It Rains In Spain

Introducing Cantabria and Asturias

Oviedo      Gijon      Santander      The Picos de Europa

Although these two regions have identities and customs all of their own, the principal attraction of the area are the Picos de Europa – a vast, awe-inspiring range of mountains popular with hikers and (increasingly) skiiers, which spans across the two Comunidades Autonomas. Hence it is practical to tackle both regions together.

Guide to Asturias and Cantabria Spain.

Asturias

Asturias is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle. If any region of Spain proves the point and purpose of itrainsinspain.com, then it has to be Asturias. Looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, and wedged between Galicia, Cantabria and Castilla y Leon, Asturias is an antidote to every stereotype anyone may have about Spain. Much as in neighbouring Galcia, the Celtic influence which pervades along the westernmost coast of Europe continues here, and affects all aspects of daily life and ritual in Asturias. The one million or so inhabitants of Asturias have subsisted for centuries through agriculture and more recently through heavy industry and mining. The natural barrier of the Picos de Europa mountain range lends itself to giving Asturias a magical, isolated feeling, perhaps best expressed in the fierce patriotism amongst the locals of all things Asturian. So isolated, in fact, that the reconquests of Spanish lands from the Muslims was launched by Pelayo around the years 750A.D from the mountains near Covadonga in the Picos de Europa. Due to this, Asturians often maintain (with tongue firmly in cheek) that Asturias is the true Spain, and that the rest is merely tierra reconquistada (reconquered land).

The mountains and pastures of Asturias are stunningly green, thanks to the high levels of rainfall, and the lazy comparison would be to the west coast of Ireland or Wales.  The similarities, however, end at the hue of their greens and an economy dominated by the mine and the plough. Everything in Asturias is distinctive. The food, the local dialect, the towering mountains and untouched beaches – Asturias really has it all. Couple that with the fact that it receives a mere handful of visitors every year (mainly hikers), and you have a region well worth exploring.

Asturias has an effect on people, including the Spanish themselves. A mention of Asturias will bring about more often than not a pleasure filled roll of the eyes and a smile. The snow capped peaks, the deserted beaches, the local ciders and stews, the tranquility.

Cantabria

Cantabria sits to the east of Asturias and the west of the Basque Country, but historically it has always looked both north and south. To the North for its fishing, and to the south for its politics. Cantabria has always had an easy going relationship with Madrid and the idea of the Spanish nation. The Cantabrian Coast is often referred to as the Mar de Castilla (the Castilian Sea) for it seems to belong in heart and mind to the centralised Spanish identity. Santander reflects this, often chastised as too pijo (posh/snobby) for its own good and with a very forthright, conservative populace.

All of this, combined with its geographical location wedged between two fiercely proud and independent regions, gives Cantabria something of ‘safe’ feel, with all the advantages and disadvantages that may bring. In the west sit the Picos de Europa mountains, and along the coast are pretty fishing villages popular with well-to-do holiday makers from Madrid.

The vast majority of visitors to Cantabria only really see Santander as they step off a ferry, but this is an good place to start. Santander is wealthy, compact and safe yet it lacks any real buzz or history. The latter is due to the fact that the historic quarter was all but destroyed in a fire in the early 1940’s and the former is only proven false in the summer months.

Where to go: Santander, Picos de Europa, More Cantabria and Asturias