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Spanish Summer Adventures: Asturias, Alicante & Gran Canaria

by on July 8, 2014 · 15 comments

in Destination Edition, Destinations, Europe, TPG Contributors

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You’ve used your points to get you to Madrid or Barcelona. Hurrah! Now what? It’s boiling hot in the urban jungle, and not a Spanish city dweller in sight (all have long since fled to their country homes and beach apartments). Madrid-based contributor Lori Zaino suggests you hop on a train/plane/automobile and head straight out of the city to paradise. Try a road trip through off-the-beaten path Asturias for rugged mountains and hidden beach hideaways, Alicante for fun in the Mediterranean sun, or Gran Canaria for an island vacation.

I think it's time...for a summer spanish getaway! Image courtesty of Shutterstock

I think it’s time…for a summer Spanish getaway! Image courtesty of Shutterstock

1. Asturias, Spain. Authenticity Level: 10 (of 10)

Asturias is one of the most authentic and naturally beautiful regions of Spain. Located north between Galicia and Cantabria and above Castilla y Leon with the Mar Cantabrico (bay of Biscay) to the north, this region has everything you could possibly want: stunning beaches, mountain landscapes, lush green pastures and charming villages. It’s the ideal spot for a road trip. Often called the “Spanish Switzerland” by locals, you can easily rent a car in Madrid (just a four hour drive) or Barcelona (seven to eight hour drive) and be on your way to the land of sidra (spiked apple cider),

The Asturias region scores a 10 for authenticity (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most authentic Spanish experience) as this zone is relatively untouched and unknown to foreigners. Almost no one speaks English, and you probably won’t see many people (if anyone) that isn’t from Spain around these parts. The region is refreshingly un-commercialized. However, even though foreign tourism isn’t really a thing here, people are still friendly, helpful and will repeat and gesture wildly in hopes that you will understand their Spanish.

The main cities in Asturias are Gijon and Oviedo (you may remember Oviedo from the Woody Allen film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)–both lovely places where you’ll see crumbling architecture along cobblestone streets as you eat and drink to your heart’s content, but the real pride of Asturias lies in the pueblos (villages) which is why it’s essential to rent a car for this trip.

The tiny town of Llanes in Asturias

The tiny town of Llanes in Asturias

Drive along the A-8 highway with beautiful coastline views and stop to see whatever piques your interest. This drive will take you through farms, beaches, mountains and more. You will drive by many horreos, old houses on stilts with space for animals to live underneath. Be sure to enjoy at least one night or more in each of my favorite tiny towns, Llanes and Cudillero. Both are picturesque, coastal villages where you can enjoy beaches, incredible seafood and just stroll around the towns, shopping, relaxing, and attempting to interact with the locals. Make sure to hike up to the lighthouse in Cudillero and the big walled cliff in Llanes for gorgeous views. Llanes has a small town beach you can enjoy, and then head out a few miles east of Cudillero to the stunning Playa de la Aguilar.

Playa de Aguilar, a few miles east of Cudillero

Playa de Aguilar, a few miles east of Cudillero

Attempt pouring sidra, the delicious local cider drink that goes down like water. Chorizo la sidra (sausage marinated in sidra) is one of the region’s most popular and most delectable dishes, as well as fabada (bean stew) or different types of cabrales (goat cheese).

The monastery at Covadonga

The monastery at Covadonga

Cangas de Onis is an antique village with a famous bridge made by the Romans. Stop here for lunch and take a walk over the bridge. A trip to Covadonga is a must, as this national park is unlike any other. Located at the base of the Picos de Europa mountains, the park has two of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen (Lakes Enol and Ercina), and you should visit the monastery, cave and shrine of Our Lady of Covadonga, where she supposedly kept Christian troops safe from Muslim attacks back in 722.

Don’t expect luxury chain brand hotel digs here. The best spots to stay are casa rurales (rural B&Bs) like the El Habana (summer rates start at 84 euros/$114)  just outside of Llanes or small hotels and hostals, like Hotel Prendes (summer rates start at 50 euros/$68)  in Cudillero. You may not have all the luxuries you normally have, but the hotel owner personally walking you to his favorite restaurant or discussing futbol (soccer) with you for 45 minutes over a caña (little glass of beer) as you stutter back in broken Spanish are things that makes Asturias a one-of-a-kind adventure.

2. Alicante, Spain. Authenticity Level: 5

Located on the Eastern coast of Spain, this city is one of the most sought out vacation spots for Spainards. Many foreigners head to Valencia, Benidorm or Malaga, but Alicante has managed to retain its Spanish charm. However, there will be some foreign tourists here and many speak English. You can easily arrive in Alicante from Madrid by train (see my post about traveling through Spain via train here). After an easy three hour ride, you will arrive to Alicante’s city center, ready to explore everything this Mediterranean spot has to offer.

A view of the mountain Benacantil and Santa Barbara castle in Alicante

A view of the mountain and Santa Barbara castle in Alicante

If it’s sun and sand you are after, the city’s main beach, Playa del Postiguet is located a stone’s throw from the city center. It gets extremely crowded in the summer, so arrive early to get a good spot. Be sure to bring an umbrella, the temps can get into the 100s here in summer and the sun is fierce. The beach is located at the bottom of the large Monte Benacantil, a strangely placed mountain with the Santa Barbara castle on top. I, myself, have never  made it up the mountain in the heat of summer, but if you are determined, go in the early morning or evening to explore in cooler temps. 

Have an evening stroll in Alicante

Have an evening stroll in Alicante

Alicante is a bustling beach city with many great spots to eat, drink and party. Make sure to try the pescado frito (fried fish) or the navajas (long, skinny razor clams) here. There are marisquerias (seafood restaurants) on every corner. One of my favorites for any kind of seafood is the Marisqueria del Barrio, or for a more gourmet experience, try L’Atelier. Afterwards, head to the Castaños or Mercado districts if you are looking to party. Walking around and people watching in the city center or along the shore is a wonderful evening activity, as Alicante has a nice ambiance.

The beach in San Juan de Alicante

The beach in San Juan de Alicante. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

For long stretches of sandy beach, head out to Playa de San Juan or Campello. You can easily take the above ground tram. Just check when the last tram heads back to the city–otherwise you may be stranded on the beach for the night or subject to a pricy taxi ride. Another option is to plan to spend the night in San Juan. There are plenty of cute hotels and the nightlife there is on point, especially the chillout lounges located on the beach (bring your mosquito repellent). You can even use your IHG points at the Holiday Inn Alicante San Juan (summer rates start at 70 euros/$95).

One of the most popular Alicante hotels is the Spa Porta Maris, (summer rates start at 95 euros/$130) located right on the edge of the water. This is considered a luxurious place to stay, or you have your pick of cute hotels throughout the cobblestoned city center, like the simple but charming Hostal Les Monges Palace (summer rates start at 50 euros/$68) for those on a budget.

3. Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Authenticity Level, 2

Gran Canaria is one of the largest and most popular of the seven Canary islands, and is often frequented by European tourists coming from places like the UK and Germany. Due to it’s warm temps all year round, it’s a great escape from cold weather, in fact, I spend a week here every January to escape the cold and rainy Madrid winter. Although it can be touristy, if you know where to go, you can set yourself apart from this bubble and have a very enjoyable trip.

Getting here from any major city in Europe is easy and cheap, thanks to low cost airlines like Ryan Air and Easy Jet. It’s about a two and a half hour flight from Madrid, and can cost as little as just 60 euros/$82 roundtrip if purchased in advance on a low cost carrier such as Ryanair. You can also get here using points on airlines like Iberia or British Airways.

If you are looking to party, Playa del Ingles is the biggest and most touristy resort spot on the island, which you can either head straight towards or steer clear of, depending on the vacation you are hoping to have. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs, hotels, apartment rentals and long stretches of sandy beach here, and everyone speaks English, and usually German and Russian too. If you end up hanging out here, make sure to visit the rooftop lounge for a sunset vino  at the Bohemia Suites & Spa for panoramic views of the coastline.

The sand dunes in Maspalomas. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The sand dunes in Maspalomas. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Maspalomas is another resort town, slightly less touristy, a little calmer and also frequented by Spanish travelers in addition to plenty of foreigners. The beach is long with white sand, and the African sand dunes here will make you feel like you’ve accidentally stumbled into the Sahara Desert–that is, until you spot the sparkling ocean in the distance. The Costa Meloneras Lopesan (summer rates start at 162 Euros/$221) is a gorgeous hotel to stay in, and even if you are not a hotel guest, take advantage of the four hour spa circuit, complete with a Himalayan Salt Room and a floating pool with Dead Sea salt. The entire circuit costs just 39 Euros ($53), and is one of the most amazing spa experiences I have ever had. The infinity pool overlooking the ocean is the best spot to hang out.

Near Maspalomas is also the small beach resort, Meloneras. The restaurants along the beach, although catering to tourists, have excellent seafood. Aqua is a trendy and cool beach discoteca with a sexy Ibiza vibe, and both tourists and locals flock here for a late night out.

The St. Ana Cathedral in La Palma, Gran Canaria. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The St. Ana Cathedral in La Palma, Gran Canaria. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Las Palmas, the island’s capital is where locals live and spend their time. The city beach here, Playa de Las Canteras is actually quite nice, but it can be cloudy in the north, so it’s best to head to one of the southern resort beaches if you’re after surefire sun. However, Las Palmas is a happening spot if you’re tired of beaches and want to walk around the city center and visit the 16th century St. Ana Cathedral . You can stay overnight in Las Palmas at the AC Hotel Gran Canaria using Marriott Rewards points (summer rates start at 59 euros/$80 or 15,000 Rewards points).

