Off the beaten track in Northern Spain
Many millions of us will head to Spain this year on our holidays. But how many of us will head off the well trodden path looking for something a little different?
If you are one of them then we have a great recommendation for you. It’s the city of Gijon in the northern province of Asturias. While it is still a busy port city with plenty of industry there is much to attract the tourist and traveller. The sea front – San Lorenzo Bay - is fabulous and has a curve of beautiful sands. This is the place to sit and observe the daily paseo – promenade – when it seems as if the whole city is taking to the beach. The Spanish love their daily walks and it doesn’t matter whether you do it in the evening along the promenade or during the day in your speedos. If you want to see and be seen, this is the place to be.
At the eastern end of the bay you’ll find the Church of Saint Peter the Apostle and the narrow streets around the Port. This areas is known as Cimadevilla and is the oldest part of the city. Here you’ll find traditional restaurants and cider bars as well as the fortified Palace of Revillgigedo, a seventeenth century addition to the city that overlooks the old port. It’s a great spot to stop and sample what Gijon and Asturias is famous for – great local food. But of course don’t go for something new. Try the fabulous local peasant speciality, fabada, with a glass of Asturian cider. It’s a truly authentic taste that you’ll find in few other places. Alternatively go for seafood and red wine.
A walk from the port will take you out onto the headland and into the Santa Catalina park, an open area that once formed part of the city’s defences. Today it offers far reaching views over the peaceful Bay of Biscay, the old port and the city to the south and west. It is a stunning vista.
The densely populated city centre sits behind the Bay of San Lorenzo, the Cimadevilla and the enclosed Playa de Poniente. Much of it is old and labyrinthine, with small independent shops, cider bars and restaurants punctuated by squares and green spaces. With narrow streets and tall apartment blocks it’s typical of a northern Spanish city. But what need would you have of a garden or pool when there are magnificent beaches so close at hand?
For surfers Gijon could well be the ultimate city surf destination. Like its more glamorous cousin a few hundred miles to the east, Donostia San Sebastian, it blends city life with beach culture perfectly. Don’t be surprised to see wetsuited surfers heading to the waves from their apartment blocks while besuited business people walk to their offices. Come lunch time you can pretty much guarantee they will be in the water themselves.
HOW TO GET TO GIJON:
BY AIR: It is possible to fly to Asturias airport at Oviedo (which is about 30 minutes from Gijon) with Easyjet and Iberia.
BY ROAD: Driving takes a little longer but is possible from the UK via the ferries to Bilbao or Santander. The road and motorway network in northern Spain is excellent.
ON FOOT: Walking will take you along the famous Camino de Santiago, a long pilgrim trail to Sanitago de Compostella in the west.
BY RAIL: Gijon is connected to the rest of Spain by the RENFE and FEVE betworks. The FEVE route is narrow gauge and runs betweenBilbao in the east and Ferrol in the west. It is said to be one of Europe’s most beautiful railway journeys.
HOW TO PRONOUNCE GIJON: Don't say Geejohn, as no one will know what you are talking about. The G is soft, as is the J, so it ends up sounding very unlike we'd pronounce it naturally as English speakers, as Hee-Hon (like on not hon like honey).
TRAVELLING SAFELY IN SPAIN:
If you haven't got one already, pick up a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from the NHS website. It's free and entitles you to the same level of complimentary medical care as the Spanish locals receive. So you won't have to pay the medical bills yourself in the unlikely event that you need urgent treatment while you're away.
However, your EHIC won't cover everything.
The EHIC does not cover ongoing medical care, non-urgent treatment or medical repatriation. In other words, unless you're in immediate danger, you will have to pay for your own treatment. That can be extremely expensive (fixing a broken arm in Spain can cost as much as £11,000, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers.) That's why it makes sense to take out a good travel insurance policy.
Our Spain travel insurance covers up to £10 million worth of medical costs that your EHIC doesn't account for. So there's no need to worry about how you will fund treatment if you get hurt or become ill.