Asturias

Best things to do and see

Asturias: Why go

Popular with the Spaniards and to a lesser extent the French, but inexplicably overlooked by the rest of the world, the northwesterly region of Asturias offers lush mountains, sublime and hearty cuisine, unspoiled towns where English is barely understood, and a green coast indented with surf-friendly beaches and dense-packed fishing villages. The moniker 'green' also tells you what's not to like: it rains here more than almost any other part of Spain - but rarely for whole days, and it still remains warm in summer.

Inland Asturias is dominated by the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Picos de Europa mountains, so-called because historically they were the first glimpse of Europe for sailors crossing the Atlantic on their way back home. They're still untamed: brown bears, griffon vultures and semi-wild ponies still inhabit their reserves. For me, the sight of a 'sea of clouds' floating over the 10-mile-long Cares gorge, while I looked down from the sunset-bathed peak, will stay with me for a lifetime.

The coastline is no less impressive, with rolling green meadows dropping into the turquoise waters of the Bay of Biscay, bissected by river estuaries and cliffside villages which feel more reminscent of Brittany or Wales than of Spain. Lastres (cobblestones and seafood galore) and Ribadesella (elegant stamping-ground of Queen Letizia) are highlights.

There are no big cities, but the charmingly bourgeois capital Oviedo is the epicentre of all things pastry and chocolate; while buzzy Gijon's late-July Semana Negra is an excuse for all-out artying and partying. In between them, the airport of Asturias (Oviedo) has regular direct flights to the UK, or you can catch a ferry to the region's other major city, Santander.

Asturias' distinctive culture includes bagpipes, madreƱas (hand-crafted clogs), rich bean and pork stews, and cider - served from a great height to add fizz. A scattering of handsome Romanesque churches serves as a reminder that this was the embryonic kingdom of Christian Spain, which had its first stronghold in the mountain fortress of Covadonga. There are also prehistoric caves: the most famous, Altamira, is no longer open to the public but is explained by a great museum, and there are others which you can visit.

10:31 | GMT +1 Hours