Moving to Gijón, Asturias (Northern Spain) & Why I Left Barcelona

Dear friends, family and fellow drifters,

I have some personal news that I wanted to share with you, a sort of quick life update…

Gijon, Asturias, Northern Spain - Green Spain - photography by Ben Holbrook DriftwoodJournals.com-8362

All words and photos by your Asturias adventuring guide, Ben Holbrook.

It’s not “big” or “important” news in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something I wanted to mention in an effort to stay closer to those of you who have followed my story since I first moved to Barcelona to pursue my dream of becoming a travel writer/photographer/blogger.

Well, the news is that I no longer live in Barcelona, and that I have moved to Gijón in Asturias (northern Spain), where my novia Rosana is from.

Gijon, Asturias Travel Blog by Ben Holbrook / DriftwoodJournals.com

Why?

For many reasons.

As is true of everyone who goes to Barcelona, I was shaken by a thunderously passionate romance, with the Mediterranean way of life, with the beaches, mountains, climate, architecture, food and people.

Llanes Beach, Asturias Travel Blog by Ben Holbrook / DriftwoodJournals.com

Sitting on a rock in the bay, in Llanes, Asturias.

Cider culture in Llanes, Asturias.

Cider culture – Llanes, Asturias.

I’ve said it many times before, but there’s something so rousing about living in a place that’s so universally adored. Barcelona is one of those places where you rarely wonder whether the grass is greener elsewhere.

It’s a haven for dreamers, a place people go to escape the “norms” of society and design their own perfect life. I was, am, one of those people and I like to think of mine as a success story.

Then and Now

When I left the security of my digital marketing agency job in London all those years ago, ravenous for a chance to work for myself and live a life of creativity, tapas and vino, Barcelona seemed like an obvious and even sensible choice.

Luarca Cemetery, Asturias, northern Spain. By Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Luarca Cemetery, Asturias.

The rent was less than half what I had grown accustomed to in London (this is definitely not the case anymore), and with the pound being so strong against the euro (also something of a distant memory), I was confident I could make some sort of living as a freelance writer, which is fundamentally what I am, with only a few UK-based clients.

Cabo Vidio, Oviñana, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Cabo Vidio, Oviñana, Asturias.

My life in Barcelona gave me so much so quickly, from unforgettable friends and memories to a new perspective on life. It has also been something of a muse, spurring me on to carve a career as a travel writer/photographer. I still can’t believe I did it, that I am doing it.

The Course of Love

What’s more, Barcelona gave me Rosana, my strong, beautiful, inspiring and ridiculously intelligent Asturian girlfriend.

Romantic things to do in Ibiza for Couples by Ben Holbrook

Rosana and I in Ibiza last year.

As with all love stories, our relationship has changed the course of our lives in the most unexpected of ways. Rosana lived in Barcelona for over 10 years and knew it infinitely better than I ever will. If anything, it was harder for her to leave than for me.

And whatever her dreams may have been when she moved to the big city all those years ago, I doubt very much that she ever imagined she’d be returning home to Asturias a decade later with a scatterbrained, vino-guzzling Welshman in tow. Poor girl.

A Natural Paradise

We visited Asturias multiple times over the years we lived together in Barcelona and with each visit I grew increasingly fond of the region (and “Green Spain” as a whole, which also includes the Basque Country, Cantabria and Galicia).

Ben Holbrook travel blogger hiking in the Picos de Europa Asturias, Northern Spain - Green Spain - photography by Ben Holbrook DriftwoodJournals.com-5617

Me hiking in Asturias’s Picos de Europa on my first visit to the region almost 4 years ago.

Ribadesella, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Ribadesella, Asturias.

Ribadesella, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Ribadesella, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Tazones fishing village, Asturias, northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Tazones fishing village, Asturias.

Asturias is often referred to as a ‘natural paradise’ and offers pretty much everything I could wish for: the dramatic Picos de Europa (a staggeringly beautiful mountain range), a unique cultural identity coloured by its Celtic roots and wildly pristine beaches with world-class surf conditions (this is actually one of the main reasons I’m so excited about our move here).

And of course it’s one of the best places to eat and drink on Earth. And did I mention how amazing the surf is here?

Carabanzo, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Rosana’s uncle playing Asturian bagpipes at a cultural celebration in the itsy-bitsy village of Carabanzo.

