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Snapshots of Asturias: Exploring Spain's Natural Paradise

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nestled in the northwest of Spain, the lush region of Asturias seems to have it all. Known as "Spain's natural paradise", Asturias is home to breathtaking scenery, colorful fishing villages, outdoor adventures, and most importantly (in my opinion), renowned gastronomy. Whether you're an adventure enthusiast or simply a connoisseur of sidra and Cabrales cheese, you won't be disappointed by the sublime beauty of Asturias.

Colorful Cudillero

During my three years living in Madrid, I was lucky enough to visit Asturias twice. On the first trip, a group of us stayed at the beach in Santa María del Mar and visited Luanco, Salinas, the arresting cliffs of Cabo de Peñas, and Cangas de Onís - where we kayaked down the Río Sella and explored the mountainous sanctuary of Covadonga. Feeling insatiable after my first visit, two years later I visited a fellow English teaching friend and we went on a culinary pilgrimage through Oviedo, Cudillero, and Gijón.

One trip was packed with adventure while the other was mostly dedicated to eating, drinking, and leisurely exploring - precisely illustrating that Asturias has something to offer for everyone. In "Spain's natural paradise", you don't even have to be a nature lover to enjoy yourself. (But I dare you not to fall in love with their nature. Trust me.)


Oviedo is an ideal home base if you're planning on traveling throughout the region of Asturias. Of course its old town has all the typical requirements of quintessential Spanish charm: pretty plazas, striking colors, a grand cathedral, and quaint shops. You could spend hours just ambling through the picturesque streets (and you should). But those aren't even the best parts...

What really puts Oviedo on the map, or even just Asturias in general, is its phenomenal regional cuisine. First and foremost: Asturian sidra. This hard apple cider is nothing quite like what we may know from home; it's tart and slightly funky, made with no added sugar or yeast. Since it has no added carbonation, traditional sidra pouring takes a creative approach to add a bit more effervescence. (Read on to see how they do it.)

Trying sidra in Oviedo is a must, and you really can't go wrong with most places on Calle Gascón. For something different (and much sweeter), try the sidra sangria from La Competencia

You're going to need some food to soak up all that sidra, and lucky for you, Asturian cuisine is hearty and warms the soul. Above all, you must try fabada: a rich stew made with buttery fava beans, blood sausage, chorizo, and various cuts of pork.

As the region's signature dish, you'll find no shortage of places serving it up. I had great luck at El Fartuquín, whose menu is entirely gluten free. 

Fabada, the signature dish of Asturias

While at El Fartuquín - aka Celiac heaven - we also indulged on their croquetas de jamón, escalopines al Cabrales, arroz con leche with a caramelized sugar crust, and another traditional Asturian specialty that's otherwise seemingly impossible to find gluten free: cachopo.

Much akin to Austria's schnitzel cordon bleu, cachopo is jamón and cheese sandwiched between two steaks, then breaded and fried. And if you're thinking, "Wow, that sounds like a great way to induce a heart attack at the lunch table", you're probably not wrong. It was the most delightful act of gluttony to partake in, and exactly what I was craving on a cold, drizzly day in Oviedo.

After this meal, I have never been so full in my life. Even Thanksgiving pales in comparison. But thankfully this is Spain, and presumably why the post-lunch siesta was invented.

A rich gluten free cachopo from El Fartuquín


Confession: Instagram made me do it. As soon as I noticed images of this colorful fishing village floating around, I knew I had to go see it for myself. 

The town itself may be small and sleepy, and getting to Cudillero is anything but convenient. But the kaleidoscope of homes juxtaposed against the rolling green hills and sparkling Bay of Biscay are truly a feast for the senses.




Mil gracias to my host Elisa, who navigated the logistics of getting us here. We took a bus from Oviedo to Gijón, where we then hopped a FEVE commuter train to Cudillero - which crawled along at a glacial pace, but often gave us resplendent views of the mountainous countryside.

