Quiet Spain - Oviedo
The Unobtrusive CityIt's always better to visit cities that don't have significant landmarks to attract tourists. If you don't count its statue of Woody Allen, Oviedo is one such city. As such it's somewhat off the radar and remains something of a hush-hush destination favoured by Madrileños escaping the summer heat on the plains of Spain (where the rain doesn't fall, mainly).
What can I tell you? Well, the centre is small and easy to navigate on foot. Cities that require a car to navigate are generally intolerable. You will find fantastic and thriving independent shops for clothes, and good restaurants for fish and meat. Like all Spanish cities, the residents stay up late, and there are excellent bars that still provide tapas with your drinks to keep you sober without charge.
Oviedo is a quiet and unassuming city, not a city that feels the need to loudly proclaim its progressive or competitive credentials constantly. Oviedo just quietly goes about the business of keeping alive the commerce, tradition and culture that gives it an attractively unique sense of identity.
Oviedo, rather Asturias, even has its own award ceremony. The Princess of Asturias awards was established in 1980 by Prince Felipe to recognise people and bodies that do good work. Francis Ford Coppola was awarded the prize in the Arts category when I was visiting. The Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God succeeded in the Concord category. Bagpipers in traditional dress were all over town (and in the cider bars) to celebrate the event.
I've made a few notes for your visit. As always, it's about the unchanging, timeless aspects, not the here today, gone tomorrow stuff.
CiderThe city is cider-loving and has its own cider alley — La Calle Gascona — with back-to-back cider bars (sidrerías) where the traditional pouring method for natural Asturian cider is employed to bring air into the drink.
DiningFor dining, the traditional Llagar El Pelegrín in Calle Luís Braille 7 is worth a look in the centre of the city. Out of town, the Castillo del Bosque La Zoreda has a lovely setting and dining room.
Rice pudding is on nearly every menu.
Being so close to the coast, you will find excellent seafood available. And plenty of (nearby) Galician Albariño to accompany it.
CakesFor coffee and cake with the locals try La Mallorquina.
ChocolateChocolate wizardry happens within the hallowed walls of Peñalba, an Oviedo institution since 1928. The shop has an attention to detail with its products and packaging that you rarely find these days — and you are ecstatic when you do.
ClothesOviedo is a smart city (in the old sense), so pack smart if you are visiting. And take a wodge of Euros to splurge in gentlemen's shops like Argaro (1946) and Blazer, which was well-stocked with William Lockie sweaters.
And the tailor's shop of Arsenio Suarez.
For Next TimeI sampled a day trip's worth of Santander whilst staying in Oviedo. Timing was bad, so I couldn't stay long; just time for a plate of cochinillo asado — always worth seeking out in Spain — and high tea in the rather pleasant Café de Pombo.
Clothes-wise, Santander has promise. I didn't have time for a good look around, but I did spot a Barbour shop, which is always encouraging. The Spanish love their wax jackets.
I intend a longer return visit to this fine looking city.