Carabanzo, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Pola de Lena, Asturias, Northern Spain.Like Barcelona, Asturias is another one of those places where the locals can’t quite believe their luck, a place no one ever wants to leave.

Oh, and the cost of living here is almost half what it is in Barcelona, which is something we value greatly as we move into the next stage of our lives.

Oviedo Cathedral, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Oviedo’s ancient cathedral.

Oviedo Cathedral, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Shadows at noon. Oviedo, Asturias.

Oviedo Cathedral, Asturias, Northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Tranquilo.

As I write this post, my 35th birthday looms large on the horizon. We both have a thousand things we want to do, see and achieve before we start a family, but there’s no question that it makes more sense for us to be here, in a more affordable city and close to Rosana’s family, if and when we start making moves.

Going to Gijón (Pronounced ‘He-Hon’)

La cuesta del cholo in Gijon's ancient Cimavilla fishing quarter (famous for its sardine industry).

La cuesta del cholo in Gijon’s ancient Cimavilla fishing quarter (famous for its sardine industry).

We weren’t sure whether we wanted to move to Oviedo (the capital of Asturias) or Gijón (the largest city in Asturias), but it hasn’t taken us long to fall completely in love with Gijón.

Gijon's ancient Cimavilla fishing quarter (famous for its sardine industry).

Gijon's glorious Playa de San Lorenzo.

Gijon’s glorious Playa de San Lorenzo (photo taken in January 2019).Surfers at Gijon's glorious Playa de San Lorenzo.

Gijon market.

Gijon's thriving Cafe culture.

Cafe culture.

It’s a ridiculously handsome oceanfront city, a city packed with buzzy cider bars (the local tipple of choice), cafes and fishing-village-vibes, with surfers and cyclists and professional terrace-loiterers.

Rosana pouring traditional Asturian cider in Gijon's Cimavilla fishermen's barrio.

Rosana pouring traditional Asturian cider in Gijon’s Cimavilla fishermen’s barrio.

It doesn’t matter what time of day or week it is, every bar and restaurant is constantly overflowing with people. I’m sure the free tapas you get with every drink has something to do with it. And what people the Asturians are, too – so genuinely warm and welcoming.

El Palacio Sidreria, Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain.

Terrace time. A traditional Asturian Sidreria in Gijon.

It’s not the most beautiful city you’ll ever visit. It doesn’t quite have the crumbling old world charm of cities like Rome or Barcelona, but it is an incredibly colourful and well maintained city, a city with a deep and alluring sense of character.

Gijon fruit & veg shop (December 2018).

Gijon fruit & veg shop (December 2018).

There’s a certain nostalgia about it, as if it were built from scratch in the late 70s or 80s and never touched again. And it’s all so beautifully preserved. Living in Gijón is like living back in the good ol’ days.

Asturian men playing cards in an old bar in Gijon.

Locals playing cards in an old bar in Gijon (a very common sight).

I feel isolated, protected even, from the political and environmental troubles that face our planet (not that I don’t still worry about it all obsessively).

My Very Own ‘New World’

Most impressively of all, Gijón is almost unknown by people outside of Spain. I don’t know about you, but “Gijón” is not a place I had ever heard of before meeting Rosana.

San Lorenzo beach, Gijon.

San Lorenzo beach, Gijon.

Ever since I was young, I always dreamed of absconding to a remote village somewhere in Europe, somewhere off the map, somewhere that had yet to be discovered. My very own little hideaway.

Asturias may be a long way from being an undiscovered or unknown village, but it is a bonafide hidden gem in comparison to Barcelona.

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Surfing at dusk. Gijon. Asturias, northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Surfing at dusk. Gijon.

Our new home doesn’t boast the icons of Barcelona, there are no Gaudí masterpieces or Picasso museums, but it has pretty much everything else I/we want and need at this point of our lives.

Gijon's emblematic-but-bizzarre Elogio Del Horizonte sculpture by Eduardo Chillida.

Gijon’s emblematic-but-bizarre Elogio Del Horizonte sculpture by Eduardo Chillida.

Gijon's skatepark - and industrial area.

Gijon’s skatepark – and industrial area.

Atlantic views from Gijon's glorious Santa Catalina Headland (park).

