‘Wow! A lifetime would not be enough to climb all the rock in this place!!’ – that was my thought when I first arrived in Asturias, a region in the North-West of Spain, in June this year. I have now just come back from a second trip, and I want more already!!!
My love affair with Asturias dates back to a day in mid-May when I was googling somewhere cheap to fly to in Spain at relatively short notice, to climb, of course. I stumbled upon Asturias on skyscanner.com. The flights were cheap! Even for the May bank holiday weekend, the return tickets were barely over £100. ‘I wonder if there is any climbing there?’ I thought to myself, so I looked around and came upon this article on UKC…and I knew straight away I had found something pretty damn special!
I had been trying to convince my boyfriend, a climbing friend at the time, to come for a last-minute climbing trip to Spain, so I excitedly texted him saying ‘I think I just found the perfect crag!’. These words in the article caught my eye especially:
Situated in the north-west of Spain the temperatures here are nowhere near as brutal as the south of Spain; this makes all-year-round climbing possible and a summer Spanish cragging trip a great option!
We were both convinced climbing in Spain was an activity confined exclusively to spring and late autumn due to the summer heat. Climbing in Spain in the summer?? That would be amazing! So, without much ado, we booked out tickets and went to Asturias for a week in late June. And that was not even nearly enough time to properly explore, so we came back in September!
A climber’s paradise?
Much of what I read in the UKC article turned out to be true, but it was much, much more than we dared expect.
The weather is pretty perfect throughout the summer. We were prepared to force ourselves to wake up early to climb in the cool and take a siesta during the hot mid-day hours, before resuming our climbing later in the evening. But we ended up sleeping lots and climbing throughout the day! It does get a little hot during the afternoons, but manageable. It was also usually possible to find crags in the shade during those hours- the guidebook gives times at which each crag is in or out of the sunshine, so you can plan your day accordingly. The region seems to be known among the Spanish as particularly wet, but when you come from the UK, that’s laughable! Both times we were there we had one day of rain, and not even a full one, and still managed to find somewhere dry to climb.
The rock quality is pretty exceptional throughout, and what’s more, there is practically no polish. Yep, you read that right. A huge limestone climbing area with very little polish. That’s one of the reasons I want to come back here again and again. It’s rare to see a busy crag and the rock hasn’t been climbed to death, unlike what I hear of some of Spain’s more popular destinations.
There are all sorts of climbing styles here – from overhanging roofs and tufas, to slabby technical routes that will make your toes cramp, with a huge range of grades! The approaches are often really short and easy, though some of the crags are a good 30 mins walk.
The bolting is also generally pretty good, though there are one or two areas where it’s a little more adventurous. We took way more quickdraws with us than we use back home in England, that’s for sure! Much of the bolting is relatively new, so the anchors at the top are often equipped with a carabiner, eliminating the need to re-thread the rope once you finish. Very user-friendly.
The climbing region is hugely diverse. The UKC article only talks about Valles del Trubia, but there are six different areas in relatively close proximity to each other, often within one hour’s drive or less. Apart from the Valles del Trubia, we also went to Centro, the area closest to Asturias airport and a big-ish town called Oviedo, and Valles del Nalon y Aller, which had a bit more of an industrial North feel about it.
There is also a large climbing area close to Leon airport, and more climbing in the direction of Santander, so you could fly to different airports, but we found Asturias/Oviedo to be the cheapest.
My favourite crags
The new guidebook, Roca Verde, lists 53 crags and 239 sectors, and this is just a select guide of the best ones in the region (we have both editions because we’re geeks)! Having now spent two and a half weeks in the area, I feel we barely touched the surface, but some of my favourite crags so far include Muro Techo – in the Teverga region, where I led my first clean 6b, Hierro y fuego; Esplanada/Tunelin, because of the super-easy approach; Capitan Carfio near Oviedo, which has some of the most enjoyable multi-pitches I have ever been on; and Oceano sin Limite in Valles del Aller, where I managed to lead a 7a (Alejandra) on the latest trip . There is also a huge amount in Quirós, the biggest and most popular area in Valles del Trubia.