Amadores beach club has great sunset and ocean views

Amadores beach club has great sunset and ocean views

Playa de las Amadores is a beautiful little inlet beach with a few hotels and my favorite chillout lounge, Amadores Beach Club. You can spend your entire week relaxing here, or just pop down for a beach day and a sunset cocktail at the beach club. It even has a pool in addition to the lounge and restaurant, in case you get tired of so much sand. This area is also a good spot for kids or calm swimming as there is very little wind.

These options are just a few of many Spanish adventures you can enjoy for a summer getaway (or even a spring, fall or winter getaway). Have you ever visited any of these Spanish spots? Any other suggestions for Spanish summer adventures? Please to share in the comments section below.

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  • Dan

    What is the temperature when you go in January every year? Thinking of going there this upcoming Jan but wife thinks it might not be warm enough like other options we are looking at.

  • Dan

    Sorry, meant to say the weather in Gran Canaria.

  • Manny

    Fantastic and timely write up. I’ve accumulated around a million AA points, want to go to Spain for a few weeks with my wife, but I’m a little stumped at the best business product to get me to Spain. Seems like American is flying crap legacy business products to Spain, British Airways is out due to fees, does that leave me with Iberia? Is there some other routing I should be using? I’m flying out of Tampa, and the direct Iberia routes into Spain would work best, but I’ve heard their service is meh.

  • Lori

    Dan, usually it’s pleasant enough to lay out at the beach, but not to actually swim. It depends on the year, but normally it’s sunny and low 70′s, with a bit of wind. We choose to go for a week in case it’s cloudy or rainy for a few days, that way we know we will have at least a few days of sun minimum! In any case, it’s a refreshing change from the typical cold winter weather! However, it won’t be quite as warm as say, Miami or Mexico.

  • Lori

    I think Iberia from Miami is your best bet…and you are right…service…meh…but it’s the quickest/easiest option from FL via Oneworld, especially if you are wanting nonstop.

  • Manny

    That’s what what I’ve been reading. It’s unfortunate that American is flying such miserable products to Spain.

  • Lori

    I completely agree…as I fly back and forth several times a year btw Madrid/US, it’s annoying. I switched to Delta for awhile, but now with their 2015 Skymiles program changes…I am weighing my options!

  • Gene

    Lori, sorry to be critical, but you are referring to the capital city of Gran Canaria as “La Palma”, and it is “Las Palmas” (de Gran Canaria). La Palma is one of the 7 Canary Islands, to the west of Tenerife, where the ratio of mountain height to total area is the highest in the world. The Berlitz Guide to the Canaries also says La Palma is the world’s most beautiful island. Having lived there for some 17 years, I do find it quite charming, although Berlitz’s claim may fall a little short of reality. Hope you can go there one day and write about La Palma in depth. It’s worth the trip.
    Eugene Smith, Alkmaar, The Netherlands

  • Lori

    You are absolutely right Gene, thanks for the correction! So used to the locals saying it with their lispy spanish accent cutting off the “S” haha. La Palma, as in the island, is also quite lovely, and I will probably write about it soon!

  • Manny

    Thanks again, Lori!

    If I were to fly out of another city on the east coast and fly into another Euro city, would that open up better business products for me (thinking that through the idea of 3, maybe 4 flights when I could do 2 is not terribly appealing, LOL)

  • Lucía

    Asturias is indeed authentic and with +200 beaches to discover you might fall in love with this place forever :)

    We just launched AsturPlaya, an iPhone app that will take you to all the beaches of the Asturian coastline: it creates routes to each of them, shows you pictures, weather forecast and all the information you need to know to enjoy your vacation here.

    You can download the app from Appstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/asturplaya/id662587421?ls=1&mt=8 and find more information on our website: http://asturplaya.es/asturplaya-in-english.php and beach blog.

    And if I did not make you curious enough, I leave you with a picture of Torimbia: one of the magical beaches of Llanes :)

  • Farhan Haroon

    Hi Lori. I was also planning a trip to Spain in late March. Whats the temperature more or less in Alicante or Malaga? Also what are thoughts on Malaga? I was leaning more to the south.Thanks.

  • Lori

    March can be weird-same with Abril in both Alicante or Malaga. You never know if it will be cold and raining or warm and sunny. If you are really hoping for great beach weather, I might hold off until May to be sure.

  • heavenlyjane

    This concept of “Authenticity Levels” is new to me. Is there a website that explains it? I am intrigued.

  • TimmyD

    I visited 3 of the Canary Islands last summer – Tenerife, Gran Canaria, & La Gomera. It is a great deal on AA from Europe as it is just 10k miles one-way from anywhere in the continent. What I liked most about those islands was just driving the perimeters (and some of the internal roads) of the islands and viewing the natural diversity – deserts, forests, dunes, volcanoes, etc. You need to rent a car to get the most out of your experience. One other highlight from Gran Canaria was the Botanical garden, which is free and surprisingly large.

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