Atlantic views from Gijon’s glorious Santa Catalina Headland (park).

Gijon's glorious Santa Catalina Headland (park).

Beam me up Scotty.Gijon, Asturias, Northern Spain - Street Photography by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com-14

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Selfie.Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon, Asturias, northern Spain street photography - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon sunset, Asturias, northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Gijon sunset.

Gijon at night, Asturias, northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Goodnight Gijon.

Luckily, with my “job” as a Spain-specialist travel blogger, I’ll still be in Barcelona on a fairly regular basis anyway, and also exploring the rest of this magnanimous country I am fortunate enough to call home.

So stay tuned for more of my overly-sentimental travel journals… from Gijón and beyond.

Saludos,

Ben


What do you think? Have ever visited Asturias or anywhere else in northern Spain? Do you have any questions for me?

Leave a comment below and let me and our community of drifters know below!


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… for more travel journals and advice on what to see, so and eat in Gijón, Spain and beyond!


More from Asturias

Essential Things to Do and See in Asturias, Northern Spain ~ An Inside Guide

What to Eat & Drink in Asturias, Northern Spain ~ A Foodie’s Guide

Hiking Gijón’s Coastal Path ~ The Joy of Winter Sunshine

Gijón Carnaval ~ Blanco y Negro Photo Journal

Celebrating Love and Life in Northern Spain ~ A Photo Journal

 

37 Comments

  • Yohay says:

    Good luck in your new life! It’s quite a change, but Asturias is definitely charming.

  • Graham Hunt says:

    Used to live in Gijón and loved it there. Suited for old times sake last summer and loved it again. Good luck Ben, Asturias is the best

  • Wally Collins says:

    Have enjoyed your blog for a while and even followed your many suggestions on my trip last year.
    Today’s blog may have given me an idea to visit northern Spain and southern France next May. I spend a month each year and enjoy devouring every day!
    Good luck !

  • Maria says:

    Congratulations on your new adventure! I love Gijón, and Oviedo too. I visited Llanes almost 20 years ago and have really lovely memories from there!

  • Good luck in your new life in Gijón.
    Thank you for inspiring us with your wonderful stories.

  • David Nikel says:

    Be careful, your peace could be interrupted if you keep sharing photos like this! Looks like a beautiful place. Best of luck!

  • Miguel says:

    Nice to hear this Ben, thank you for sharing this personal journey and we wish you and Rosana all the best. We really enjoy and appreciate your writings about Spain and especially Asturias. My wife, our 11 yr old daughter and I visited the region for 3 weeks in 2016 and are returning this April for another visit as we are scouting the area as candidate for relocating from the US. Oviedo is high on the list and Gijon is a consideration as well. Wondering if their is any chance we could meet up with you two to chat about Austurias while we are there? I would love to treat you guys to some buen comida! Saludos, Miguel Morejon

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Hola Miguel – gracias for reading and commenting! So glad to hear you enjoyed your time in Asturias. Would be lovely to meet up for a sidra or two (assuming I’m here – constantly travelling still). Let me know and we’ll ‘sobre la marcha’. Salud!

  • miguel says:

    Spectacularly composed photography sir.

  • Sara Larsson says:

    We miss you Ben, but we know we only have you a short plane ride away!

    x
    Sara

  • Stella says:

    I just moved to Barcelona and just found your blog – sad to read you have left the City! Really like the way you write and also your suggestions on food are great. Thank you for your work and good luck in Asturias!

  • Pablo says:

    Wonderful article.
    I will visit Asturias and Galicia this year, la tierra de mis abuelos.
    Greetings from Buenos Aires

  • Luis Mon says:

    Hi Ben. I am selling my condo in Southern California this summer and am planning to move to Gijon. I am a single 60-year-old single male. I am moving simply to get away from the rat race (and Trump…hehe) and to live a quiet and peaceful life. I speak fluent Spanish. Is Gijon a good place to live that kind of lifestyle? Thanks Ben. I wish you happiness in Gijon! Luis

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Hola Luis!

      Sounds like a great adventure you’re about to set off on. Gijón is a fantastic city and offers a similar coastal lifestyle, albeit with significantly older history and culture.

      Definitely let me know if/when you make the move and we can go out for some sidra!

