How Do I Get to Paradise? Transport to Asturias
Asturias calls itself a natural paradise.
The principality is on the northern coast of Spain, where the rain and mist from the Bay of Biscay greens the mountain valleys of the Sierra Cantábrica. This range of mountains goes all the way from the Pyrenees in the east to Galicia in the west. Its highest peaks are in the Picos de Europa on the border between Cantabria and Asturias where a majestic salient stretches out into the sea.
The mountains have historically made Asturias difficult to get to. This is precisely the reason it was the cradle of the Christian kingdoms that managed to hold out against the more powerful Muslim powers in the south: they were hard to winkle out. Valleys curve up through the limestone valleys that were carved with steep precipices by glaciation. There is always another crest of hills in the distance. We are right in the middle of Asturias.
The Romans came into Asturias over the hilltops. As you would expect of these great engineers, they found the easiest routes from the high plains of León. They did not follow the valleys. Their routes were used continuously up until the end of the nineteenth-century when road builders started thinking about tunnels and viaducts.
Now you can fly, drive or take the train right into the heart of paradise!
The airport is called Asturias (Oviedo). However, there are three cities in Asturias, Avilés, Gijón and Oviedo. Oviedo has given its name to the airport because it is the administrative capital of the principality but the airport is actually closer to Avilés. There are regular buses that go to all three of the cities or you can hire a car. I recommend Enterprise, because I have had nothing but good service from them in the past. They have an office at the airport.
If you get a taxi, you might cuss them for naming the airport Oviedo. It will take you more than half an hour to get to Oviedo and will be expensive. I have never done it so I cannot tell you exactly how much it would be. If there is a bus, that is what I would recommend. If, on the other hand, you arrive too late in the evening and there is no bus, it is better to get a taxi to Avilés, which is fifteen minutes from the airport and will cost about 15€. A bus to Oviedo will take another thirty minutes and cost 3€.
There are flights into Asturias airport from Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and London. The London route is competitive with services from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Have a look at the providers:
I never get the plane to Madrid because I prefer the train or bus. Although the journey time is longer by train it is more than made up for in comfort and convenience. If you insist on going by plane, you have to negotiate Barajas airport. And, if you are staying extra nights in Madrid, you have to get back out there from the centre, negotiate the terminals, check your luggage, pay for an exorbitant cup of coffee and stand in line like an animal. The tinny little commuter airplanes leave my ears ringing all day as well.
There are regular TALGO trains that go from Madrid to Oviedo and Gijón. The ride is comfortable and will take you from Chamartín to Oviedo in a little over four hours. Oviedo station is on the edge of the centre of town. It is an easy walk to some of the best hotels, such as the Reconquista. There is a range of other hotel options in easy walking distance. Double-check where your hotel is before ordering a taxi!
The RENFE website was designed by people who do not want to sell tickets. Be patient with it. There are two versions: a useless modern version that is supposed to be mobile friendly and will have you pulling out your hair; and the classic version, which is a little less frustrating. The tickets are released three months before departure date so do not expect to be able to get your tickets or consult train times in advance. There is no option on the site to look at timetables. Don’t let the website put you off, however, the train is my preferred option for getting to Asturias.
One of the joys of the train are the fantastic views. The train curves down the valleys with stunning perspectives as it goes in and out of tunnels, hugging the side of the mountains. You can go to the bar and order yourself a glass of wine or a coffee and watch the picture unfolding in front of you.
If you want to continue to Grado, you have to change trains in Oviedo. There are two different train lines running in the same station. One is RENFE and the other is FEVE. The VE stands for Vía Estrecha, or narrow gauge. This pretty train ride goes to Trubia, where the train changes direction (do not be surprised), then continues through a gorge where you can look out across the river. The ride takes about 45 minutes and costs 2€.
You can also get to Avilés on the train using RENFE Cercanías. One thing you should know about Cercanías is that, since the company belongs to RENFE, your long distance ticket includes your Cercanías connection at either end. You can go to the ticket machine and follow the instructions (in English). If you enter the code that is on every ticket it will give you a ticket for that last leg of your journey. This is particularly useful in Madrid if you want to get to change at Chamartín and get a Cercanías train either to the airport or elsewhere.
You can also go see the Prado Museum and walk around the centre, then go to Atocha, get on a Cercanías train to Chamartín and then board your train for Asturias. You won’t have to pay for the Cercanías train and it is quicker than getting the Metro.