Our journey and "hike" to the top of the most scenic viewpoints predictably worked up our appetites. So we headed to Casa Julio for some chorizo a la sidra, mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, and local Asturian cheeses. And it wouldn't be an authentic Asturian cheese plate without queso Cabrales, which is the region's signature blue cheese aged in natural caves.

While I personally may not be an enthusiast, coastal Asturias also has some of the best seafood in Spain


We had a connection in Gijón on our way back to Oviedo from Cudillero, so we strolled around the old town and reveled in its charm. Along with aimlessly strolling, we naturally couldn't resist another filling meal.

Basically the Disneyland of regional delicacies, Tierra Astur is a franchise that at first may seem a little gimmicky, but is still damn satisfying. (And potential kitsch factor aside, the locals also really love it.) 

I warmed up with a hearty bowl of pote, or stew, alongside more local cheese and of course, sidra. As I mentioned earlier, traditional sidra pouring serves a purpose to enhance the flavor and add more fizz to an otherwise flat and earthy cider. It's also an art form. (Don't try this at home. Or at least, don't try this in MY home. Thanks.)

Pouring sidra is no easy feat


Along with its emerald hills and misty pastures, Asturias is also famed for its rugged coastline. Located on the most northern point of Asturias, the rocky cliffs of Cabo Peñas jut out into the Bay of Biscay and offer majestic views of the northern coast. (Just be warned that the winding roads of Gozón are not for the faint of heart... or stomach.) 


Perched within the Picos de Europa among the wisps of clouds you will find Covadonga: a sanctuary boasting a stunning basilica alongside surreal lakes, caves, and chapels. It's one of the most historically significant places in Spain, for it was here that the Christians won an important battle against the Moors in the year 772. 

A trifecta of history, spirituality, and nature, everything about Covadonga is simply awe inspiring. 

Nearby you can find the towns of Cangas de Onís and Arriondas, where we kayaked 12 kilometers down the Río Sella with Astur Aventura. 

Both trips to Asturias were before I started doing Pilates every day (and before I gave up dairy... * sobs *), so suffice it to say, the kayaking itself was a real struggle at the time. However, regardless of how out of shape I was, it was still one of the most fun activities I did that year. 

You don't have to be outdoorsy to fall in love with Spain's natural paradise. While still somewhat under the radar, Asturias is ultimately worth going off the beaten path. You're sure to leave enchanted.

Taken Aback by Tallinn

Monday, April 5, 2021

Estonia had never been at the top of my travel wish list, but when I was living in Stockholm in 2018, I knew I had to take advantage of its proximity. My best friend Solomon had come to visit me in Sweden, and Tallinn enticed us as an ideal weekend getaway. 

Part of its allure was how off the beaten path it sounded at the time. Hardly anyone I knew had been to Tallinn, and my thought process was pretty much along the lines of, "Well, why the hell wouldn't I visit Estonia?"

We arrived in Tallinn with absolutely zero expectations, but we left completely blown away.


Everything about Tallinn pleasantly surprised me. First and foremost, Tallinn's medieval old town defines storybook charm. It reminded me of the fairytale scenes of Prague, but smaller and without the crowds. 

We were staying in an apartment just a short walk away from old town (where the monochrome Soviet-style architecture seemed stark and slightly oppressive). On our first day in Tallinn, a kaleidoscope of colors greeted us upon wandering up to the old town. I simply couldn't cease stuffing my eyes with its excessively picturesque streetscapes.

Though my favorite activity in old town Tallinn was aimlessly wandering, there were still plenty of things we wanted to see. (And eat. And drink. And eat some more. All of which are pretty on-brand over here.)

Aside from drinking Aperol Spritzes in charming plazas, some highlights included the Museum of Medieval Torture (which is exactly what it sounds like) and the KGB Prison Cells, a bleak basement in the heart of an otherwise cheerful old town, painting a hauntingly realistic picture of much darker times (and many, many human rights violations).

