With 275,000 inhabitants, the port city of GIJÓN (Xixón) is the largest city in Asturias. Despite its industrial reputation, it remains largely surrounded by open green countryside, and it’s a genuinely enjoyable place to visit, with its dynamic old core flanked either side by a huge curving beach and a vibrant pleasure port. Much of the city had to be rebuilt after the intensive bombardment it suffered during the Civil War, when miners armed with sticks of dynamite stormed the barracks of the Nationalist-declared army – the beleaguered colonel asked ships from his own side, anchored offshore, to bomb his men rather than let them be captured.

Gijón fans back along the coast in both directions from the stark rocky headland known as Cimadevilla, with the modern marina of the pretty Puerto Deportivo to the west (and the commercial port out of sight beyond that), and the town beach to the east. War damage has left little to see on Cimadevilla itself, though high up at the tip of the promontory a grassy park enjoys great views of the Cantabrian Sea, framed by Eduardo Chillida’s sculpture Elogio del Horizonte (Eulogy to the Horizon). The epicentre of today’s city lies at the narrow “neck” of the peninsula, immediately south of Cimadevilla. On its western side, the Plaza del Marqués holds a statue of Pelayo, the eighth-century king who began the Reconquest.

In the last week of July, the city hosts Semana Negra (semananegra.org), officially an arts festival, but fast turning into another excuse for the locals to party. The hub of the action is around Gijón’s El Moliñon football stadium in Parque Isabel La Católica, and while there are a host of poetry recitals, art displays and culture groups dotted around, these days you are just as likely to experience loud music, candyfloss and fairground rides.

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