Saturday, July 02, 2011

Introducing Ribadesella - a town of two halves

When we were looking for property here in Spain, we drew a line on a map of Asturias of the area where we would be happy to live. Having visited several times previously, Ribadesella was almost in the centre of where we would prefer to settle. We ended up just 5km away in a quiet village, 1km from the coast. Ribadesella was always a favourite destination and one we never tire of.

Picture from Ayuntamiento de Ribadesella calendar 2011

Ribadesella is a small municipality of which the capital is the town of Ribadesella. It lies in the east of Asturias sited on the estuary of the river Sella, on the green coast of Northern Spain flanked by the Bay of Biscay. It is a town of two halves. The eastern half is the main hub of the town and the western half, across the bridge has a small marina, the main beach (Santa Marina) and a large residential area including hotels and holiday homes...and the high school. Out of season, the town has a population of about 4,500 inhabitants.

For 10 months of the year Ribadesella is a quiet Asturian fishing port where out of the ordinary things rarely happen. There is a small market on a Wednesday morning, many of the restaurants, hotels and shops close for long periods out of season and the small number of residents carry on with their day to day lives occasionally being interrupted and entertained by a coach full of day trippers or some out-of-season pilgrims resting as they make their way along the Camino de Santiago.

High days and bank holidays see increased numbers of incomers staying in their holiday homes or strangers wandering around the town, admiring the three storey Asturian buildings with their splendid glass galleries and busily exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town. Strolling along one, of two promenades is a daily past time for both locals and visitors, either down past the small fish dock along the old harbour wall or to the other side of the river along the promenade that cradles the beautiful Santa Marina beach arriving after 1km or so at the dinosaur footprints that can be viewed at the farthest point of the bay.

July, August and the first half of September see a huge change in the day to day life of Ribadesella and the area in general. Large numbers of tourists descend bringing with them healthy appetites, full wallets and the lust for all things Asturian. Hotels, rental property, campsites, shops, restaurants, bars and street traders take off the dust sheets and fling open their doors in readiness for business. Suddenly, there are few places to park, prices appear to creep up a little and inconsiderate strangers invade our usual chairs and tables at the Café Bergantin.

The main attractions in town include: the Tito Bustillo cave complex with cave paintings dating back to 22,000 BC; Santa Marina beach; architectural delights such as the Indiano houses that are dotted along the beach front and in and around the surrounding areas; easy access to the Picos de Europa national park; a plethora of fiestas and celebrations; and of course the highlight of the year, the International Canoe descent of the river Sella  which takes place the first week in August. In addition, Ribadesella is a centre where a range of outdoor activities such as canoeing, surfing, quad biking, horse riding, walking, caving and climbing can be arranged.

Ribadesella has a rich history, from pre-history to the present day, the town has many stories to tell and even more secrets to discover. It once was a busy port for whaling, salt, and fishing, it played an important role in the war of independance and in the late 1800s and early 1900s many of its residents emigrated to Cuba, Central and South America, making their fortunes, returning home and investing their money in lavish residential status symbols that are still enjoyed today.

Ribadesella's location, its quiet, small town feel, its colourful Celtic history and traditions, its proximity to the Picos de Europa and its spectacular landscapes make up for the few overly busy weeks in summer when we prefer to stay at home for coffee and shop in other nearby towns. It is easy to forget that the incomers and strangers are the life blood of the town, without them, unemployment would be much worse than it is and the traditions and unique culture of this part of the world would probably disappear and be forgotten. A town of two halves i.e. the holiday resort and the residential fishing town, it maybe but each half is co-dependant and co-exists in tolerant harmony year after year.

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