With cobbled medieval streets, modernistic architecture, industrial heritage, hearty gastronomy, cider bars galore and a grotesque monster, Avilés offers visitors a kaleidoscopic mix of ingredients.
The hand painted mantra on the tiles above a sidrería (cider bar) sums up the enchanting personality of Avilés in Asturias perfectly. It reads:
‘Eat, drink and enjoy yourself until your body and soul can’t take any more.’
Although Avilés boasts a history that dates back centuries its character was fashioned in the furnaces of the steel factories that brought industrial growth to the town in the mid 20th century. The factories brought employment and prosperity, but the cost was that the attractive façades of the town’s medieval quarter became obscured beneath black soot. As the steel industry flourished, Avilés’ developed a reputation as somewhat of a hard working but unattractive industrial town.
The collapse of the steel industry proved to be a catalyst that transformed Avíles. In the late 1980s the town was given a facelift, the old buildings were cleaned up and investment was ploughed into the town to make it more appealing as a tourist destination.
Nowadays the old quarter consists of eye-catching architecture, inviting restaurants and bustling sidrerías, whilst across the Penas River lies one of Avilés’ more recent attractions, the Oscar Niemeyer Centre; the new cultural heart of the town.
It’s this compelling mix of the old and the new, the industrious and the artistic that breathes unique life into Avilès and makes it an absolute pleasure to discover.
The Best of What to See in Avilés
Plaza de España
The plaza is the place to start any exploration of the town as the most interesting streets spread out from it like spokes from a wheel. The wide square is home to the town hall located in the grand looking Palacio Municipal. It’s an aesthetic spot for firing up the internal engines with a morning coffee in one of the numerous pavement cafés whose tables and chairs fill the square during daylight hours.
Fuente de Caños de San Francisco
Located behind the Hotel Palacio de Ferrera is one of the most iconic and oft photographed attractions in Avilés. The popularity of this antique fountain from the late 16th century lies in the fact that the fountain’s water spouts from the mouths of six stone human heads.
Another curio is the old merchants’ street which boasts a wonderful arch covered walkway consisting of two different types of pavements; one smooth for people to walk on and one that was cobbled so that cattle didn’t slip and slide on their way into town.
Calle La Cámara
This wide bustling street is where everybody comes to shop. Apart from being able to pick up some stylish local Spanish designer wear there are other interesting sights to look out for. The Plaza del Mercado is a covered modern market inside the more attractive Plaza de las Aceñas; a rectangular plaza surrounded by enclosed balconies supported by iron pillars. Apart from being the place to buy local produce, the cafés around the market are ideally positioned for people watching.
The Monster of Avilés
You’ve got to feel sorry for poor little Doña Eugenia Martínez who has been immortalised by a statue dedicated to her on Calle Carreño Miranda. Locals say that she wasn’t a nice person, but the monster tag seems more to have come from the fact that she was short, ball shaped and not very pleasant to look at.
Oscar Niemeyer Centre
The Brazilian architect’s stylishly modern creation offers a complete contrast to the quaint streets of the old town. Its sleek white curves and wide open-air terraces are spic and span as opposed to the thick plumes of smoke billowing from the last remaining factories behind it. It’s a scene that perfectly illustrates the town’s transformation into an attractive tourist destination. The centre is home to art exhibitions and an auditorium with a stage that can open outwards for al fresco concerts during summer months. There are plans to turn the centre’s tower into an experimental show cooking restaurant in the near future.
Where to Eat in Avilés
Sidrería Casa Lin (Avda de los Telares, 3; +34 985 56 48 27)
A popular and traditional looking Sidrería in the fishing quarter. Sawdust floors, dark wooden bar and seating areas and tobacco coloured décor don’t prepare diners for a menu that delivers surprisingly creative Asturian cooking with a seafood theme. The blue Cabrales cheese is strong and full of flavour, the scorpion fish pate is more subtle and the hake omelette just divine.
Casa Tataguyo (Plaza del Carbayedo, 6; +34 985 56 48 15; www.tataguyo.com )
One of the ‘Mesas de Asturias’ (an Asturian mark of gastronomic excellence), the building where Casa Tataguyo is located has been serving food since 1845. It’s current incarnation features rustic décor and a menu including small squid and scallops with frisuela (pancakes). The food is, like Avilés itself, traditional with an artistic side.
Sidrería Restaurant Bocana (Calle Estación, 11; +34 984 83 27 72)
Recommended because this is the sidrería with the ‘eat, drink and enjoy yourself until your body and soul can’t take any more.’ sign above its entrance and that alone means it deserves your patronage.
Like the rest of Asturias, the nocturnal scene in Avilès centres around cider bars, cider bars and cider bars. The streets between Plaza de España and Parque del Muelle buzz with people enjoying cider the traditional way in lively sidrerías. Any one guarantees an authentic Asturian drinking experience. A favourites is La Curuxa on Plaza Carbayo, but maybe that’s because drinking cider on the steps of the 13th century church of Sabugo seems a deliciously sinful thing to do. For an alternative to a sidrería there are a couple of Irish bars in Avilés. Queen Maeve (Calle Ferrera,4) is particularly lively on Fridays and Saturdays.
Where to Stay in Avilés
NH Palacio de Ferrera (Plaza de España, 9; +34 985 12 90 80; www.nh-hotels.com )
As the name suggests, this 5 star hotel is palatial with large attractively designed rooms,great views over the old town and an imaginative breakfast buffet. It’s also in an unbeatable location for exploring Avilés.
Hotel Don Pedro (Calle la Fruta, 22; +34 985 21 22 88; www.hdonpedro.com )
An intimate and stylishly designed small boutique hotel that offers a cheaper alternative to the Palacio de Ferrera but is located in almost as ideal a position right in the heart of the medieval quarter.
Buzz Trips visited Avilés as a guest of the Asturias Tourism Board. However, the views are entirely our own.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+