10 Fairy tale Villages in Asturias
30 November, 2016
Asturias has numerous villages and hamlets which are the stuff of dreams. Indeed, they have long inspired fantastic tales – and continue to do so – a blend of reality, dreams and a thousand wonders. Some cling to a hillside; others are set in valleys, on a riverbank or next to a dam, looking out over both the sea and the mountains. Still others are clustered at the foot of lofty peaks, dotted with dozens of hórreos and paneras,or bathed by the intense, huge breakers of the Cantabrian Sea.
These villages make up an inspirational Asturias which beckons us to experience the honeyed, full-bodied thrill of the landscape and its inhabitants, in a land that brings out the artistic, somewhat bohemian streak in people and makes us explorers of space and time.
Tanes – the Secrets of Water
Once upon a time there was a village that adapted its appearance and lifestyle to the presence of a dam, without in any way shedding its beauty and primeval essence. There was once a village that gave its name to a dam, and the dam gave water and life to the whole central region of Asturias – a village which preserves its charm intact and which goes by the name of Tanes.
Tanes lies in the municipality of Caso, in the east central section of Asturias, and is part of the Biosphere Reserve Network. This natural habitat breathes tranquility, enhanced by the friendliness of its people.
Wildlife, indigenous flora, the power of its reservoir and the murmuring river Nalón make Tanes a storied, legendary place. And, as befits this magical enclave, the village outskirts are home to the collegiate church of Santa María la Real. As if clinging to the shores of the dam, the slender silhouette of this church towers in all its Renaissance splendour over the waters which mirror all the greenery of Tanes.
Villar de Gallegos, with Coal in its Entrails
In Asturias, stories are sometimes written in black and green, the colour of its coal and forests. Indeed, some fairy-tale villages lie in the mining heart of Asturias’ Montaña Central. One such example is Villar de Gallegos, in the municipality of Mieres.
This authentic hamlet, where rural life seems to stand still, is set against a mountain backdrop and is noteworthy for its scenic and geological value, as well as for its outlying areas, with itineraries which retrace the erstwhile activity of the coal and mercury mines.
The surrounding heights provide exceptional viewpoints over the Sierra del Aramo, Las Ubiñas-La Mesa Nature Reserve, the Pajares area and the Cordal de La Carisa – part of the Nature Reserve Network – and, on clear days, the Picos de Europa National Park as well.
Bandujo – the Sleepy Hamlet
Set between mountains and valleys in central Asturias, as if by magic the Middle Ages comes out to meet you at the village of Bandujo, one of the best preserved medieval precincts in the Asturian countryside.
A lot of history and numerous passing travellers have set eyes on its walls and stones, on the Tuñón Tower and the Church of Santa María. Once a hub of intense activity for centuries, it is now suddenly silenced, gripped by an eternal hush and an all-embracing peace.
Bandujo is now seemingly asleep in an endless medieval slumber. This is the feeling that washes over you when you get to the village and observe it, whether close-up or from afar. Set within a huge green frame, unique in Asturias, it wears its historical background in total calm.
Pumares – Water, Slate and Stone
In the middle of a tract of hydraulic devices, fire and iron, the greenest footpaths and the highest waterfall in Asturias, you suddenly catch sight of it, as if snatched from some fantasy ornament – the village of Pumares, in Santa Eulalia de Oscos.
Pumares is like a dream of stone, black slate and water. It is a corner where the river gurgles sweetly and the starting point of the route to the famous, all-powerful Seimeira waterfall.
You will come to grips with the land of ferreiros (blacksmiths) and forests, of water mills, fulling mills, fulling hammers and iron craftsmen, in a hushed, multi-coloured natural setting.
Tuña – the Spirit of General Riego Lives On
Once upon a time all the gold from western Asturias passed through a village in the municipality of Tineo. It was mined by the Romans from the entrails of Asturias to sustain one of the greatest empires of ancient times.
There was once a village in Tineo which gifted history and humanity with stalwart fighters for social justice like General Riego.
The whole of Tuña is now seemingly imbued with the spirit of General Riego. You can still see the house where he was born, as well as a bust and the odd mural which honour his memory.
Tuña will take you back in time, led by its Roman bridge and palaces, its tranquility and its friendly people.
Viavélez – Gentle Sailing in a Cantabrian Harbour
Wind and brackish waters, waves and foam, a jetty and a lighthouse, a small harbour that seems to leap out of a fairy-tale. This is Viavélez, one of the most secluded and surprising spots on the west coast of Asturias, situated in the municipality of El Franco.
A safe haven for seamen and fishermen, sea lovers, writers and artists, seafood connoisseurs, merchants, travellers and pilgrims, Viavélez is a veritable gift of nature.
Whether the sea is calm or rough, the sight of Viavélez is always stunning.
Riodeporcos – Far From the Daily Grind
What a great privilege it is to arrive in Riodeporcos! There where the Navia flows into a sort of meander and its sheet of water glistens in the sun lies Riodeporcos, by way of some divine creation.
The footbridge linking this hamlet in Ibias to the rest of the world provides a sort of bygone, romantic way of accessing the hamlet which – be warned – you cannot get to by car.
Far from the daily grind and swathed in nature, a stopover in Riodeporcos will make any notion of stress smack of urban legend.
Espinaréu – Finding the Key to the Hórreo
Can you imagine a spot which is the kingdom of hórreos, those granaries built on stilts? That place is not just in your imagination, it actually exists. It lies in Asturias and is a hamlet called Espinaredo or Espinaréu, in the municipality of Piloña.
You will be amazed by the approach to Espinaréu – and not just because of the profusion of hórreos and paneras (fulling mills) – but because they look bright and shiny and still operate as they have done for centuries, intimately linked to the harvest and, therefore, to human survival.
Espinaréu is a homely village, traversed by the river of the same name, where the hórreos have a life of their own with their variegated ornamentation and wood carvings, some of them polychromed. It is like travelling to an ethnographic paradise where the mark of time is broad and intense.
Bulnes, Where the Picos de Europa Come to Embrace You
You can get to Bulnes either along a highland canal or by funicular railway. On landing at an altitude of a thousand metres, dwarfed by summits that come to embrace you, your reaction is one of amazement and you feel you have just crossed a frontier.
A frontier which thousands of mountaineers and rock climbers have crossed for over a century of exploration, adventure and effort. A frontier which hundreds of inhabitants of the Picos de Europa have traversed all their lives, in a supreme exercise of survival in raw nature.
This is Bulnes, in the heart of the Central Massif of the Picos de Europa, in the municipality of Cabrales. Here you will come across idyllic scenery, the unique Cabrales cheese, an upper quarter with panoramic views and a way of life that is dying out. Living testimony to the harshness of this lifestyle in former times is evinced in the austere – formerly roofed – cemetery at the entrance to the village.
Gobiendes – the Best Sea and Mountain Viewpoint from the pre-Romanesque
How about a vantage point looking out over the sea from a pre-Romanesque church? Gobiendes regales you with this experience in its pre-Romanesque Church of Santiago. Sited atop a cliff overlooking the sea, Gobiendes faces the Cantabrian on one side and, on the other, Mount Sueve, the first mountain which seamen catch sight of when approaching the Asturian coastline.
With its Palace and its meticulously maintained houses, Gobiendes, in the municipality of Colunga, is a peaceful backwater where you can feel the unique combination of sea breeze and mountain wind.
What’s more, you are smack in the middle of the Coastal Road To Santiago, the oldest existing approach route to the Cathedral of San Salvador!
Text and images by Turismo de Asturias
30 November, 2016