Asturias is another of the regions of ‘Green Spain’, and is arguably the most picturesque of them all. The landscape is largely composed of green rolling hills that bring to mind The Shire of J.R.R Tolkein’s Lord of the Ring, with the limestone peaks of the Cantabrian range and the Picos de Europa as a spectacular backdrop.
Asturias played an important role in the history of the peninsula. Magnificent artwork found in a host of caves in the limestone rock along the North Coast is proof of the presence of tribes who used this area to shelter during the last Ice Age. As in Galicia, the Celtic influence is strong from the influx of these fair peoples from about 800 BC. But Asturias is most famed for its role in the resistance against the invading Muslim forces in the eighth century, and its role in the start of the fightback, the reconquista.
The story goes that a Visigoth nobleman had retreated north with his remaining Christian supporters, where years of fighting meant his force dwindled to as low as thirty men. They eked out survival in the Asturian Mountains, eating nothing but honey and water, before their resistance finally culminated in a battle near a cave called Covadonga in 718.
Here, according to legend, Pelayo prayed to a statue of the Virgin Mary that a hermit had hidden in the cave, before 400,000 Muslims were slaughtered in battle when all their hurled weapons miraculously turned back on them in the midst of flight. The tide had begun to turn against the invaders, and the site of the battle is now the spectacular mountain setting for a shrine to Our Lady of Covadonga, erected in the cave in which Pelayo prayed, and a magnificent basilica, constructed in the late nineteenth century. It is also the start of one of the most famous climbs that features regularly in the Vuelta de España, to a beautiful pair of lakes some thousand meters above in the mountains.
As the Christian territorys gained ground over the centuries, power shifted south, but the ancient kingdom is still remembered in the tradition that the heir to the throne is titled as the Prince (or Princess) of Asturias. In more modern times Asturias is known for its dairy products, apple orchards, and mining. The beautiful coastline of green fields leading to rocky cliffs, and the mountain ranges are highlights, and the food and drink too. Here, a passion for wine is replaced with a love for their sidra, the Spanish version of cider. To give the dead liquid life it is poured with unerring accuracy from a bottle held above the waiters head, into a glass fixed below their waist, just a mouthful at a time. A visit is not complete either without trying the traditional dish fabada, a hearty bean stew that staves off any cold.