Cangas de Onís is located in eastern Asturias, at the feet of Picos de Europa, surrounded by a lusciously green valley. Cangues, its Asturian language toponym and the name used by most locals, boasts the title of city and it was until the year 774 the capital of the Asturias Kingdom. Maybe that is why the replica of the Victory Cross (the original is kept in Oviedo's cathedral) hangs proudly from the Roman Bridge and it is one of the most iconic Asturian landmarks. Legend has it that its wooden core was carried by King Pelayo of Asturias in the infamous Battle of Covadonga, when he and his fellow paisanos defeated the Islamic military force ruling the rest of the Iberian peninsula. In hindsight, historians consider that battle the beginning of the Reconquista.
The first records of the Sunday market date from the Middle Ages. Furthermore, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a major figure of the Age of Enlightenment in Spain, described this market in his Diaries, written at the end of the 18th Century and first published in 1915, pointing out that on Sundays at the market there were "many people and bustling activity".
With a population of under 7,000, these figures grow considerably on Sundays as this is by far the most popular market of the area. It is located near the Palaciu Pintu and Santa María church, in an open plan space. A part of it is framed by a colonnade and while there are some stalls selling clothes and other goods, this is mainly a farmers market. A very special one that tells at a glance what Asturian food culture is all about.
Most of the food sold at the market is grown/produced locally and most times by the same person who is selling the produce. It is a great chance to engage with the locals, willing to explain the properties of their foods. From fresh fruit and veg, to organic honey, cured meats, superb seafood pâtés, Asturian legumes (if you are a bean stew fan, this is the place to gather high-quality produce at a reasonable price), local hazelnuts (there are at least five varieties unique to Asturias), Asturcilla, homemade jams, preserves, breads (Asturian spelt ones are remarkable), pastries and desserts (look for frixuelos or casadielles), the quality is outstanding. Nevertheless, the big deal here is the cheese.
Cheese is the most predominant product in the market and a reason enough to travel to Cangues. Asturias is a cheese destination, also known as the "country of the cheese". Having over 40 different varieties, it is extremely difficult to choose just one; there is certainly an Asturian cheese for every occasion and person. However, if you go to Cangues, the ones you must try are these three:
- Gamonéu PDO
- Cabrales PDO
- Beyos PGI
All of them are produced in the Picos de Europa area and its surroundings. Cabrales is the most international Asturian cheese, available worldwide, produced in the homonymous county and three towns in Peñamellera Alta, while Gamoneú is native of Cangas/Cangues de Onís and one surprisingly, still one of Asturias' best secrets. A slightly smoked high-fat blue cheese, its quality is superb and its rich, strong flavour will stay with you. Los Beyos is produced in both Ponga and Amieva counties and hopefully its current PGI will soon become a PDO.
Of course there are dozens of other Asturian cheeses on offer, from the Western part, (Oscos, Taramundi) to the Eastern (Llanes) also worth tasting.
Best time of the year to visit: if you are into cheese, October is when most cheese festivals and fairs are held. Plus, you get to try the hazelnuts (ablanes in Asturian language, what most signs read) from nearby areas like Piloña, where these nuts grow in clover. Furthermore, if you happen to be there on the first weekend of October, don't miss the Hazelnuts Fair in Infiesto (16 miles from Cangues).