If you find that all a little confusing, don’t hesitate to write me an e-mail and ask for more specific instructions.
The largest bus company in Spain is ALSA, an Asturian company that originated in the small fishing village of Luarca. ALSA offers various different options for getting to Asturias from Madrid. I recommend paying a little extra and getting the Supra service. These buses have wifi, they check and guarantee your luggage, they have hostess service, they have airline style entertainment on the back of the seats and, most importantly, they have extra space. There are three seats in each row (one/aisle/two) instead of the normal four (two/aisle/two). When you book your ticket you can choose your seat. ALSA Supra makes fewer stops and arrives quicker than the standard service.
ALSA runs out of the hideous Estación del Sur in Madrid. This is not an area you will want to investigate. It is not a good advertisement for modern Spain: ugly functional apartment buildings around dull courtyards with panting kids trying to squeeze some enjoyment out of play areas with no trees, no shade and no grass. Although the station itself is charmless, it is not worth going out to find something better in the immediate vicinity if you have some time to kill waiting for your bus.
There are bus services that run direct from Oviedo to the airport in Madrid and vice versa. If you do not want to spend time in Madrid, this might be a good option for you. Of course, if you get a flight from Asturias airport you could probably have your luggage checked through and get there quicker.
The bus is the best way to get to Asturias from the east or the west. There is a FEVE train that goes from Ferrol on the coast of Galicia to Oviedo, but it takes forever. The ALSA that runs out of Santiago is fast, regular and simple. Again go for the Supra service. ALSA runs all along the coast from Bilbao to Santiago. The ride long the coast is pleasant and there are many places you can stop off and see along the way.
You can get to Grado from Oviedo on another bus. The direct bus takes half an hour.
There are ferries that come from France and England to the northern coast of Spain. Brittany Ferries operates a service from Santander to Plymouth or Portsmouth. This is a good option if you want to bring your car from the UK. The Pont Aven ferry is nothing like the little chugging ferries that make the connections across the channel with France: it is larger and more stable; the food is good; and there are decks where you can hang out both inside and out.
It is not the cheapest option, but it can be worth it if you want to take your own vehicle and especially if you are thinking of bringing things home. There are some great arts and crafts, markets, wine and food products in Asturias that might make you think it is worth it.
The ferry is a great stress-free zone. There is nothing to think about for 24 hours. When do you ever get that? You can sit back with a good book and a glass of red wine and occasionally look up to watch the sun setting over the waves. My daughter even saw dolphins tracking the boat into port at Santander.
There are two ways to drive to the village. One is to get to Grado on the autopista. Once you leave the motorway you head through the centre of town until you see the signs for Tameza. This road will take you past the secondary school, the Guardia Civil and out the other side of Grado. You will be heading into the mountains and will see them in front of you. After 8 km you arrive at San Pedro de los Burros where you have to take a right-hand turn up a winding mountain road. It is signposted Restiello. The turn off to Villandás is just before the 9km marker on the GR-4. There are detailed instructions on Carmen’s webpage www.villandasrural.com.
You can also come along the valley that goes past Pravia and Cornellana. In San Martín de Ondes you turn left, following indications for Belmonte and Somiedo. Before you get to Belmonte you need to take a turning on the left that is sign-posted Corias/Las Cruces. A little bridge takes you over the river and then starts to go up the side of the mountain. Take it slow and use your horn on the curves if it makes you nervous. Try to keep to your side of the road as there might be a car coming down on the other side! The road takes you up over the top of the ridge to Las Cruces where you keep going straight towards Vigaña. When you pass through Vigaña you will see signs that say Grado. You come out on the same GR-4, look for the km9 marker and take the turn into Villandás. This is the route you would take if you were coming from the west.
If you are coming from the north you can either come down on the motorway from León and pay the toll of 13€, or you can take the mountain road that comes through Somiedo National Park. I always use this route when I am coming from Ponferrada into Asturias partly because I am cheap and partly because I like the scenery.
Will You Taxi Me Around?
I will pick people up and drop them off, but I can’t taxi them around. It takes 25 minutes to get into Grado by car. The taxi costs 20€. From Grado you can easily get to Oviedo and the rest of the world. There is a market in Grado on Sunday mornings.