My partner fell in love with Piedra Carcel, a fierce-looking crag near Entrago with some very hard routes, where he was working on a 7c+. The crag really is pretty cool, with a cave that burrows its way under the rock, but the grades and exposure were a little too much for me this time around. The easiest thing on the wall is a 6c, which I tried to lead, but no luck this time. I guess I’ll just have to come back to that one!
One of the main reasons I like going abroad, apart from discovering new climbing destinations, is the food! So I felt it deserved a subheading of its own.
Spain isn’t the best place to follow a strict healthy diet because there are so many tasty bread products on offer – bread rolls stuffed with chorizo, Asturian empanadas (often filled with tuna or chorizo, and not to be confused with the Argentinian ones!), and bread with every meal!
The cured hams and chorizos are a must, and it is also worth trying the cheeses. I especially like goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses, of which there are plenty – look out for the words cabra (goat) and oveja (sheep). Apart from that, the region is famous for its octopus, which you can order in most restaurants, and of course there is tortilla everywhere. Here, they like to use the omelette as you would bread in a sandwich, filling it with salad, cheese, ham and mayo. And I very much approve!
It’s all pretty cheap too – many restaurants offer a Menu del dia (menu of the day) for €8 – including starter, main course, dessert, wine and bread! The only challenge is working out what all the items on the menu actually are – the English knowledge here is not particularly widespread.
The area is also popular for its cider, which comes in green bottles and is traditionally poured into a glass from a considerable height, a small amount at a time. I still haven’t tried it, but I am told it is an acquired taste…And of course, this is the Rioja region, and the wine is cheap. Like, really cheap!
But be aware of the shop opening times – most shops are closed altogether on Sundays and the smaller ones tend to have siesta for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, so check before planning a food shopping trip. Hot food is also only available in restaurants at certain times – usually after 1/1.30pm for lunch and from around 8.30pm for dinner.
I can’t remember most of the places we went to, but since we spent a lot of time in Entrago I can recommend a couple in the nearest town, San Martin. There was a restaurant called Alladin, where we had a tasty €8 set menu more than once, but don’t expect dinner before 8.30pm. Neither will most other places though! We had the best (and prettiest!) coffees in Cafe la Caja, which also serves really good snacks throughout the day and even an occasional paella on a Sunday!
Where to stay?
We did the proper climber dirtbag thing and camped most of the time we were in Asturias, though we booked hotel rooms for our rest days.
The “hotels” over here are something special – typically more of a small B&B place, they are often run by Spanish owners who don’t speak a huge amount of English, so I had to remember all my Spanish. I found that emailing in Spanish got good results, though if you don’t speak a word of the language it’s worth trying to find the places that advertise themselves as multi-lingual. You can go through Airbnb, and booking.com also worked for me. But be warned that even if it’s called a “hotel”, it will still be this B&B-type accommodation.
I thought it was lovely and homey, but unfortunately the showers leave much to be desired. The houses in the region must have tiny boilers, so the water runs out very quickly. So don’t be gallant and offer the first shower to your partner – get in there first yourself 😉
In Quirós the author of the guidebook, Richie Patterson, has his own B&B, Casa Quirós – and the bonus is you might get to meet him. We didn’t stay there because usually the place is booked on a weekly basis, and we only wanted to stay a night here and there, but it sounds great and is walking distance from lots of crags. There is also a hostel nearby, Refugio del Llano.
As for camping: In Entrago, a small town in the Teverga region near many of the crags, there is a large parking lot with a field which always has space for campers. There is no official charge, but it is encouraged to give a donation at the end of your stay. There is a toilet and running water, and even a shower, though you have to ask for hot water, so we never bothered with it. I know, disgusting! I’m sure we would feel differently if we had to go for longer than three days without one…
In Teverga, wild camping isn’t officially prohibited, but you have to be careful not to trespass on anyone’s land. The story was different in Valles de Aller. We found a really nice spot to camp, with wooden tables and even running water, but on the third night the police turned up at 7am, when it was still dark, and – very politely – told us to leave. Luckily, this was the last day we were planning on camping, but be warned! If you want to stay in an apartment here, I recommend this place, which is a short 15 mins drive from the crag.
I’ll wrap up here, but watch this space for a lot more stories about my climbing in Asturias…I plan to go back there, hopefully for much longer next time!
For more information on the region and to buy the guidebook visit Richie’s website www.rocaverdeclimbing.com.