Some less grim sights included St. Catherine's Passage, a medieval street that feels like stepping back in time, and the striking Alexander Nevsky Church commanding the city atop Toompea, in which we may or may not have accidentally walked into a funeral.






Along with getting up close and personal with Tallinn's striking details, such as its colorful homes, churches, and array of ornate doors, there's also no shortage of sites to soak in the city's sublime vistas. 

They say the best views come after the hardest climbs, and while getting to the top of St. Olav's Church was only about 232 steps, it was still steep and slippery enough for me to fear for my life. To avoid crowds in the acutely narrow spiral staircase, go right when it opens at 10:00 am. 

The Kohtuotsa viewing platform was less crowded (and less risky), and still boasted panoramas of Tallinn's sea of pastel buildings with cherry red rooftops.

At the time, I couldn't help but wonder if in 5-10 years this will be another "it" destination, but in that moment it felt seemingly undiscovered... except for the cruise ship passengers during the day, leaving it completely deserted at night. As a disclaimer though, we visited during the off season, so I imagine the crowds do get worse in peak cruising times. (It's always those damn cruises, am I right?)

Views from St. Olav's Church




Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

What surprised me the most was how Tallinn was an unexpected gastronomic haven. The culinary scene here is thriving, and for the most part it's all pretty affordable. Both Celiacs, Solomon and I found fantastic options for gluten free dishes that far exceeded our expectations. 

Of all the phenomenal restaurants we visited, Rataskaevu 16 topped the list. Every dish was impeccably prepared and served by the most friendly staff. It was arguably the best meal I had in all of 2018, and inarguably one of my favorite experiences in Tallinn. (Reservations recommended.) 

Slow roasted pork belly with vegan quince from Rataskaevu 16

Oven baked goat cheese with vegetables, raspberries, and vanilla cream

Rataskaevu 16

Duck leg confit and ostrich carpaccio from DOM (since closed). A true gastronomic experience.

A touch of gourmet in a delightfully unpretentious setting, Von Krahli Aed charmed us with their cozy interior and warm, comforting dishes. We had the hummus, lamb, and a delectable local red wine that I regret not documenting. 

Von Krahli Aed

For those with food allergies or intolerances (both of the physiological and moral variety), Vegan Inspiratsioon is a convenient go-to breakfast spot. To fuel up for the day, we'd feast on gluten free peanut butter pancakes, raw cakes or pastries, and plenty of almond milk lattes.

The Balti Jaam Market between old town and Telliskivi (the "creative city") has something for everyone, including local goods, fresh produce, live music, and trendy pop ups specializing in everything from home cooked Ukrainian food to Instagrammable bakeries.

An absolute dream come true for every Celiac, Kivi Paber Käärid in the Telliskivi neighborhood is 100% gluten free. Going once was simply not enough... after venturing here for brunch, we inevitably came back for dinner a few days later.

Not only was the food itself fantastic (their menu has surely changed since my visit, but I had a memorable dinner of pork ribs and a prosciutto salad with sun-dried tomatoes and a coconut mango dressing), but also the ambiance was as hip and eclectic as the neighborhood itself.

A brunch of rösti, fried ricotta balls, and mimosas (of course)



Telliskivi, or the "creative city", is a former industrial complex with old railway buildings, studios, bars, shops, street art, and modern art installations. A true haven for hipsters, be prepared for lots of photo opps and damn good food.

There is also a flea market on Saturdays with antiques, weapons, and USSR relics. Somehow I ended up wandering into a vast, dark hangar full of antiques, which felt like a slightly ominous time warp. Amidst the busted stuff, I found some unique mementos of former Soviet decay. (Certainly not your average souvenirs.)


A true jewel of the Baltics, Tallinn was a surprising feast for the senses. Spending a long weekend here was a definite highlight of my stint in Scandinavia. Visit Tallinn and prepared to be charmed.