      Un saludo,

      Ben

  • Luis Mon says:

    Meant to say, continued happiness in Gijon. :)

  • Rachel Williams says:

    How exciting to embark on a new journey! I look forward to hearing more about it. I have enjoyed reading your blogs.. our first trip to Europe was to Spain and thankfully we found you in our early planning stage. We found Sarah and Spain Savvy through your blog and we followed so many of your food and spirit suggestions!! So many things you simply can’t find on generic touristy run of the mill travel sites. I recommend you to everyone I know seeking info on Spain! Italy is next for us hoping to find “another you” for some guidance!

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Gracias Rachel! Really makes me happy to hear my blog was helpful/inspiring for you!

      I also adore Italy – that’s actually where my love affair with Europe truly began. My original plan was to move there but somehow I ended up in Barcelona.

      I have quite a few posts (mainly on Rome) on my blog here: https://www.driftwoodjournals.com/category/europe/italy/

      … and have recently been to Naples, Positano, Amalfi, Bologna and Modena, so will be adding more Italy content soon.

      Happy travels and thanks again for your kind words.

      Ciaoooo!

      Ben

  • Zoritza Williams says:

    Hi Ben,it was pleasure to read your story how you fell in love living in Gijon ! I was looking
    @ some info on Gijon & it’s attractions. We will be travelling to Gijon in September to my
    son’s wedding to beautiful Asturias girl ,similar story to yours my son went Gijon for short
    holiday & met his love in Gijon ! Last year he left London to live in Gijon and he loves living
    there.We are so looking forward to go to Gijon & so delighted about wedding !
    I will tell my son to find you on Instagram !
    Best Wishes,

  • Kelly says:

    Hi Ben,

    Great article! I am from the US and moving to Asturias next month. I will be working at a school in Siero, but am hoping to live in one of the surrounding cities. I am 23 years old and looking to live in a fun neighborhood with young people and good access to transportation. Do you have any advice on choosing Oveido or Gijon? Thanks so much!

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Hola Kelly! Thanks for your comment, amiga.

      Basically I would say you either want to live in Gijon or Oviedo. Both are fantastic cities with their own charm. If you want to feel like you’re in a city – a capital city at that – then I would recommend Oviedo. It’s tiny but it feels grand and important – kind of like Madrid. I don’t know for sure but it seems to be quite hip, with more in terms of music/art/culture. There’s a really important university in Oviedo so I think that gives it an edge.

      However, Gijon is just a spectacular place to live. You can live anywhere in the city and be no more than a 30-minute walk from the beach. There’s great nightlife here too, although it doesn’t have the same hip feeling as Oviedo.

      But it’s also worth noting that you can hop on the train in Gijon and be in Oviedo in around 45 minutes (or vice versa). Ultimately I suppose it depends on what sort of lifestyle you want to live. We chose Gijon for the beach – it has always been a dream of mine to be able to walk out of my front door with my surfboard and go surfing. And I can finally do it!

      Here’s a short film I made about my summer here:

      https://youtu.be/81gf3zf50Vw

      PS ~ Both cities are walkable (no need for bus and there are no metro services in either), so it doesn’t really matter which barrio you live in.

      Let me know how your move goes!

      Ben

  • Stefany says:

    It’s sad that life in Barcelona is getting more and more unaffordable! The north is so beautiful though, I haven’t been to Asturias but I’ve been to Galicia and the Basque Country and loved both. I found Galicia to be especially charming, I can imagine Asturias to be the same! Love your photos :)

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Hey, gracias Stefany! Really appreciate your comment.

      Yes, Barcelona is now one of the most desirable places to live on the planet, so not at all surprised prices are increasing. But, yes, it’s great living somewhere that feels so ‘undiscovered’.

      Where are you going next?

      Ben

  • David Villa says:

    Hello Ben, fantastic photos of my hometown. I have made the opposite way than you did, living in Slough now. I appreciate people in UK can love other places/countries. I am moved by your description. Living abroad, sometimes one misses his hometown.

    • Ben Holbrook says:

      Hola David, gracias por tus palabras.

      I really love Gijon and Asturias in general. But, yes, I fully understand what you mean. I think home will always be home, and that’s something you can’t find or replace anywhere else.

      Hope you get to visit sometime soon, amigo!

      Gracias y hasta la proxima,

      Ben

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