I have been here for almost 6 months, so I hope I have a few ideas now to help visitors or those planning to live here.
Think Ireland only warmer, typically 5-10 degrees warmer at any time throughout the year. It can get cold in the evenings in December and January (0-5°) and thankfully not too hot in July and August (25-30°). Asturianos think it rains here, but having lived in Ireland I don’t see much difference, though the rain isn’t as soft. It doesn’t disturb daily living much, although that same seamless grey sky lingers during winter. The green is just as spectacularly green.
2. Getting there/short hops
There are direct foreign flights only from London and Paris and only on Friday and Sunday (roughly €300 return). The airport is in Avilés, a half-hour drive away from Gijón. There are direct trains daily from Madrid, letting you off in the centre of the city. The train station isn’t something to write about, but it is clean. The north coast main highway (Autovía del Cantábrico) passes by Gijón, making it ideal for short visits to Santiago de Compostela and Bilbao. Check out the Gijón Tourism blog for more.
I don’t know every great value for money place yet, but we’ve been to a few to give you a start.
Mesón de Sancho has the best beef, and is the closest you’ll find to UK/Irish or North American steak house quality. It’s very small and intimate with only 5 tables in a balcony at the back so you have to book. They specialize in carne a la parrilla (grilled meat) and the waiter will charge you only for the wine you drink. For me that was more than half-off a lovely bottle of Rioja.
For a burger, try La Buena Birra, a sports and beer bar. There’s usually a football match on. Vor Bier & Bar on Calle Prendes Pando is more intimate and has the best beers on tap. If you want sushi, try Burasari Terrace in Somió. There’s a lovely downstairs bar for a pre-meal drink and an elegant upstairs dining area. Wok King is low end with an all-you-can-eat €12 buffet, but they have sushi and if you want sushi ….
There are lots of restaurants with a great menú del día throughout the city centre (el centro) and beyond. They put the menu up outside, so you can check before you enter. We’ve been to Taberna del Piano with its spectacular view of the sea, La Tasca de Cabrales with its own wine brand and mouth-watering desserts, and La Farola near the Plaza Mayor which has a fabulous paella for a menú del día (Ask the waiter for a better wine than the house brand. You might just get it included with the right smile.). The Casino de Asturias has a restaurant inside called As De Picas (Ace of Spades) which is more elegant than your regular menú del día (ask if they have frixuelos for dessert!). Order a drink in the café/bar and you’ll get the best pincho in town included – a few of those is almost a meal in itself. It’s a good idea to book since it’s popular for those who know. There are many places to choose from and if you like seafood, you’ve come to the right part of the world.
“Pincho Alley” (El Carmen) is a good place to start any evening. You can sit outside and drink and sample tapas and pinchos. Start at Calle Cervantes and Calle Felipe Menéndez and walk and eat. When it comes to food I am learning that the secret is to eat slowly. Savour. Enjoy. Es sabroso. The proof is in the eating.
Casino de Asturias: As De Picas Calle Padilla, s/n. 985 35 11 11
La Buena Birra Calle San Bernando, 87. 684 61 64 23
Burasari Terrace Avenida Dionisio Cifuentes, 128, Somió. 985 331 258
La Farola Calle San Bernardo, 2. 985 172 543
Mesón de Sancho (Especialidad en Parrilla). Calle Begoña, 18. 985 35 99 73
La Taberna del Piano Calle Cabrales, 12. 985 345 085
La Tasca de Cabrales Calle Cabrales, 41. 985 17 18 13
Vor Bier & Bar Decano Prendes Pando, 29. 984 29 08 82
Wok King Marqués de San Esteban, 34. 985 35 4 365
4. Local transport
A bus ticket is €1.25 and the bus driver will change notes up to €10. I found out the hard way when I tried to pay with a €20 note. Thankfully, another passenger came to my assistance. You can check out when the next bus comes via mobile phone by sending a text to 217213 with the message “Emtusa pxx” where xx is the stop number. The system is quite good.
The local Asturian papers are La Nueva España and El Comercio. National papers are El País, ABC, El Mundo with varying degrees of political slant.
The three main channels are RTVE, Antena 3, and Tele5, although I can’t make out much distinction between them yet (quality or politics). There are movies on every night on La Sexta and Paramount Channel. Use the subtitle option to help the language learning or version original if desired.
6. English news
I have found two shops for the New York Times (formerly the International Herald Tribune), which also sell various UK papers (Daily Mail, Financial Times): a small news shop on Calle Menéndez Pelayo called El País and another smallish news and sweet shop at the top of Paseo de Begoña called Favila. Although of late, the newspapers have been sold out when I get there by late afternoon. Must be a few other info-junky ex-pats who have scoped out the news shops already (also a good example of a classic inflationary economic system with too many people chasing too few goods, though the price remains 3€).
7. English-speaking friends (or for slower spanish)
You’ll find lots of ex-pats at The Blue Sky Café, where a number of English teachers from nearby schools hang out. You’ll find locals from England, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, …. There’s a language exchange on Thursdays and an English-language quiz every other Friday.
8. Specialty shops
You can buy some specialty drinks at El Gallego. It’s on Calle Begoña, practically next door to Mesón de Sancho and beside El Trompetista, which bills itself as Rock & Roll, Food & Drinks. Our next stop.
Never mind the show bottles in the store window,* you can get your rare item here. La Puerta del Sol at the bottom of Parque Begoña also sells rarer alcoholic things.
Tiger around the corner has greeting cards for only 50 cents (the best price I’ve ever seen) and a ton of other cool knick-knacks. There are Chinese-run shops everywhere, where you can get almost everything from plastic mobile protectors (which the proprietor will gladly and painstakingly apply for you – a good idea since it ain’t easy) to batteries to knock-off childrens’ football jerseys (at a tenth of the price) and a whole lot better than having to go to Alcampo or El Corte Inglés for the simpler stuff. For food, Mercadona is better than Día which is better than Familia. Alcampo has everything, but is a bit far (and beware their supposed special offers).
9. Entertainment, Cafés
We saw The Goggles a great 60s knock off band at Tom Corless’s. They play occasionally around town and are always great fun. Check out their website for further dates. Bring your dancing shoes. The Pumarin Sur cinema is run by the city and has great rep and alternative films. An essential cultural source and definitely not your usual fare. Check out their agenda to see what’s on.
My favourite café is Saroma at the top of Paseo de Begoña on Calle Menén Pérez. I buy the paper in the Favila news agent around the corner and relax there with the best café con leche grande (Ana Botella would be proud). You can get your own ground coffee to go as well. Café Dindurra is a landmark but alas is currently closed. Check out Jose Manuel Montes’s blog for some very cool photos though.
Of course, no Gijón top 10 is complete without sidra. See my previous caracola: Asturian Cider Stories and other Gijón Excursions. It would be indiscreet to pick a favourite. There are so many. Watch especially for the sidra festivals in late summer.