Archive for scenery


Ribadesella seaside promenade from Virgen del Guia chapel


Ribadesella lies on Spain’s green northern coast in the region of Asturias, about 70 kilometers / 44 miles east of Gijón. As the name tells us, it’s on the bank of the Sella river; actually, it’s on both banks, connected by a long bridge over the Sella estuary. A quick look at a good map shows us that the coastal plain is quite narrow and backed by mountains, first a lower coastal range then the majestic Picos de Europa. That location makes Ribadesella a great destination for exploring eastern Asturias, both the coastal plain and part of the mountains, with many options for cultural and active travel.

Flashes of history: Local cave Tito Bustillo shows population from prehistoric times, though the first written record of the town is from the Greek historian Strabo in the first century BC and the official town charter is thirteenth century under King Alfonso X. In the seventeenth century there was a project to make Ribadesella the main port in Asturias by connecting the town to inland Castilla region, but in the end that honor went to Gijón (main pass into Asturias is Pajares, accessing Oviedo then Gijón). In the early nineteenth century this strategic town was occupied by Napoleon’s troops during the Peninsular wars. Early in the twentieth century the town was a favorite summer residence, as shown by the mansions remaining along the beach; King Alfonso XIII visited here though usually stayed at Santander to the east. At the beginning of the Civil War (1936) Republic forces held the town to try to stop Franco’s army westward march after taking Bilbao and Santander; in their retreat west the Republic soldiers blew up the bridge to slow Franco’s forces.

Originally the economy was based on timber coming down the Sella river, shipyards, maritime trade, fishing and whaling. Nowadays it’s mostly tourism with some farming, livestock (cows for cheese!) and a bit of fishing.

What to see, in town:
Long, lovely beach on west side of the Sella river. Architecture promenade with mansions from the early 20th century along the beach, explanations of the most notable buildings (two now hotels, one the youth hostel).

Tito Bustillo cave with cave paintings, one of several prehistoric caves along this coast (Altamira to the east is the most famous). The cave is very interesting, though English speaking guides not always available and cave closed November – March as well as part of the week rest of the year to preserve the paintings. If visiting the cave is too problematic, the attached visitors’ center is excellent (information English as well as Spanish), so good that doing both is worthwhile for people who like history. More info at their website

Virgen del Guia chapel, on the bluff on the east side of estuary where it meets the sea, visible from most of the town. This chapel was founded in the sixteenth century at a strategic place for controlling the entrance to the estuary and port; the cannons were thrown into the sea by the French in their retreat, returned to their original site in 1999. It’s a bit of a climb to reach the chapel, but the views of town and to the east are very good. The easiest way up: from the east end of the seaside promenade, just under the chapel, where a marked path zigzags up the bluff. Way down: once up there it’s easy to see other alternatives for walking back down.

International Sella descent, from Arriondas to Ribadesella, a big yearly event in early August. With professional kayakers and canoers at the front, inner tubes and other recreational floats at the back, it’s a big party as well as an elite sports event. Spectators can take the narrow gauge train that runs on the riverside spur only for race day.  More info

La Cuevona cave, not exactly in town but so close it is included here. This huge cave is a little south of Ribadesella, on the west side of the Sella river. It’s so big that it was refuge for eight villages during the Civil War (1936-39). The paved road through the cave is the only access to town Cuevas del Mar.

Sella estuary looking inland

Sella estuary looking inland

What to see, nearby:

Asturias Jurassic Museum has lots of information the dinosaurs that roamed this area. Where: a little west near Colunga, website More dinos: Many beaches along this coast have dinosaur tracks. Cute towns: Llanes to the east, Lastres and Tazones to the west. Many good beaches between Unquera in the east and Gijon in the west. Oviedo (Asturias capital city) to the west has several outstanding pre-Romanesque churches; other similar churches are nearby.

Active travel, walking: Ribadesella is on the northern Road of St. James. Since that route is linear, take bus or train one way and walk the other. Strong walkers could take the Road west to Vega beach (near Berbes) and return to town along headlands through village of Leces. There are several circular walks from town, though not all well marked. More info on those routes on the town website and at the tourism office.

Active travel, other: Several local travel companies can organize kayaking on the Sella river, usually the descent from Arriondas with option to shorten partway through (most of the year that’s an easy paddle even for beginners). Some of those travel companies can also help with routes in the Picos de Europa, most notably the classic Cares gorge, a spectacular linear route where organized drop-off and pickup makes this day hike much easier to manage. Bike rental and even surfing classes also available locally; golf course a little west in Berbes.

Gastronomy: Lots of restaurants with good seafood, too many to mention here. Many are along the seaside promenade (especially east side of the Sella), and with that variety you can pick and choose – they tend to be a little less expensive farther out. If you’re in town fall to spring, try the fabada bean stew: with sausage and other yummy things this is a hearty meal not usually available in the summer, and not recommended for dinner. Asturias region has a huge variety of cheese, from sinus-clearingly strong Cabrales (blue-ish) to very mild and gooey or crumbly, with everything in between. Drink of choice in Asturias region: hard cider, somewhat of an acquired taste though the obligatory pour from arm’s height into a big glass is fun to see and almost a ritual in the region. Chocolate shop with a big variety of things made of, well, chocolate. Just looking in the window is a treat, fun place to get gifts. Ok, maybe it’s Ghirardelli, but part of the fun is finding a place like this in a seaside town in Spain.

Nuts and bolts for Ribadesella:

More information: For pre-trip planning, town website Part (not all) of the site is in English. In town: tourism office near east end of the big bridge. Good map for entire region of Asturias: Michelin Zoom España number 142.

How to get there, public transportation: Ribadesella has frequent buses west to Oviedo and Gijon, and some buses east to Santander. More info (English) on Alsa website The narrow-gauge coastal train between Santander and Oviedo is somewhat less convenient due to schedules and station location, but the train route is prettier than the highway and the train is more fun (especially with kids). More information on FEVE section of Renfe website: