Towering green mountains tumble down to the sea all across Asturias, northern Spain. At the meeting of land and ocean, the extraordinary “Costa Verde” coastline is a symphony of hidden coves, verdant paths, rocky headlands, bustling towns and – best of all – gloriously sandy beaches.
But it wasn’t beach weather, not today anyway. Cloudy and chilly with the scent of rain mingling with the salty air, it was a day for another type of adventure. Quite spontaneously, we decided to go on an expedition to find the “Cascadas de Oneta”, some local waterfalls that I had noted in my bucket list at some unknown point of my travel-loving past.
However, more information on the waterfalls was mysteriously hard to come by. I was surprised to find that there were no tourist leaflets for the waterfalls available at our campsite, and the staff we asked had never heard of them. Even our GPS device was confused: it claimed that Oneta didn’t exist, a fact strongly disputed by our road map. These are all highly encouraging signs in the search to find unspoilt tourist destinations, and so we switched off the Garmin and drove away into the unexpected.
The road out of Luarca began to rise almost immediately, and was surprisingly wide and well-maintained. After a kilometre or two I casually mentioned to my wife that the road was surprisingly wide and well-maintained… and, of course, it immediately turned into a single-track switchback rollercoaster ride.
Up, up, round, up, round, down, up, round, hairpin!, up, up, round, up, up, UP…
By the time of our third “fresh air stop” within 20 minutes, Joelle was begging for mercy. With her head between her legs at the roadside she proclaimed that “we must be nearly there by now…” and that “no waterfalls can be worth this!!”.
But she was wrong on both counts – we weren’t even half-way there…
…and the Cascadas de Oneta were, most definitely, worth it.
Eventually we made it to Oneta and were about to set out on our short hike to the waterfalls when the threatened rain finally arrived. Another spontaneous decision was duly made: postpone our walk and eat an early lunch in the village restaurant instead.
As the kids polished off their desserts, I popped into the “tourist information centre” just next door, which turned out to be a small room occupied by one endearingly enthusiastic lady and a lot of leaflets, still none of which, oddly, seemed to mention the waterfalls. When I asked her for some information on the waterfalls in English, she shook her head sadly. French? No. German? Nein. Luxembourgish? (OK, that was a long shot…)
But she was not so easily defeated: a book was pulled from nowhere, and opened to reveal a hand-written note. From it, she read to me – in English – a prepared speech:
“The waterfalls of Oneta can be found one kilometre west of the village. The path is easy but not suitable for pushchairs…”. I thanked her very much, returned to the restaurant, scolded my kids for licking bowls clean in public, and, since the rain had now eased, we all began walking. West.
What happened next was wonderful. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was because the Cascadas de Oneta are not yet “discovered” by mainstream tourists, but we had this stunningly beautiful place all to ourselves.
Waterfalls are not generally noted for their stealth – the noise and spray usually give them away long before you actually see them – but the Cascadas de Oneta somehow manage to take you by surprise. You know they’re coming, but you can’t really figure out where they should be, you can’t hear much and then – BOOM! – you turn a corner, make a short descent into a forest and there is the first waterfall, a magnificent silvery ribbon of water, plunging 15, maybe 20, metres into a ridiculously picturesque series of pools, right in front of you!
Best of all, the waterfalls weren’t even our favourite discovery of the day: that honour goes to the old water mills. Built centuries ago to harness the abundant kinetic energy of the falls, they now lie abandoned and seemingly untouched despite decades of disuse. In particular, the millstones and machinery were essentially intact; a real find.
As we passed another mill the rain came back on again and we sheltered from the elements inside, the kids opening the ancient shutters to let in more light and watch as the shower passed. It seemed like such a wonderfully authentic and somewhat surreal experience.
Back in the village, we decided to revisit the restaurant to warm up with a hot drink on the terrace (an enjoyable novelty for Spain in August…). An occasional tractor rumbled by, an elderly lady with a pitchfork marched purposefully past us, and a cow’s head randomly appeared from an open window of the farmhouse just opposite (this amused the kids greatly).
Overall, we got the impression that the mountainous interior of northern Spain is a place undergoing tourism discovery: the fledgling tourist office, the friendly café, the ongoing renovations of the path to the waterfalls – it would appear that Asturias is beginning to invest in its undoubted tourism potential. The marketing slogan of the local tourism authorities – “Paraíso Natural” – is, for once, perfectly accurate: Asturias is indeed a paradise for those who love nature and crave authenticity, and the Cascadas de Oneta is a shiny gem in a glittering crown of natural attractions.
We feel lucky that we visited this wonderful place when it was still relatively unknown.
Garmin don’t know what they are missing.
Daisy the bus visited the Cascadas de Oneta in August 2016
(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR VISITING THE CASCADAS DE ONETA
- The Oneta waterfalls are located in Asturias, north-west Spain. The nearest large town is Navia.
- Don’t try to access Oneta via the AS-36 from Luarca (as we did). Instead, take the motorway to Navia and then the AS-25, finally joining the AS-36 just before Villayón.
- Park your car somewhere near the restaurant. The waterfalls are signposted from there.
- Don’t be tempted to drive too far down the road to the waterfalls; it is a dead-end street with nowhere to turn.
- Wear good shoes and leave the pushchair and roller skates in the car.
- There is no parking fee, nor any entrance fee (as of August 2016).