The Sierra de Cuera mountains

Ask a Spaniard about Asturias and the likely response will be, “Rain.” Just like in England, Manchester has the tag of being both “in the north” and permanently wet, so the province of Asturias suffers the same stereotypical fate at the hands of its countrymen.

This does the area a disservice. Although it does suffer from a higher level of precipitation than the rest of Spain (it’s not known as the Costa Verde – green coast – for nothing), it also has superb beaches and great regional specialities including cheeses, cider and seafood. And there are some fantastic mountains in which to ride your bike.

I’m staying at the eastern end of Asturias near the town of Llanes. It’s a brilliant base for exploring the area’s beautiful sandy coves and one which I have visited many many times with my brothers on family holidays and more recently with my own family. As you arrive in Llanes you are immediately struck by the proximity of the coastal mountain range known as the Sierra de Cuera. The hills dominate both the view inland and the local weather patterns. There are few roads through the range, but one climbs up to the small pueblo of El Mazuco via a pass called La Torneria.

La Torneria is far from being the biggest hill hereabouts, but it’s one of the most accessible. And being so close to the coast you can be up and down in less than 90 minutes, leaving plenty of time for beach relaxation with the family later in the day.

Pick up the Ll7 heading south from Llanes through the village of Pancar (home of my grandparents). As you approach the next village, Parres, the road begins to climb and once through the village you’ll be climbing for over 400 metres and about 4km to the summit. The climb itself will take around half an hour. At first the gradient is gentle. There is plenty of time to breathe deeply and appreciate the groves of eucalyptus. Occasionally you may get glimpses of the sea, and all the while you’ll be aware of the gap in the mountains looming ahead.

As you exit the tree line the road steepens significantly and you’ll be scrabbling for a lower gear as you climb through a series of hairpin bends. Above you are the peaks of the Sierra de Cuera, and it was over these peaks that one of the most important battles of the Spanish Civil War was fought. It’s easy to see why the Sierra de Cuera was known as the key to Asturias. The fascist army couldn’t hope to advance west along the coastal plain while the Republic held the mountains. And so the battle of El Mazuco took place in September 1935 amid autumn mists and rain. The fascist soldiers had to advance up the road which you are climbing with fire raining down from the peaks. But look to your right and see the fascist cruiser Almirante shelling the Reds dug in above you while the Stuka dive bombers from the Condor Legion scream down from on high.


Looking down La Torneria towards Llanes and the coast

I suspect that my grandfather was one of the defenders in that desperate battle. I also believe that my uncle, who is still with us at 93, was one of the attackers. Such is civil war. My uncle had just turned 18 when Franco’s army took Llanes and got press-ganged into the fascist army. He won’t talk about the experience to this day.

I do know that my grandfather was sentenced to death for fighting for the Republic at the end of the conflict, but for some reason the sentence was never carried out. He died in 1970 and I can remember him sitting in his whicker chair in the corner of my abuela’s kitchen with his hands folded over his walking stick, a black beret on his head and a twinkle in his blue eyes.

The hardest part of La Torneria is saved until the end. A double hairpin gives you a very brief respite before the last few hundred metres of steep climbing. As you crest the top of the pass you’ll see the village of El Mazuco about 3km down the road towards Caldue?o. The village itself has a bar and a renowned restaurant which boasts a superb parilla (barbecue). Despite its remote location you’ll often wait for a table to eat at El Rixon, but it’s worth the wait – bring cash, they have no card machines up here.

The village of El Mazuco in the Sierra de Cuera

The village of El Mazuco in the Sierra de Cuera

You now have a choice to either turn on your heels and descend La Torneria, or carry on down the hill to Caldue?o and Debodes. This turns the route into a well worthwhile loop. The descent itself is largely straightforward with only a couple of hairpins, but it’s quite steep in places. Once in Debodes pick up the road north to the coast. After 5 miles you’ll reach Posada where a left right dogleg will take you through the coastal villages of Niembro and Barro before bringing you back out onto the old coast road back to Llanes. You’ll have climbed about 650m in total and cycled no more than 35km.

La Torneria may be far from the biggest climb in Asturias, but it makes a superb introduction to the climbs in the area.