Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Off the beaten tack

Plenty of room for other boats

Since crossing the border from Galicia into Asturias, we've been pretty much on our own. Occasionally, a French boat on its way past, east or west, stops for a night, but that's it as far as yacht traffic goes. The distances between all-weather entry harbours are longer here, with only three sheltered harbours (Cudillero, San Esteban and Aviles) between Ribadeo and Gijon on the other side of Cabo PeƱas. We opted for San Esteban de Pravia as our base, 48 NM from Ribadeo and 25 NM from Gijon.

S Esteban river entrance. Ok today but we've seen winter pics
Anchored alone, in view of industrial heritage

A former coal port, San Esteban is now a charming, friendly little town with everything one could ask for - good transport links (train and bus), supermarket, general store, bank, pharmacy, five cafe/bar/restaurants, a beautiful coastal walk and perfect shelter in its large and fully dredged harbour basin. Its industrial heritage is nicely displayed with a row of cranes lit up along the harbourfront at night, and the final section of the old coal-transporting railway has been converted into a pedestrian path and park through the middle of town.

Even the most recent edition (2010) of the South Biscay pilot is pretty down on San Esteban. If we hadn't heard from a couple of boats who'd stopped in there that things were different, we would not have been tempted. True, until just a year or so ago most of the harbour was badly silted up but there is a dredger permanently based here and the port has just been dredged to around 7 metres, with small boat pontoons lining the quayside. The rest is used for dinghy sailing and other watersports or available for anchoring. This is what Burntisland or Granton could be like!

Along the clifftop coastal walk
Decay in the backwaters
Soto del Barco

True to what we have discovered to be our cruising philosophy, rather than be on the move all the time we've decided to stay for a couple of weeks or so in well-selected, sheltered anchorages along this coast and take the time to fully explore the surrounding countryside and towns. From San Esteban so far we've been to the cute fishing village of Cudillero, 3 NM to the west, and the historic cities of Aviles and Oviedo. This confirmed our choice of base port since Aviles, despite having a beautiful old town, has a horrible waterfront (the marina is next to a dual carriageway on one side, looking over to smoking factory chimneys on the other) and the wind whistles straight through the harbour at Cudillero.

Cudillero harbour - windswept but snug
Des res in Aviles 
Cobbled for cattle, smooth for pedestrians 
Rough night in Aviles?
Oviedo's Gothic cathedral 
Oviedo old town

The towns of northern Spain are very picturesque and lively and we find it hard to understand why there aren't more international tourists here (not that we're complaining, mind you). It's mainly pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago and Spanish visitors. But then we hadn't heard of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, or Aviles, its third largest city, before we came here, either. Highly recommended.

The local beverage, sidra, has become a favourite. It's an uncarbonated, unfiltered cider which is served by pouring over one's shoulder into a very thin glass held far below to give it some fizz. You're then supposed to down it, but that seems rather wasteful.

Asturian still life

Today we have a day off from sightseeing and join the local grannies what lunch, all dolled up in colour-matched dresses, handbags, shoes and cars, in a pre-lunch drink with pinchos on the terrace of the 'Puerto Norte'. Prior to lunch, that's also where one can find a rare beast in this part of the world - a strokable cat - who  most days seems to spend the late morning curled up on one or other of the cafe chairs.

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