the houses and gardens clinging to the headland to the Ermita de la Virgen de la Guía, a tiny chapel guarded by cannons and overlooking the town. Here you have views in both directions of this outstanding coast disappearing into the mists of the Cantabrian Sea as well as of Ribadesella itself, curled around the banks of the river. Inside, one wall is covered in an armada  of model boats from galleons with sails to tiny wooden fishing vessels sailing across the white plaster walls under the watchful gaze of the Madonna, her outstretched hand bearing another tiny ship protectively.

As you lie in your comfortable bed back at Villa Rosario lulled into sleep by the sounds of the waves, you’ll think of Señora Rosario and just what a lucky lady she must have been. Ribadesella is a special place indeed.
 

Further information

Slow Train through Asturias
Ribadesella is the final stop on our Slow rail journey through Asturias, a journey that takes in the beautiful fishing village of Cudillero as well as Oviedo – the region's cultured capital.
More about our journeys in Spain >

A piper's dream
Swirling skirts and an infectious beat. No, it's not flamenco you can hear on the streets of Oviedo, but an altogether more unexpected sound. Read Selina's Slow Lane article to find out just what the noise is all about...
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'Bighomebird'
For more of Selina's travels in food and on foot, take a look at her blog...
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