It may not be the biggest or most famous town in the principality of Asturias, but Avilés is one of the territory’s very well-hidden treasures and, dare we say, probably the most surprising urban town that you’ll see during your visit to Asturias. Today, we’d like to offer you the chance to familiarise yourself with this hidden gem.
Avilés: Naval Identity and Hundred-Year History
Avilés is one vertex of the Asturias urban triangle, along with Oviedo and Gijón. A naval town par excellence, it’s very easy to reach by sea, land or sky (it’s the closest town to Asturias airport), but despite its strategic location, many tourists opt to skip it because they see it as a purely industrial city. It may be true that Avilés has long been a powerhouse of the principality of Asturias thanks to its steel and mining industries, and though these characteristics are still very present, the city holds many interesting attractions waiting to be discovered.
Avilés’ history is documented all the way back to the 10th century, but it was in the Middle Ages that it expanded and the town was fortified (during the 11th century) as a result of its strategic location. Since that time, its population continued to grow until the 17th century, when the Old Town was built. Nowadays Avilés is an industrial city, home to the region’s second-busiest commercial port and primary fishing port.
Discovering One of Asturias’ Most Beautiful Historical Centres
Avilés has taken great pains to lovingly preserve its medieval heritage, and it’s on display in the impressive and well-kept Old Town, where the streets, many of which are colonnaded, have made it the most porticoed space in all of Asturias.
Galiana, Rivero, La Ferrería, Bances Candamo, La Cámara, La Fruta, San Bernardo or La Estación are classic references found in these streets, and places like the Palacio of Valdecarzana (the Palace of Valdecarzana), the Romanesque Iglesia de los Padres Franciscanos (the Church of the Franciscan Fathers), the Iglesia Vieja de Sabugo y San Nicolás de Bari (the Old Church of Sabugo and Saint Nicholas of Bari) (who were both from the 18th Century), the Plaza del Mercado, the Palacio de Ferrera (the Palace of Ferrera) (which has since been converted into a hotel), the Fuente de los Caños de San Francisco (the Saint Francis Pipe Fountain), the Parque de Ferrera (Ferrera Park) or the Plaza del Carbayedo… These are all part of the essence of Avilés.
The city is known as the Town of Adelantados, a high-ranking military title, in reference to Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who was known as the Adelantado of Florida for keeping Florida part of the Kingdom of Spain, and for founding the first city in the United States. It’s easy to follow in his footsteps as you go around the city: you can visit his birth house in Plaza de Camposagrado, the monument in Parque del Muelle or the Romanesque church of San Antonio de Padua (known as the Church of the Padres Franciscanos, or Franciscan Fathers) where his remains were laid to rest, and in which you can find the Avilés Museum of Urban History.
Some Avilés Must-Sees
If we’ve convinced you to pay a visit to Avilés, here are some mandatory stops to be found around this beautiful Asturian city:
- Sabugo, which has been a fishing village since the Middle Ages, where you can find the living and breathing maritime culture of Avilés.
- Plaza de Camposagrado, with the Baroque façade of the Escuela Superior de Arte del Principado de Asturias (the Asturias Principality Superior School of Art).
- Calle Galiana, which is lively all year round and a key player in Antroxu, a local masquerade festival, with its famous Descenso (descent).
- The Centro Niemeyer, a cutting-edge cultural and leisure space on the estuary’s more industrial bank.
- The Museo de la Historia Urbana de Avilés (the Avilés Museum of Urban History), or MHUA, which summarises the city’s rich history nicely.
- The Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua (the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua), just in front of the MHUA in Plaza Carlos Lobo, a 17th-Century Romanesque church.
- Plaza de Domingo Álvarez Acebal, with the Palacio de Balsera (Balsera Palace) and the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari (the Church of Saint Nicholas of Bari).
- The waterside promenades and the marina.
What’s more, since everything in Avilés is influenced by art, the Conservatorio de Música (the Music Academy) or the Teatro Palacio Valdés (the Valdés Palace Theatre) shouldn’t get overlooked.
Another must-see in Avilés is the Jacobean atmosphere, elucidated by participants of the pilgrimage of the Camino de la Costa through the centre of the town, beguiled by the city, its retreats and its flavours.
Pamper Your Palate in Avilés
If food’s your game, Avilés offers a wide variety, to suit both sweet and savoury cravings. For as far as history goes back, and thanks to its maritime traditions, the town has had its own varieties of pastry, such as marañuelas, or the bollo, which is known as the Mantecado de Avilés (the Avilés bread roll). The town also includes in its gastronomical heritage an ancient sailor’s bread glazed with icing sugar to preserve it.
Amongst the savoury flavours of the town can be found some of the best fish and seafood in the Bay of Biscay, and their local cheeses, mushrooms, and famous long pork sausage, the longaniza, top it all off nicely.
Why wait to go off and enjoy the picturesque Avilés? Take a look at our unmissables for any trip to Asturias and get planning your trip around this natural, historic and gastronomic paradise.