The breakwater in the town of Llanes in northern Spain is a strangely beautiful place. Colourful concrete cubes lay strewn across the shoreline like some giant’s playpen, while further east, green, mist-covered hills abruptly meet the sea. To the south, the towering karst ridge of Sierra del Cuera hems in this little fishing village, rising to a dramatic height of 750 metres.
The colours, shapes and textures here are enough to throw one’s head into a spin. However, as I discovered after a day’s exploration, the town itself – which lies in Spain’s little known region of Asturias – is a perfectly pleasant place that has plenty to offer.
Parking the car, my family and I wandered beneath a leafy tunnel, passing what looked like an abandoned Indianos house on the way in. Indianos were Spanish men who made their fortune in the 19th century in places such as Argentina, Mexico and Cuba. They returned to construct these ostentatious mansions, many of which were abandoned and now lay crumbling amidst the towns and countryside of Asturias.
Indianos also contributed to Llanes’ architecture, giving it an ornate touch during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Generally, however, Llanes is home to medieval and pre-Romanesque architecture, cosy cafes, restaurants and novelty shops with a decidedly European air. With its slender, sanitary streets, everything looks quaint and it dawned on me that Llanes is as much a tourist town as it is a fishing village. And with the towering limestone ridge that looms in the background and architecture/history by the sea, its popularity with Asturian holiday-makers is self-evident.
Llanes’ alluring qualities have also enticed filmmakers, as it was the setting for the hit film El Orfanato (The Orphanage), produced by famed Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. There’s also a cinema tour in town which takes you to 25 sites that were used as backdrops for feature films, documentaries, shorts, video clips and/or television series.
Take Travelling Type’s town tour
A good spot to start your sightseeing is the heart of the historic area, which lies on the film tour and features the 13th-century Romanesque Basilica Iglesia de Santa María del Conceju (Santa Maria church) at its core. Take in the elaborate finishes above the door, the ample courtyard and continue towards Torre del Castillo (Castle Tower), a 13th-century defensive tower built by King Alfonso X of Castile, which now operates as a tourist office.
Stop and enjoy some lunch at the Sidreria (cider house) El Almacen, which looked like a jolly good spot to eat/drink, as we ended up choosing somewhere not so flash. Continue past Torre del Castillo, round the bend, past the dilapidated remains of a 13th-century defensive wall to Playa del Sablon, a small beach wedged amidst the rugged Asturian coastline. From here, ascend the clifftop to Paseo de San Pedro (the clifftop walk of St Peter).
Built in 1847, the grassy walkway of Paseo de San Pedro is a splendid vantage point from which to view the sea and coastline of Llanes. It offers sweeping views over the town’s medieval ruins and the immense limestone ridge of the Sierra del Cuerra. There’s even a small, atmospheric cave/arch near the clifftop’s end with steps and a cross perched on its roof.
It’s a good place to ponder, appreciate, and for a moment it feels like you could be at the end of the world.
Returning to town, visit Palacio de Gastañaga – a building which includes a small, dainty section that’s wedged across a delightfully narrow alley like some well-placed boulder. The palace, which was the former home of the Rivero family, is one of the only remaining examples of civil architecture dating to the 14th and 15th centuries in Asturias. It originally served as the city’s defensive wall.
From here, head to the town’s breakwater and visit Los Cubos de Memoria (the cubes of memory) – a vibrant seaside artwork which I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post. The artwork, which is displayed on breakwater cubes, was created by artist Augustín Ibarrola in 2001 and depicts traditional fishing, the seasons and festivals in the village.
There’s a lot more to Llanes, with numerous beaches, caves, festivals (particularly during summer), shops and restaurants to discover. Time is also needed to soak up the ambience of this handsome little fishing/tourist village, more than the day I allowed myself here. Nevertheless, even with the brief time I had, Llanes remains one of the most alluring places I’ve visited in all of Spain.