For a city with an industrial heritage Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, is seductively romantic. Javier Bardem seduced Vicky and Cristina here in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Letizia wooed Prince Felipe at one of her favourite restaurants in the city’s old quarter. It’s no surprise really, once you get to know Oviedo it sweeps you off your feet.
It’s incredible that Oviedo is still a relative secret in tourism terms. This is a city that has a rich history dating back to 761AD; a medieval quarter with Romanesque, Pre-Romanesque and Gothic architecture; a new centre whose 19C buildings make a bit of a mockery of the term ‘new’ and a thriving café society with tempting restaurants and bars galore. But that’s typical of Asturias; known to the Spanish and more or less ignored by everyone else…except Woody Allen who put the city on the cinematic map with Vicky Cristina Barcelona (interestingly reactions to the movie are mixed locally). He has even suggested that if he ever moved from New York, Oviedo would be one of the few places that he would consider setting up home in.
The city has been in existence since a couple of monks established a settlement in the area way, way back in 761AD. It possesses an atmosphere of proud spirit that exudes from its friendly residents (they will actually stop and chat to strangers for no reason whatsoever) and its historic stones. It stood up to the Moors in the 8th century and defied Franco (albeit less successfully) during the Spanish Civil War. The seamless blend of the old and modernistic (contemporary sculptures front historic buildings) lend the city a depth that makes it both interesting to explore and an enchanting destination in which to spend time.
I knew absolutely zilch about Oviedo before I visited, which made the surprise of discovering what an engaging place it is all the more pleasurable. The funny thing is that if you were to ask me for highlights or ‘must see’ places, I’d probably struggle to come up with individual examples. For me it’s about the whole package; simply wandering through the old town soaking up the atmosphere and the sights, the witty sculptures and the curious little touches like a machine in the market that disperses fresh milk, rewards with a plethora of unique sights and sounds. And as for the food…ay mi madre… fast for a month before going. They like their portions big in Oviedo and the local restaurants will fatten you up like the Christmas goose.
Oviedo is a destination with a attractively big heart; the people and the place have a knack of getting under your skin.