After a gorgeous morning in Luanco and Cabo Peñas, my tour through the Asturian coast continued to Avilés: a city with a medieval core and a modern exterior. It reminded me of a smaller Bilbao in a way—reinventing and modernizing itself with towering steel structures and avant-garde architecture, but with an equally impressive casco viejo.
My tour guide, Elena, explained that not too long ago, many Asturians disregarded Avilés: it was industrial and polluted (at one point, one of the most polluted cities in Europe!) and most didn’t bother visiting. If you judge a book by its cover, or a city by its outskirts, you’d think nothing has changed–there are plenty of factories belching out smoke on the drive in–but don’t write off Avilés just yet!
The Oscar Niemeyer International Culture Center
As you get closer, you’ll notice touches of modernity that show Avilés is turning a new leaf. First, there’s the blinding white structure that is the Oscar Niemeyer International Culture Center. Upon closer look, you’ll notice there are a series of structures (5 in total) that make up this center. Oscar Niemeyer is a famed Brazilian architect who was awarded a prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Art, and on the 25th anniversary of receiving this award, donated this project to the city as a way of saying thanks.
Little did Niemeyer know, his project would usher in a change in Avilés called The Niemeyer Effect. After the completion of the center, celebrities like Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey flocked to Avilés to check out his work–shining the spotlight on the city, and the construction also prompted a huge regeneration effort along the estuary in which it’s located.
The Market of Avilés | El Mercado de Avilés
As Elena and I made our way through the casco viejo, we made a quick stop in the newly renovated Mercado de Avilés to check out the local products. The original market is over 500 years old, and was constructed atop marshland (Avilés is located on an estuary). It was instituted by the Catholic Kings–the same royals who approved Columbus’ journey to the New World! I would have loved to have stayed longer, but we had a lunch reservation to get to, and much more of the town left to see!
Urban Green Spaces: Parque Ferrera
Avilés has lots of parks (13 in total), and Parque Ferrera is the biggest of them all. It’s an urban oasis, tucked behind the casco viejo, opening up into a series of spacious lawns and gardens with a decidedly English feel to it. Many years ago, this land was a private island full of untouched forest that separated neighborhoods from one another. Now, it acts as the lungs of Avilés, providing a shady retreat steps from the town’s center.
Once we had entered the park and I had looked around, I announced to Elena, as visions of picnics in the grass ran through my head, that I wouldn’t mind investing in property in Avilés…add it to my ever-growing list!
The Historic Quarter of Avilés
While Avilés’ modernization efforts are adding wonderful contrast to the city, I was more enchanted by the medieval side, found in the historic quarter. There are several buildings of interest within the casco viejo, and if you stop by the tourist office (Calle de Ruiz Gómez, 21), ask for a free booklet (in Spanish) called Paseo Ilustrado por el Casco Historico Comarca Avilés. Follow it and you can go on a self-guided tour of the city and see the same sights I did below.
Lunch at Asador La Posada
After we did a quick walk through the historic quarter of the city, we were treated to a wonderful meal at Asador La Posada. We dined on a jamón ibérico salad, perfectly-cooked filets mignons with an apple compote, and the chocolate pyramid you see down below…almost too pretty to eat!
Asador La Posada is on the prestigious list of Mesas de Asturias-a curated selection of the best restaurants within the region. It’s also recognized as a restaurant of Calidad Turistica, which is Spain-wide. If you stop in Avilés, I highly recommend it as a place to try authentic Asturian food with an inventive touch. Expect to pay around 15-25€ per person.
[box type=”info”] Calle Ruiz Gómez, 12 | Avilés, Asturias 33400 | España[/box]
With a stuffed belly, I begrudgingly left Avilés after what was too quick of a stop–I spent just enough time there to make me wish to come back soon! My next stop would be a pretty village I’ve had my eye on visiting for a long time…Cudillero.