Sometimes planning a European journey stirs up that desire to see ten famous cities in two weeks, to check items off the bucket list and come home with a roster of famous place names to tell friends and family about. But what we truly want is a fulfilling yet varied trip that combines bits and pieces of our favorite travel experiences: pleasant historical city strolls, invigorating hikes with breathtaking scenery, time spent in beautiful restaurants eating unforgettable meals…
We think we need to travel far and wide to find all this, but sometimes just one region, or even a single township, can provide it all. One of those regions is Asturias in northern Spain, and one of those municipalities is lovely Llanes on its eastern seaboard. Because, when you travel to a place like Llanes in Asturias, you end up checking items off your bucket list, but that list continues to grow in equal measure as you discover that there is so much more in the near vicinity!
Asturias is a unique northern region known for its distinct language, Bable, its culture and its foods, including fabada, a delicious white bean stew with several types of sausage, apple cider and cachopo, a thin steak layered with cheese and ham, then breaded and fried.
Perched above the Cantabrian Sea, as the Spaniards call the Bay of Biscay, the “large small town” of Llanes is not only home to a medieval town center with ancient walls and buildings, traditional bakeries, amazing seafood eateries and the longest lawn-covered seaside walkway in all of Europe (home to the “prettiest park bench in the world”), it also boasts a 35-mile coastline filled with over 30 awe-inspiring beaches of all shapes and sizes.
Some are at the end of long, twisty roads, like Playa Ballota, and others are adjacent to “downtown” Llanes and its port, like rock formation-filled Playa Rodó. Playa Gulpiyuri is a bizarre inland beach, with turquoise-colored waters that seep in from the shoreline a mile away, creating a hidden paradise. And perhaps the star of them all is unknown Playa de la Huelga, where you can walk down a long, remote trail to get the shocking view of a natural arch known as the “Castro de las Gaviotas,” or “Fortress of Seagulls.”
If the ocean has not yet provided enough spectacular views, you can head to the Bufones de Arenillas, a natural crevasse into which high-pressured water flows produce mysterious moans and shoot up geysers of foam. Not enough variety for you yet within 30 minutes’ driving time? Well, you can head slightly east to the village of Colombres, where some fortunate Spanish emigrants known here as “Indianos” built an amazing manorial home that now houses a Museum of Emigration, packed with memorabilia from the 1800s and 1900s, collected to remember the experiences of locals forced to cross the ocean in search of a better life in Latin America and the United States.
As a nice final touch to a continent-sized journey within such a small space, you might want to head for the parish church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Barro, nestled upon the tidal sands known as the Ensenada de Niembru, its gravestones hanging over shifting wetlands like Mont Saint Michel, an island of peace at high tide, a bizarre resting place overlooking wet mud during low tide, and a mesmerizing sight at sunset.
You will be hard up to choose between staying here to watch the sun go down or driving over to nearby Playa Borizu, to gaze as the sun sets behind the snowy mountains in the Picos de Europa, or heading for one of Asturias’ three main cities, Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés, all worth spending a day or two, and perhaps the next places you will wish to explore after so many days overdosing on seaweed, seacliffs and sidra.